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Wikimedia Commons

8 Historic Accounts of Werewolves

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

You can find stores of people transforming into werewolves in folklore, fiction, and pop culture—but there have been real people in various parts of the world who went down in history as lycanthropes. Here are a few of them.

1. PETER STUBBE // 1589

The only actual record of the case of Peter Stubbe (also spelled Stumpp or Stumpf), a.k.a. "the Werewolf of Bedburg," is a lurid pamphlet—supposedly a translation from some now-lost German original—that was circulated in London in 1590. According to the pamphlet (sic throughout), Stubbe—who "from his youth was greatly inclined to euill"—made a deal with the devil, requesting specifically to "woork his mallice on men, Women, and children, in the shape of some beast, wherby he might liue without dread or danger of life, and vnknowen to be the executor of any bloody enterprise, which he meant to commit." The devil gave him a belt, "which being put about him, he was straight transfourmed into the likenes of a gréedy deuouring Woolf,"

"strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkeled like vnto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes: And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appéere in his former shape, according to the pro∣portion of a man, as if he had neuer beene changed."

The pamphlet pegged Stubbe as a serial killer who murdered and sometimes ate his victims over a 25-year period. He was also accused of incest with his daughter as well as killing and eating his son. (Modern historians speculate that Stubbe was railroaded for political purposes, or to calm those who were terrified of the demons that were killing the townspeople.)

When he was captured, Stubbe told all about his deal with the devil and the magic belt that turned him into a wolf, confessing to murder, incest, and cannibalism. Stubbe's execution on October 31, 1589 in Bedburg, Germany was an exceptionally gruesome process: He was first lashed to a wheel, where the flesh was torn from his body with red-hot pincers; next, his arms and legs were broken; then, his head was chopped off; finally, his body was burned. Stubbe's girlfriend (a distant relative) and daughter, both accused of incest, were also tortured and then burned alive. After the executions, a wolf’s body was set up in public, its head replaced with Stubbe's, as a warning to anyone else contemplating lycanthropy.

2. JACQUES ROULET // 1598

What we known about Jacques Roulet—who was known as "The Werewolf of Angers" or "The Werewolf of Caud" after two French towns—comes to us via an 1865 account by Sabine Baring-Gould. The story goes like this: In 1598, the mutilated body of a teenage boy was discovered in the woods—and wolves were spotted nearby. Not far away, Roulet was found wounded and half-naked. After he was arrested and confessed to the murder, Roulet revealed that he was given a salve that transformed him into a wolf. The boy wasn't even his first kill, he said—he had murdered and eaten others. Unlike other cases, there appears to be no clear record of Roulet having been tortured into making a confession, and he did not confess to making a deal with the devil. Roulet was sentenced to death for murder, lycanthropy, and cannibalism, but after an appeal he was judged as mentally ill or "feeble-minded" and instead committed to an insane asylum and religious education for two years.

3. GILLES GARNIER // 1573

Circa 1572, in the town of Dole, France, several children went missing and were later found torn apart in the woods. That autumn (timeline and accounts vary), townspeople were charged with finding the werewolf responsible. In November, a hunting group witnessed a wild animal attack on a child, and someone recognized that the beast had features that resembled the local hermit, Gilles Garnier. A week later, when another child disappeared, Garnier and his wife were arrested. Fifty witnesses testified against Garnier, and he was put on the rack. He confessed to being a lycanthrope and to hunting, killing, and eating children who ventured into the woods, saying that he shared the meat with his wife. In January 1573, Garnier was burned at the stake. Modern speculation is that Garnier was guilty of murder and cannibalism (he likely found children easier to catch than wildlife), but the werewolf confession is attributed to either mental illness or torture.

4. AND 5. PIERRE BOURGOT AND MICHEL VERDUN // 1521

The Werewolves of Poligny were three men accused of lycanthropy in France in 1521. Someone was traveling through the area when they were attacked by a wolf. The traveler injured the wolf, then tracked it to Michel Verdun’s house, where Verdun was found dripping blood. He was arrested, and under torture not only confessed to being a werewolf, but implicated Pierre Bourgot and Philibert Montot. Bourgot in turn confessed, and told a tale of making a deal with three mysterious men dressed in black to protect his sheep. Bourgot said he only found out later that the deal entailed renouncing God and his baptism. He said in the years that followed, Michael Verdun gave him an ointment that turned him into a wolf, and together they killed at least two children. It's not clear whether Philibert Montot ever confessed, but he was executed along with the other two accused werewolves.

6. THE WOLF OF ANSBACH // 1685

One notorious werewolf case involved an actual wolf. In 1685, the Principality of Ansbach (now a district in Germany) was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was plagued by a wolf that preyed on livestock—and eventually moved on to eating people. The citizens thought they were being terrorized by a werewolf, and they knew exactly who it was: Their unnamed, hated (and dead) mayor who had returned in the guise of a wolf. A hunting party with dogs drove the wolf into a well, where it was killed. Still believing it was a werewolf, the citizens chopped off the wolf's nose, dressed it in a man's clothing, added a human mask, and hung the body from a pole (you can see a drawing from the hanging here). The carcass was later installed in a local museum.

7. VSESLAV OF POLOTSK // 1044

Vseslav was the ruler of Polotsk, a region that is now part of Belarus, from 1044 to 1101 CE. History records him as a strong leader and warrior, but he was also said to be a sorcerer. (In fact, in Russian literature, he's called Vseslav the Sorcerer.) Soon after his death, he was referred to as a werewolf in folktales; this reputation was recorded in the Old Slavic poem "The Tale of Igor's Campaign," in which the prince was said to race from town to town as a wolf.

8. HANS THE WEREWOLF // 1651

Dozens of people were accused of supernatural crimes in a series of witch and werewolf trials that took place in 17th century Estonia. One 18-year-old named Hans was convicted of both lycanthropy and witchcraft. Though he denied making a pact with the devil, Hans admitted that he had been a werewolf for two years, and had become one of the beasts after he was bitten by a man dressed in black who was, of course, a werewolf himself. The court decided Hans must have made a satanic deal, which made him guilty of witchcraft as well. The teenager was put to death.

A version of this story appeared in 2011.

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Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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holidays
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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