Werewolf Wednesday: Pre-Victorian Lycanthropes (1835)

This week’s werewolf tidbit comes from David Booth’s Analytical Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1835, which talks about werewolves as part of an entry on wolves in general. The section is brief, but notable for being comparatively early: Sabine Baring-Gould’s influential book on werewolves would not be published until thirty years later.

One detail that stands out is that the author associates werewolves with grave desecration, an aspect of lycanthrope lore that is not particularly prominent these days, and consequently connects them to the ghouls of the Arabian Nights.

The animal of which we now speak has his part in classical fiction. Lupus, the Wolf, is one of the southern Constellations; and Lycaon was changed into a Wolf, when, at the termination of the age of Gold, Astrea ascended into heaven. Romulus and Remus were suckled by a She-wolf.

In the annals of superstition, a certain species of insanity, in which the patients are said to have imagined themselves transformed into Wolves, has the medical name of Lycanthropy; from the Greek lycos, a wolf, and anthropus, a man. This supersititon was also prevalent among the Gothic nations; for the Werewolf (Man-wolf) was a bugbear of general belief.

In latter times the Werewolves were considered as Sorcerers, who frequented Church-yards and fed upon human bodies, which they seized either alive or dead. They were connected with the Devil, who enabled them to assume the shape of Wolves, that they might the more easily gratify their horrid propensity. Men suspected of this practice were persecuted and tortured in Germany as later as the close of the sixteenth century; and we find that a similar superstition had prevailed in other nations. The Loup-garou of the French is the same monster; and the Goule of the Arabian Nights visited nightly the graves of the dead, to feed on human flesh. See Vampire.

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