Werewolf Wednesday: Montague Summers on Werewolves and Warlocks (1933)

I’ve been reading Montague Summers’ 1933 book The Werewolf in Lore and Legend. While I was hoping to write a chapter-by-chapter overview, as I’ve done with some of the other book-length volumes I’ve covered for this series, it turned out that this just wasn’t practical. Summers’ book is densely written and spends a fair amount of its time merely describing various earlier texts; in these cases, I might as well write posts about whichever documents Summers is quoting from.

That said, there are portions where Summers gives his own commentary, and these are worth looking at. A minor case in point is where Summers quotes from J. Sibbald’s 1802 Chronicle of Scottish Poetry, which has the word “Warwolf” in its glossary:

John Sibbald in the Glossary to his Chronicle of Scottish Poetry has: “Warwolf, according to an antient vulgar idea, a person transformed to a wolf. Teut. weer wolf Swed. warulf, lycanthropus; hoc est, qui ex ridicula vulgi opinione in lupi forma noctu obambulat. Goth, vair, vir; & ulf, lupus. It is not unlikely that Warlock may be a corruption of this word.”

Summers takes exception to Sibbard’s proposed connection between the words warwolf and warlock:

This is, of course, a wholly impossible etymology since the first element in Warlock is the O.E. wær “covenant”; and the second element is related to O.E. leogan “to lie or deny”. Thus the first meaning of Warlock is one who breaks a treaty, the violator of his oath, a man forsworn; hence in general a false and wicked person, and then a magician, a sorcerer.

In clearing up Sibbard’s error, however, Summers made a slip of his own: the J. Sibbald who compiled the Chronicle of Scottish Poetry was actually James Sibbald, not John. In fairness, though, Summers was merely repeating an error made by others before him, as many nineteenth-century sources give the writer’s name as John Sibbald.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering why James Sibbald included “Warwolf” in his glossary, well, one of the works included in his Chronicle of Scottish Poetry is Philotus, a play in verse that he attributes to Robert Semple. The play contains the following verse:

Throw power I charge the of the Paip,
Thow neyther girne, gowl, glowme, nor garp,
Lyke anker faidell, lyke unfell aip,
Lyke owle nor alrische elfe:
Lyke fyrie dragon full of feir,
Lyke warwolf, lyon, bull, not beir,
Bot pass yow hence as thow come heir,
In lykeness of thy selfe.

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