Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 8 (1865)

The story of Guillaume de Palerne (or, William and the Werewolf)

The eighth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves is entitled “Folk-Lore Relating to Were-Wolves” and feels like something of a round-up of miscellanies. The overview opens in Britain, with a brief reference to werewolves in the ballad of Kempion: “O was it a war-wolf in the wood? Or was it a mermaid in the sea?” This is followed by namechecks of  “William and the Werewolf” in Hartshorn’s Ancient Metrical Tales and “The Witch Cake” in Crumek’s Remains of Nithsdale Song.

Baring-Gould notes that, because England has killed its wolves, the country’s witches are instead imagined as transforming into cats, hares or (in Devonshire) black dogs. After an untranslated excerpt from Gervaise of Tilbury’s Otia Imperalia, he moves on to legends relating to cannibals — but not shapeshifting cannibals.

We then head to France where we meet the loups-garoux and its Périgord variant, the louléerou; some of the details here overlap with Baring-Gould’s coverage of French werewolves in the previous two chapters.

For Norway, Baring-Gould recounts the story of Lasse and the Vargamor, which I have covered here. The section on Denmark opens with a story of a woman hitting her lycanthropic husband with her apron; this narrative was later swiped and embellished by Elliott O’Donnell. The topic swiftly moves to Danish were-bears.

The tour of Europe continues, as does Baring-Gould’s frustrating habit of failing to cite his sources. There are some exceptions to this, however:

According to a curious Lithuanian story related by Schleicher in his Litauische Märchen, a person who is a were-wolf or bear has to remain kneeling in one spot for one hundred years before he can hope to obtain release from his bestial form.

And, more substantially, he cites  “SACHAROW: Inland, 1838, No. 17” for the following account of how to become a lycanthrope:

The Russians call the were-wolf oborot, which signifies “one transformed.” The following receipt is given by them for becoming one.

“He who desires to become an oborot, let him seek in the forest a hewn-down tree; let him stab it with a small copper knife, and walk round the tree, repeating the following incantation:—

On the sea, on the ocean, on the island, on Bujan,
On the empty pasture gleams the moon, on an ashstock lying
In a green wood, in a gloomy vale.
Toward the stock wandereth a shaggy wolf.
Horned cattle seeking for his sharp white fangs;
But the wolf enters not the forest,
But the wolf dives not into the shadowy vale,
Moon, moon, gold-horned moon,
Cheek the flight of bullets, blunt the hunters’ knives,
Break the shepherds’ cudgels,
Cast wild fear upon all cattle,
On men, on all creeping things,
That they may not catch the grey wolf,
That they may not rend his warm skin
My word is binding, more binding than sleep,
More binding than the promise of a hero!

“Then he springs thrice over the tree and runs into the forest, transformed into a wolf.”

Baring-Gould later quotes from “the ancient Bohemian Lexicon of Vacerad (A. D. 1202)” but leaves the excerpt untranslated. He follows this by noting…

That the same belief in lycanthropy exists in Armenia is evident from the following story told by Haxthausen, in his Trans-Caucasia (Leipzig, i. 322):—“A man once saw a wolf, which had carried off a child, dash past him. He pursued it hastily, but was unable to overtake it. At last he came upon the hands and feet of a child, and a little further on he found a cave, in which lay a wolf-skin. This he cast into a fire, and immediately a woman appeared, who howled and tried to rescue the skin from the flames. The man, however, resisted, and, as soon as the hide was consumed, the woman had vanished in the smoke.”

A few of the details he mentions have stuck — to some extent, at least. At one point Baring-Gould informs us that “[t]he power to become a were-wolf is obtained by drinking the water which settles in a foot-print left in clay by a wolf” in a context implying that this is a piece of Serbian folklore. Elliott O’Donnell would again incorporate this into his own book on werewolves, and has been repeated by many other authors, typically separated from the Serbian context.

The chapter eventually leaves Europe to cover various animal transformations in other continents, including Indian were-snakes, Ethiopian were-hyenas and Native American were-dogs. We close with a Slovakian story taken from T. T. Hanush’s Zeitschrift für Deutsche Mythologie; this is structured like a fairy tale, complete with a happily-ever-after, and concerns a werewolf preying on his three daughters (the third of whom survives to marry the king, who kills the werewolf). “This story bears some resemblance to one told by Von Hahn in his Griechische und Albanesische Märchen”, says Baring-Gould; “I remember having heard a very similar one in the Pyrenees”. He also points out that the story doesn’t describe an actual transformation, and so he compares the werewolf character’s condition to the fit of a Berserkir.

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