Catalog # SKU2075
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Elliot O'Donnell



Elliott O'Donnell

WHAT is a werwolf? To this there is no one very satisfactory reply. There are, indeed, so many diverse views held with regard to the nature and classification of werwolves, their existence is so keenly disputed, and the subject is capable of being regarded from so many standpoints, that any attempt at definition in a restricted sense would be well-nigh impossible.


The word werwolf (or werewolf) is derived from the Anglo-Saxon wer, man, and wulf, wolf, and has its equivalents in the German Währwolf and French loup-garou, whilst it is also to be found in the languages, respectively, of Scandinavia, Russia, Austria-Hungary, the Balkan Peninsula, and of certain of the countries of Asia and Africa; from which it may be concluded that its range is pretty well universal.

Indeed, there is scarcely a country in the world in which belief in a werwolf, or in some other form of lycanthropy, has not once existed, though it may have ceased to exist now. But whereas in some countries the werwolf is considered wholly physical, in others it is looked upon as partly, if not entirely, superphysical. And whilst in some countries it is restricted to the male sex, in others it is confined to the female; and, again, in others it is to be met with in both sexes.

Hence, when asked to describe a werwolf, or what is generally believed to be a werwolf, one can only say that a werwolf is an anomaly-sometimes man, sometimes woman (or in the guise of man or woman); sometimes adult, sometimes child (or in the guise of such)-that, under certain conditions, possesses the property of metamorphosing into a wolf, the change being either temporary or permanent.

This, perhaps, expresses most of what is general concerning werwolves. For more particular features, upon which I will touch later, one must look to locality and time. Those who are sceptical with regard to the existence of the werwolf, and refuse to accept, as proof of such existence, the accumulated testimony of centuries, attribute the origin of the belief in the phenomenon merely to an insane delusion, which, by reason of its novelty, gained a footing and attracted followers.

Humanity, they say, has ever been the same; and any fresh idea-no matter how bizarre or monstrous, so long as it is monstrous enough-has always met with support and won credence.

In favour of this argument it is pointed out that in many of the cases of persons accused of werwolfery, tried in France, and elsewhere, in the middle of the sixteenth century, when belief in this species of lycanthropy was at its zenith, there was an extraordinary readiness among the accused to confess, and even to give circumstantial evidence of their own metamorphosis; and that this particular form of self-accusation at length became so popular among the leading people in the land, that the judicial court, having its suspicions awakened, and, doubtless, fearful of sentencing so many important personages, acquitted the majority of the accused, announcing them to be the victims of delusion and hysteria.

Now, if it were admitted, argue these sceptics, that the bulk of so-called werwolves were impostors, is it not reasonable to suppose that all so-called werwolves were either voluntary or involuntary impostors?-the latter, i.e., those who were not self-accused, being falsely accused by persons whose motive for so doing was revenge. For parallel cases one has only to refer to the trials for sorcery and witchcraft in England. And with regard to false accusations of lycanthropy-accusations founded entirely on hatred of the accused person-how easy it was to trump up testimony and get the accused convicted. The witnesses were rarely, if ever, subjected to a searching examination; the court was always biased, and a confession of guilt, when not voluntary-as in the case of the prominent citizen, when it was invariably pronounced due to hysteria or delusion-could always be obtained by means of torture, though a confession thus obtained, needless to say, is completely nullified.

Moreover, we have no record of metamorphosis taking place in court, or before witnesses chosen for their impartiality. On the contrary, the alleged transmutations always occurred in obscure places, and in the presence of people who, one has reason to believe, were both hysterical and imaginative, and therefore predisposed to see wonders. So says this order of sceptic, and, to my mind, he says a great deal more than his facts justify; for although contemporary writers generally are agreed that a large percentage of those people who voluntarily confessed they were werwolves were mere dissemblers, there is no recorded conclusive testimony to show that all such self-accused persons were shams and delusionaries. Besides, even if such testimony were forthcoming, it would in nowise preclude the existence of the werwolf.

Nor does the fact that all the accused persons submitted to the rack, or other modes of torture, confessed themselves werwolves prove that all such confessions were false. Granted also that some of the charges of lycanthropy were groundless, being based on malice-which, by the by, is no argument for the non-existence of lycanthropy, since it is acknowledged that accusations of all sorts, having been based on malice, have been equally groundless-there is nothing in the nature of written evidence that would justify one in assuming that all such charges were traceable to the same cause, i.e., a malicious agency. Neither can one dismiss the testimony of those who swore they were actual eye-witnesses of metamorphoses, on the mere assumption that all such witnesses were liable to hallucination or hysteria, or were hyper-imaginative.

Testimony to an event having taken place must be regarded as positive evidence of such an occurrence, until it can be satisfactorily proved to be otherwise-and this is where the case of the sceptic breaks down; he can only offer assumption, not proof.

Another view, advanced by those who discredit werwolves, is that belief in the existence of such an anomaly originates in the impression made on man in early times by the great elemental powers of nature. It was, they say, man's contemplation of the changes of these great elemental powers of nature, i.e., the changes of the sun and moon, wind, thunder and lightning, of the day and night, sunshine and rain, of the seasons, and of life and death, and his deductions therefrom, that led to his belief in and worship of gods that could assume varying shapes, such, for example, as India (who occasionally took the form of a bull), Derketo (who sometimes metamorphosed into a fish), Poseidon, Jupiter Ammon, Milosh Kobilitch, Minerva, and countless others-and that it is to this particular belief and worship, which is to be found in the mythology of every race, that all religions, as well as belief in fairies, demons, werwolves, and phantasms, may be traced.

Well, this might be so, if there were not, in my opinion, sufficient accumulative corroborative evidence to show that not only were there such anomalies as werwolves formerly, but that, in certain restricted areas, they are even yet to be encountered.

245+ pages - 8¼ x 6¾ softcover

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