Cynocephali and Lycanthropes
The moon had waxed to its round, climbing its way through a shadowy pine. Its staggered light illuminated the river, accented by small chunks of ice bobbing in the swiftly flowing current. An icy breeze assaulted me as it crossed the river. In its stimulating delivery, it carried what sounded like a lone mournful howl far to the north. In this place they say, "Here be Dogmen."
It is said, "The best time for werewolfery is on a Saturday and the best month is February, so tradition says" (Ashley 15). With this in mind during the winter months of December 2008 through February 2009, a group of researchers from "The Paranormal Nomad" roamed the northwestern forests of Michigan in search of what some call the American werewolf, or what the locals call "Dogman". The local Native Americans see the dogman as a shaman skilled in the art of shape-shifting, also known as a "Skin-walker".
Imagine my surprise when I found thousand year old historical accounts of dogmen, where they are referred to as "cynocephali" (Dog Heads). Ashley enlightens us with this bit of information from ancient India:
He was four cubits in height, and his face… like unto the face of a great dog, and his eyes… like unto lamps of fire which burnt brightly, and his teeth… like unto the tusks of a wild boar… and hair of his head came down over his arms like unto the mane of a lion… his whole appearance was awful and terrifying. (56)
Did we find the dogman? In February 2009 while the midnight full moon peaked through the veil of clouds, we tracked the latest sightings of dogman to Reed City.
This is how the event unfolded:
My fellow hunter Jason and I were on a road that runs in front of an abandoned country schoolhouse (a dogman sighting area) near Reed City. Jason was in the parked car fussing with the video camera and I was standing on the dirt road. I noticed the dogs in the area were barking and brought Jason's attention to it. I was sensing that something was amiss. The barking got worse and that is when I heard it - something heavy was coming down the road towards me.
At that moment, the moonlight was extinguished by the increasing cloud cover. It was pitch black now. I shined my Maglite in the direction of the sounds straining my ears and eyes trying to identify who the interloper was. The dog's barking increased to frenzy and whatever was on the road started to charge me by the sound of it.
I could feel a slight vibration in the road as it quickly approached. I instinctively braced myself yelling out to Jason that something was coming our way fast and it didn't appear to have good intentions. Jason opened the car door flooding the area with light and the car chime ringing away; the interloper stopped dead in its charge like it was rethinking its strategy.
I turned my now failing flashlight to the part of the road in front of me where the running had stopped. There, off to the left, in the ditch, was a pair of yellow intelligent looking eyes. As I watched, the baleful yellow turned amber in the fading light.
The face seemed wide and the eyes were further apart than a human's eyes. The eyes turned to look at Jason, and then slowly moved back to gaze at me. I can't be sure, but the creature seemed to smile at me, as my light failed to darkness. That smile spoke volumes, as if promising "next time". And yes, it was a Saturday.
All of this got me thinking about the historical werewolf. Most of us have seen Hollywood's version of the werewolf. The rules are simple: one must be bitten by a werewolf to become one at the next full moon. And likewise silver in some weapon form will remove the curse of the werewolf permanently as well as his life. I wondered, in recorded history, how does one really become a werewolf?
Researching through the centuries of historical accounts, I found Montague Summers's definition of the character of the werewolf, in terms of the nature of the wolf in general, as more disturbing than any mere physical description:
The distinctive features of the wolf are unbridled cruelty, bestial ferocity, and ravening hunger. His strength, his cunning, his speed were regarded as abnormal. He is the symbol of night and winter, of stress and storm, the dark and mysterious harbinger of Death. (65)
In Robbins's book, there are three kinds of werewolves:
1. Men who act like wolves and do damage to cattle. They are not changed into wolves, but believe themselves transformed into wolves, and are so regarded by some others suffering similar hallucinations.
2. Men who, dreaming in their sleep, imagine they injure the cattle, while the devil incites wolves actually to commit the mischief these men dream they do.
3. Men who imagine they are wolves and commit damage which is really done by the devil, who has changed himself into a wolf. (326)
As we can see from this, Robbins disagrees with Summers, in that he does not endorse any specific transformation (whether real or imaginary).
The majority of the historical accounts reveal that becoming a werewolf is a conscious decision not a curse. However, there are exceptions:
It was believed that if a saint lost their temper they might make you one. . . St. Patrick is the most famous saint credited with turning a person into a werewolf. According to tradition, a British chieftain crossed him and St. Patrick demonstrated his wrath in that way. (Ashley 25)
Maybe we should be watching our Ps and Qs on Saint Patrick's Day, you never know. Here's a tip: A fire burns blue when evil is near. A good thing to know when you're drinking your green beer; well, it couldn't hurt.
Ashley revels in the tradition of Hollywood: "The ordinary way to become a werewolf was to be bitten by one. Evil is contagious. Not everyone bitten by vampires becomes one but all who are bitten by werewolves become werewolves" (25). It is too bad holy water doesn't work on werewolves like it does on vampires.
Summers explains some of the ways an individual might become a werewolf: "The transformation was sometimes effected by donning a girdle made of pelt of the animal whose shape was to be assumed, or else of human skin, which must be that of a murderer of some criminal gibbeted or broken on the wheel for his offences. The girth was three fingers wide" (111).
Summers continues, "Other methods of transformation, such as drinking water out of a footprint of the savage wolf, eating brains or flesh of the animal; drinking from haunted streams or pools; plucking and wearing, or smelling to the lycanthropic flower; the chawing of some herb" (112);. . . (According to) ". . . Sicilian tradition a child conceived at the new moon will become a werewolf, as also will the man who on a certain Wednesday or Friday in summers sleeps at night in the open with the moon shining full on his face" (163).
History divulges that France was assaulted by werewolves all through the 16th century, and had this to add to the list on ways of becoming a werewolf:
In the Middle Ages it was often believed that if any person had been denounced from the altar and remained impenitent, refusing to make restitution and confess, the curse of the werewolf fell upon him. In Normandy any man who was excommunicated became a werewolf for a term of three or seven years. In Basse-Bretagne any person who had not been shriven for ten years nor used holy water could become a werewolf… In La Vendee the man who was excommunicated became a werewolf for seven years, during which he was obliged to haunt certain ill-omened and accursed spots. (Summers 222)
The biggest candidates for becoming a werewolf were witches and sorcerers. They often fulfilled their evil desires by taking this form.
It will be remembered in this connection that Richard Rowlands - from whom there has been occasion to quote before - in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, 1605, wrote how the 'were-wolves are certaine sorcerers, who hauing annoynted their bodyes, with an oyntment which they make by the instinct of the deuil; and putting on a certain inchanted girdle, do not only vnto the view of others seeme as wolues, but to their own thinking haue both the shape and the nature of wolues, so long as they weare the said girdle. (Summers 111)
It intrigued me on how these shape-shifting transformations took place. Summers defines the three ways of shape shifting:
The first method is by a glamour caused by the demon, so that the man changed (either voluntarily or under the influence of a spell) will seem both to himself and to all who behold him to be metamorphosed into the shape of a certain animal, and although, if it be a spell which has been cast upon him, he retains his human reason he cannot exercise the power of speech.
Satan sometimes leaves the witch asleep behind a brush, and himself goes and performs that which the witch has in mind to do, giving himself the appearance of a wolf. . . And when it happens that they find themselves wounded, it is Satan who immediately transfers to them the blow which he has received in his assumed body.
The third method by which shape-shifting may be accomplished… Sometimes, in accordance with his pact, the demon surrounds a witch with an aerial effigy of a beast, each part of which fits on to the correspondent part of the witch's body, head to head, mouth to mouth, belly to belly, foot to foot, and arm to arm; but this only happens when they use certain ointments and words… an actual wound in those parts of their human body were they were wounded when in the appearance of a beast; for the enveloping air easily yields, and the rue body receives the wound. (119-21)
Now that we have some idea how one becomes a werewolf, how is the human form recovered? Continuing with the expertise of Summers, I will summarize these recorded methods of regaining the human form: Some believe that it can be as simple as cleansing the lupine body in dew or bath in running water.
You can also remove the wolf's girdle used in the transformation or adjust the girdle to the ninth hole (nine is a magical number) in order to regain human shape. In addition, in Italy, just the act of recovering your clothes you took off and protected by magical rite. As a werewolf if you are so unlucky to have a member of your lupine body lopped off, you will attain human form minus said member.
These next methods are not for the faint of heart: If you happen to know who the werewolf is and you're still hanging around town and brave enough to approach while he is a werewolf, call out his Christian name three times (3 is a magical number); he should change back to a human (you hope).
If you are feeling really brave you can hit the werewolf on the forehead with a knife three times. My guess is you would only get one strike at best before you're dinner. Oh wait, if that isn't enough, if you manage to draw three drops of blood from the werewolf you're golden, he will become human again. I would suggest at this time to leave town quickly (112-55).
Can a werewolf be a ghost and haunt an area? Summers illustrates that the English believe so with this recorded account:
Mr. O'Donnell gives an instance of a werewolf haunting in Cumberland, where in a newly-built house far from any town a phantom 'nude and grey, something like a man with the head of a wolf - a wolf with white pointed teeth and horrid, light eyes', was seen. There had previously been disturbances and howlings heard in the vicinity of the house. In a cave among the hills hard by were discovered a number of bones, among which was a wolf's skull and a human skeleton lacking the head. These were burned, and the hauntings ceased. (189-90)
What about the arduous task of killing a werewolf. "In the year 1542 Constantinople was plagued by werewolves that Solyman II, 'The Magnificent' at the head of his Janizaries, led an attack against them and destroyed no less than 150 of these monsters who were prowling the streets and lanes of the city" (Summers 146). ". . . it is recorded that in 1542 the sultan had 150 werewolves executed in what is now Istanbul" (Ashley 149).
Interestingly enough, there isn't a whole lot of information on killing a werewolf. Why, I guess because people accused of being a werewolf were executed in human form. When they do execute an allege werewolf, he is usually burned at the stake. Witches however, who are burned at the stake, are already dead by strangulation; the werewolf accused is not so fortunate.
One of the methods I did find in destroying a werewolf involved eight silver bullets being fired into the werewolf right between the eyes. Good luck with that! If you find yourself having to kill a werewolf, don't kill him in the countries of Greece, Germany, and Serbia. In their cultures a werewolf becomes a vampire after death and you then have another set of problems to deal with.
As for me I'll go to Lithuania because according to Ashley, "Carlo Ginzburg's I Benandanti (1966), 37-39, even gives us a Lithuanian werewolf who did only good deeds. Lithuanian werewolves are nice guys." (99)
What of Dogman is it the cousin to the legendary werewolf? Maybe one day I'll find out and live to tell the tale in the meantime I'll stock up on silver.
Listen to MP3 of Joe speaking followed by actual Dogman howling