Werewolf Wednesday: Jean Bodin on Lycanthropy, Part 1 (1580)

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I briefly touched on Jean Bodin’s 1580 book De la Démonomanie des sorciers while covering the exploits of Monsieur Oufle, but it deserves a closer look as an entire chapter (book two, chapter six) is given over to the topic of lycanthropy. In 2001, the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies put out an abridged English translation, under the title On the Demon-Mania of Witches, courtesy of Randy A. Scott and Jonathan L. Pearl; I’ve drawn on this version for most of the quotations in this post. The original French edition can be read here.

The chapter in question opens with some general thoughts — removed from the above-mentioned translation — on the Devil’s habit of appearing as a goat. Bodin then brings up depictions of satyrs in both Greek mythology and the Bible (Isaiah 12:21). These musings on images of demons as half-man, half beast hybrids bring him to the chapter’s main topic — accounts of men becoming wolves through dark magic:

The most difficult thing to believe, and the most wonderful, is the changing of the human figure into a beast and even more from one body into another. Nonetheless, the trials conducted of witches and the divine and human histories of all peoples, are undeniable proof..

Bodin goes on to describe how “the book of the five Inquisitors of witches, which I have mentioned quite often” gives an account of a sorcerer named Staufer who terrorised the region of Bern with violent storms; it is not entirely obvious what relation he has to the subject of werewolves. The next case study is Gilles Garnier,  who was executed less than a decade before the publication of Bodin’s book. Bodin decides against giving an in-depth account of Garnier’s crimes on the grounds that such a publication has already been “printed in Orleans by Eloy Gibier, & in Paris at Pierre des Hayes, & in Sens” (this comment is again left out of the English translation).

However, the summary he gives of Garnier’s confessions will be graphic enough for most readers:

The aforesaid Gamier on Saint Michael’s day, while in the form of a werewolf, seized a young girl of ten or twelve years old near the Serre woods, in a vineyard in the wine region of Chastenoy, a quarter of a league from Dole. There he killed her with his paw-like hands and his teeth, and ate the flesh of her thighs and arms, and took some to his wife. And in the same form a month later, he seized another girl, and killed her. He intended to eat her had he not been prevented by three people, as he confessed. And fifteen days afterward he strangled a young child of ten years old in the vineyard of Gredisans, and ate the flesh of his thighs, legs and abdomen. And later in the form of a man and not of a wolf, he killed another boy of twelve or thirteen years old in the woods of the village of Perouse, with the intention of eating him, had he not been prevented, as he confessed without force or constraint. He was condemned to be burned alive, and the sentence was carried out.

The next case covered by Bodin is a trial from December 1521, held at a place called Bezáçon (I have been unable to locate this) by an inquisitor named Ian Boin:

The accused were Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun, who confessed to having renounced God, and sworn to serve the Devil. And Michel Verdun took Burgot to the edge of the ChatelCharlon, where each one had a candle of green wax which gave a dark, blue flame, and they performed the dances and sacrifices to the Devil. Then after spreading ointment on themselves they were turned into wolves who ran with an incredible swiftness. Then they were changed into men, and often changed back into wolves, and coupled with she-wolves with the same pleasure they normally had with women. They also confessed, that is Burgot did, to having killed a young seven year old boy with his wolfish paws and teeth, and he would have eaten him, except that the peasants gave chase to him. And Michel Verdun confessed to having killed a young girl who was picking peas in a garden, and he was pursued by the Seigneur de la Cuv£e. Furthermore, both had eaten four other girls besides; he noted the time, the place, and the respective ages of the children. And he reported that by sprinkling people with a powder they caused their death.

This is followed by a case that is thin in detail, but positively archetypal as far as allegedly true werewolf tales go:

I recall that the King’s General Prosecutor, Master Bourdin, recounted another case to me, which had been sent to him from the Low Countries, with the whole trial summary signed by the judge and the court clerks. It concerned a werewolf who was wounded in the thigh by an arrow, and who later was found in his bed with the arrow which was pulled out of him, now that he was changed back into the form of a man; and the arrow was recognized by the one who had shot it, and the time and place was confirmed by the person’s confession.

All of this is just the beginning of the chapter. Join me next week for more…

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