In the Dark: Werewolves

For some, there is power within the darkness. In the cool of night, around a small campfire, amidst furious chanting and pleading with the dark father of sin, they commission from him powers and unnatural abilities in order to see his corruption spread. It is from such events, we are told, that some of the legends of werewolves arose…

While the notion is one that may seem patently ridiculous to most sensible people today, in the past it was very common and very feared. In small village across Europe, it was not uncommon for one to be accused of, indeed be guilty of, collusion with the fallen ones in order to secure power beyond that of natural men. Consider one such case of disturbing noteworthiness: that of the German werewolf, Peter Stumpf.

Born near Bedburg, Germany, Stumpf grew into a despicable man who not only is claimed to have engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter, eventually producing through that immoral tryst a son whom he killed and devoured, but also he is said to have enjoyed a quarter-century career as a serial-killer and cannibal, confessing to the murders of fourteen children, two pregnant women, their prenatal babies (of whom he described eating their hearts “panting hot and raw“), and a number of men.

Stumpf claimed that it was through the dark arts, conjuring and communing with the Devil since the age of twelve, that he was able to do these things. According to his testimony, he made a deal with the devil and in the process received a magical belt or girdle which, when worn, gave him “the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body, and mighty paws.” Removal of the belt reverted Stumpf back to his natural form, so he claimed.

Ultimately, Stumpf paid a heavy price for his crimes. On October 31st, 1589, after a great deal of preliminary torture, he was was lashed to a wheel as the flesh was torn from his body with red-hot pincers. Afterwards his arms and legs were violently broken, he was decapitated, and finally burned. As a warning to all who would follow in his ways, a dead wolf with its head replaced by that of Stumpf’s was erected in town.

While the details may be slightly different from case to case, accusations and admissions of lycanthropy, were very widespread across old Europe and elsewhere. The tales of others like Stumpf, including Jacques Roulet (1598), Gilles Garnier (1573), Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun (1521) and others quite literally stain the pages of history. Similarly, America too has such beasts. Consider the Navajo myths of the “Skinwalkers”, evil people who, through a deep knowledge of the dark arts, learned to transform themselves into wild animals by wearing its skin. As seen by the Europeans, the Navajo, and most others, the conditions of one being a werewolf were almost always evil in nature, with dark deals being made in secret under the cover of night

moon

Some scholars of the day took the stance that the afflicted individual was not necessarily the one who took the form of the wolf, but rather demons and devils, acting upon the subconscious desires of those who pleaded for their favor. As the supplicant slumbered, the dark ones took the form of beasts and wrought havoc throughout the countryside. Upon waking, the supplicant, under the influence of those dark ones, believed he himself was the culprit.

In any event, diabolical in nature or otherwise, this phenomena of  therianthropy (the beast-man disease, for it is not only wolves that have been utilized in these rituals) is widespread, ranging from a condition of the heroes of old to afflicted and cursed men and villains of note.

Some believers in the phenomenon forego explanations involving the fallen ones, looking to evolution (sigh) for answers. They claim that, since man has coexisted with wolves for longer than any other domesticated animals, it would make sense that a virus or vector of some form may have evolved during those millennia that could transfer genetic information to and from one another, perhaps in the process creating monsters.

Now, for some, this notion of lycanthropy or therianthropy in any sense is simply madness of a high order. Craziness, they say. In point of fact, there is a fair degree of truth in those dismissals. Clinical Lycanthropy, for instance, is the psychiatric term for those who believe themselves to be wolves. Yes, that is a real thing. Also, there has been quite a bit published about the possibility that a form of homicidal insanity accompanied by hallucinations (perhaps contributing to the incidence of werewolf attacks in Medieval Europe) could have been brought on by ergot poisoning, a particularly nasty little fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that would infect wheat and rye. As unfortunate souls ingested the corrupt grains, so too would their minds begin to shift shades darker.

In some cases there may have been a physical, genetic foundation for those identified as lycanthropes. Consider the rare but well-known conditions of hypertrichosis and porphyria. Hypertrichosis is identified by an extreme growth of sometimes dense hair on the body.¹ A bit more extreme, porphyria refers to a groups of diseases that impact the production of hemoglobin within the body, leading to any number of terrifying conditions, including marked paleness, extreme sensitivity to sunlight, deformation, and unusual cravings for blood.

We, surprisingly, may even have a form of lycanthropy within the Bible itself. The Book of Daniel tells us of the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylon and quite literally the king of the world during those days. In Daniel 4, we are told how, in the immense hubris of his success and power, Nebuchadnezzar declaring himself the author of his own destiny, he was afflicted by God with a strange delusion for seven years. Immediately, in madness Nebuchadnezzar lost control of his kingdom and dwelt from that time with beasts for seven years, during which time he ate the grass of the Earth like the oxen, and his hair grew long like an eagle’s feathers, his nails like a birds talons.2 Ultimately, the fallen king repented and was restored, coming to recognize the authority and goodness of the true God.

In the end, no matter what our individual opinions of the matter, what we find is that, be it delusion or diabolical, disease or divine, the case for lycanthropy in one regard or another is worth consideration…

References

  1. “Congenital Hypertrichosis Lanuginosa Clinical Presentation,” Sarah K Taylor, MD, etc
  2. “The Werewolf’s Curse,” Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell

 


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