I spent the month watchin’ horror films and readin’ horror stories. Granted, I do that all year round, but October is when I do it more. It’s an annual tradition of mine. And on this particular October I succeeded in selling another story of my own — updates on that coming soon…
Once again, horror fans were able to bathe in the annual glut of Halloweentime releases. Some old monsters returned in the likes of Hellraiser, Halloween Ends, WerewolfBy Night (based on the Marvel comic) and Terrifier 2 (the subject of dubious reports describing audience members allegedly vomiting and fainting). Perhaps the best-received revival was AMC’s Interview with the Vampire, adapted from the 1976 Anne Rice novel. A much earlier vampire classic also got another go-around courtesy of the audio drama Re: Dracula.
Newcomers to horror cinema include Prey for the Devil and Barbarian, the latter a sleeper hit. Also of note is Wendall & Wild, a horror-themed stop-motion collaboration between Henry Selick and Jordan Peele, which received positive reviews but, alas, seemingly negligible promotion. Elsewhere, big names brought their talents to horror series on Netflix: Guillermo del Toro opened his Cabinet of Curiosities while Mike Flannigan invited us to The Midnight Club.
This week’s slice of werewolf literature comes from an obscure 1859 book entitled Home Lyrics: Secular and Sacred, from a Country Parsonage. The editor is identified simply as “a village incumbent”. Google Books indicates that an individual named Abner William Brown was involved in the book’s composition, although it’s not clear where this information came from.
The book’s preface introduces its contents as “a selection from poetry written by different members of one family, at various and widely-separated dates.” We are told that some of the poems were published elsewhere, but the preface doesn’t specify which ones and where they saw print.
Amongst the contents is a poem entitled “The Wehr Wolf’s Song”. The antiquated spelling was used by other writers in the nineteenth century — see also George W. M. Reynolds’ Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf — but the poem’s depiction of a werewolf is like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere. The anonymous poet appears to have conceived werewolves as sea monsters that destroy boats.
Here’s the poem in full:
I ride on the wave where no eye can see;
The pearl of the ocean belong to me;
My diamonds are clearer than evening dew,
My gems may rival the rainbow’s hue!
My magic realm is the broad blue main,
Where mariner’s skill is all in vain.
When I behold a deep-laden barque,
On its white sails I stamp my mark;
Then fierce rise the waves with a sudden gale,
And the art of the pilot can nought avail,
And I hoard its treasure that sinks to me
In the coral caves of the fathomless sea.
How oft have I watched a little boat
On the pitiless briny waves afloat,
And gazed with delight on its dread distress,
As the trouble sailors shorewards press;
While I raise the waves with savage spleen,
And the boat engulphed is never more seen.
For a while now, one recurring topic on my blog has been the ongoing revival of the Satanic Panic. This phenomenon was mainstream in America during the 1980s and 90s and is now being pushed back into vogue by contemporary conspiracy theorists.
I personally divide the Satanic Panic into two aspects. One is the “soft” Satanic Panic, which deals with pop-cultural concerns (notions that role-playing games or heavy metal music are turning children into Satanists, for example); the other is the “hard” Satanic Panic, which deals with allegations of ritual abuse. While it’s the “soft” variety that attracted me to writing about the subject — I’m a horror author, after all — this post will discuss the second variety. I’d like to stress that I’m in no way a qualified expert in this field; I’m simply a writer whose area of popular culture has led me to the topic.
The revived Satanic Panic has already amassed a mythology mixing older cases with newer elements. A good example is the case of a group known as the Finders, founded by a man named Marion Pettie: this is a story from 1987-93 that was given a new lease of life in October 2019, when the FBI released a 1993 document on the case.
This is entitled “A Sermon on Were-Wolves” and focuses on the work of the medieval preacher Johann Geiler von Kaysersberg. In 1508, von Keysberg delivered a series of sermons on supernatural phenomena — including lycanthropy — which were collected in a volume entitled Die Emeis. Baring-Gould provides an English translation of the excerpt dealing with werewolves, which begins as follows:
What shall we say about were-wolves? for there are were-wolves which run about the villages devouring men and children. As men say about them, they run about full gallop, injuring men, and are called ber-wölff, or wer-wölff. Do you ask me if I know aught about them? I answer, Yes. They are apparently wolves which eat men and children…
Von Kaysersberg then starts talking about wolves — actual wolves, not the were-variety — and lists seven factors that can lead a wolf to attack a human. These are mostly natural (extreme hunger; becoming too old to chase wild animals and so on) but the last two are supernatural. Some wolf attacks, we are told, are the Devil’s work; and this is where transformation enters the picture:
Under the sixth head, the injury comes of the Devil, who transforms himself, and takes on him the form of a wolf So writes Vincentius in his Speculum Historiale. And he has taken it from Valerius Maximus in the Punic war. When the Romans fought against the men of Africa, when the captain lay asleep, there came a wolf and drew his sword, and carried it off. That was the Devil in a, wolf’s form. The like writes William of Paris,—that a wolf will kill and devour children, and do the greatest mischief. There was a man who had the phantasy that he himself was a wolf. And afterwards he was found lying in the wood, and he was dead out of sheer hunger.
Chapter 15 of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves has the intriguing title “Anomalous Case.–The Human Hyæna” but turns out to, again, have a tenuous link to lycanthropy.
The chapter opens with an account of the flesh-eating ghouls depicted in the Arabian Nights (“it is well known that Oriental romance is full of stories of violators of graves”). Baring-Gould argues that these ghouls were inspired by actual grave-robbers who dug up fat and hair from corpses for use in magic spells.
He then provides a story of fifteenth-century ghouls from Fornari’s History of Sorcerers; as this tale attributes the habit of blood-drinking to its ghouls, Baring-Gould comments that the story connects ghouls to vampires — and therefore, indirectly, to werewolves, as the present book has already drawn a line between the vampire and the lycanthrope.