THE WERWOLF IN BELGIUM AND THE NETHERLANDS
BELGIUM abounds in stories of werwolves, all more or less of the same type. As in France, the werwolf, in Belgium, is not restricted to one sex, but is, in an equal proportion, common to both.
By far the greater number of werwolfery cases in this country are to be met with amongst the sand-dunes on the sea coast. They also occur in the district of the Sambre; but I have never heard of any lycanthropous streams or pools in Belgium, nor yet of any wolf-producing flowers, such as are, at times, found in the Balkan Peninsula.
Though the property of lycanthropy here as elsewhere has been acquired through the invocation of spirits—the ceremony being much the same as that described in an earlier chapter—nearly all the cases of werwolfery in Belgium are hereditary.
In Belgium, as in other Roman Catholic countries, great faith is attached to exorcism, and for the expulsion of every sort of “evil spirit” various methods of exorcism are employed. For example, a werwolf is sprinkled with a compound either of 1/2 ounce of sulphur, 4 drachms of asafœtida, 1/4 ounce of castoreum; or of 3/4 ounce of hypericum in 3 ounces of vinegar; or with a solution of carbolic acid further diluted with a pint of clear spring water. The sprinkling must be done over the head and shoulders, and the werwolf must at the same time be addressed in his Christian name. But as to the success or non-success of these various methods of exorcism I cannot make any positive statement. I have neither sufficient evidence to affirm their efficacy nor to deny it. Rye and mistletoe are considered safeguards against werwolves, as is also a sprig from a mountain ash. This latter tree, by the way, attracts evil spirits in some countries—Ireland, India, Spain, for instance—and repels them in others. It was held in high esteem, as a preservative against phantasms and witches, by the Druids, and it may to this day be seen growing, more frequently than any other, in the neighbourhood of Druidical circles, both in Great Britain and on the Continent.
In many parts of Belgium the peasantry would not consider their house safe unless a mountain ash were growing within a few feet of it.
A Case of Werwolves in the Ardennes
A case of werwolfery is reported to have happened, not so long ago, in the Ardennes. A young man, named Bernard Vernand, was returning home one night from his work in the fields, when his dog suddenly began to bark savagely, whilst its hair stood on end. The next moment there was a crackle in the hedge by the roadside, and three trampish-looking men slouched out. They looked at Vernand, and, remarking that it was beautiful weather, followed closely at his heels.
Vernand noticed that the eyebrows of all three met in a point over their noses, a peculiarity which gave them a very singular and unpleasant appearance. When he quickened his pace, they quickened theirs; whilst his dog still continued to bark and show every indication of excessive fear. In this way they all four proceeded till they came to a very dark spot in the road, where the trees nearly met overhead. The sound of their footsteps then suddenly ceased, and Vernand, peeping stealthily round, perceived to his horror lurid eyes—that were not the eyes of human beings—glaring after him. His dog took to its heels and fled, and, ignominious though he felt it to be, Vernand followed suit. The next moment there was a chorus of piercing whines, and a loud pattering of heavy feet announced the fact that he was pursued.
Fortunately Vernand was a fast runner—he had carried off many prizes in races at the village fair—and now that he was running for his life, he went like the wind.
But his pursuers were fleet of foot, too, and, despite his pace, they gradually gained on him. Happily for Vernand, he retained a certain amount of presence of mind, and possessing rather more wit than many of the peasants, he suddenly bethought him of a possible avenue of escape. In a conversation with the pastor of the village some months before, the latter had told him how an old woman had once escaped from a wode by climbing up a mountain ash. And if, reasoned Vernand, the ash is a protection against one form of evil spirits, why not against another? He recollected that there was an ash-tree close at hand, and diverting his course, he instantly headed for it. Not a moment too soon. As he swarmed up the slender trunk, his pursuers—three monstrous werwolves—came to a dead halt at the foot of the tree. However, after giving vent to the disappointment of losing their supper in a series of prodigious howls, they veered round and bounded off, doubtless in pursuit of a less knowing prey.
A Similar Case near Waterloo
A similar case once happened to a young man when returning from Quatre Bras to Waterloo. He was attacked by three werwolves and saved himself by leaping into a rye-field.
A Case on the Sand-dunes
The following story of werwolfery is of traditional authenticity only:—
Von Grumboldt, a young man of good appearance, and his sweetheart, Nina Gosset, were out walking together one evening on the sand-dunes near Nina’s home, when Von Grumboldt uttered an exclamation of astonishment, and bending down, picked up something which he excitedly showed to Nina. It was a girdle composed of dark, plaited hair fastened with a plain gold buckle. To the young man’s surprise Nina shrank away from it.
“Oh!” she cried, “don’t touch it! I don’t know why—but it gives me such a horrid impression. I’m sure there is an unpleasant history attached to it.”
“Pooh!” Von Grumboldt said laughingly; “that’s only your fancy. I think it would look remarkably well round your waist,” and he made pretence to encircle her with it.
Nina, turning very white, fainted, and Von Grumboldt, who was really very much in love with her, was greatly alarmed. He ran to a brook, fetched some water, and sprinkled her forehead with it. To his intense relief his sweetheart soon came to. As soon as she could speak she implored him, as he valued her life, on no account to touch her with the girdle. To this request Von Grumboldt readily assented, and whistling to his dog—a big collie—in spite of Nina’s protests and the animal’s frantic struggles, he playfully fastened the belt round the creature’s body. Then turning to Nina he began: “Doesn’t Nippo (that was the collie’s name) look fine——” and suddenly left off. The expression in Nina’s eyes made his blood run cold.
“For Heaven’s sake,” he cried, “what is it? What’s the matter?”
White as death again, Nina pointed a finger, and Von Grumboldt, looking in the direction she indicated, saw—not Nippo, but an awful-looking thing in Nippo’s place—a big black object, partly dog and partly some other animal, that grew and grew until, within a few seconds, it had grown to at least thrice Nippo’s size. With a hideous howl it rushed at Von Grumboldt. The latter, though a strong athletic young man, was speedily overcome, and being dashed to the ground, would soon have been torn to pieces had not Nina, recovering from a temporary helplessness, come to the rescue.
Catching hold of the girdle round the creature’s body, she unclasped the buckle, and in a trice the evil thing had vanished; and there was Nippo, his own self, standing before them.
“It is a werwolf belt!” Nina exclaimed, throwing it away from her. “You see, I was right; it is devilish, and no doubt belongs to some one near here who practises Black Magic—Mad Valerie, perhaps. This cross that I wear round my neck, which is made of yew, no doubt warned me of this danger and so saved me from an awful fate. You smile!—but I am certain of it. The yew-tree is just as efficacious in the case of evil spirits as the ash!”
“What shall we do with the beastly thing?” Von Grumboldt asked. “It doesn’t seem right to leave it here, in case some one else, with less sense than you, should find it and a dreadful catastrophe result.”
“We must burn it,” Nina said. “That’s the only way of getting rid of the evil influence. Let us do so at once.”
Von Grumboldt was nothing loath, and in a few minutes all that remained of the lycanthropous girdle was a tiny heap of ashes.
To burn the object to which the lycanthropous property is attached is the only recognized method of destroying that property. I have had many proofs, too, of the efficacy of burning in the case of superphysical influences other than lycanthropy; such, for example, as haunted furniture, trees, and buildings; and I am quite sure the one and only way to get rid of an occult presence attached to any particular object is to burn that object.
I have been told of “burning” having been successfully practised in the following cases:—
Case No. 1.—A barrow in the North of England that had long been haunted by a Barrowian order of Elemental. (The barrow was excavated, and when the remains therein had been burnt, the hauntings ceased.)
Case No. 2.—A cave in Wales haunted by the phantasm of a horse, though, whether the real spirit of the horse or merely an Elemental I cannot say. (On the soil in the cave being excavated, and the several skeletons, presumably of prehistoric animals, found being burnt, there were no longer any disturbances.)
Case No. 3.—A house in London containing an oak chest, attached to which was the phantasm of an old woman, who used to disturb the inmates of the place nightly. (On the chest being burnt she was seen no more.)
Case No. 4.—A tree in Ireland, haunted every night by a Vagrarian. (Immediately after the tree had been burnt the manifestations ceased.)
Burial is a great mistake. As long as a single bone remains, the spirit of the dead person may still be attracted to it, and consequently remain earthbound; but when the corpse is cremated, and the ashes scattered abroad, then the spirit is set free. And, for this reason alone, I advocate cremation as the best method possible of dealing with a corpse.
Before concluding this chapter on the werwolf in Belgium, let me add that werwolfery was not the only form of lycanthropy in that country. According to Grimm, in his “Deutsche Sagen,” two warlocks who were executed in the year 1810 at Liége for having, under the form of werwolves, killed and eaten several children, had as their colleague a boy of twelve years of age. The boy, in the form of a raven, consumed those portions of the prey which the warlocks left.
Werwolves in the Netherlands
Cases of werwolves are of less frequent occurrence in Holland than in either France or Belgium. Also, they are almost entirely restricted to the male sex.
Exorcism here is seldom practised, the working of a spell being the usual means employed for getting rid of the evil property. The procedure in working the spell is as follows:—
First of all, a night when the moon is in the full is selected. Then at twelve o’clock the werwolf is seized, securely bound, and taken to an isolated spot. Here, a circle of about seven feet in diameter is carefully inscribed on the ground, and in the exact centre of it the werwolf is placed, and so fastened that he cannot possibly get away. Then three girls—always girls—come forward armed with ash twigs with which they flog him most unmercifully, calling out as they do so:—
“Greywolf ugly, greywolf old,Do at once as you are told.Leave this man and fly away—Right away, far away,Where ’tis night and never day.”
They keep on repeating these words and whipping him; and it is not until the face, back, and limbs of the werwolf are covered with blood that they desist.
The oldest person present then comes forward and gives the werwolf a hearty kick, saying as he (or she) does so:—
“Go, fly, away to the sky;Devil of greywolf, thee we defy.Out, out, with a howl and yell,’Twill carry thee faster and surer to hell.”
Every one present then dips a cup or mug in a concoction of sulphur, tar, vinegar, and castoreum, just removed from boiling-point, and, forming a circle round the werwolf, they souse him all over with this unpleasant and painfully hot mixture, calling out as they do so:—
“Away, away, shoo, shoo, shoo!Do you think we care a jot for you?We’ll whip thee again, with a crack, crack, crack!Scourge thee and beat thee till thou art black;Fool of a greywolf, we have thee at last,Back to thy hell home, out of him fast—Fast, fast, fast!Our patience won’t last.We’ll scratch thee, we’ll prick thee,We’ll prod thee, we’ll scald thee.Fast, fast, out of him, fast!”
They keep on shouting these words over and over again till the liquid has given out and the clock strikes one; when, with a final blow or kick at the prostrate werwolf, they run away.
The evil spirit is then said to leave the man, who quickly recovers his proper shape, and with a loud cry of joy rushes after his friends and relations.
When the Spaniards invaded Holland they resorted to a surer, if a somewhat more drastic, mode of getting rid of lycanthropy—they burned the subject possessed of it.
One of the best known cases of a werwolf in the Netherlands is as follows:—
A young man, whilst on his way to a shooting match at Rousse, was suddenly startled by hearing loud screams for help proceeding from a field a few yards distant. To jump a dike and scramble over a low wall was but the work of a few seconds, and in less time than it takes to tell, the young man, whose name was Van Renner, found himself face to face with a huge grey wolf. Quick as thought, he fitted an arrow to his bow, and shot. The missile struck the wolf in the side, and with a howl of pain the wounded creature turned tail and fled for his life.
All might now have ended like some delightful romance, for the rescued one proved to be an exceedingly attractive maiden, with bright yellow hair and big blue eyes; but unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately, who knows?—the girl had a husband, and Van Renner a wife; and so, instead of the incident being the prelude to a love affair, it was merely an occasion for grateful acknowledgment—and—farewell. On his return home that evening Van Renner was met with an urgent request to visit his friend, the Burgomaster. He hastened to obey the summons, and found the Burgomaster in bed, suffering agonies of pain from a wound which he had received in his side some hours previously.
“I can’t die without telling you,” he whispered, clutching Van Renner by the hand. “God help me, I’m a werwolf! I’ve always been one. It’s in my family—it’s hereditary. It was your arrow that has wounded me fatally.”
Van Renner was too aghast to speak. He was really fond of the Burgomaster, and to think of him a werwolf—well! it was too dreadful to contemplate. The dying man gazed eagerly, hungrily, piteously into his friend’s face.
“Don’t say you hate me,” he cried. “There is little hope for me, if any, in the next world; and in all probability I shall either go direct to hell or remain earthbound; but, for God’s sake, let me die in the knowledge that I leave behind me at least one friend!”
Van Renner tried hard to speak; he made every effort to speak; his lungs swelled, his tongue wobbled, the muscles of his lips twitched; but not a syllable could he utter—and the Burgomaster died.
A phantom horseman, that goes hunting on certain nights in the year, accompanied by phantom dogs. The author has witnessed the phenomenon himself.