Thursday, October 28, 2021

HGB Ep. 408 - Legends of Werewolves

Moment in Oddity - Death By Giant Umbrellas (Suggested by: John Michaels)

They say art is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes art is meant to make a political statement. But art should never be deadly. Sometimes it is though and in 1991, it was downright bizarre. In 1991, husband and wife artist team Christo and Jeanne-Claude put up an environmental installation that consisted of thousands of giant yellow and blue umbrellas. The installation opened in California and Japan simultaneously. The giant umbrellas measured about 20 feet in height, 28 feet in diameter and weighed about 500 pounds. The California piece stretched for 12 miles and the one in Japan was 18 miles. People came from everywhere to see the art piece. Two months after the exhibit was installed, a ind gust uprooted one of the umbrellas and blew into a woman named Lori Rae Keevil-Mathews. The giant umbrella crushed her against a boulder, killing her. Christo ordered the umbrellas to be taken down after that, but the umbrellas weren't done taking lives. A crane operator in Japan named Masaaki Nakamura was electrocuted when the crane's arm touched a 65,000-volt high-tension line while he was removing an umbrella. Giant umbrellas killing people certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Sydney Opera House Opens

In the month of October, on the 20th, in 1973, the Sydney Opera House opens. The opera house is an iconic symbol for not only Sydney, but also Australia. The spot chosen for it alongside Sydney Harbor was a site once held sacred by the Gadigal people. The structure was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon and took 15 years to finish. The opera house was funded from profits of the Opera House Lotteries and cost $80 million to build. The distinctive design features geometric roof shells and there are several large auditoriums inside. Queen Elizabeth II dedicated the Sydney Opera House on that day in 1973. The first performance in the complex was the Australian Opera’s production of Sergei Prokofiev’s War and Peace. In 2007, the opera house was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, giving it placement along side structures like the pyramids in egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal. That made it the youngest structure to be included on the list and only one of two that made the list during the life of its architect. Utzon passed away in 2008.

Legends of Werewolves (Suggested by: Wes Hawkins)

Werewolf lore has been a part of human history for centuries and some of the best horror movies feature werewolves. We've covered the hysteria that surrounded the witch hunts and trials in Europe and America. Not many people realize that there was a similar hysteria when it came to reports of werewolves. It is possible that 100,000 people were executed for being suspected werewolves in Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries. On this episode, we are going to explore some of the legends of werewolves throughout the world. 

Universal's The Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, A Company of Wolves, The Howling, Wolf, Teen Wolf, Wolfen, Ginger Snaps, Silver Bullet, Dog Soldiers, Underworld, Werewolves Within (which just came out in 2021) and then that Twilight series thing, are just a handful of the movies that have featured stories of werewolves. Many of us cut our horror teeth on these movies and if Rick Baker's special effects and make-up in "An American Werewolf in London" didn't make you actually consider going into the business of movie make-up, you better check your pulse. All of these movies have been inspired by the legends and lore passed down through the generations. They built a traditional lore that holds to a few basic principles. A person becomes a werewolf after being attacked by a werewolf and surviving. The full moon brings about transformation and the human either transforms completely into a wolf or a bipedal man-wolf. The only way to kill the werewolf was with a silver bullet. For some cultures, werewolves have been a very real thing and stories of skinwalkers and dogmen have even been a part of modern day America. Where did all of this start?

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the beginning of so many legends. In this story, Gilgamesh turns away a potential lover when he learns that she turned her ex into a wolf. 1020 AD would find the first use of the term werewulf in English. There is the story of Niciros that other scholars claim is the first story of a werewolf. The website claims that this is the real first story because this is an actual transformation like what we are used to when it comes to werewolves. This was written by Petronius, who obviously was a Roman writer. He was a scribe in the court of Nero, so no wonder he was able to come up with a horror story of man becoming wolf. He included the story in his anthology titled Satyricon, which was written around AD 61. It tells the story of friends Niciros and a companion. They are traveling and need to relieve themselves. They are outside traveling and so naturally this needs to happen in nature, but they pick a bad spot, a cemetery. It clearly is disrespectful to urinate in a cemetery. Things get really weird when Niciros' friend rips off his clothes and urinates a circle around himself. He gives a maniacal laugh as he tranforms into a wolf and heads into a nearby town. While there, he kills a bunch of farm animals and is finally stabbed in the neck by a townsperson, killing him. So apparently, no silver bullet is needed here.

Probably the next werewolf legend would come out of Greek mythology. Lycaon was the son of Pelas, and he was called to serve a meal to Zeus. He served Zeus human flesh, which so outraged the god that he turned Lycaon into a wolf. This is where we get the term for the werewolf transformation, Lycanthropy, which is the supernatural transformation of a person into a wolf and sometimes other creatures like cats, goats, oxen and dogs. The full moon coming into play as part of the lore may have been inspired by the fact that some people go crazy when there is a full moon and reveal the beast inside them. Maybe that's why several serial killers centuries ago were thought to be werewolves.

There were medical conditions that may have led to some rumors and stories of werewolves. Pitt-Hopkins syndrome was officially discovered in 1978, but has been a condition for centuries probably that causes lack of speech, distinct facial features, difficulty breathing, seizures and intellectual challenges. Food poisoning sometimes caused people to act like an animal as did rabies. Hallucinogenic herbs could cause people to act out in strange animalistic ways. Medical lycanthropy is a psychological condition that causes people to believe they’re changing into a wolf. And hypertrichosis is a genetic disorder that causes excessive hair growth all over the body. 

Werewolves started making appearances in the lore of cultures around the world. Witchcraft and werewolves seemed to go hand in hand and their trials were very similar or sometimes held at the same time. People claimed that witches could shapeshift into wolves or that they would ride wolves to Sabbats. Let's look at some of these legends:

Nordic Werewolves

The Nordic people had shaman among them. Some of these shaman would go into the woods and abandon human contact and their identity. They would conduct initiation rites to become wolf-warriors. They would live their lives in the wild and people started referring to them as wolfmen. Nordic folklore has The Saga of the Volsungs. In this story, a man and his son, Sigmund and Sinfjötli, find wolf pelts that have the power to turn people into wolves for ten days. They use the pelts on themselves and they do indeed turn into wolves. Then they go on a killing rampage in the forest until the father ends up attacking his own son, leaving a mortal wound. A raven brings a leaf with healing powers and the son is saved. There is also Egil's Saga which features the character Ulf Bjalfason. At night, his mood would darken and he would isolate from people. Villagers thought his behaviour was suspicious and they started calling him Kveld Ulf, which means night’s wolf. We're not sure if he killed anyone, but people believed he changed his skin. And in Norse mythology, Loki's son is the Great wolf Fenrir who kills Odin during the events of Ragnarök. He symbolized power, wildness and chaos.

Irish Werewolves

In Ireland, a story about two werewolves was written as a treatise, which means it was treated as fact rather than legend. The story goes that a priest was traveling from Ulster to Meath when he was approached by a wolf. The wolf spoke to him and he wondered how a creature could look like a wolf, but talk like a man. The man said that he and his wife were from Ossory and that they had been cursed to be wolves. It seems that in Ossory, every seven years, a man and woman would be compelled to take the form of wolves. When the seven years was up, they returned to human and two more people would become wolves. He told the priest that his wife was sick and dying and he asked the priest to come to his wife and give her absolution. The priest was terrified, but followed the wolf. The male wolf peeled the wolf skin down his wife to the waist to prove to the priest that she was a human and the priest gave her the viaticum. The wolf rolled her skin back up and she returned to her wolf form. This was indexed in the Topographia Hibernica in 1188.

South America Werewolves

El lobizon is the South American werewolf. The legend is shared throughout Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay and was started by the indigineous people known as the Guarani. There was a belief that the seventh son in a family would turn into a werewolf on the night of a full moon. The creature symbolized death and eventually melded with the legends Europeans brought with them and became a half man and half wolf.

Mexican Werewolves

Mexican werewolves are called Nagual (Na'wal). Mesoamericans believed that the Nagual was a guardian spirit that lived in animals, but they also believed that it was something that gave men the power to transform into an animal. This was much like a magician who could disguise itself. A Nagual was a powerful man disguising himself as a wolf in order to cause harm.

Montreal Werewolves

The First Nations people of Montreal had a rich tradition of stories about werewolf-like creatures that they called Waheela, Shukla Warakin, Amarok and the Wendigo. Werewolf sightings started in Montreal in the 1600s. The stories came over with the French colonists who had been dealing with werewolves since the late 1400s. One of the first legends was about a man named Jean Dubroise who had one of the most productive farms on Montreal Island. His neighbors were confused though because they never saw Dubroise working the land. A fellow farmer was walking home one night and decided to cut across Dubroise's property. His name was Alphonse and he was enibrated, so take that into account as we share his experience. He heard a very loud noise overhead and when he looked up, he saw a large flying canoe. This canoe landed in a field on Dubroise's farm and Alphonse claimed that the Devil stepped out of the canoe and he told the others in the canoe to get out as he cracked a whip. Twenty hunched-over wolfmen climbed out of the canoe. Alphonse jumped in the bushes to hide and watched the werewolves do all the work on the farm.

Later, when the werewolves, Devil and canoe left, Alphonse went to the church and reported what he had saw, also including that Dubroise had come out to talk to the Devil and that he thought the man had sold his soul in exchange for the work. The priest was alarmed and the next day led a group of parishioners to the the farm where they poured holy water everywhere. They hid and waited to see what happened that night. The Devil showed up with the canoe and when everyone stepped out onto the ground, they shrieked in pain. The werewolves ran away. The Devil believed that Dubroise had betrayed him, so he tore the door off the house and dragged the man to the canoe and took off. The Priest and other men rounded up the werewolves and pricked them with a knife, which was the only way to turn them back to men. The men asked for forgiveness and became devout.

Another interesting legend was about a miller named Joachim Crete who took in a French immigrant named Hubert Sauvageau. Not long after that, local sheep and cattle started turning up dead, clearly attacked by a wild animal. Crete figured out what was happening when he ran into a werewolf late one night walking home. He took out a scythe and cut the creature's ear off, causing it to flee. Crete found Sauvageau the next morning in the bathroom washing his head, which was bleeding. He saw that the man was missing an ear. In the 1880s, Montreal had a rash of sheep killings in which the poor animals had their throats torn out. The townspeople believed a local man was a werewolf and they searched his property. They found a wolfskin belt and when they confronted him, he admitted that he turned into a wolf when he put the belt on and that he had killed the sheep. The townspeople burned the belt and this stopped the killings. 

And there is this story that appeared in the Quebec Gazette on December 2, 1767 about the Kamasouraska area, “We learn that a Ware-Wolfe, which has roamed throughout this Province for several Years, and done great Destruction in the District of Quebec, has received several considerable Attacks in the month of October last, by different Animals, which they had armed and incensed against this Monstre; and especially the 3rd of November following, he received such a furious Blow, from a small lean Beast, that it was thought they were entirely delivered from this fatal Animal, as it some Time after retired into its Hole, to the great Satisfaction of the Public. But they have just learn’d, as the most surest Misfortune, that this Beast is not entirely destroyed, but begins again to show itself, more furious than ever, and makes terrible Hovock wherever it goes.—Beware then of the Wiles of this malicious Beast, and take good Care of falling into its Claws.”

Thiess of Livonia

Livonia was once part of Estonia that is found in the Baltic. This became a hotbed for werewolf persecution in the 1600s with 18 trials for 31 people accused of being werewolves. One of these people was an octogenarian named Theiss. The trial was held in Jurgensburg and Theiss made a full confession, claiming that he shapeshifted into a wolf along with other men and that they went to hell three times a year to guarantee a good harvest. He proclaimed they were the hounds of God and kept the evil ones from stealing their seeds, crops and livestock. He claimed that there were werewolves in Russia and Germany as well. His accusers tried to get him to admit he made a pact with the Devil, but he never did. He was sentenced to receive ten lashings. 

The Galician Werewolf

Sabine Baring-Gould wrote the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and he was a clergyman who talked openly about a case of werewolves in 1849. This happened in what would become modern-day Poland near a thick pine forest. A beggar named Swiatek lived in a hovel outside the church and the villagers brought him alms and food. He seemed particularly fond of one of the families young daughters. He gave her a ring one day and told her to go to a pine in the churchyard with it and recite an incantation. He said she would find more jewels after doing that. The young girl disappeared, as did the beggar. Then other children who played amongst the pines disappeared. The villagers believed that wolves were carrying off the children and they killed any wolves they saw. Swiatek was found some time later at a home with his wife and children. Villagers had smelled cooking meat and thought that Swiatek and his family had cooked a couple of ducks that had gone missing. When they busted in the door, they saw the man hiding something in his coat. They grabbed him and when they opened his coat, they found the head of a young girl. The beggar confessed to killing and eating six people. He was placed in jail, but killed himself before the trial for lycanthropy started.

Jean Grenier

In the early spring of 1603, the St. Severs district of Gascony, South-West France found itself the center of werewolf attacks. Boys and girls started disappearing and two girls claimed to have escaped the attacks of a wolf under the full moon. The local magistrate started an investigation and everyone was shocked when a 14-year-old boy named Jean Grenier stepped forward and claimed to have committed the attacks. He claimed that he had a wolf-skin and when he put it on, he would turn into a wolf. He claimed to be part of a pack of werewolves with nine members and that they hunted three times a week, usually feasting on young children. Grenier went on to say that another boy named Pierre de la Tilhaire, had taken him into the forest one night to meet "The Lord of the Forest." This creature marked Grenier's thigh and gave him an icy kiss and a wolf-skin to help him transform into a werewolf.

Grenier confessed to the murders and shared details no one else knew. The court took pity on him since he was young and poorly educated and sent him  to be with the Franciscans at the friary of St Michael the Archangel, Bordeaux, in 1603. A friend visited him seven years later and claimed that Grenier had hands with nails like talons, his teeth had become longer like fangs, his eyes were sunken and black and he ran on all fours. He would only eat raw meat. He died a year later with most people assuming that he had a mental disorder.

The Werewolf Demon Tailor

There is another tale that comes out of France and that ended with a tailor being burned at the stake in 1598 for being a werewolf. No one knows his name, but he came to be known as the Werewolf of Chalons or the Demon Tailor. Chalons is in the Champagne region and he owned a tailor shop here. It was said that the tailor liked to lure children into his shop with promises of treats. He would abuse the children, kill them and then cut up their bodies, consuming some of the flesh and storing the rest in barrels in the shop's cellar. He also committed crimes out in the forests, attacking travelers in the form of a wolf. Eventually, the bones were found in the barrels of his cellar and he was put on trial. He was sentenced to burn at the stake for being a werewolf even though he professed his innocence. His name and nearly all records of this case were then disappeared from history, but word-of-mouth kept the story alive.

The Bedburg Werewolf

In 15th century Germany, there was the Bedburg Werewolf. The story was passed down through pamphlets that finally made their way into Montague Summers work "The Werewolf." This was about a man named Peter Stubbe who was a wealthy farmer in Bedburg. Rumors started to circulate that he was turning into a wolf-like creature at night. Apparently there were some gruesome murders taking place and Stubbe was stretched on a rack until he confessed to practicing black magic and that the Devil gave him a magic belt that helped him turn into a large wolf. He would return to human after taking off the belt. He went on to claim that he had killed fourteen children and two pregnant women and eaten some of their flesh. He was sentenced to death and the execution was carried out on October 31, 1589. It was brutal. He was put on a wheel and had flesh torn from his body with burning pinchers and then his limbs were broken with the blunt end of an axe. He was beheaded and burned on a pyre. No magic belt was ever found.

Wolf of Ansbach 

This is probably one of the most famous werewolf legends in history. Here is a poem about this creature:

I, wolf, was a grim beast and devourer of many children
Which I far preferred to fat sheep and steers;
A rooster killed me, a well was my death.
I now hang from the gallows, for the ridicule of all people.
As a spirit and a wolf, I bothered men
How appropriate, now that people say:
“Ah! You damned spirit who entered the wolf,
You now swing from the gallows disguised as a man
This is your fair compensation, the gift you have earned;
This you deserve, a gibbet is your grave.
Take this reward, because you have devoured the sons of men
Like a fierce and ferocious beast, a real child eater.

So what really happened here? There was a Bavarian town called Ansbach that suffered a rash of animal killings that were followed by the killing of children in 1685. Wolves are not known to hunt alone. They work together as a pack, so to have a lone wolf is strange. Add to a lone wolf that it began hunting children and it wasn't a far leap for villagers to proclaim that a werewolf was among them. And the villagers knew exactly which of them was transforming into this creature.

There was a Burgomaster, which is like a mayor, of Ansbach who was named Michael Leicht. Everybody hated this guy and with good reason. He was a cruel leader and kept the town under a yoke. Nobody was sad when he died, but soon after his death, villagers started claiming that he had escaped death by transferring his spirit to a wolf. Drawn images of him in the form of a wolf wrapped in a white-linen shroud started circulating as people claimed that he visited his old apartment, scaring the new tenants. Villagers gathered together and decided to hunt down the wolf before their children were killed.

The hunters created a wolf pit, which was a hole dug in the ground with stone walls to secure it and then branches and straw were placed over the top to conceal it. They placed raw meat in the pit to attract the werewolf, but when they got no success with that, they switched to live bait and put a rooster in the pit. The wolf came along and fell into the pit and the hunters killed the creature. They then pulled the body out of the pit and paraded it through the streets. But before they did that, they cut off its muzzle and put a cardboard mask on the head with the features of Leicht drawn on it. They also put a wig and cloak on it. When the parade was over, the wolf was hanged by a gibbet on a hill, so that everyone in the village could see it.  

The villagers felt that this display represented several things. Number one, they were no longer in danger, but by skinning the beast and putting it in human clothes, it was like they were getting rid of their political enemy. It made them feel as though they took the Burgomaster out themselves. But they also felt that this sent a message to the Devil that they would take out any of his evil servants that he might send. Villagers had been killed by the beast, but there is no record as to how many that was and many still lived in fear believing that more werewolves were around them. One has to wonder though what they thought when the creature did not revert to being a human once it was killed.

The Beast of Bray Road

Probably the most famous modern day tale of a werewolf creature is the Beast of Bray Road, which is often referred to as a dogman. Diane interviewed Linda Godfrey several years ago who is the expert on this case and has written several books about this creature and other weird anomalies. The first sighting of this creature was in 1936 in Wisconsin, but it gained popularity in the 1980s. It was first seen on Bray Road, which is where its name comes from, but has wandered to the counties of Jefferson, Walworth and Racine. Godfrey was a reporter at the time and she was assigned by the Walworth County Week to cover the story. She was a complete skeptic and expected to find that the story was made up. The more people she interviewed, the more convinced she became that there was some kind of bipedal wolf-like/dog-like creature roaming Bray Road. The creature stood around 7 feet tall with brown or gray hair and left behind animal mutilations and scratches on cars. Sightings have been reported both at night and during the daytime and as recently as July 2020. The show Expedition X went in search of it in 2021. There are some who claim that this was actually just a wolf or black bear. But the way Godfrey described it as walking makes it sound as though it is very comfortable walking on two legs.

Tales of werewolves can seem pretty unbelievable. But there are so many first person accounts and the legends have been with us for so long, it seems as though there must be some truth to them. Were there such things as werewolves? Do these creatures still wander the earth? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:

Montreal's Werewolves:

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