People who dress up in werewolf costumes may want to know how this legend
got started. Hairy, bloodthirsty killers, called lycanthropes come out when the
moon is full.
werewolf by the name of Damarchus is said to have won medals at the
Olympics. In 77 AD, the Roman scribe Pliny introduced us to the werewolf's
habits and lifestyles in his Natural History.
Even Virgil, Rome's most famous spin doctor, had to admit that Rome's elite
had a problem in the lycanthrope department. From the very beginning, Rome
and all her tributaries were littered with werewolves.
Their popularity fell dramatically, though, in the years after the fall of Rome,
due in part to the Canon Episcopi, the Catholic edict that forbade people from
believing in witches and werewolves.
It wasn't until the 11th century, when Prince Vseslav, ruler of what is today
Belarus, was nicknamed "the magician" for his apparent ability to transform
himself into animals, that European reports of lycanthropes started flooding in.
The 1521 trial of two French peasants suspected of being werewolves
received wide notoriety. As with the witch trials, the sentence was death by
burning, and more than 30,000 werewolves met their fate next to the witches.
It is believed that some of these werewolves were in fact religious
dissenters, but the official reports maintain there was an outbreak of
lycanthropy among the radical thinkers.
European werewolves showed a distinct taste for Bourgeois French and
Hochdeutsch German cuisines, with virtually no attacks reported outside
those two countries. Coincidentally, perhaps, highway robbers wearing
wolfskins often accosted the aristocracy in those places.
By the late 1700s, government-funded werewolf hunters were hard at work in
France and Germany, catching, charging and executing anyone whose habits or
lifestyle might hint of lycanthropy.
With a European crusade against them, werewolves appear to have welcomed
the opening of the New World, settling in with the other French immigrants in
the shantytowns and logging camps along the St. Lawrence River. It didn't
take long before tales were told of a new menace that hid in the darkness.
The first of these Canadian legends of the werewolf (or loup-garou in French)
dates back to this era.
The classic loup-garou tale is told of a miller named Joachim Crete who lived on
the Gatineau River. Against the warnings of his neighbors, Crete took in and
helped a weary French immigrant named Hubert Sauvageau. The two men hit it
off, carousing and drinking together at all hours of the night.
Almost immediately, sheep and cattle were found ripped apart in the small
settlement. Rumors of the loup-garou abounded, but Crete paid no heed to the
superstition. Even when a child fell victim to the creature's attacks, he
refused to consider his ward a suspect.
The miller's behavior got worse with Sauvageau's influence. Crete had long ago
forsaken the church when, on Christmas Eve, he heard a noise coming from
outside the house. The rest of the town was at midnight Mass, so he knew it
wasn't one of the villagers. The two men went to investigate, but being more
than a little drunk they didn't find anything.
When Crete finally made his way back to the kitchen he sobered up enough to
realize that Sauvageau was not with him. He was about to go outside to look
when he heard a growling from the stairs. He turned and saw the loup-garou
ready to leap on him, red eyes flashing in the darkness. The story goes that
Crete battled with the beast, eventually hitting it with a scythe and cutting
its ear off. The beast fled, never to return.
The next morning when Crete awoke, he found Sauvageau washing up in the
bathroom. Before he could tell the man of the loup-garou, he noticed that
Sauvageau was missing an ear.
Stories and legends like these have been told around campfires in the United
States and Canada for centuries.
Although we fear the werewolf, he is one of our secret treasures. Hollywood
producer’s created hundreds of latex masks and movies with thin plotlines
creating the fear and excitement were sought at the theater. Werewolf’s
became permanently embedded in our Halloween traditions. So if you hear a
noise in your backyard in dead of night, you might want to check the moon
before investigating. It could cause the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Mills, C. A. 2010. The Werewolf in America: The True History.
Powers, B. 2009. The Werewolf's Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly
Summers, M. Werewolf in Lore and Legend. 2003.