The Book of Were-Wolves Chapter 10: Mythological origin of the were-wolf myth

Chapter Contents

  • Metempsychosis
  • Sympathy between Men and Beasts
  • Finnbog and the Bear
  • Osage and the Beaver
  • The Connexion of Soul and Body
  • Buddism
  • Case of Mr. Holloway
  • Popular ideas concerning the Body
  • The derivation of the German Leichnam
  • Feather Dresses
  • Transmigration of Souls
  • A Basque Story
  • Story from the Pantschatantra
  • Savage ideas regarding Natural Phenomena
  • Thunder, Lightning, and Cloud
  • The origin of the Dragon
  • John of Bromton’s Dragon a Waterspout
  • The Legend of Typhoeus
  • Allegorizing of the Effects of a Hurricane
  • Anthropomorphosis
  • The Cirrus Cloud, a Heavenly Swan
  • Urvaci
  • The Storm-cloud a Daemon
  • Vritra and Rakschasas
  • Story of a Brahmin and a Rakschasas

TRANSFORMATION into beasts forms an integral portion of all mythological systems. The gods of Greece were wont to change themselves into animals in order to carry out their designs with greater speed, security, and secrecy, than in human forms. In Scandinavian mythology, Odin changed himself into the shape of an eagle, Loki into that of a salmon. Eastern religions abound in stories of transformation.

The line of demarcation between this and the translation of a beast’s soul into man, or a man’s soul into a beast’s (metempsychosis) is very narrow.

The doctrine of metempsychosis is founded on the consciousness of gradation between beasts and men. The belief in a soul-endowed animal world was present among the ancients, and the laws of intelligence and instinct were misconstrued, or were regarded as a puzzle, which no man might solve.

The human soul with its consciousness seemed to be something already perfected in a pre-existing state, and, in the myth of metempsychosis, we trace the yearnings and gropings of the soul after the source whence its own consciousness was derived, counting its dreams and hallucinations as gleams of memory, recording acts which had taken place in a former state of existence.

Modern philosophy has resumed the same thread of conjecture, and thinks to see in man the perfected development of lower organisms.

After death the translation of the soul was supposed to continue. It became either absorbed into the nous, into Brahma, into the deity, or it sank in the scale of creation, and was degraded to animate a brute. Thus the doctrine of metempsychosis was emphatically one of rewards and punishments, for the condition of the soul after death depended on its training during life. A savage and bloodthirsty man was exiled, as in the case of Lycaon, into the body of a wild beast: the soul of a timorous man entered a hare, and drunkards or gluttons became swine.

The intelligence which was manifest in the beasts bore such a close resemblance to that of man, in the childhood and youth of the world, that it is not to be wondered at, if our forefathers failed to detect the line of demarcation drawn between instinct and reason. And failing to distinguish this, they naturally fell into the belief in metempsychosis.

It was not merely a fancied external resemblance between the beast and man, but it was the perception of skill, pursuits, desires, sufferings, and griefs like his own, in the animal creation, which led man to detect within the beast something analogous to the soul within himself; and this, notwithstanding the points of contrast existing between them, elicited in his mind so strong a sympathy that, without a great stretch of imagination, he invested the beast with his own attributes, and with the full powers of his own understanding. He regarded it as actuated by the same motives, as subject to the same laws of honour, as moved by the same prejudices, and the higher the beast was in the scale, the more he regarded it as an equal. A singular illustration of this will be found in the Finnboga Saga, c. xi.

“Now we must relate about Finnbog. Afterward in the evening, when men slept, he rose, took his weapons, and went forth, following the tracks which led to the dairy farm. As was his wont, he stepped out briskly along the spoor till he came to the dairy. There he found the bear lying down, and he had slain the sheep, and he was lying on them lapping their blood. Then said Finnbog: ‘Stand up, Brain! make ready against me; that becomes you more than crouching over those sheep’s carcases.’

“The bear sat up, looked at him, and lay down again. Finnbog said, ‘If you think that I am too fully armed to match with you, I will do this,’ and he took of his helmet and laid aside his shield. Then he said, Stand up now, if you dare! ‘

“The bear sat up, shook his head, and then cast himself down again. “Finnbog exclaimed, ‘I see, you want us both to be boune alike!’ so he flung aside his sword and said, ‘Be it as you will; now stand up if you have the heart that I believe you have, rather than one such as was possessed by these rent sheep.’

“Then Bruin stood up and prepared to fight.”

The following story taken from the mouth of an Osage Indian by J. A. Jones, and published in his Traditions of the North American Indians, shows how thoroughly the savage mind misses the line of demarcation between instinct and reason, and how the man of the woods looks upon beasts as standing on an equality with himself.

An Osage warrior is in search of a wife: he admires the tidy and shrewd habits of the beaver. He accordingly goes to a beaver-hut to obtain one of that race for a bride. “In one corner of the room sat a beaver-woman combing the heads of some little beavers, whose ears she boxed very soundly when they would not lie still. The warrior, i. e. the beaver-chief, whispered the Osage that she was his second wife, and was very apt to be cross when there was work to be done, which prevented her from going to see her neighbours. Those whose heads she was combing were her children, he said, and she who had made them rub their noses against each other and be friends, was his eldest daughter. Then calling aloud, ‘Wife,’ said he, ‘what have you to eat? The stranger is undoubtedly hungry; see, he is pale, his eye has no fire, and his step is like that of a moose.’

“Without replying to him, for it was a sulky day with her, she called aloud, and a dirty-looking beaver entered. ‘Go,’ said she, ‘and fetch the stranger something to eat.’ With that the beaver girl passed through a small door into another room, from which she soon returned, bringing some large pieces of willow-bark, which she laid at the feet of the warrior and his guest. While the warrior-beaver was chewing the willow, and the Osage was pretending to do so, they fell to talking over many matters, particularly the wars of the beavers with the otters, and their frequent victories over them. He told our father by what means the beavers felled large trees, and moved them to the places where they wished to make dams; how they raised to an erect position the poles for their lodges, and how they plastered them so as to keep out rain. Then he spoke of their employments when they had buried the hatchet; of the peace and happiness and tranquillity they enjoyed when gathered into companies, they rested from their labours, and passed their time in talking and feasting, and bathing, and playing the game of bones, and making love. All the while the young beaver-maiden sat with her eyes fixed upon the Osage, at every pause moving a little nearer, till at length she was at his side with her forepaw upon his arm; a minute more and she had placed it around his neck, and was rubbing her soft furry cheek against his. Our ancestor, on his part, betrayed no disinclination to receive her caresses, but returned them with equal ardour. The old beaver seeing what was going on, turned his back upon them, and suffered them to be as kind to each other as they pleased. At last, turning quickly round, while the maiden, suspecting what was coming, and pretending to be abashed, ran behind her mother, he said, ‘To end this foolery, what say you to marrying my daughter? She is well brought up, and is the most industrious girl in the village. She will flap more wall with her tail in a day than any maiden in the nation; she will gnaw down a larger tree betwixt the rising of the sun and the coming of the shadows than many a smart beaver of the other sex. As for her wit, try her at the game of the dish, and see who gets up master; and for cleanliness, look at her petticoat?’ Our father answered that he did not doubt that she was industrious and cleanly, able to gnaw down a very large tree, and to use her tail to very good purpose; that he loved her much, and wished to make her the mother of his children. And thereupon the bargain was concluded.”

These two stories, the one taken from Icelandic saga, the other from American Indian tradition, shew clearly the oneness which the uncultivated mind believes to exist between the soul of man and the soul of beast. The same sentiments actuate both man and brute, and if their actions are unlike, it is because of the difference in their formation. The soul within is identical, but the external accidents of body are unlike.

Among many rude as well as cultivated people, the body is regarded as a mere garment wrapped around the soul. The Buddist looks upon identity as existing in the soul alone, and the body as no more constituting identity, than the clothes he puts on or takes off. He exists as a spirit; for convenience he vests himself in a body; sometimes that body is human, sometimes it is bestial. As his soul rises in the spiritual scale, the nobler is the animal form which it tenants. Budda himself passed through various stages of existence; in one he was a hare, and his soul being noble, led him to immolate himself, in order that he might offer hospitality to Indra, who, in the form of an old man, craved of him food and shelter. The Buddist regards animals with reverence; an ancestor may be tenanting the body of the ox he is driving, or a descendant may be running at his side barking, and wagging his tail. When he falls into an ecstasy, his soul is leaving his body for a little while, it is laying aside its raiment of flesh and blood and bone, to return to it once more when the trance is over. But this idea is not confined to Buddists, it is common everywhere. The spirit or soul is supposed to be imprisoned in the body, the body is but the lantern through which the spirit shines, “the corruptible body” is believed to “press down the soul,” and the soul is unable to attain to perfect happiness till it has shuffled off this earthy coil. Butler regards the members of the body as so many instruments used by the soul for the purpose of seeing, hearing, feeling, &c., just as we use telescopes or crutches, and which may be rejected without injury to our individuality.

The late Mr. J. Holloway, of the Bank of England, brother to the engraver of that name, related of himself that, being one night in bed, and unable to sleep, he had fixed his eyes and thoughts with uncommon intensity on a beautiful star that was shining in at the window, when he suddenly found his spirit released from his body and soaring into space. But instantly seized with anxiety for the anguish of his wife, if she discovered his body apparently dead beside her, he returned, and re-entered it with difficulty. He described that returning as a returning from light into darkness, and that whilst the spirit was free, he was alternately in the light or the dark, accordingly as his thoughts were with his wife or with the star. Popular mythology in most lands regards the soul as oppressed by the body, and its liberation is considered a deliverance from the “burden” of the flesh. Whether the soul is at all able to act or express itself without a body, any more than a fire is able to make cloth without the apparatus of boiler and machinery, is a question which has not commended itself to the popular mind. But it may be remarked that the Christian religion alone is that which raises the body to a dignity equal to that of the soul, and gives it a hope of ennoblement and resurrection never dreamed of in any mythological system.

But the popular creed, in spite of the most emphatic testimony of Scripture, is that the soul is in bondage so long as it is united to a body, a creed entirely in accordance with that of Buddism.

If the body be but the cage, as a poet[1] of our own has been pleased to call it, in which dwells the imprisoned soul, it is quite possible for the soul to change its cage. If the body be but a vesture clothing the soul, as the Buddist asserts, it is not improbable that it may occasionally change its vesture.

This is self-evident, and thus have arisen the countless tales of transformation and transmigration which are found all over the world. That the same view of the body as a mere clothing of the soul was taken by our Teutonic and Scandinavian ancestors, is evident even from the etymology of the words leichnam, lîkhama, used to express the soulless body.

I have already spoken of the Norse word hamr, I wish now to make some further remarks upon it. Hamr is represented in Anglo-Saxon by hama, homa, in Saxon by hamo, in old High German by hamo, in old French by homa, hama, to which are related the Gothic gahamon, ufar-hamon, ana-hamon, {Greek e?ndúesðai}, {Greek e?pendúesðai}; and-hamon, af-hamon, {Greek a?pekdúein} {Greek e?kdúesðai?} thence also the old High German hemidi, and the modern Hemde, garment. In composition we find this word, as lîk-hagnr, in old Norse; in old High German lîk-hamo, Anglo-Saxon lîk-hama, and flæsc-hama, Old Saxon, lîk-hamo, modern German Leich-nam, a body, i. e. a garment of flesh, precisely as the bodies of birds are called in old Norse fjaðr-hamr, in Anglo-Saxon feðerhoma, in Old Saxon fetherhamo, or feather-dresses and the bodies of wolves are called in old Norse ûlfshamr, and seals’ bodies in Faroëse kôpahamr. The significance of the old verb að hamaz is now evident; it is to migrate from one body to another, and hama-skipti is a transmigration of the soul. The method of this transmigration consisted in simply investing the body with the skin of the animal into which the soul was to migrate. When Loki, the Northern god of evil, went in quest of the stolen Idunn, he borrowed of Freyja her falcon dress, and at once became, to all intents and purposes, a falcon. Thiassi pursued him as he left Thrymheimr, having first taken upon him an eagle’s dress, and thereby become an eagle.

In order to seek Thor’s lost hammer, Loki borrowed again of Freyja her feather dress, and as be flew away in it, the feathers sounded as they winnowed the breeze (fjaðrhamr dunði).

In like manner Cædmon speaks of an evil spirit flying away in feather-dress: “þät he mid feðerhomon fleôgan meahte, windan on wolkne” (Gen. ed. Gr. 417), and of an angel, “þuo þar suogan quam engil þes alowaldon obhana fun radure faran an feðerhamon” (Hêlj. 171, 23), the very expression made use of when speaking of a bird: “farad an feðarhamun” (Hêlj. 50,11).

The soul, in certain cases, is able to free itself from the body and to enter that of beast or man—in this form stood the myth in various theological systems.

Among the Finns and Lapps it is not uncommon for a magician to fall into a cataleptic condition, and during the period his soul is believed to travel very frequently in bodily form, having assumed that of any animal most suitable for its purpose. I have given instances in a former chapter. The same doctrine is evident in most cases of lycanthropy. The patient is in a state of trance, his body is watched, and it remains motionless, but his soul has migrated into the carcase of a wolf, which it vivifies, and in which it runs its course. A curious Basque story shows that among this strange Turanian people, cut off by such a flood of Aryan nations from any other members of its family, the same superstition remains. A huntsman was once engaged in the chase of it bear among the Pyreneean peaks, when Bruin turned suddenly on him and hugged him to death, but not before he had dealt the brute its mortal wound. As the huntsman expired, he breathed his soul into the body of the bear, and thenceforward ranged the mountains as a beast.

One of the tales of the Sanskrit book of fables, the Pantschatantra, affords such a remarkable testimony to the Indian belief in metempsychosis, that I am tempted to give it in abstract.

A king was one day passing through the marketplace of his city, when he observed a hunchbacked merryandrew, whose contortions and jokes kept the bystanders in a roar of laughter. Amused with the fellow, the king brought him to his palace. Shortly after, in the hearing of the clown, a necromancer taught the monarch the art of sending his soul into a body not his own.

Some little while after this, the monarch, anxious to put in practice his newly acquired knowledge, rode into the forest accompanied by his fool, who, he believed, had not heard, or, at all events comprehended, the lesson. They came upon the corpse of a Brahmin lying in the depth of the jungle, where he had died of thirst. The king, leaving his horse, performed the requisite ceremony, and instantly his soul had migrated into the body of the, Brahmin, and his own lay as dead upon the ground. At the same moment, however, the hunchback deserted his body, and possessed himself of that which had been the king’s, and shouting farewell to the dismayed monarch, he rode back to the palace, where he was received with royal honours. But it was not long before the queen and one of the ministers discovered that a screw was somewhere loose, and when the quondam king, but now Brahmin, arrived and told his tale, a plot was laid for the recovery of his body. The queen asked her false husband whether it were possible to make her parrot talk, and he in a moment of uxorious weakness promised to make it speak. He laid his body aside, and sent his soul into the parrot. Immediately the true king jumped out of his Brahmin body and resumed that which was legitimately his own, and then proceeded, with the queen, to wring the neck of the parrot.

But besides the doctrine of metempsychosis, which proved such a fertile mother of fable, there was another article of popular mythology which gave rise to stories of transformation. Among the abundant superstitions existing relative to transformation, three shapes seem to have been pre-eminently affected—that of the swan, that of the wolf, and that of the serpent. In many of the stories of those transformed, it is evident that the individual who changes shape is regarded with superstitious reverence, as a being of a higher order—of a divine nature. In Christian countries, everything relating to heathen mythology was regarded with a suspicious eye by the clergy, and any miraculous powers not sanctioned by the church were attributed to the evil one. The heathen gods became devils, and the marvels related of them were supposed to be effected by diabolic agency. A case of transformation which had shown the power of an ancient god, was in Christian times considered as an instance of witchcraft. Thus stories of transformation fell into bad odour, and those who changed shapes were no longer regarded as heavenly beings, commanding reverence, but as miserable witches deserving the stake.

In the infancy of the world, when natural phenomena were ill-understood, expressions which to us are poetical were of a real significance. When we speak of thunder rolling, we use an expression which conveys no further idea than a certain likeness observed between the detonations and the roll of a vehicle; but to the uninstructed mind it was more. The primæval savage knew not what caused thunder, and tracing the resemblance between it and the sound of wheels, he at once concluded that the chariot of the gods was going abroad, or that the celestial spirits were enjoying a game of bowls.

We speak of fleecy clouds, because they appear to us soft and light as wool, but the first men tracing the same resemblance, believed the light vapours to be flocks of heavenly sheep. Or we say that the clouds are flying: the savage used the same expression, as he looked up at the mackerel sky, and saw in it flights of swans coursing over the heavenly lake. Once more, we creep nearer to the winter fire, shivering at the wind, which we remark is howling around the house, and yet we do not suppose that the wind has a voice. The wild primæval men thought that it had, and because dogs and wolves howl, and the wind howled, and because they had seen dogs and wolves, they concluded that the storm-wind was a night-hound, or a monstrous wolf, racing over the country in the darkness of the winter night, ravening for prey.

Along with the rise of this system of explaining the operations of nature by analogies in the bestial world, another conclusion forced itself on the untaught mind. The flocks which strayed in heaven were no earthly sheep, but were the property of spiritual beings, and were themselves perhaps spiritual; the swans which flew aloft, far above the topmost peak of the Himalaya, were no ordinary swans, but were divine and heavenly. The wolf which howled so wildly in the long winter night, the hounds, whose bay sounded so. dismally through the shaking black forest, were no mundane wolves and hounds, but issued from the home of a divine hunter, and were themselves wondrous, supernatural beings of godlike race.

And so, the clouds having become swans, the swan-clouds were next believed to be divine beings, valkyries, apsaras, and the like, seen by mortals in their feather-dresses, but appearing among the gods as damsels. The storm-wind having been supposed to be a wolf, next was taken to be a tempestuous god, who delighted to hunt on earth in lupine form.

I have mentioned also the serpent shape, as being one very favourite in mythology. The ancient people saw the forked and writhing lightning, and supposed it to be a heavenly fiery serpent, a serpent which had godlike powers, which was in fact a divine being, manifesting himself to mortals under that form. Among the North American Indians, the lightning is still regarded as the great serpent, and the thunder is supposed to be his hissing.

“Ah!” exclaimed a Magdeburg peasant to a German professor, during a thunder-storm, as a vivid forked gleam shot to earth, “what a glorious snake was that!” And this resemblance did not escape the Greeks.

{Greek é!likes d? e?klámpousi steroph~s ksápuroi}.

Æsch. Prom. 1064.

{Greek drákonta pursónwton, ó!s á?platon a?mfeliktòs é!lik? e?froúrei, ktanw’n}

Eurip. Herc. F. 395.

And according to Aristotle, {Greek e!likíai} are the lightnings, {Greek grammoeidw~s ferómenoi}.

It is so difficult for us to unlearn all we know of the nature of meteorological phenomena, so hard for us to look upon atmospheric changes as though we knew nothing of the laws that govern them, that we are disposed to treat such explanations of popular myths as I have given above, as fantastic and improbable.

But among the ancients all solutions of natural problems were tentative, and it is only after the failure of every attempt made to explain these phenomena on supernatural grounds that we have been driven to the discovery of the true interpretation. Yet among the vulgar a vast amount of mythology remains, and is used still to explain atmospheric mysteries. The other day a Yorkshire girl, when asked why she was not afraid of thunder, replied because it was only her Father’s voice; what knew she of the rushing together of air to fill the vacuum caused by the transit of the electric fluid? to her the thunder-clap was the utterance of the Almighty. Still in North Germany does the peasant say of thunder, that the angels are playing skittles aloft, and of the snow, that they are shaking up the feather-beds in heaven.

The myth of the dragon is one which admits, perhaps more than any other, of identification with a meteorological phenomenon, and presents to us as well the phase of transition from theriomorphosis to anthropomorphosis.

The dragon of popular mythology is nothing else than the thunderstorm, rising at the horizon, rushing with expanded, winnowing, black pennons across the sky, darting out its forked fiery tongue, and belching fire. In a Slovakian legend, the dragon sleeps in a mountain cave through the winter months, but, at the equinox, bursts forth—”In a moment the heaven was darkened and became black as pitch, only illumined by the fire which flashed from dragon’s jaws and eyes. The earth shuddered, the stones rattled down the mountain sides into the glens. Right and left, left and right, did the dragon lash his tail, overthrowing pines and beeches, snapping them as rods. He evacuated such floods of water that the mountain torrents were full. But after a while his power was exhausted, he lashed no more with his tail, ejected no more water, and spat no more fire.”

I think it is impossible not to see in this description, a spring-tide thunderstorm. But to make it more evident that the untaught mind did regard such a storm as a dragon, I think the following quotation from John of Brompton’s Chronicle will convince the most sceptical: “Another remarkable thing is this, that took place during a certain month in the Gulf of Satalia (on the coast of Pamphylia). There appeared a great and black dragon which came in clouds, and let down his head into the water, whilst his tail seemed turned to the sky; and the dragon drew the water to him by drinking, with such avidity, that, if any ship, even though laden with men or any other heavy articles, had been near him when drinking, it would nevertheless have been sucked up and carried on high. In order however to avoid this danger, it is necessary, when people see it, at once to make a great uproar, and to shout and hammer tables, so that the dragon, hearing the noise, and the voices of those shouting, may withdraw himself far off. Some people, however, assert that this is not a dragon, but the sun drawing up the waters of the sea; which seems more probable.”[2] Such is John of Brompton’s account of a waterspout. In Greek mythology the dragon of the storm has begun to undergo anthropomorphosis. Typhœus is the son of Tartarus and Terra; the storm rising from the horizon may well be supposed to issue from the earth’s womb, and its characteristics are sufficient to decide its paternity. Typhœus, the whirlwind or typhoon, has a hundred dragon or serpent heads, the long writhing strive of vapour which run before the hurricane cloud. He belches fire, that is, lightnings issue from the clouds, and his roaring is like the howling of wild dogs. Typhœus ascends to heaven to make war on the gods, who fly from him in various fantastic shapes; who cannot see in this ascent the hurricane climbing up the vault of sky, and in the flying gods, the many fleeting fragments of white cloud which are seen drifting across the heavens before the gale!

Typhœus, according to Hesiod, is the father of all bad winds, which destroy with rain and tempest, all in fact which went among the Greeks by the name of {Greek laílaps}, bringing injury to the agriculturist and peril to the voyager.


?Ek dè Tufwéos é?st? a?némwn ménos u!gròn á?eptwn,
nósfi Nótou Boréw te, kaì a?rgéstew Zefúrou te.
oí! ge mèn e?n ðeófin geneh`, ðnhtoïs még? ó?neiar.
ai! d? á?llai mapsau~rai e?pipneíousi ðalassan.
ai! d? h?’toi píptousai e?s heroeideá pónton,
ph~ma méga ðnhtoi~si, kakh~j ðúousin a?éllhj.
á?llote d? á?llai a?eísi, diaskidna~si te nh~as,
naútas te fðeírousi. kakou~ d? ou? gígnetai a?lkh`
a?ndrásin, oí! keínhjsi sinántwntai katà pónton.
ai! d? aû? kaì katà gai~an a?peíriton, a?nðemóessan
é?rg? e?ratà fðeírousi xamaigenéwn a?nðrw’pwn,
pimpleu~sai kóniós te kaì a?rgaléou kolosurtou~

Hesiod. Theog. 870, seq.

In both modern Greek and Lithuanian household mythology the dragon or drake has become an ogre, a gigantic man with few of the dracontine attributes remaining. Von Hahn, in his Griechische und Albanesische Märchen, tells many tales of drakes, and in all, the old characteristics have been lost, and the drake is simply a gigantic man with magical and superhuman powers.

It is the same among the Lithuanian peasantry. A dragon walks on two legs, talks, flirts with a lady, and marries her. He retains his evil disposition, but has sloughed off his scales and wings.

Such is the change which has taken place in the popular conception of the dragon, which is an impersonification of the thunderstorm. A similar change has taken place in the swan-maiden and were-wolf myths.

In ancient Indian Vedaic mythology the apsaras were heavenly damsels who dwelt in the tether, between earth and sun. Their name, which signifies “the shapeless,” or “those who go in the water “—it is uncertain which. is the correct derivation—is expressive of the white cirrus, constantly changing form, and apparently floating swan-like on the blue heaven-sea. These apsaras, according to the Vedaic creed, were fond of changing their shapes, appearing generally as ducks or swans, occasionally as human beings. The souls of heroes were given to them for lovers and husbands. One of the most graceful of the early Indian myths is the story of the apsaras, Urvaçî. Urvaçî loved Puravaras and became his ‘wife, on the condition that she was n-ever to behold him in a state of nudity. They remained together for years, till the heavenly companions of Urvaçî determined to secure her return to them. They accordingly beguiled Puravaras into leaving his bed in the darkness of night, and then with a lightning flash they disclosed him, in his nudity, to his wife, who was thereupon constrained to leave him. He pursued her, full of sorrow at his loss, and found her at length swimming in a large lotus pond, in swan’s shape.

That this story is not a mere invention, but rests on some mythological explanation of natural phenomena, I think more than probable, as it is found all over the world with few variations. As every Aryan branch retains the story, or traces of it, there can be no doubt that the belief in swan-maidens, who swam in the heavenly sea, and who sometimes became the wives of those fortunate men who managed to steal from them their feather dresses, formed an integral portion of the old mythological system of the Aryan family, before it was broken up into Indian, Persian, Greek, Latin, Russian, Scandinavian, Teutonic, and other races. But more, as the same myth is found. in tribes not Aryan, and far removed from contact with European or Indian superstition,—as, for instance, among Samoyeds and American Indians,—it is even possible that this story may be a tradition of the first primæval stock of men.

But it is time for me to leave the summer cirrus and turn to the tempest-born rain-cloud. It is represented in ancient Indian mythology by the Vritra or Râkshasas. At first the form of these dæmons was uncertain and obscure. Vritra is often used as an appellative for a cloud, and kabhanda, an old name for a rain-cloud, in later times became the name of a devil. Of Vritra, who envelopes the mountains with vapour, it is said, “The darkness stood retaining the water, the mountains lay in the belly of Vritra.” By degrees Vritra stood out more prominently as a dæmon, and he is described as a “devourer” of gigantic proportions. In the same way Râkshasas obtained corporeal form and individuality. He is a misshapen giant “like to a cloud,” with a red beard and red hair, with pointed protruding teeth, ready to lacerate and devour human flesh. His body is covered with coarse bristling hair, his huge mouth is open, he looks from side to side as he walks, lusting after the flesh and blood of men, to satisfy his raging hunger, and quench his consuming thirst. Towards nightfall his strength increases manifold. He can change his shape at will. He haunts the woods, and roams howling through the jungle; in short, he is to the Hindoo what the were-wolf is to the European.

A certain wood was haunted by a Râkschasa; he one day came across a Brahmin, and with a bound reached his shoulders, and clung to them, exclaiming, “Heh! go on with you!” And the Brahmin, quaking with fear, advanced with him. But when he observed that the feet of the Râkschasa were as delicate as the stamens of the lotus, he asked him, How is it that you have such weak and slender feet? The Râkschasa replied, “I never walk nor touch the earth with my feet. I have made a vow not to do so.” Presently they came to a large pond. Then the Râkschasa bade the Brahmin wait at the edge whilst he bathed and prayed to the gods. But the Brahmin thought: “As soon as these prayers and ablutions are over, he will tear me to pieces with his fangs and eat me. He has vowed not to walk; I will be off post haste!” so he ran away, and the Râkschasa dared not follow him for fear of breaking his VOW. (Pantschatantra, v. 13.) There is a similar story in the Mahâbhârata, xiii., and in the Kathâ Sarit Sâgara, v. 49-53.

I have said sufficient to show that natural phenomena gave rise to mythological stories, and that these stories have gradually deteriorated, and have been degraded into vulgar superstitions. And I have shown that both the doctrine of metempsychosis and the mythological explanations of meteorological changes have given rise to abundant fable, and among others to the popular and wide-spread superstition of lycanthropy. I shall now pass from myth to history, and shall give instances of bloodthirstiness, cruelty, and cannibalism.

From the

The Book of Were-Wolves

By Sabine Baring-Gould