Butcher, Witch, Wolf. The Werewolf Trials of Europe with Zee Kay
This presentation is from the 2021 World Congress on Moral Panics,
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Chalice Hi, everybody, welcome to our very last presentation of the Moral Panics Conference. I thank you so much for joining us for all four days, this has been an incredible journey and I am so happy to have everyone present, not only in attendance, but all of the speakers, all of the panelists here. And there is no better way to end such a great conference, something so close to my heart than to have our own Zee Kay present. So Zee is a member of TST AZ and a PhD candidate at a large research university in the Southwest. We're not finding new and creative ways to avoid writing her dissertation. She is an organizer for TST AZ Hellfire club, which brings together satanic scholars, artists and writers for discussion on the history, esthetics and practice of Satanism. So Zee, thank you so much for being here. I'm really excited for you to share the thing and I'll let you take it away.
Zee Thanks so much, I really appreciate it and thanks, everyone, for coming out on the last day of the conference and not just the last day, but the very last presentation. I know that it’s an interesting time slots sometimes. So thanks, everyone, for being here, and as Chalice mentioned, and thank you for the lovely introduction, I'm Zee Kay, I’m an official member of TST Arizona, and I'll be talking a little bit about the strange sibling of the more well-known Western European witch hunts, which you've probably heard of. But this presentation is about the 200 year long period of the werewolf trials in early modern Europe.
So before we get started, just a couple of notes. One, I am at home, as we all are during the pandemic, and I do have three cats. So if you see a head or a tail appear behind me, you know what happened. Let me know what. I'm always happy to bring them on screen, which... to their chagrin.
And then also on a more sober note, as a content warning, this presentation contains graphic details of violence against people and animals and mentions of sexual abuse. If at any point you feel uncomfortable or need to step away, please do so. No worries at all and feel free to rejoin us if you're comfortable doing so.
So to get us started and before we dive headfirst into the trials, let me tell you a little bit of true crime. A hairy and horrifying tale of the werewolf of Bedburg. But we won't start with the werewolf himself, but rather with his execution.
So on October thirty first in 1598, a man and two women were sentenced to die; and not just die, but die horribly. The man was put on a Catherine wheel designed to break bones and mutilate joints. And then flesh was torn from his body in 10 places with red hot irons. And then every limb was crushed to keep him from supernaturally returning from beyond the grave. Finally, he was beheaded while the women were flayed and strangled and all three of the bodies were then burned on a pyre. As one final act of warning, the local authorities commissioned a carved pole in the shape of a wolf's head, and the man's severed head was placed on top.
But what possible justification could there be for such a gruesome death? Well, it was the crime of lycanthropy, of course, of willfully making a pact with Satan to transform into a wolf. The Wolf man in this particular case was one Peter Stump, a local about 60 years old, who likely received his last name because he was missing his left hand. He was a farmer in the rural community of Bedburg, Germany, known for its sheep and goat herds and for the forest nearby. But Bedburg was also keeping a dark secret. For years, their flocks had been ravaged by a mysterious monster, something that came at night and savagely ripped over their animals, something that actually sounds a little, I noticed, like the cattle mutilation descriptions that you get in UFO tales today.
The village suspected an ordinary wolf, but then people began to be murdered. Stories began to circulate of young women and children going missing. Sheepherders would vanish into the forest and never return or be found dead with the same mutilations as their flock. And finally, after multiple people were killed or injured, the town had had enough. And volunteers gathered to hunt the wolf down and put an end to these attacks when they finally cornered the wolf however; imagine the surprise when they found not a wolf at all, but their neighbor, Peter Stump. Stump was arrested and during questioning on the rack, admitted that he was a magician and had been in league with Satan since the age of 12. He'd made an agreement with the devil that let him transform into a wolf. He said his werewolf nature had for the past twenty five years, turned him into an insatiable bloodsucker who fed on the blood of goats, lambs and sheep.
He also told us Confessor's, that he killed and ate 16 people, including two pregnant women and their fetuses whose hearts he ate, “panting hot and raw as dainty morsels”, quote.
He even confessed to killing and eating the brains of his own son and having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. By 1598, none of these confessions really would have surprised the local church or the city officials. After all, the presence of werewolves in their midst had been acknowledged fact for almost 100 years. And with werewolves and their supposed crimes, came all the trappings of medieval justice that we might be more familiar with from the European witch hunts, the accusations of neighbors and of rivals, the church confessions and the torture of the exiles and the executions.
So taking a step back and looking at the overall trend of the werewolf trials, generally speaking, they took place in a period in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period that spanned about 200 years, approximately from the 1500s to the early to mid 1700s. They overlapped with, but in many cases were actually distinct from the more infamous witch trials...and we'll touch on those differences a little more later... But to give an example of exactly how serious a matter lycanthropy was during this time period, in 1573, the French authorities who had been previously restricting peasants abilities to arm themselves because they were afraid of countryside revolt, reversed course and actually encouraged peasants to own weapons. And the legal justification for this given in the text was to protect themselves and their flocks against Wolf and werewolf attacks.
We don't know how many trials were held in total for the werewolf trials, although scholars estimate the number was probably somewhere in the hundreds. We do know that they were not widespread to the same scale that witch hunting was during that same time period. So many, many countries had werewolf trials, but they tended to be in these isolated, geographically bound areas. For instance, the Valais region of Switzerland or the Burgundy region in what is now France. And unlike the witch trials where most of the accused were female. The gender breakdown tends to be pretty evenly split between men and women accused of “werewolfry”.
So despite the geographically isolated nature of the trials, there are general patterns that most of the trial confessions follow, including Peter Stump’s confessions and these shared commonalities that help us understand what a werewolf trial might look like from place to place and from time to time. And I want to make it clear that the point of the screen that you're seeing here are the points an accused werewolf themselves would confess to, not necessarily the gloss put on the story later by city or church officials when the trial and execution took place. And that's a subtle but important difference we will get into a little bit later.
The shared characteristic of these confessions is the use of magic to create a special item that would make a werewolf transformation possible, and that might be a wolf hide or a piece of clothing. In Peter Stump’s case, it was a belt or a special ointment, not unlike the “flying ointment” we sometimes see referred to in the witch trials of the same period. And then once transformed, the werewolf was taken completely by their beastly nature and began to ravage the villages’ flocks and often villagers as well, particularly young people and children. And eating human flesh was a really common confession for the werewolf trials, much more common than it ever was for the witch trials.
There were other shared commonalities of these trials, but these points usually came from the people doing the accusing rather than the werewolf's themselves. So it's almost like leading the witness in a modern trial, or police asking leading questions victims would admit under torture and in the face of being asked these direct questions by Inquisitors to the source of their power being a pact with the devil or a man in black who would, in the parlance of the time, generally be understood as Satan. And then the justices would also often question them about their sexual behavior, including coerced confessions of sexual deviants. And so for women, this was fairly tame. A lot of the time it usually meant confessing to extramarital affairs or sodomy, which, of course, was any sexual act that didn't have procreation in mind. It was much more extensive and brutal for men. So men like Peter Stump, the deviants, often took the form of rape or incest that they confessed to and then accused werewolf's frequently named accomplices, including neighbors, lovers and particularly family members during confession. And this led to the belief in the court system and in the church that there were these secret societies or families of werewolf's almost like clans, and that the wolf curse could be passed through bloodlines or through various social and magical rituals.
In one instance, this was explained as breathing three times into a jug and saying: “you will become like me”, and then giving that jug to an unsuspecting someone else to drink from will. Where most of the known werewolf confessions were either under torture or the threat of torture, it's important to distinguish between the points that were spontaneously brought up by the accused and those hand fed to them by their accusers. And we'll get into the difference and why that's so important between what the accused say and what they are coerced into saying by the Confessor's later.
So for those of you familiar with witch hunting and early modern Europe, the last few slides might be giving you deja-vu; it's a question worth examining. What exactly is the difference between a werewolf trial and a witch trial?
The answer is complicated, and it's not really completely clear cut, but there's a few observations we can make.
So, contrary to what a lot of popular pagan writers in the modern era would have you believe, there really isn’t a direct connection between the witch trials and the continuance of a pre-Christian lineage of witchcraft practice. Margaret Murray was the one to put that forward, and she's since been thoroughly disproved.
And contrasts of places where we see werewolf trials had very strong histories of peasant classes, preserving practices of pre-Christian folks, folk magic, especially something called wolfshagen or Wolf Charming in German speaking countries. In fact, Wolf, charming practices hit their height in the 17th century, which is right during the period of the werewolf trials. So the trials were very directly tapping into a folk practice that significantly predated Christianization. And that's one reason why I brought up the difference between what the accused confess to themselves and what they were spoon fed by the people doing the accusing and the torture. A lot of the confessions from individuals, or tapping into these pre Christianized practices of wolf charming, especially things like the ointment or the skin, we see all of that reflected before Christianity. But what you won't see reflected before Christianity are the things that the church confessor's put on the accused, like making a pact with the devil. That wasn't necessarily part of the local folklore. So there's kind of a difference in what is happening there.
Church and state authorities also generally viewed witchcraft during the witch trials as inherently malevolent, but interestingly, and may be connected too, to those pre-Christian idea of Wolf charming, there are accounts of werewolves who were found by the justice system at the time to either not be responsible for their actions or not intending to cause harm. And actually, there's one really interesting story, that I'll just mention in passing here, of a man accused of lycanthropy who successfully defended himself by saying he might be a werewolf, but he was a hound of God and his only crime was going to hell to steal back the crops that the devil had stolen from local farmers... and that actually worked. He was granted leniency for his accusations as a werewolf because the court believed that while he might be a werewolf, and that was inherently sort of a potentially evil thing, the work he was doing as a wolf was good.
As the witch and werewolf trial spread, however, the lines between the two kind of blurred and we can start to see that some magistrates and church officials view them as close to the same thing or equally heinous. Instead of saying witchcraft and lycanthropy were exactly the same thing, it's maybe more historically accurate to say they were both subsumed under the more important heading of heresy against the church, which was considered a crime more egregious than either alone.
And the last point is what I really want to highlight, which panics often began with random and very generalized events, so an outbreak of disease, spoiled milk, ruined crops, bad weather, sick animals,... things that can just sort of happen for no reason. In contrast, a lot of the preserved examples of werewolf trials seem to have been triggered by very specific incidents; like the violent death of a child or an adult in the community without a clear suspect or a motive.
So many of these killings were likely due to ordinary wolf attacks, but some victims were killed in ways that contraindicated a wild animal as the culprit. And in some cases, the perpetrator may possibly have been what we would now call a serial killer, especially in villages that had repeated deaths of women and girls that were accompanied by mutilation, things that would look very familiar now, if you're a fan of any true crime documentary. But without any understanding of human psychology and human violence, and without any real system for investigating such crimes or differentiating between human and animal attacks on a forensic level, the social and psychological explanations of these murders quickly turn to the local superstition that fit the best, and that was werewolves.
It will probably come as zero surprise to anyone who has really spent any time engaging with moral panics, or history, to learn that the people who suffered the brunt of the accusations of lycanthropy were those who are least likely to be able to defend themselves. And a typical case is that of Thiess of Kaltenbrun, also known as the Livonian Werewolf. This is a very famous case. Thiess was an older man probably in his 80s. He was impoverished and already sort of existing on the margins of his society. And he was known for performing small magical services, particularly, Wolf charming. And another example is that Jean Grenier in France, an orphan who began to be the focus of superstitious accusations from his peers as young as 13 or 14 years old. And when he was questioned by local authorities, he was found with wild looking eyes that were sunken and black and completely distraught and boasting of how he could turn into a wolf to kill and eat dogs and children.
And so, what we would now recognize as serious mental illness, concurrent with the onset of puberty, which is not uncommon, was now taken...was then taken as a confession of lycanthropy. And unlike accusations of witchcraft, which were sometimes directed towards the upper classes from the lower classes, as with France’s affair with poisons at the same time period, werewolves trials were usually the culmination of social exclusion towards those already given a pariah status.
One trial particularly illustrates this because the accused was found innocent exclusively due to his ability to be financially capable of hiring a lawyer. And the lawyer convinced the magistrate the charge could not be true.
Also, unlike the witch trials in which the accused were up to 80 percent women in some regions, men and women alike, were convicted during the werewolf trials, the extent data indicates that, at least in the regions we have, the records for, gender proportions were roughly equal, equal in terms of convictions. And I particularly think that's fascinating because today when we think of werewolves in mythology and horror movies and popular culture, they're almost exclusively male and they display these...what we now perceive as hyper-masculine qualities of aggression and violence, size and, of course, hairiness.
But women were just as likely to be dragged into court for lycanthropy as men. And that might reflect the historical understanding of gender at the time, which saw female bodies as uncontrollable, lustful and automatically closer to Satan due to Eve's acceptance of the fruit, of knowledge from our... from the serpent, in the Garden of Eden.
Ok! Let's take a little step back! So the folks who are accused of lycanthropy were often poor, they could be men or women. This happened in these geographically isolated regions. But let's go even further, why were werewolf's trials even a thing at all? Why did they appear in some regions, but not others in some times, but not others? And particularly why did they perform in that way when their sister panic, the witch trials was so extremely widespread and ubiquitous?
Well, there's no clear cut answer for why any moral panic happens, but there are some interesting correlations we can examine. And the first and the most dramatic was the advent of the Little Ice Age, which is a five hundred year period of cooling in the northern hemisphere that affected both crop production and wildlife. And among other things, the Ice Age probably increased human and wolf contact by reducing populations of prey species and driving predators like wolves into the margins of areas which they would normally avoid, where humans were farming or sheep herding or performing other human activities.
We also see werewolf trials almost exclusively in areas that had strong contact with large forests or other uncultivated wilderness. So many of the villages that found werewolves in their midst were in areas that would have already had a wolf population, which would make sightings very common. Soil quality in these rural frontiers was so poor that the local economy was driven entirely by animal herding, making the loss of sheep or goats to a wolf or werewolf, a potentially life threatening event for a household. These herds were also usually tended by children or by younger teenagers, usually in the forest alone, making them a prime target for both animal and human predation. And lastly, at a more macro scale, the areas where we see the werewolf trials are also the areas where religious conflict roiled. Sometimes at the surface of everyday life, and sometimes just underneath. The period of the trials was the height of violence between the old power structure of Catholicism and the upstart sect of Protestantism. Subsequently, it became vital for both churches to exert their power over life and death, belief and unbelief, and show how depraved those were who strayed from religious duties.
All of these conditions, a change in climate, an unforgiving landscape, the precarity of animal husbandry, the seismic shifts in religious life were a threat to the rural people of the villages of the werewolf trials who inhabited, as one scholar put it, and inaccessible, isolated region of poverty and desolation, whose history was one of fever, robbery and wolves.
So now we have some more background, let's return to Mr. Stump, the insatiable bloodsucker whose story we opened with. The black magician who made a pact with the devil and was given the power to turn into a ravening wolf who had sex with his daughter and who killed his son. So you remember how I told you at the beginning this was a tale of true crime? Well, it's actually not even close to that simple.
There's no evidence whatsoever other than his own confession that stump was guilty of anything, except having a mistress and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's entirely possible that they arrested a man, not just a man who wasn't a werewolf, but someone who had nothing to do at all with the murders in Bedburg. And I personally have searched and searched for any evidence documented at the time that Stump might be involved other than what he admitted to under torture...and I just can't find any! The only thing that these conclusions are drawn on, are Church and magistrate records that were confessed under torture.
And yet, if you look up Peter Stump on Wikipedia, he's listed in a couple of different categories incest, German cannibals, German murderers of children and German serial killers. The reputation that was decided for this man, by his neighbors and the church, and the reputation that was decided for him most of all, by the rack and the punctures and the Catherine Wheel remains his legacy to this day.
So that's a little bit of a brief overview of the werewolf trials. It's an interesting and bloody footnote in sort of a history of moral panics and witch trials more generally. But unlike with witchcraft hysteria, which we've seen resurge in modern times with the satanic panic in the 80s and 90s, and even more recently, with the rise of groups like Qanon, nobody really believes in werewolves anymore. At least I hope not. So what's the relevance for the modern social landscape?
To me, what came to mind and thinking about the werewolf trials was not the superstition filled, conspiracy minded modern panics that we see promulgated by the ISSTD or various YouTube personalities or the darker corners of the Internet. Instead, it was the well-intentioned but devastating consequences that can happen when we are driven by our need to make sense of human tragedies and injustice.
So the people affected by the werewolf trials lived in precarious times and were faced with acts of all too human cruelty, the brutal killing of family and community members without a clear reason or an obvious perpetrator or wolf attacks that were a function of their poverty and their inability to move to less dangerous regions. They lived at a time where religious and state authority were twined, if not one in the same. And what we might think of as criminal justice in modern times hadn't even been fully conceived.
Is it any wonder then that they turned on fellow community members using language to describe the crimes that they knew church and state would have to answer. Without trust in the institutions that’s responsible for administering justice, without an ability to make sense of this extreme violence against fellow humans using the language of psychology? They took it upon themselves to solve these crimes in the only ways that they knew how. And if the innocence of the accused mattered less to the authority than preserving state and religious power. Hey, at least somebody was in control of the situation.
And that, I think, is where we can intersect our own understanding of the werewolf trials, the desire for justice is noble, and as real now as it was then. But we should be very careful that our own Wolflike hunger for making sense of horrible things, of restoring our world to order, of putting things right after a wrong is pointing in the right direction...at those truly responsible and the systems that enabled them rather than the easiest or the most convenient explanation.
I feel like I could talk indefinitely about all the strange little historical lacuna of the werewolf trials and how they differed and were the same as witch trials and the functions that gender and class played in them. But I want to make sure we have a lot of time for discussion around this, because I think many of the themes that we see here in this presentation are echoed throughout all the presentations in the conference.
And we can see this carryover of this, of what looking for justice in the wrong ways can mean throughout all of the presentations in the conference.
So I'll leave it there for now if you'd like to get in touch with me for further discussion. I'd love to hear from you. My Twitter handle is @catphrenologist, as you see on the screen, and I'm always thrilled to get emails. Also, I think we have plenty of time for discussion and for questions. So please do stick around to chat. And thank you so much for having me.
Chalice Well, and thank you for being with us. That's really awesome and I'm really glad that we could talk about something or we could be educated on something that doesn't get brought up a lot, which kind of goes into the question like, why doesn't it come up a lot? Like, do you have any idea or maybe some guesses as to why this was not as prevalent, let's say, as the witch trials?
Zee Sure, yeah. So I think there's a couple of reasons. Some of them are sort of the historical materialism of the event itself and some have to do with historiography of why it's not examined in the modern period. I think... I think some of the reason it didn't happen as much in history is really a function of ecology and geography.
Talking about werewolves as something that you are very afraid of really only makes sense in regions where you are frequently exposed to wolf attacks. And that's just not true in a lot of Europe in that period. And so if you're in the middle of Paris, which is a pretty large city by the 15 hundreds, you're really not worried about wolves because you don't see them. You don't hear about people being attacked by them. And so when you go to accuse your neighbor of a heinous crime, it's not going to take that shape.
And so I think that's reflected in where we see the werewolf trials there in areas where wolves were really genuinely, and I do want to say, I love wolves, they're amazing animals, they're great now, I am all for the reintroduction of wolves; but in a time before artificial light and effective fencing, when your entire livelihood was your animal livestock and you maybe lived in the middle of the Black Forest, wolves were terrifying. And so when you're thinking about what is a threat that someone could bring against me, it starts to take the form of Wolf rather than witch, because wolves are so salient to your experience.
And then in terms of the historiography about why we don't talk about this, I think some of it is that it's just been eaten by the witch trials! ...Like the witch trials are so big, and so interesting and there's so much scholarship dedicated to them that people have not spent a lot of time picking apart what is a witch trial in the classical sense and what is a werewolf trial. Even though they operate a little bit differently, that's starting to change. There's a really great scholar that I want to make sure I recommend for anyone who is interested in this. His last name is Blécourt, the French spelling, who is the primary scholar on the history of werewolves and witchcraft and how they intertwine. And he's been doing a lot of work, really examining, like... how did this function the same as accusations of witchcraft and how is it different? So I think it's starting to change, but for a long time there just wasn't a lot of interest in pulling those two strands apart.
Chalice And so it kind of seems like it's that concept of the devil, you know, devil you fear.
Zee Yeah, absolutely.
Chalice So “any estimate of the death toll of the werewolf trials?é
Zee So this is another really interesting thing. For whatever reason, the recordkeeping of werewolf trials does not seem to have been as good as with witch trials. And part of that might be where they happened. If you're in a more rural area, you don't necessarily have the same bureaucratic structure as a city. Even in the fifteen hundreds, you probably don't have the interest in record keeping. And so unless someone happened to be writing it down and preserving it, it's hard to know. So the death toll is generally put in the hundreds or at least the number of people convicted is generally put in the hundreds, although, as I mentioned, not all of them were put to death. So it's a fraction of what the European witch trials were.
But...certainly there were many people who were put to death unjustly in these incredibly gruesome ways. As I opened with Peter Stump, sometimes on no more than much like the witch trials, someone who is under torture saying, “oh, well, my wife helped”. They asked, and if someone is putting red hot pokers on your feet, you're probably going to say just about whatever to make it stop. And then that person's wife would be put to death or their daughter or their mistress or their son or their neighbor... purely on the evidence of someone who is providing coerced evidence. And so in that sense, I think it's less about the death toll in total and more about the massive injustice that was visited on these people. And in some ways, as with Peter Sump’s, Wikipedia entry continues to be visited is.
Chalice Yeah. So, kind of talking about getting these confessions and the fear around lone wolves, I mean, “were there any application of common knowledge, anti werewolf items like silver and stuff like that?”
Zee So there wasn't the same....Maybe this is a good time to talk about Sabine Baring-Gould , which I feel like is like the elephant in the room any time you talk about werewolves.
In the 1800s, a French scholar named Sabine Baring-Gould wrote this amazing book that sort of collected all prior werewolf lore that he could get his hands on called “The Book of the Werewolf”. And a lot of what we consider modern werewolf lore about silver and about things like the full moon specifically come out of that text or things that were written after that text. So the understanding of werewolves was more variable at the time. There was more regional differences in terms of what a werewolf was and how they worked. And so there were applications of anti werewolf superstitions, particularly like those wolf charmers, that I mentioned. They would make you like an anti werewolf charm. But there wasn't the uniformity of like, “well, it has to be silver”, that you might see today.
And the “book of the werewolf” actually, I will just tell a small anecdote since we have time, was the start of my interest in werewolves and I have a very personal connection to the fear of werewolves in the sense that several years ago, I was driving out to a job on a farm in rural, rural Missouri in the Ozarks, in Mark Twain National Forest, incredibly far from anything on Forest Service roads. And I had an old junky car that didn't have a tape deck or CD player or Bluetooth. The only thing it had was a radio and it was starting to get dark. And I was by myself and I thought, “oh, well, I'll turn on the radio, just help keep me awake while I look for this place”...no GPS either at the time. And I turn on the radio and it was the local, like... NPR style station. And someone in a very professional and clear and concise way was telling me on the radio how I should deal with werewolves. Like, if I had a werewolf problem, this is what I needed to do to kill them.
And as I mentioned, I was by myself and I was in the thick forest and I was getting dark. And there was a split second of like, maybe five seconds, where my brain just went. Hold on. Have you misunderstood this entire time? Are werewolves real?
Like, just for a minute? It was terrifying to be out in the woods alone in the dark with someone telling me about werewolves. And I kept listening. And eventually what I learned was, the local NPR station didn't have any funding. And so they would play things from LibriVox, which are books that are out of print, written.... or read by volunteers as audio books. And the selection for that day happened to be Sabine Baring-Gould's “Book of Werewolves”. And so I was listening to this like, seminal werewolf text in the perfect atmosphere to really freak myself out with it. And that's...I have some sympathy for folks who really thought they were being attacked by werewolves because for five seconds.... Maybe 10, I was there too.
Chalice Yeah, that would be absolutely horrifying. It's one of those things where you're getting really into something or even you're just in the right environment and somehow, you know, these things that we think are absolutely ridiculous, just like…you know, we understand that even for a split second. So I love that story. Thank you for sharing that.
So, I have another question: “What did you think about the Brotherhood of Wolves, the movie?”
Zee ] Huh...that movie whips! It's so much fun. I don't know if any of you were at TST’s VHQ Halloween, but I did a presentation on The Beast of Gévaudan, which the Brotherhood of Wolves is briefly, roughly based on...but that's the great thing about a werewolf tale, right? Like who really cares about historical accuracy? It's a werewolf. Just make it badass. I love that movie. If you have any interest in werewolves in film, I think it treats them in the most interesting way. And also the costumes are to die for. So I highly recommend that. And then I also highly recommend a movie which I just recently saw, which is a sad gap in my film Education on Werewolves...if you haven't seen “an American Werewolf in London”, go watch that movie and just see how much that concept of werewolves has sort of permeated our entire cryptid and monsters psychology ever since it came out.
Chalice Yeah, that's I think that is one of the very first werewolf horror movies I think I remember seeing as a kid, and we also have the honorable mention of Ginger Snaps, which is one of my favorites.
Zee It's such a fun one because it plays with the werewolf gender thing again.
Chalice Yeah, absolutely. And kind of goes on to like this as we mature and as we get into our sexuality and our womanhood. That you know, Kind of relate that to a horror theme which. That's a thing, but I loved it, I thought it was brilliant. I loved it. So “do you see a connection between werewolf trials and murders that were blamed on... so... based on...you know, blamed on the Jews in the Middle Ages?” So kind of going back to the. Anti-Semitism.
Zee Oh, yeah, like the “blood libel” type thing. I'm sure that some of that is circulating in there because how could it not? Righ? The blood libel and anti Jewish mythology was so incredibly prevalent and steeped in everything to do with the Middle Ages in the early modern period. But I'm sure it's in there. What seems to be the more direct connection is actually a lot of these folk tales that were originally mythological or pre-Christian religious tales, but then carried over. So you can really see connections to things like... Viking tales of wolves and wolf warriors, for instance, or to pre-Germanic…
*Chalice’s cat gets in the picture*( hi Sebastian, hey buddy)
...to Germanic pre-Christian ideas of what it meant to be a magician who could wear the skin and various animals. Almost like we would think of Native American skinwalkers now, but the European version. So, I don't see exactly the same one to one, because if you look at the witch trial transcripts, there's stuff in there, but it's just straight up blood libel of Jewish people. It's just like you eat babies on the Sabbath, don't you? And the werewolf trials don't necessarily have that same flavor, although they're tangentially related to it. So I'm sure it's in there, but it's not as direct a connection.
Chalice So do you know if there are currently any werewolf conspiracy theories going around or are some that you know of?
Zee That is such a rad question and I've never looked and I'm absolutely going to! I almost feel like they've been replaced in some ways by humm...by reptilians, like it's sort of serving the same function of like... this person looks like one thing, but at certain times there's something else. I think. And also in a lot of ways, the social functions that were served by werewolf tails are now served by the mythologization of serial killers.
So if you look at a werewolf tale, what are the components? You have, like this violent murder usually of a young woman or a child? You have this fascination around the event. You also have these accusations of sexual deviancy that are related to that. There's one, at least one werewolf who is accused of sexually assaulting his victims before he killed them. And so if you're looking for the modern werewolf conspiracy theory, I think it's really in the hype around in a lot of the legends around serial killers...particularly the famous ones like Richard Ramirez and Gacy and Bundy, where it's: this person looks like one thing, they're part of a community, but when the time is right, they transform into something that is insatiably violent and sexually, not just sexually deviant, but sexually violent and a repulsive and universally acknowledged way.
Chalice Yeah, yeah, I think with werewolves also like maybe there's some vampirism in there as well. But it's kind of the same idea, because you always see like werewolves and vampires kind of having the same elevated status, I think, with those kinds of things. So were accusations of lycanthropy ever aimed at indigenous people in America or elsewhere, do you know?
Zee Awesome question. I am not sure, but I'm going to have to look into that. Certainly, there were accusations within indigenous tribes of various types of things that would be called Therianthropy in general, which would be the transformation, like the magical transformation into an animal. And often that was perceived as a negative thing depending. So, some of the northern, more northern First Nations people in Canada have stories of bear-walkers, what they call bear-walkers. That are very similar to the Diné stories of skinwalkers, for instance, that we're probably familiar with from horror movies, et cetera. You could also really even draw a connection with something like Ojibwe Wendigo or Windigo, where you have this...you perform a crime, in that case, it's very similar, it's eating human flesh. So there's that cannibalistic element, and then you receive this insatiable appetite that overrides any sense of humanity. And that's another theme echoed in werewolves. A lot of these things, I suspect if you're going to pick one thing, they're really about... they're about the fear of having humanness taken away by lack of control. And really, if you've ever been around someone who... or if you're a person who suffers from any kind of mental illness, you can feel that in your soul a little bit of like what would it mean to be in a place where I don't recognize my own humanness?
Chalice Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, and I... and I know some people that have experienced the need to literally peel off their skin because they're so... whatever is underneath is my true self. Whatever this on the outside is, is not. And so, they actually would try and turn their skin off. So, yeah….
Zee And the person who has mental illness and certain amounts of compulsions like I understand. That’s a terrifying thought.
Chalice Yep. Absolutely. Yeah. And then “are there any werewolf book recommendations for us?”
Zee Oh yes. Let me look at some of the more academic texts here. The one that I really enjoyed is Blécourt. I am not good at spelling out loud. “Werewolves history” is a really great one and it's really, it's bigger than just the werewolf trials. It's really looking at werewolves across Europe from pre-Christian to to the 19th century and what...how the meaning of a werewolf changed over time and how it all kind of converged on this one idea of like beastial wolfmen at the full moon and you stop with a silver bullet.
The other one that I really enjoy that's more tangential is schult “Man is Witch”. And that's about male witches in Central Europe. It's really cool because it really digs into these ideas of what does gender mean in the context of historical accusations of malevolent witchcraft and what's going on with men or they or they’re transgressing gender norms. Is that part of the reason that they get accused? And there's a lot about werewolves in there, even though it's focusing on witchcraft.
In terms of fiction novels? I really feel like the werewolf is an underused figure in a lot of fiction, like it's great in horror movies, but I can't think of many that really engage with Werewolf and even in horror fiction, except maybe a book called “Those Across the River”, which is not necessarily a sympathetic portrayal of werewolves. And let me get the name of that author. It's a pretty amazing horror novel. But you're not rooting for the werewolf in the end. And that's by Christopher Buehlman.. And if you want these recommendations, like hit me up on Twitter, hit me up on Gmail, whatever, because I know it's hard to keep things straight in the midst of a conversation.
Chalice Awesome. Absolutely, yes. So I think that's all we... we had. So thank you so much Zee. It was wonderful to have you here. The presentation was. Super fascinating, I'm really glad that we can highlight these things and see kind of how they...and I and I love how you beautifully illustrated how we can kind of see in the modern time, even though it's not very well known. So thank you very much for that and for all of you here. Thank you so much.
It has been an absolute pleasure being able to bring this up, but put this together, this conference together as a whole. It has been a dream of ours for years to do something like this. So the fact that we had the opportunity, especially in the era of covid, means the world to us. And thank you for virtual headquarters for making this possible. And to all of the presenters, the panelists from the bottom of my heart, thank you for making this dream a reality.
Zee Thank you so much for all your hard work, putting this, this incredible extended weekend together. It's been a real delight and also just feels very like, fruitful, as a Satanist to see something so incredibly large, like such a large event with so many moving pieces be put together by our community. So especially to see the end of this past year, this feels like a rebirth in some ways.
Evan Absolutely! Echoing what Chalice said. Yeah. Thank you so much to everybody that helped make this happen. Everyone at the estate, Ada, Jack, Maryline, Kaelea, Lady Abigor and everyone else, thank you so much for keeping things running and keeping us going. We could not have done it without you. Thank you, of course, to everybody that decided to come and check out our events here and purchase tickets. And I decided it was worth putting some money down to check it out. Also, I left out Saint Licorice. Thank you all so, so much especially for all the graphics and stuff. Thank you. This has been such a great experience is our first conference. It will definitely not be our last.