I’m always saying I don’t believe in TRADITIONAL werewolves, but almost every culture worldwide has its own, unique version of werewolves or something similar. That fact requires me to define “traditional.” What I usually mean by that are those moonstruck, hairy creatures whose attributes are derived mainly from old European legends and Hollywood movies. But even these examples may vary. When I come across a legend with some interesting features, then, I like to note it for future reference.
Today while I was looking for something else, I happened across this charming artwork depicting a priest from Ulster named Gerald and his encounter with a couple of upright werewolves. The illustrations look a lot like many drawings made by modern day eyewitnesses and artists. The creatures appear completely canine, for instance, and they can walk either on all fours or upright. Muzzles, pointed ears and toe-pad-walking complete the pictures.
(image from Creative Commons O, Europeana Collection, from the British Library Royal Collection, c. 1196-1223)
Their behavior, however, is the big surprise here.The story is written in Latin, but as I understand it from various translations, Gerald of Ulster was camping in the woods sometime around the year 1200 when he was approached by a large werewolf.
Short version: The creature begged Gerald to come with him and minister last rites to his mate. It seems they hadn’t always been werewolves. Their village had been more or less cursed to give up one couple every seven years to wander as Lycans, and it had been this pair’s turn to serve. They hadn’t yet completed their obligation when the missus fell ill. Gerald succeeded in tearing part of her fur away to reveal the shriveled elderly woman inside, and she was then able to eat a consecrated wafer. Happy ending.
There isn’t much more to the story. I simply thought it appropriate to begin the New Year with a tale from the era that still informs today’s lore. But I saw something both touching and brave about Gerald’s willingness to follow the wolfman into the woods and in the wolf couple’s determination to keep their faith. Most contemporary reports would have the witness fleeing the scene in terror (as I would be doing) while the wolf creature gave chase and then growled off into the night. That’s probably much closer to reality. But reality bites.
And I suspect they just don’t make werewolves like they used to.
Enjoy the art, anyway, and Happy 2017!