Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 16 (1865)

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A widely-disseminated woodcut from Die Emeis.

Well, having covered chapters one-two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven to thirteenfourteen and fifteen of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves, I now come to the sixteenth and final chapter.

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.

The list ends with wolf attacks that are ordained by God:

Under the seventh head, the injury comes of God’s ordinance. For God will sometimes punish certain lands and villages with wolves. So we read of Elisha,—that when Elisha wanted to go up a mountain out of Jericho, some naughty boys made a mock of him and said, ‘O bald head, step up! O glossy pate, step up!’ What happened? He cursed them. Then came two bears out of the desert and tore about forty-two of the children. That was God’s ordinance.

Baring-Gould then offers a summary of the sermon:

It will be seen from this extraordinary sermon that Dr. Johann Geiler von Keysersperg did not regard werewolves in any other light than natural wolves filled with a lust for human flesh; and he puts aside altogether the view that they are men in a state of metamorphosis. However, he alludes to this superstition in his sermon on wild-men of the woods, but translates his lycanthropists to Spain.

And so, with this brief chapter, ends The Book of Were-Wolves.

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