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Lycanthropy

Lycanthropy

The transformation of a human being into
a wolf. There are two types of lycanthropy: a mania in
which a person imagines himself to be a wolf and exhibits
a craving for blood; and the magical-ecstatic transformation
of a person into a werewolf (“man-wolf,” from the
Old English werewolves , man, plus wolf), usually accomplished
with ointments or magical charm .
Werewolf lore has existed since antiquity. In some legends,
the werewolf is a person born under a curse, who
cannot prevent himself from his hellish metamorphosis,
which happens on nights of the full Moon. The person,
usually a man, but sometimes a woman or a child, acquires
the shape of a wolf and all its attributes, and roams
about the countryside attacking and eating victims. In
most tales, the werewolf is wounded, and the wound sympathetically
carries over to the human form and reveals
the identity of the werewolf.

In other legends, the werewolf is a sorcerer or witch
who deliberately transforms himself at will to do evil
and lay waste to his enemies. In South America, shamans,
like sorcerers, turn into werewolves and attack
and drink the blood of their enemies. Sorcerers also turn
into other were-animals (man-animals), including serpents,
leopards, panthers, jackals, bear, coyotes, owls,
foxes and other feared creatures. But it is the wolf who
elicits the most universal fear and is the most dangerous
of were-animals. Navajo lore holds that witches become
werewolves and other were-animals by donning animal
skins, which enables them to travel about at night at great
speed. Were-animal witches are said to meet in caves at
night, where they initiate new members, plan ritual killings-at-a-distance,
practice necrophilia with the corpses
of women and eat their victims.

Werewolf beliefs were strong in medieval times in Europe
and the Baltic countries. Later, in the 15th and 16th
centuries, it was believed that werewolves, like witches,
became servants of the Devil by diabolic pacts , and trials of accused werewolves increased. The
cases were characterized by murder and cannibalism. In
1573 in Dole, France, Gilles Garnier was tried and convicted
for the murder of several children. He confessed
that he killed one victim, a 10-year-old girl, with his teeth
and claws, then stripped off her clothing and ate part of
her. He took the rest of her flesh home to his wife. He
strangled a 10-year-old boy (he did not specify how a wolf
can strangle), then bit off a leg and ate the boy’s thighs and
belly. He was identified when he attacked another victim
but was interrupted by several peasants, who thought
they recognized Garnier’s face, despite his wolf form. He
was sentenced to be burned alive.

One of the most celebrated werewolf trials was that
of Peter Stubb (also Stube or Stumpf) in 1589 at Bedburg
near Cologne. Put on the rack and threatened with torture,
Stubb made a lurid confession. He said that he had
practiced the “wicked arts” from the age of 12 years and
that the Devil had given him a magic belt that enabled
him to change into a “devouring wolf.” By taking the belt
off, he returned to the shape of a man.

For 25 years, Stubb terrorized the countryside at night,
stalking children, women, men, lambs, sheep and goats.
He was an “insatiable bloodsucker,” taking great pleasure
in killing. He killed his own son and ate his brains. He
killed lambs, kids and other livestock, “feeding on the
same most usually raw and bloody.” He murdered 13
young children and two pregnant women. He confessed
to incest with his daughter, Beell (Bell) and sexual escapades
with various mistresses, including a “gossip,” Katherine
Trompin. His lust remained unsated, so the Devil
sent him a succubus.

Stubb was finally exposed when some hunters chased
him down in wolf form, and he slipped off his belt and
was recognized.

In his trial, his daughter and Trompin were judged accessories
in some of the murders. Like many condemned
witches in Germany, Stubb was sentenced to torture and
execution.

One unusual werewolf case resembles that of the
benandanti of northern Italy: the werewolves were men
who left their bodies and in spirit assumed the shapes
of wolves, descending into the underworld to battle the
witches. The case was tried in 1692 in Jurgensburg, Livonia,
an area east of the Baltic Sea steeped in werewolf lore,
and involved an 80-year-old man named Thiess.
Thiess freely confessed to being a werewolf. He testified
that his nose had been broken by a man named
Skeistan, a witch who was dead at the time he struck
Thiess. His story of how it happened was this: Skeistan
and other witches prevented crops from growing by
carrying seed grain into hell. Thiess was a werewolf,
who, with other werewolves, attempted to protect the
crops by descending into hell and fighting with the
witches to recover what was stolen. Three times a year,
on the nights of St. Lucia, Pentecost and St. John (seasonal
changes), the battles took place. If the werewolves
delayed their descent, the witches barred the gates of
hell, and the crops and livestock, even the fish catch,
suffered. The werewolves carried iron bars as weapons,
and the witches carried broom handles. Skeistan had
broken Thiess’s nose with a broom handle wrapped in
a horse’s tail.

The judges, naturally, were shocked to hear that
werewolves, who were supposed to be agents of the
Devil, could not tolerate the Devil and fought against
witches. Asked what happened to werewolves at death,
Thiess replied that they were buried like ordinary folk,
and their souls went to heaven—another shock for the
judges. Thiess insisted that the werewolves were the
“hounds of God” who served mankind, preventing the
Devil from carrying off the abundance of the earth. If
not for them, everyone would suffer. He said werewolves
in Germany and Russia likewise fought the witches in
their own hells.

Thiess refused to confess that he had signed a pact
with the Devil, despite the efforts of the judges. Even the
parish priest, summoned to chastise him for his evil ways,
failed to sway Thiess. The old man angrily said he was a
better man than the priest and that he was neither the
first, nor would be the last, werewolf to fight the witches.
The judges sentenced him to 10 lashes for acts of idolatry
and superstitious beliefs.

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Categories:   Paganism and Witchcraft

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