‘Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers at night
may become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.’
– Ancient gypsy saying.
When I was first developing the idea of setting up Wyrd Words & Effigies as a blog, one of my main objectives with it was to share my infatuation with the strange and the hidden. With the things we fear, when dark slips over the land and engulfs us. Werewolves have fascinated me since childhood, and when I was mulling over books to read and review, lycanthropes circled and wouldn’t leave me alone.
I came across this publication first of all on Issuu and being the fool that I am, thought I would get the whole thing for free. Alas, 38 pages in it came to an abrupt halt, and I was pushed into scouring the net for the paperback so I could read the next one hundred or so pages. I say pushed, I wasn’t. I went to Play and Amazon quite freely, and, I admit, eagerly. The introduction and first few chapters left an excellent impression, and just over £3 is nothing when a book is laden with the knowledge I want to obtain.
Konstantinos has been a paranormal researcher for nearly two decades, and his writing style is fluid and, well, not simplistic but not as ‘deep’ as I tend to like it. One of my minor vices with the book is that he cites his others. He cites them a lot. And this is really annoying when you’ve paid for a book about werewolves. I don’t want space wasted with chatter such as ‘…in my up and coming book blah, blah, blah you will find…’ If I want your other books, mate, I will look for them myself, thank you very much.
Konstantinos is obviously excellent at his job as a paranormal researcher, but one thing he is not, is a comedian. Unfortunately, the book is peppered with things that he wants you to snort and giggle at, but they’re just not all that.
The first chapter ‘Separating Fact From Fiction’ is an enthralling starter, in which Konstantinos very briefly talks about – amongst other things – the werewolf cinema. What I found particularly interesting, was when Konstantinos talked about the impact Hollywood had on the image of the werewolf, and how the loss of the very first lycanthropy film altered the future of werewolf cinema forever.
‘…a lost, eighteen-minute short from 1913…According to reports, the film featured a Navajo woman who gets involved in mysticism and transforms fully into a wolf – a real wolf. Sadly, a fire in 1924 destroyed all existing copies…’
Another interesting point from the first chapter, is that the concept of humans turning into werewolves, after surviving a bite from one, is not found anywhere in traditional lycanthropic beliefs. They were, instead, ‘another trapping of films.’
Chapter Two ‘Werewolf Beliefs From Around The World,’ is a favourite chapter of mine, and Konstantinos makes some fascinating and valid points about the belief of animal-human hybrids maintaining a hold, world over, for thousands of years.
‘When a widespread belief evolves independently in cultures that had no way of communicating with each other, the belief is of particular interest – especially if the belief thrives for millennia in these multiple, isolated locales.’
‘Startling anthropological research proves that people in ancient cultures consistently came into contact with animal-like beings, including wolf men and women, when in drug-induced religious vision quests.’
‘The belief in animal-human hybrids seems to predate true recorded history, dating back to the actual cave painting times.’
I have to say that I was deeply disappointed in learning that England wasn’t swarming with werewolf tales, though, interestingly enough the word werewolf originated from Old English.
‘Old English seems to be the origin of the word werewolf, which contains the root word wer, or man. This ‘man wolf,’ however, was not a particularly commonplace belief in England.’
Typically, a little way across the sea, France was brimming with tales, sightings and people claiming to be werewolves. It’s remarkable to note that ‘From 1520 to 1630 in France alone, there were 30,000 cases in the “court” system that dealt with werewolves and witchcraft.’
In Germany, it was common belief that if you did a deal with the devil, the life of a lycanthrope was to be expected, and in Norse Mythology, wolves were significant.
‘Norse warriors believed that they could obtain the characteristics of animals in battle by wearing their skins. These warriors would most commonly select skins of bears for their frenzied battle preparations, and were called berserkers, as they wore the serks or shirts, of a bear. The belief in wearing skins was probably derived from the Völsungasaga myths, in which heroes Sigmund and Sinfjötli wore cursed wolf skins that turned them into actual wolves. Such pelt wearing humans who turned into wolves were known as Úlfhéðnar…’
Konstantinos goes onto talk about other shape shifting beings, such as the Henge Kitsune from Japan, a half fox, half woman, and the Tanuki, another Japanese being, which can turn into any living or inanimate object. There’s also Hamrammr from old Icelandic literature, which takes on the form of the last animal it killed.
We jump around a bit with chapter three ‘Involuntary Werewolves of Legend,’ and Konstantinos mentions the role of lycanthropy in the movies again, noting that being bitten by a werewolf will curse you to a life dictated by the full moon is pure Hollywood.
He talks about lycanthropy being a birthright in some cases. In isolated parts of Europe it was thought that if you were born on Christmas, you were destined to become a werewolf. But Konstantinos lays down the cards and explains why, in the Middle Ages, you might well have believed this.
‘Christmas is a few days after the longest night of the year, and obviously a cold night at that. Wolves would have been extra hungry and on the hunt for food during these cold nights, and remote villagers would have felt trapped during the majority of this approximate time of year. Hungry, howling wolves, combined with bitter winds outside, would take their toll on the sanity of those who had a fair share of superstition to begin with.’
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Something I particularly enjoyed were the profiles of people who committed murder ‘under the influence’ of lycanthropy. One of particular interest was Peter Stubbe.
‘During his trial in 1589, he admitted to having summoned the devil using his rituals. When the Price of Darkness came, he offered Stubbe a magical item that is perhaps the one most commonly associated with transformation rituals; a furry belt, or “wolf girdle,” which is basically a small version of the wolf fur that northern warriors used to wear when they wanted to summon the powers of the wolf.’
Stubbe went onto transform and attack. Most of his victims were left as little more than bone and gristle. Not only was he a cannibal though, he also impregnated his own daughter. He had a punishment to fit his crimes, and was
‘…stretched on a wheel until his bones were broken, had his skin slowly torn off by pinchers in at least a dozen places, was decapitated, and then, for good measure, has his remains burned.’
For the record, his girdle was never recovered.
Konstantinos gives a fair bit of space, in the book, for the reader to try out their own rituals to summon the ‘wolf,’ he also records numerous accounts of people who have claimed to have sighted werewolves, and their accounts are especially vivid and thought provoking. There is a chapter on ‘Astral Werewolves,’ and, to my delight, a chapter on ‘Native American Beliefs and Shamanism.’ Konstantinos doesn’t shy away from the medical side of things, especially modern medicine, providing answers to peoples sometimes horrifying behaviour. Mental health features quite heavily, and I admire Konstantinos digging to give a unbiased opinion, as it provides a good balance to the book.
As much as I learn, I still feel Werewolves: The Occult Truth could have been a deeper read. Although it’s well referenced, with good arguments and extremely interesting insights into the history of the myth, it feels a bit as if it was rushed and hastily put together. While this may be Konstantinos’s style, I prefer a book that swallows me up.
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
Date of Publication: 1st October 2010
Read the beginning on Issuu: http://issuu.com/llewellyn/docs/9780738721606