For some time now, this series has been focusing on early modern attitudes to lycanthropy, going back to a time when scholars had serious-minded theological debates over whether or not it was possible for humans to become wolves. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at present-day Christian fundamentalist circles, where demonic powers are taken as objective fact and old disputes about lycanthropy are still sometimes reignited.
A case in point is The Dark Side of Halloween by Pastor David L. Brown of Logos Christian Consortium. According to the Logos site, Brown published an early version of this text in booklet form as Halloween: Behind the Mask back in 1984; somewhere down the line, he also seems to have expanded it into a full book. My post is based on the online version of the text, which consists of a few articles.
One of these articles, “More Heroes of Halloween”, is devoted to vampires and werewolves. The section on lycanthropes is as follows (quotations sic throughout):
What about werewolves? The word werewolf (also spelled werwolf) is explained when you understand that the “were” in Old English meant man. Hence you have a man-wolf of werewolf. An acutal cult werewolfery is connected with the worship of Zeus Lycaus. This cult was a part of Ancient Greek worship and was known to still be in existence in 176 A.D.
As garbled as this passage may be, it contains a fragment of actual scholarship. Pausanias, who lived from around AD 110-180, wrote about lycanthropy in association with the worship of Lycaean Zeus/Zeus Lycaus in his Description of Greece.
The introduction is followed by a paragraph attributed to W.B. Crow. I’m assuming it comes from Crow’s book A History of Magic, Witchcraft and Occultism, although I imagine that it had better formatting in its original form:
The idea that a human being could be transformed into an animal was widespread among ancientsIt was thought that powerful witches could do such things, and many witches were alleged to turn themselves into wild animals, particularly wolves. This is mentioned in Pliny. Sometimes it was voluntary, sometimes involuntary, the result of a curse. The phenomenon is technically called Lycanthropy which, according to derivation means the transformation of a man into a wolf and vice-versa. The worst kind of witches were thought to indulge in it, as their behavior whilst in the form of wild animals gave them means to satisfy malice.
While not elegantly written, this is a broadly accurate outline of folklore related to lycanthropy — if you can get past the careless jumbling-together of classical and early-modern sources.
After citing the questionable authority of Crow, Pastor Brown decides to make three points. His first point is a comparison between lycanthropy and the Biblical story of God forcing Nebuchadnezzar to behave like an animal. This is a comparison also brought up in historical texts: see Jean Bodin. Brown concludes that “Satan often tries to counterfeit the power of God! Occult lycanthropy is the Devils imitation of Gods power.”
Brown’s second point is that lycanthropy is still around today:
Second, I know of modern day witches that go into a trance and howl at the moon and cast spell. Shamans go into a trance and turn into power animals. History records bizarre practices of the Leopard Men and Panther Men of Africa.
What we’re seeing here is more careless jumbling and less room to find actual sources for these claims. We pass from “modern day witches” (presumably neopagans of some sort), to a garbled description of shamanic beliefs, and finally to a vague reference to folklore surrounding the Leopard Society.
For his third point, Brown brings up clinical lycanthropy:
Third, “modern doctors regard the delusional aspecst of lycanthropy as psychological in origin. The World History of Psychiatry(1975) explains that hypochondria could sometimes develop into lycanthropy, and gives a disturbing contemporary account of a 30-year-old patient, who fell into melancholy, then developed a monomania which made him believe that he was transformed into a wolf (lycanthropy); he fled from men and sought refuge in the mountains, where he spent the nights howling, visiting graveyards and invoking the dead.”
This point seems self-defeating. Is Pastor Brown arguing that lycanthropy is caused by Satan, or is he making a case for a psychological explanation? Jean Bodin may have been misguided, but he was at least above this sort of sloppiness.
The section ends with the author apparently trying to steer the conclusion towards “yes, werewolves are created by Satan” with the help of a rather dubious anecdote from an unnamed Wisconsin ex-Goth:
To be sure, we would consider someone mentally ill who behaved as the person in the preceeding paragraph. But, people dont actually believe in the black magic aspect of werewolves do they? The answer to that is yes. Several years ago I interviewed a young man from Wisconsin who had been heavily involved in Gothic Vampirism. In his public school librarry he found a book that told him what he needed to make the magical unguent to anoint himself to become a werewolf.
By performing this incantation and ritual, drinking blood and performing other vampire rituals he succeeded in becoming demon possessed. He said two familiar spirits that possessed him “would give me power and the things that I wanted in life so long as I lived my life according to their rules.” This man went on to tell me, “everything seemed great at the time, but in the end I know now exactly, where they were taking me and that was to Hell.”
Notice the emphasis on the Goth obtaining the book in a public school library — a past example of the right-wing fearmongering about such institutions that is presently reaching fever pitch. That said, the idea that a book explaining how to become a werewolf might be found in a school library is not far-fetched. Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book on werewolves lists the potion ingredients necessary for becoming a lycanthrope (the list is, I believe, lifted from Jean le Nynauld’s 1615 volume De la Lycanthropie) and was imitated by various later authors.
Of course, if our Wisconsin friend followed O’Donnell’s recipe to the letter, then he would have been dealing with some combination of parsley, aloe, asafoetida, mandrake, solanum, poppy seed, hemlock and opium. One wonders if hallucinations might have played a part…