The Werewolf Murders

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

We prefer legends to reality. Reality is a long, drawn-out affair. Legends encapsulate things with only relevant details and are therefore far more dramatic and captivating. Legends are some of our earliest storytelling. A movie is our modern version. Movies often motivate us more than reality because as stories they are not punctuated by life’s mundane routines. Everyday routine can so water down the vital exciting bits of life! Even people who have lived through historically significant moments know in the retelling to stick to the relevant details. Storytelling is not only a part of our being, it is a part of logic. We know cause and effect. Storytelling is exciting as a result. Even when it is true!  . . .Because it is relevant truth . . .

When the legend is destroyed, however, we often tend to throw out the truth that was behind it. Such is the case of werewolves. Do wolf or dog men exist? In a figurative sense, yes. Most of the rest of the legend doesn’t– wolfsbane, silver bullets, transformation. But werewolves did exist– Wolf Men– as the old German word means.

Folklore and legends can only be understood visually. Not psychologically. You must put the facts back together and then visually relive them.

Before genetic science, hypertrichosis was a shocking thing to behold. Its prevalence in the wooded areas of what was the Austro-Hungarian empire (which included some of the areas central to folklore) reflects what outcasts such people were. In the medieval times, and sadly even much later, “freaks” were cast out. Just consider such “wild men” as the Wild Boy of Aveyron or the Gazelle Boy of Syria. Now visually consider someone with hypertrichosis cast out and raised in the woods of eastern Europe. Imagine a number of families out there. Now visually consider that one perhaps was completely demented and didn’t even dress. His nails were long like claws. He was completely mad, even dangerous.

Petrus Gonsalvus, a famous case.
Petrus Gonsalvus, a famous case.

Old woodcuts shows such “werewolves” in like manner. Not as humans who morphed into wolves. Not a magical monster only capable of being destroyed with a silver bullet. Wolf Men.

When confronting such people in modern times the reaction has been the same. Just think of Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy. That’s how Fedor Jeftichew was billed. How is that different from calling him Wolf Man?

Yet imagine seeing such a man “naked” and yet hairy all over, insane, dangerous? You are alone in the woods. There he is, wild eyes, back arched, snarling, fingers flexing as he raises his clutching hands at you before he charges.

Even today that is a potent stimulus. Even if you came across such a man perfectly sane but seeing him only from a distance. He stares at you. Says hello. He walks toward you. What to make of it? You would be unnerved, even if he turned out to be a very nice fellow.

Now go back to medieval times. A villager is found mangled in the woods. What will the villagers think? Let’s imagine another victim escaped and was able to describe his attacker. Another was wounded but escaped. He too described a beast man. There you have the beginning of a legend.

Jeftichew in later life.
Jeftichew in later life.

One doesn’t need to get into fancy psychology or mental illnesses of lycanthropy or dual personality. A legend must begin from something visual. There must be some unusual event to set it in motion, such as what I described above. Such an event would be followed by a manhunt for a crazed wolf-like man. Would this not be enough? Especially after the villagers found and even killed him. They and the constabulary would be shocked at seeing a man such as this. Where could such a thing as this have come from? How would they be able to understand?

If you can picture it, it is really quite sensational, even by today’s standards.

Makeup artists based their work on some of the real life victims of Hypertrichosis.
Makeup artists based their work on some of the real life victims of Hypertrichosis.

Over time from such an event develops legends of men transmorphing into wolves.  Anything associated with wolves would creep into the legend. Baying at a full moon is a natural evolution in a legend. Wolfsbane. “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers at night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” Such a creature would be the epitome of evil by night. Silver bullets, silver knife will alone vanquish him– purity being the weapon for such evil.

Is the legend more sensational than the potential reality?

The truth, visually, was probably more frightening. At one time it no doubt happened. Sometime in the era before the Renaissance no doubt such a hunt took place. It began a legend that is probably not so half as interesting as the truth.

We would be no different today. If a person so afflicted today went berserk and became a brutal serial killer, it would surely be more interesting than any legend. It would be retold for years to come.

Our legends lurk within us because the events and the evils that set them in motion come from within us.

“The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own. But there’s the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end.” Contemporarily we can only observe it as it happens. But with history we must again uncover it and place it in context in order to appreciate it and relive it.

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