Werewolf Wednesday: Lasse and the Vargamor (1851)

Benjamin Thorpe’s 1851 book Northern Mythology has a chapter on Swedish folklore. Here, we find a one-page section headed “The Werwolf” that includes a single tale of lycanthropy. It deals with a man named Lasse who is turned into a werewolf by a supernatural being called a Vargamor:

In a hamlet within a forest there dwelt a cottager, named Lasse, and his wife. One day he went out in the forest to fell a tree, but had forgotten to cross himself and say his Paternoster, so that some Troll or Witch (Vargamor) got power over him and transformed him into a wolf. His wife mourned for him for several years; but one Christmas eve there came a beggar woman, who appeared very poor and ragged; the good housewife gave her a kind reception, as is customary among Christians at that joyous season. At her departure the beggar woman said that the wife might very probably see her husband again, as he was not dead, but was wandering in the forest as a wolf.

Towards evening the wife went to her pantry, to place in it a piece of meat for the morrow, when on turning to go out, she perceived a wolf standing, which raising itself with its paws on the pantry steps, regarded the woman with sorrowful and hungry looks. Seeing this she said: “If I knew that thou wert my Lasse, I would give thee a bone of meat.” At that instant the wolf-skin fell off, and her husband stood before her in the clothes he had on when he went out on that unlucky morning.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Berserkers, Hags and Landladies (1912)

Elliott O’Donnell’s Werwolves, a compendium of supposedly true cases of lycanthropy, continues its European tour as chapter 16 covers Iceland, Lapland and Finland. O’Donnell starts the chapter on fairly stable historical ground, discussing Icelandic berserkers, but then launches into one of his dubious anecdotes (“told to me on fairly good authority”, he assures us).

The main character here is a berserker named Rerir, who is spurned by a beautiful maiden named Signi. The author gets to indulge his blood-and-thunder tendencies by describing Rerir turning into a bear, breaking into Signi’s family home at night, hugging to death a servent and crushing the skull of Signi’s mother. However, this awakens Signi’s father, who is also a berserker; and the two were-bears proceed to duke it out. Signi herself tries to intervene, but accidentally stabs and kills her father instead of Rerir. The day is saved by the household cook, who happens to have at hand a concoction of sulphur, asafœtida, and castoreum (ingredients mentioned elsewhere in the book as potential wards against lycanthropy). Once the brew is flung in the face of Rerir, he changes back into his true form as a hunchbacked human and is duly executed.

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Werewolf Wednesday: More Ways of Becoming a Werewolf (1912)

Chapter 15 of Wlliott O’Donnel’s 1912 book Werwolves covers lycanthropy in Norway and Sweden. In his characteristic manner, O’Donnell opens with some bold and completely unsourced statements:

As in Denmark, werwolves were once so numerous in Norway and Sweden, that these countries naturally came to be regarded as the true home of lycanthropy. With the advent of the tourist, however, and the consequent springing up of fresh villages, together with the gradual increase of native population, Norway and Sweden have slowly undergone a metamorphosis, with the result that it is now only in the most remote districts, such as the northern portion of the Kiolen Mountains and the borders of Lapland, that werwolves are to be found.

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Werewolf Wednesday: O’Donnell’s Danish Werewolves (1912)

In the fourteenth chapter of his 1912 book Werwolves, Elliott O’Donnell continues his international tour of purportedly true (but woefully under-sourced) lycanthrope lore. This time, he takes us to Denmark, opening with a characteristically stupendous paragraph:

SINCE so much has already been written upon the subject of werwolves in Denmark, it is my intention only to touch upon it briefly. It is, I believe, generally acknowledged that, at one time, werwolves were to be met with almost daily in Denmark, and that they were almost always of the male sex; but I can find no records of any particular form of exorcism practised by the Danes with the object of getting rid of the werwolf, nor of any spell used by them for the same purpose; neither does there appear to be, amongst their traditions, any reference to a lycanthropous flower or stream. Opinions differ as to whether werwolves are yet to be found in Denmark, but, from all I have heard, I am inclined to think that they still exist in the more remote districts of that country.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Trees, Burning, Spells and Other Methods of Combatting Lycanthropes (1912)

After spending a couple of chapters in what can only be described as self-parody, Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves heads back to pseudo-scholarship with its thirteenth chapter: “The Werwolf in Belgium and the Netherlands”.

O’Donnell opens by telling us that “Belgium abounds in stories of werwolves, all more or less of the same type” and asserts that, as with their French counterparts, Belgian lycanthropes are found as both male and female in equal proportions. While the book has offered multiple different methods of becoming a werewolf, we learn that “nearly all the cases of werwolfery in Belgium are hereditary.” The focus of the chapter, however, is less on becoming a werewolf and more on disposing of them:

In Belgium, as in other Roman Catholic countries, great faith is attached to exorcism, and for the expulsion of every sort of “evil spirit” various methods of exorcism are employed. For example, a werwolf is sprinkled with a compound either of 1/2 ounce of sulphur, 4 drachms of asafœtida, 1/4 ounce of castoreum; or of 3/4 ounce of hypericum in 3 ounces of vinegar; or with a solution of carbolic acid further diluted with a pint of clear spring water. The sprinkling must be done over the head and shoulders, and the werwolf must at the same time be addressed in his Christian name. But as to the success or non-success of these various methods of exorcism I cannot make any positive statement. I have neither sufficient evidence to affirm their efficacy nor to deny it.

O’Donnell also recommends rye, mistletoe and mountain ash as tools for driving away lycanthropes, although he warns that the last of these attracts evil spirits in some countries including Ireland, Spain and India.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell Goes to Spain (1912)

And so we come to chapter 12 of Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves: “The Werewolf in Spain”. The author opens with another helping of dubiously-sourced lore:

Werwolves are, perhaps, rather less common in Spain than in any other part of Europe. They are there almost entirely confined to the mountainous regions (more particularly to the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Cantabrian, and the Pyrenees), and are usually of the male species. Generally speaking the property of lycanthropy in Spain appears to be hereditary; and, as one would naturally expect in a country so pronouncedly Roman Catholic, to rid the lycanthropist of his unenviable property it is the custom to resort to exorcism. Though they are extremely rare, both flowers and streams possessing the power of transmitting the property of werwolfery are to be found in the Cantabrian mountains and the Pyrenees. And in Spain, as in Austria-Hungary, precious stones—particularly rubies—not [195]infrequently, and often with disastrous results, attract the werwolf.

After this introduction comes the latest of O’Donnell’s allegedly true narratives. This is set in September 1853 and deals with a “rich, idle, sleek” young man named Paul Nicholas, who travels from Paris to Pamplona and stays at l’Hôtel Hervada. Here, he becomes infatuated with a beautiful woman named Isabelle de Nurrez; but the lady apparently has eyes only for “a very commonplace, middle-aged gentleman with hardly a hair on his head and a paunch that was voted quite disgusting.”

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Werewolf Wednesday: O’Donnell’s Whimsical Werewolves (1912)

Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book on werewolves continues its European travelogue with its eleventh chapter, entitled “Werwolves in Austria-Hungary and the Balkan Peninsula”. O’Donnell begins by telling us that in the mountains of Austria-Hungary and the Balkan Peninsula are flowers which, according to local folklore,  have “the property of converting into werewolves whoever plucks and wears them”. O’Donnell neglects to identify the species, but relates a story that he purportedly heard the summer beforehand: “The Case of the Family of Kloska and the Lycanthropous Flower”.

This tale introduces Otto Kloska, a storekeeper in the Transylvanian village of Kerovitch, along with his wife Vera and children Ivan and Olga. While playing, little Olga stumbles across “a large, very vivid white flower, shaped something like a sunflower, but soft and pulpy, and full of a sweet nauseating odour” which she decides to pop in her buttonhole. Thus begins Olga’s lycanthropic transformation:

And Ivan was preparing to salute her in the proper military style, taught him by a great friend of his in the village, a soldier in the carabineers for whom he had an intense admiration, when his jaw suddenly fell and his eyes bulged.
“Whatever is the matter with you?” Olga asked.
“There’s nothing the matter with me,” Ivan cried, shrinking away from her; “but there is with you. Don’t! don’t make such faces—they frighten me,” and turning round, he ran to the place where he had made his descent and tried to climb up.

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Werewolf Wednesday: The Ballad of the Loup-Garou (c. 1501)

Back in 1824, William J. Thoms included a ballad touching upon lycanthropy in the French volume of his series Lays and Legends of Various Nations: Illustrative of their Traditionals, Popular Literature, Manners, Customs and Superstitions. The book includes both an English translation and the original French form of the ballad, the latter attributed to the sixteenth-century compendium Le Jardin de Plaisance et Fleur de Rhétorique. This volume had multiple editions since its initial publication in 1501, and I am not sure how many include the ballad in question; Thoms specifically credits “the edition without date”.

Both versions, along with Thoms’ brief commentary, are reproduced below. The ballad tells the humorous story of a man who dresses as a werewolf in a misguided attempt to court a lady.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell’s Lycanthropous Brook (1912)

Having taken us to the Harz Mountains in chapter 9 of his book Werwolves, Elliott O’Donnell takes us on a return trip in the next chapter: “A Lycanthropous Brook in the Harz Mountains; or, The Case of the Countess Hilda Von Breber”.

The story takes place “somewhere about the beginning of the last century” and deals with Count Carl Von Breber (chief of the police of Magdeburg, apparently) and his wife Hilda spending the night in Grautz, a village at the centre of the Harz Mountains. While travelling, the two happen across a brook that their dogs refused to enter. A local innkeeper informs them that the brook is known as Wolf Hollow, and that according to legend, anyone who drinks from it shall befall a misfortune.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell in the Harz Mountains (1912)

The ninth chapter of Elliott O’Donnell’s book Werwolves is devoted to German lycanthropes. Curiously, O’Donnell makes no mention of Stubbe Peeter, surely the most famous example of a “real” werewolf in history, although he is possibly alluding to the Stubbe affair when he comments that “many of the best-authenticated cases have been told so often, that it is difficult for me to alight on any that is not already well known”.

Instead, his main source of inspiration appears to be Frederick Marryat’s story of the White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains. After characterising Germany as a country rich in supernatural folklore, O’Donnell declares that here, the werewolf “seems to have confined itself almost entirely to the Harz Mountains, where it was formerly most common and more dreaded than any other visitant from the Unknown”. He then launches into a narrative entitled “The Case of Herr Hellen and the Werwolves of the Harz Mountains”; although this is presented as a true story, anyone familiar with Marryat’s fiction will be rubbing their chins in suspicion.

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