Werewolves — The History of Werewolves

Werewolves - The History of Werewolves

Are Werewolves Real?

Various werewolf trials took place, most notably, in the 17th Century which could suggest that there were certainly werewolves in those days. However, because of no evidence to capture the appearance of werewolves, the originality or truth of the occurrence of werewolves is up to debate. It can also be said that people accused of being werewolves in those days decided to confess to being one due to the suffering of punishing they were receiving. As in the case of Jan Vindevogel of Gent, after being reported by his neighbour to being a werewolf, he also turned at the neighbour in spite and accused him of such. Thus, this led to them both being executed.

In folklore, a werewolf is a human who could turn oneself into a wolf, or as modern film dictates, a hybrid creature that’s part man and part wolf. This usually comes about because of either a curse or because the human in question possesses some divine ability, allowing him to morph into a crazed, bloodthirsty monster.

In other tales, a werewolf can transform another human by either scratching or biting them, similar to a vampire.

The idea of werewolves is a widespread concept, especially because of how they have been brought into the limelight of today’s media and film. They are often portrayed as feared beasts, some possessing super-strength and are generally menaces to societies. But what if I told you that werewolves may not have been just fictional creatures?

The Origins of Werewolves

Origins of Werewolves

Belief in werewolves began around the same time that witches were being persecuted—in the late Middle Ages across Europe. In fact, as early as the 15th century, werewolf trials were even held to condemn those who were either accused of being a werewolf or who were straight-up proud of it.

Some accusations could even be mixed with wolf-riding or wolf-charming, which is the supposed act of casting spells on wolves and having them do one’s bidding. In fact, in places like Estonia, werewolf hunting and werewolf trials became more common than the persecution of witches.

The phenomenon would spread across Bavaria and Austria, all the way into the early 18th century. So, it begs the question as to whether people misunderstood what they were seeing on a global scale or whether werewolves did indeed roam the land once on the time.

In Eastern Europe, most notably Estonia, occult practices often took place by pagans who were defying the Christian Church. But these pagans did not believe in Satan and weren’t interested in the destruction of Christianity. Instead, they were keener on learning malevolent spells as well as the transformation into werewolves.

It wasn’t until this became more common knowledge did the church take offence and decide that even though pagans, once satanic in nature, they were still labelled so. In fact, any member of society who accused another of being a werewolf was pressured by the authorities to adjust their story, so it matched the more linear model of witchcraft.

Becoming a Werewolf

Becoming a Werewolf

Eighteen (18) women and thirteen (13) men were accused of being werewolves between the 16th and 18th centuries in Estonia. The accused would confess to having been given their wolf-like appearance by either another person through a bite or a scratch or simply by encountering a demon who had cursed them.

Sometimes, they were even set to claim they had eaten something—like in the case of a woman on trial who claims she had been led into the woods by an old woman. This old woman then gave her berries to eat and then in the blink of an eye, she and the old woman were hunting in the woods as wolves.

Also only said to be a part of the transformation, according to the testimony of a pagan named Gret of Parnau who claimed that he and his spouse would turn into wolves but that a female accomplice of their group would take the shape of a bear.

Gret never claimed to have an association with Satan, but as I said earlier, it suited the church to have everyone believe that his form of magic was indeed satanic, and so they were said to adjust many of the confessions, so they seemed more in tune with that of witchcraft.

Werewolves Trials

Werewolves Testimony in Estonia

Werewolves Trials - Peter Stump Trial
Composite woodcut print by Lukas Mayer of the execution of Peter Stumpp in 1589 at Bedburg near Cologne.

Greta

In later 1696, a woman named Greta gave testimony that there were a whole pack of 11 werewolves hunting and roaming freely in the woods around central Estonia. Could it be possible that they’re still there, hiding and waiting?

Hans the Werewolf

Another more infamous trial from Estonia comes in the form of Hans the Werewolf. In 1651, Hans was brought to a court having been accused of being a werewolf at the age of 18.

He had confessed that he’d been hunting as a werewolf for the better part of two years and claimed that he’d gotten his powers through a man in black.

Hans will also show the court a wound he had sustained on his leg from the teeth of a dog, one he had earned supposedly in his werewolf form.

Though capable of communicating and obeying social rules in court, Hans claimed to feel more beast than a man because of his transformation. The court, however, believed that the man in black was Satan, and therefore, deemed Hans as nothing more but another who had been led astray by the devil and judged him guilty of witchcraft.

Werewolves Testimony in Latvia

In another case over in Livonia, now modern-day Latvia, a similar case took place in 1692.

An 80-year-old man named Thiess confessed to being a werewolf, who with other werewolves, regularly ventured to hell to do battle with the witches and wizards of Satan in the name of God. Thiess was proud of his confession and stuck by it as if it was the utmost truth; perhaps it was.

The court, however, was far more interested in getting Thiess to admit that he was in the service of Satan so that they could mark him simply as another Satanist who was practising witchcraft and not an actual werewolf.

But Thiess never confessed to this, even after he was sentenced to a severe whipping. He was had to be banished after that.

Werewolves Testimony in Netherland

Werewolves Trials - Other Trials
“The She Wolves of Jülich”, 1591.

Werewolf trials even took place in the Netherlands.

The Werewolf Trial of Folkert Dirks

During one infamous trial, a man named Folkert Dirks was accused of sorcery along with his 17-year-old daughter Hendrikje, his 14-year-old son Hessel, his 13-year-old son Elbert, his 11-year-old son Gijsbert, and his 8-year-old son Dirk.

13-year-old Elbert claimed in court that he, his father, and his siblings could all turn into werewolves, or even sometimes cats, at the command of Lord Satan. He recounts that Satan directed them to liaise with others who shared the same ability, and they would all dance together with Satan in a ceremony before hunting other animals as werewolves.

Upon this testimony, Folkert Dirks was tortured to confess that he had been made a werewolf by Satan and attacked cattle in this form, along with his children.

Hendrikje, who was the oldest and only daughter was forced to confess that she was a witch and attended witches sabbaths, in honour of Satan. Both her, her father and a few others who had been implicated were all executed for witchcraft.

The sons of Dirks, however, were spared despite openly admitting to being werewolves. Because of their age, instead, they were whipped.

The Werewolf Trial of Yohan Martensen

Yohan Martensen was another man who, in 1595, confessed to being made a werewolf by Satan and was ordered to hunt in a pack of eight to ten other werewolves, to hunt and harm people. He also claimed to possess the ability to bewitch people and animals into the service of Satan.

During his periods of transformation, he claims to have been unable to speak but maintained full consciousness as a werewolf. He was executed the same year by being strangled and then burned at the stake.

Other Werewolves Trials in the 17th Century

Thomas Baetens and Augustin de Moor

Trials against werewolves would carry on into the late 17th century, where two men known as Thomas Baetens and Augustin de Moor, were accused of being werewolves simply because their wives were standing for trials of witchcraft.

To make matters worse, their wives even turned on them, outing them as both werewolves.

Jan Vindevogel of Gent

Another account has it that Jan Vindevogel of Gent was accused of being seen as a werewolf several times by his neighbour. He was burned alive of witchcraft in 1652, but before he was burned, he pointed out the same neighbour has been an accomplice, and guess what? He was burned too.

Matthys Stoop

One of the last cases of werewolf executions takes place in 1657, where a man named Matthys Stoop was executed for sorcery after being accused of tormenting his neighbourhood as a werewolf. He was forced to confess that Satan had given him his wolf skin and was later executed.

In Conclusion

So, as you can see, there were a lot of trials for werewolves documented throughout history. So, I think it’s safe to say that if werewolves were about, they certainly aren’t about anymore.

One of the reasons why there is so much intrigue around creatures like werewolves is because there was simply no way to capture evidence of these creatures at the time, thus leading us to ponder on whether such beasts could have roamed the earth.

Whether or not they were werewolves or not, is up for you to decide. Though, I find it interesting that the concept of werewolves was spread so far in the Middle Ages.

Could it be that folklore about werewolves was passed around Europe, allowing for the accused to draw upon the same inspiration? Or could it be that the reason why the trials around werewolves were so similar was that they actually did happen?

Art Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Camille Alquier, Sandara Tang.

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