Werewolf Wednesday: Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal on Lycanthropy (1849)


The below article, entitled “Lycanthropy”, comes from the August 25 1849 edition of Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal. The piece treats werewolves as a western equivalent to the ghouls of the Arabian Nights, and suggests that tales of vampires, werewolves and ghouls stem from a single psychological source. In making this argument, the author discusses the familiar rogues’ gallery of alleged vampire Arnold Paole, alleged werewolf Jean Grenier and probable necrophile François Bertrand, the last of these being the main case study.

The article is an example of how broad the concept of clinical lycanthropy was during the nineteenth century. Today, the term is used in a stricter sense to refer to people who believe that they have the ability to transform into animals. As this article shows, however, the concept was once associated with a broader range of bestial compulsions. Had Bertrand’s corpse-violating crimes taken place today, then he would likely be described as ghoulish; I can also imagine tabloids likening him to a vampire, given his fondness for cemeteries and coffins. But I rather doubt that people would equate him with a werewolf.

WHOEVER has read the ‘Arabian Nights’ Entertainments’ will be acquainted with the words goul and vampyre. A goal was believed to be a being in the human form, who frequented graveyards and cemeteries, where it disinterred, tore to pieces, and devoured the bodies buried there. A vampyre was a dead person, who came out of his grave at night to suck the blood of the living, and whoever was so sucked became a vampyre in his turn when he died.

Both these persuasions have been rejected by the modern scientific world as altogether unworthy of credence or inquiry, although, about a century ago, the exploits of vampyres created such a sensation in Ilungary, that they reached the ears of Louis XV, who directed his minister at Vienna to report upon them. In a newspaper of that period there appeared a paragraph to the effect that Arnold Paul, a native of Madveiga, being crushed to death by a wagon, and buried, had since become a vampyre, and that he had himself been previously bitten by one.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Notes on Lycanthropy (1802)


The August 1802 edition of The Scots Magazine includes a letter on the topic of lycanthropy. Although the author makes early digressions into the Lazzaroni of Naples (I’m unfamiliar as to this area of werewolf folklore) and Ethiopian were-hyenas, the general focus is on British werewolves.


Among the popular superstitions of Scotland, there seems to have been one, the traces of which are now almost obliterated, the origin of which might be a subject of curious and entertaining discussion. Lycanthropy, or the belief of the occasional transformation of magicians, and sometimes of other persons by the power of magicians, seems formerly to have been very extensively diffused.

In Germany, the belief was at one time quite current, and is alluded to by various authors. Among the Lazzaroni of Naples, the manners of whom have too much verisimilitude to the idea, this transformation was very recently believed. [James] Bruce found a similar notion prevalent in Abyssinia; and relates that the inhabitants of Gondar imagined the hyænas that infested their streets by night, and were accustomed to prey on mangled carcasses, were individuals of the Jewish tribes of Samen, transformed into the shape of that ferocious animal.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Glossographia (1656)

Peter Stubbe

This week’s snippet of werewolf history comes from Thomas Blount’s Glossographia, an early dictionary published in 1656. Besides The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter (1590) the Glossographia is the earliest text I’ve covered for this series, and it specifically mentions the Stubbe Peter/Peter Stumpp case in its entry on the word “Werewolf”:

Werewolf or Were-wolf (were in the old Sax. was sometimes used for man) this name remains still known in the Teutonick, and is as much as to say Man-wolf; which is a certain Sorcerer, who having anointed his body with an Ointment, made by instinct of the Devil, and putting on a certain inchanted Girdle, does not only to the view of others, seen as a Wolf, but to his own thinking, hath both the shape and nature of a Wolf, so long as he wears the said Girdle, and accordingly worries and kills humane creatures. Of these sundry have been taken in Germany, and the Netherlands. One Peter Stump, for being a Were-wolf and having killed Thirteen Children, Two Women, and One Man, was at Bedhur, not far from Cullen, in the year of 1859 [sic], put to a very terrible death.

The year given for Stumpp’s execution is an obvious typo: he was killed in 1589, not 1859.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The Hand of the Were-Wolf” (1841)

The World of Fashion was a publication that ran from 1824 to 1879 and included fiction alongside its coverage of clothing. In an 1841 edition of the magazine we find an anonymous story called “The Hand of the Were-Wolf”, which opens with a short history of the werewolf legend, traced dubiously to Chaldea:

The term Were-Wolf has probably descended to us from the Chaldeans, and other pastoral nations, who were obliged to live continually on the defensive against the wolves that followed their flocks; and the terror inspired by these animals favored the nocturnal depredations of unprincipled individuals, who availed themselves of a disguise, as a wolf, to perpetrate mischief of all kinds.

The story takes us to the French village of Ryans, where a local family — the Gordes — are believed by superstitious villagers to be werewolves. The inescapable prejudice takes its toll on the Gordes, who are forced to live in poverty and squalor. One by one they die of disease; the sole survivor is Simon Gorde, who wishes that he really were a lycanthrope:

“Ah! would that I were the Wolf they say I am; I would revenge the injuries that are heaped upon me. But no! I would not eat their flesh, or drink their blood. I would pursue, and torment them; the unfeeling wretches who allowed my family to die–my father, mother, sisters, all! Why have I not the power to transform myself into a Wolf, if my fathers did so; at least I should find carrion, and I should not perish with hunger.”

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Werewolf Wednesday: “The Wehr Wolf’s Song” (1859)

This week’s slice of werewolf literature comes from an obscure 1859 book entitled Home Lyrics: Secular and Sacred, from a Country Parsonage. The editor is identified simply as “a village incumbent”. Google Books indicates that an individual named Abner William Brown was involved in the book’s composition, although it’s not clear where this information came from.

The book’s preface introduces its contents as “a selection from poetry written by different members of one family, at various and widely-separated dates.” We are told that some of the poems were published elsewhere, but the preface doesn’t specify which ones and where they saw print.

Amongst the contents is a poem entitled “The Wehr Wolf’s Song”. The antiquated spelling was used by other writers in the nineteenth century — see also George W. M. Reynolds’ Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf — but the poem’s depiction of a werewolf is like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere. The anonymous poet appears to have conceived werewolves as sea monsters that destroy boats.

Here’s the poem in full:

I ride on the wave where no eye can see;
The pearl of the ocean belong to me;
My diamonds are clearer than evening dew,
My gems may rival the rainbow’s hue!
My magic realm is the broad blue main,
Where mariner’s skill is all in vain.
When I behold a deep-laden barque,
On its white sails I stamp my mark;
Then fierce rise the waves with a sudden gale,
And the art of the pilot can nought avail,
And I hoard its treasure that sinks to me
In the coral caves of the fathomless sea.
How oft have I watched a little boat
On the pitiless briny waves afloat,
And gazed with delight on its dread distress,
As the trouble sailors shorewards press;
While I raise the waves with savage spleen,
And the boat engulphed is never more seen.

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

Screenshot_20221018-155102_Samsung Internet
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.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 15 (1865)

François Bertrand, the “Human Hyæna”

Chapter 15 of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves has the intriguing title “Anomalous Case.–The Human Hyæna” but turns out to, again, have a tenuous link to lycanthropy.

The chapter opens with an account of the flesh-eating ghouls depicted in the Arabian Nights (“it is well known that Oriental romance is full of stories of violators of graves”). Baring-Gould argues that these ghouls were inspired by actual grave-robbers who dug up fat and hair from corpses for use in magic spells.

He then provides a story of fifteenth-century ghouls from Fornari’s History of Sorcerers; as this tale attributes the habit of blood-drinking to its ghouls, Baring-Gould comments that the story connects ghouls to vampires — and therefore, indirectly, to werewolves, as the present book has already drawn a line between the vampire and the lycanthrope.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 14 (1865)

The fourteenth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves is entitled “A Galician Were-Wolf” and opens with a summary of the demography of Galicia, a historical region spanning parts of what are now Poland and Ukraine. The author goes on to discuss an event that happened “sixteen years ago” (circa 1849, then) in the Galician hamlet of Polomyja. Or, at least, he discusses this event after another digression, this time describing the hamlet in question, and gives the general impression that he is padding things just a little.

The main narrative, when it finally begins, concerns an elderly beggar named Swiatek. While on his way to Polomyja, he is taken in by a couple who have adopted an orphan:

“She’s a good little thing, and gives no trouble,” observed the woman. “You go back to Polomyja tonight, I reckon.”
“I do—ah!” exclaimed Swiatek, as the little girl ran up to him. You like the ring, is it not beautiful? I found it under a big fir to the left of the churchyard,there may be dozens there. You must turn round three times, bow to the moon, and say, ‘Zaboï!’ then look among the tree-roots till you find one.”
“Come along!” screamed the child to its comrades; “we will go and look for rings.”
“You must seek separately,” said Swiatek.
The children scampered off into the wood.
“I have done one good thing for you,” laughed the beggar, “in ridding you, for a time, of the noise of those children.”
“I am glad of a little quiet now and then,” said the woman; “the children will not let the baby sleep at times with their clatter. Are you going?”
“Yes; I must reach Polomyja to-night. I am old and very feeble, and poor”—he began to fall into his customary whine— very poor, but I thank and pray to God for you.”
Swiatek left the cottage.
That little orphan was never seen again.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapters 11-13 (1865)

Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves devotes chapters eleven through thirteen to a single case study: that of Gilles de Laval, Maréchal de Retz — more commonly known today as Gilles de Rais. “The history of the man whose name heads this chapter I purpose giving in detail,” writes our author, “as the circumstances I shall narrate have, I believe, never before been given with accuracy to the English public.” Crediting Paul Lacroix as his main source, Baring-Gould then warns the reader that his summary of the case will cover “horrors probably unsurpassed in the whole volume of the world’s history.”

I don’t really need to summarise these three chapters, as the life of Gilles de Rais has been covered extensively elsewhere (with more up-to-date research than was available in the 1860s, as well). Suffice to say that Baring-Gould’s distinctive blend of the matter-of-fact and the macabre is on full show: “Henriet counted thirty-six children’s heads, but there were more bodies than heads. This night’s work, he said, had produced a profound impression on his imagination, and he was constantly haunted with a vision of these heads rolling as in a game of skittles, and clashing with a mournful wail.”

And if you’re wondering whether Baring-Gould is making the case that Gilles de Rais was a werewolf, the short answer is no. By this point, he seems to be filing any acts of extreme sadism in the category of lycanthropy.

Werewolf Wednesday: Sabine Baring-Gould Chapter 10 (1865)

Khara the Râkschasa

The tenth chapter of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Were-Wolves tackles the “Mythological Origin of the Were-Wolf Myth”:

It was not merely a fancied external resemblance between the beast and man, but it was the perception of skill, pursuits, desires, sufferings, and griefs like his own, in the animal creation, which led man to detect within the beast something analogous to the soul within himself; and this, notwithstanding the points of contrast existing between them, elicited in his mind so strong a sympathy that, without a great stretch of imagination, he invested the beast with his own attributes, and with the full powers of his own understanding. He regarded it as actuated by the same motives, as subject to the same laws of honour, as moved by the same prejudices, and the higher the beast was in the scale, the more he regarded it as an equal

He illustrates this with two examples: one, a scene from Iceland’s Finnboga Saga in which Finnbog speaks to a bear; the other an Osage story recorded in J. A. Jones’ Traditions of the North American Indians that deals with anthropomorphized beavers.

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