‘Tis the season to huddle close to the fire with a mug of hot red wine, with sugar and spices, and let our hearts sing with the lively crackle of the lugs, and quiver with the distant howling that could be the wind’s… And while we’re there we can spin a yarn or two, some fantastic tale stirred by a play of shadows under the ghostly moon, by a vague rustle of the leaves in the dead garden… We can indulge into a sweet fear that confers an eerie otherworldly quality to the cry of the owl or to that uncertain pattering on the window…
I often wish I could step, if only for a short while, into such a romantic moment. Descend into a time of permanent wonders and primitive fears, of magic and mystery. Would I do it if I didn’t know that I could return to a safe, “aseptic” world of technological comforts? Maybe… We have other fears, new ones, though sometimes surprisingly similar to the old ones… Human nature hasn’t changed…
The belief in shape-shifters, such as werewolves, goes back to the most remote times, probably even to the prehistoric hunters of Cro-Magnon. An early account is from the Greek mythology, where Lycaon, the mythical first king of Arcadia, was turned into a wolf by Zeus as punishment for having set before him a dish of human flesh (the king’s own son, or maybe Zeus’s). This is his metamorphosis as described by the Roman poet Ovid:
In vain he attempted to speak; from that very instant
His jaws were bespluttered with foam, and only he thirsted
For blood, as he raged among flocks and panted for slaughter.
His vesture was changed into hair, his limbs became crooked;
A wolf-he retains yet large trace of his ancient expression,
Hoary he is afore, his countenance rabid,
His eyes glitter savagely still, the picture of fury
The Bible recounts the story of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC) who imagined himself to be a werewolf for some years. And ancient Greek and Roman historians recorded many accounts of lycanthropy.
But I do not intend to repeat here what can be easily found even with a quick search on the net.
Instead, I have a true story of a werewolf. One my grandmother told me. She believed it was true, although she took it with a grain of salt, for my grandmother was a very smart woman. She told me this story when I was a child and I liked it so much I had her repeat it many times over the years.
It happened sometime at the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth. A woman and her husband, who lived in the same village as my grandmother, once set out to the fair in the nearby town. Because they had quite a long way to travel, they left home at night, in their carriage. The countryside was dark and quiet, the air chilly, and the road took them by a forest. Soon after they reached the forest, the man stopped the carriage, climbed down, and went among the trees to relieve himself. His wife waited for him. A few moments had passed, maybe, when a wolf came out of the forest and attacked the woman. She had no weapon to protect herself but a red wool blanket, which she had used to protect her legs against the chill of the night. With that blanket, she hit the wolf over its terrifying maw, over and over again, with a superhuman strength she could have drawn only from desperation, all the while calling to her husband to come to her rescue. He didn’t come and, as she fought for her life, she also feared that the wolf had killed him first. We don’t know by what miracle she escaped, or how long this terrible struggle lasted. Finally, the wolf gave up and ran back into the woods. A grey dawn broke. To the woman’s great surprise and immense relief, her husband appeared from the forest, unharmed. But when he opened his mouth to speak to her, she could see red strands of wool between his teeth…