The Golden Star



“But it is firmly established, too, in the history of the Northmen that berserker rage was also a species of diabolical possession. They worked themselves up into a state of frenzy, in which a demoniacal power came over them, impelling them to acts from which in their sober senses they would have recoiled. They became insensible and invulnerable to pain, and acquired superhuman force when in a rage. No sword could wound them, no fire burn them, and only a club could destroy them, by breaking their bones or crushing their skulls. During their rages, their eyes glared as if a flame burned in their sockets; they ground their teeth and frothed at the mouth; they gnawed the rims of their shields and sometimes bit right through them; and as they rushed into conflict, they yelped like dogs or howled like wolves. Only baptism could extinguish their rage, and as Christianity advanced the number of berserkir decreased. After a fit of the berserker rage the men were so enfeebled that they had to take to bed.

“The word Vargr, a wolf, had a double significance in Norse; it also signified a godless man, and it stood for ‘restless’ too. This word vargr is the English word ‘were’ in were-wolf, and garou or varou in the French word loup-garou. In the life of St. Hildefons the loup-garou stands for ‘devil,’ and in nearly every language we can trace the connection between the word vargr and were-wolves, devils, witches, outlaws, scoundrels; whilst in the Salic Law there is an order which reads: ‘If anyone shall have dug up or despoiled an already buried corpse, let him be a vargr.’ With regard to the Scandinavian form of were-wolf, it is said by Baring-Gould that ‘the whole superstructure of fable and romance relative to transformation into wild beasts reposes simply on this basis of truth—that among the Scandinavian nations there existed a form of madness or possession, under the influence of which men acted as though they were changed into wild and savage brutes, howling, foaming at the mouth, ravening for blood and slaughter, ready to commit any act of atrocity and as irresponsible for their actions as the wolves and beasts with whose skins they often equipped themselves.’

“The manner in which this fact became invested with supernatural adjuncts as already described, the double meaning of the word vargr, and above all, the habits and appearance of the maniacs, therefore provided sufficient material for the ignorant to build up their myth of the were-wolf, which spread over the whole world.

“Literature is rich in examples of men turning themselves into were-wolves, such as the story of the lady in Livonia who doubted the possibility of this happening. One of her servants at once volunteered to prove his ability in this direction. He left the room, and in another moment a wolf was observed, running away from the house. The dogs were set upon him and tore out one of his eyes. Next day the servant re-appeared minus one eye.

“Müller, in a dissertation published in Leipzig in 1673, relates the story of a certain Albertus Pericofcius in Muscovy, who was wont to tyrannize and harass his subjects in the most unscrupulous manner. One night, when he was absent from home, his whole herd of cattle, acquired by extortion, perished. When he returned he broke out into the most horrible blasphemies, exclaiming: ‘Let him who has slain, eat; if God chooses let him devour me as well.’ As he spoke, drops of blood fell to earth, and the nobleman, transformed into a wild dog, rushed upon his dead cattle, tore and mangled the carcasses and began to devour them. Of these circumstances there were not only ear-, but also eyewitnesses.

“There is a similar story of a nobleman near Prague who robbed his subjects of all their goods, and even took the last cow from a poor widow with five children; but as a judgement all his own cattle died. He broke into fearful oaths and was transformed into a dog; his human head, however, remained. St. Patrick is said to have changed Vereticus, King of Wales, into a wolf, and St. Natalis transformed a whole family in Ireland into wolves, who for seven years lived in the forests and bogs, howling mournfully, and appeasing their hunger upon the sheep of the peasants.

“Rhanaeus divides the were-wolves into three sections, which he classifies as follows:

  1. They execute as wolves certain acts, such as seizing a sheep, or destroying cattle; not changed into wolves, but in their human frames and with their human limbs, yet in such a state of phantasy and hallucination that they believe themselves transformed into wolves, and are regarded as such by others, suffering under similar hallucination; and in this manner do these people run in packs as wolves, though not true wolves.
  2. They imagine, in deep sleep or dream, that they injure the cattle, and this without leaving their couch; but it is their master (the devil) who does, in their stead, what their fancy points out or suggests to him.
  3. The evil one drives natural wolves to do some act, and then pictures it so well to the sleeper, immovable in his place, both in dreams and at awakening, that he believes the act to have been committed by himself.

“Fincelius relates that in 1542 there was such a multitude of were-wolves about Constantinople that the Emperor, accompanied by his guard, left the city to give them severe correction, and slew one hundred and fifty of them.

“Spranger speaks of three young ladies who attacked a labourer, under the form of cats, and were wounded by him. They were found bleeding in their beds next morning.

“Nynauld relates that in a village of Switzerland, near Lucerne, a peasant was attacked by a wolf; he defended himself and smote off a foreleg of the beast. The moment that the blood began to flow the wolf’s form changed, and he recognized a woman without her arm. She was burnt alive.

"Witches who transform themselves into animals are said to have no tails when so transformed. When thrice addressed by their baptismal name they resume their human form.

“A were-wolf may be known—when in human shape—by his broad hands and short fingers; and there are always some hairs in the hollow of his hand. Such men can also take on the forms of goats, white dogs, white hares, bears or hyenas.

“After death lycanthropists become vampires, and the power to become a were-wolf is obtained by drinking the water which settles in the footprint left in clay by a wolf.

“In Ceylon, Tibet, China, and all over India, the belief in the transformation of a human being into an animal is prevalent. There is the story of the enchanted Brahmin’s son, who by day was a serpent, by night a man.

“The son of Indra was an ass by day and a man by night.

“In Abyssinia it is believed that gold- and silver-smiths transform themselves by night into savage beasts. They are distinguished from other people by wearing gold earrings, and earrings have been found on hyenas after they have been shot or speared.

“Joseph Acosta relates, in his National History of America, that the ruler of a city in Mexico, who was sent for by the predecessor of Montezuma, transformed himself, before the eyes of those who were sent to seize him, into an eagle, a tiger, and an enormous serpent successively.

“The Naguals, or national priests of Guatemala, have the power to transform themselves into lions or tigers.”

“What is the real reason for a man becoming a were-wolf?” asked Ma-u.

“There are two reasons,” said the Messenger.

“The first is a form of insanity; but one also finds in the lower-evolved human beings, and very often in young children, an innate predilection to cruelty. There have been, and are, many men who revel in inflicting torture on animals and on their fellows. The history of crime abounds with dreadful examples of the intense pleasure it gives some men to kill.

“Lycanthropy is a ghastly and revolting disease, and so remote from all our ordinary experience that it is not surprising that the casual observer should leave the consideration of it as a subject isolated and perplexing, and be disposed to regard as a myth that which the feared investigation might prove to be a reality. Moreover, man, in common with other carnivora, is often actuated by an impulse to kill and by a love of destroying life. This is proved by the crowds that used to enjoy public executions; by the lust for war; by the pleasure some children derive from torturing insects or small animals.

“Louis XI of France, for instance, caused the death of four thousand people during his reign; he used to watch their executions from a neighbouring lattice. He had gibbets placed outside his own palace, and himself conducted executions. Think of Nero, of the early Christian martyrs, of Ivan the Terrible, of the cruelties of the pirates, of the mass-murders in Russia during the 1917 revolution, of Caligula, Alexander Borgia, or Robespierre and the French mobs; of the ‘noble’ Hungarian lady who, about the year 1600, had six hundred and fifty girls beaten to death or burned alive, or cut to pieces."

Neteru-Hem said that one of the reasons why the witches believed themselves transformed was that they used certain narcotic drugs which induced a state of hallucination. He continued: “Transformation into beasts forms an integral portion of all mythological systems. We read of the Gods of Greece who changed themselves into animals so that they could carry out their designs with speed, security and secrecy. In Scandinavian mythology Odin changed himself into an eagle, and Loki into a salmon. As the Ancients believed—and rightly so—that animals had souls, or rather, minds, it was possible for the minds of men and animals to change places; and so the doctrine of metempsychosis was evolved, and it became possible for the mind of a savage and bloodthirsty man, like Lycaon for instance, to be degraded into the body of a wild beast; the mind of a timorous man entered into a hare, and drunkards and gluttons became swine. To the Buddhists identity exists in the soul alone, the body of man, beast, or bird, is only a temporary garment for the mind, and Buddha himself passed through various stages of existence as man or animal.