THE WERWOLVES AND MARAS OF DENMARK
SINCE so much has already been written upon the subject of werwolves in Denmark, it is my intention only to touch upon it briefly. It is, I believe, generally acknowledged that, at one time, werwolves were to be met with almost daily in Denmark, and that they were almost always of the male sex; but I can find no records of any particular form of exorcism practised by the Danes with the object of getting rid of the werwolf, nor of any spell used by them for the same purpose; neither does there appear to be, amongst their traditions, any reference to a lycanthropous flower or stream. Opinions differ as to whether werwolves are yet to be found in Denmark, but, from all I have heard, I am inclined to think that they still exist in the more remote districts of that country.
The following case may be regarded as illustrative of a typical Danish werwolf:—
The Case of Peter Andersen, Werwolf
Peter Andersen, who was a werwolf by descent, his ancestors having been werwolves for countless generations, fell in love with a beautiful young girl named Elisa, and without telling her he was a werwolf, for fear that she would give him up, married her.
Shortly after his marriage, he was returning home one evening with Elisa from a neighbouring fair, where there had been much merrymaking, when, suddenly feeling that the metamorphosis was coming on, he got down from the cart in which they were driving, and said to his wife, very earnestly, “If anything comes towards you, do not be afraid, and do not hurt it; merely strike it with your apron.” He then ran off at a great rate into the fields, leaving Elisa very much surprised and impressed. A few minutes afterwards she heard the howl of a wild animal, and, while she was holding in the horse and endeavouring to pacify it, a huge grey wolf suddenly leaped into the road and sprang at her.
Recollecting what her husband had told her, with wonderful presence of mind she whipped off her apron and struck the wolf in the face with it. The animal tore at the apron, and biting a piece out of it, turned tail and ran away. Some time afterwards Andersen returned, and holding out to Elisa the missing piece of her apron, asked if she guessed how he came by it.
“Good God, man!” Elisa cried, the pupils of her eyes dilating with terror, “it was you! I know it by the expression in your face. Heaven preserve me! You’re a werwolf!”
“I was a werwolf,” Peter said, “but thanks to your brave action in throwing the apron in my face, I am one no longer. I know I did wrong in not telling you of my misfortune before we were married, but I dreaded the idea of losing you. Forgive me, forgive me, I implore you!” and Elisa, after some slight hesitation, granted his request.
This method of getting rid of the lycanthropous spirit seems to have been (and still to be) the one most in vogue in Denmark.
Another well-known story, of a similar kind, is to the effect that while a party of haymakers were at work in a field, a man, who, like Andersen, had kept the fact of his being a werwolf from his family, feeling that he was about to be transmuted, gave his son injunctions that if an animal approached him he was on no account to hurt it, but merely to throw his hat at it. The boy promising to obey, the father hastily left the field. Some minutes later a grey wolf appeared, swimming a stream. It rushed at the boy, who, mad with terror, forgot his father’s instructions, and struck at it with a pitchfork.
The prongs of the fork, entering the wolf’s side, pierced its heart; and transmutation again taking place, to the horror of all present there lay on the ground, not the body of a beast, but the corpse of the boy’s father.
In Denmark it is said that if a woman stretches between four sticks the membrane of a newly born foal, and creeps through it naked, she will bring forth children without pain, but all the boys will be werwolves and the girls maras.
As is the case with the werwolf of other countries, the Danish werwolf retains its human form by day; but after sunset, unlike the werwolf of any other nationality, it sometimes adopts the shape of a dog on three legs before it finally metamorphoses into a wolf.
In addition to these methods (alluded to above) of expelling a lycanthropous spirit in Denmark, there may be added that of addressing the obsessed person as a werwolf and reproaching him roundly. But as I have no proof of the effectiveness of this crude mode of exorcism, I cannot commit myself to any verdict with regard to it.
The mara, to which I have briefly alluded in a foregoing chapter, is to be met with in Denmark almost as often as the werwolf; and the superphysical property, characteristic of the mara no less than of the werwolf, justifies me in a somewhat detailed description of the former here.
A mara is popularly understood to be a woman by day and at night a spirit that torments human beings and horses by sitting astride them and causing them nightmare.
In the main I agree with this definition; though I am inclined to think that the mara is, in reality, less hoydenish and more subtle and complex than public opinion would have us believe. In all probability maras are women who have either inherited or, by the practice of Black Magic, acquired the faculty of a certain species of projection—differing from the projection which is common to both sexes in the following points, viz., that it can always be accomplished (during certain hours) at will; that it is invariably practised with the sole desire to do ill; that the projected spirit is fully conscious of all that is happening around it; and that it possesses most—if not all—of the faculties, motives, and nervous susceptibilities of the physical body.
Whatever may be the character of the mara by day, she is essentially mischievous by night—owing, no doubt, to the fact that this faculty of projection has come to her through the occult powers inimical to man.
From the complexity of their nature, maras present the same difficulty of classification as werwolves—both are human, both are Elemental, and consequently both are an anomaly.
The belief in maras is still prevalent in all parts of Scandinavia, including Jutland, whence comes the following case which I quote for the purpose of comparison.
A Case of a Mara in Jutland
Some reapers in a field, near a village in Jutland, came one evening upon a naked woman lying under a hedge, apparently asleep. Much surprised, they regarded her closely, and at length coming to the conclusion that her sleep was not natural, they summoned a shepherd who was generally regarded as very intelligent. On seeing the woman the shepherd at once said, “She is not a real person, though she looks like one. She is a mara, and has stripped for the purpose of riding some one to-night.” At this there was loud laughter, and the reapers said, “Tell us another, Eric. A mara indeed! If this isn’t a woman, our mothers are not women, for she is just as much of flesh and blood as they are.” “All right,” the shepherd replied, “wait and see.” And bending over her, he whispered something in her ear, whereupon a queer little animal about two inches long came out of the grass, and running up her body, disappeared in her mouth. Then Eric pushed her, and she rolled over three times, then sprang to her feet, and with a wild startled cry leaped a high bush and disappeared. Nor could they, when they ran to the other side of the bush, find any traces of her.
Another recorded case is the following:
The Mara of Vilvorde
Christine Jansen had two lovers—Nielsen and Osdeven. Nielsen, who was a very good-looking young man, began to suffer from nightmare. He had the most appalling dreams of being strangled and suffocated, and they at last grew so frightful, and proved such a strain on his nerves, that he was forced to consult a doctor. The doctor attributed the cause to indigestion, and prescribed a special diet for him. But it was all of no avail; the bad dreams still continued, and Nielsen’s health became more and more impaired.
At length, when he was almost worn out, having spent the greater part of many nights reading instead of sleeping, in order to avoid the frightful visions, he happened to mention his insufferable condition to Osdeven. Far from ridiculing his rival, Osdeven, with great earnestness, encouraged him to relate everything that had happened to him in his sleep; and when Nielsen had done so, exclaimed, “I’ll tell you what it is—these dreams you have are not ordinary nightmares; they are due to a mara—I know their type well.”
“To a mara!” Nielsen cried; “how ridiculous! Why not say to a mise—or—grim? It would be equally sensible; they are all idle superstitions.”
“So you say now,” Osdeven rejoined, “but wait! When you get into bed to-night, lie on your back, and in your right hand hold a sharp knife on your breast, the point upwards. Remain in this attitude from between eleven o’clock till two, and see what happens.”
Nielsen laughed, but all the same decided to do as Osdeven suggested. Night came, and, knife in hand, he lay in his bed.
Minutes passed, and nothing happening, he was beginning to think what a fool he was for wasting his time thus, when suddenly he perceived bending over him the luminous figure of a beautiful nude woman, whom, to his utter astonishment, he identified as Christine Jansen—Christine Jansen in all but expression. The expression in the eyes he now looked into was not human—it was hellish. The figure got on the bed and was in the act of sitting astride him, when it came in contact with the knife. Then it uttered a frightful scream of baffled rage and pain, and vanished.
Nielsen, shaking with terror and dreading another visitation, struck a light. The point of his knife was dripping with blood.
An hour later, overcome with weariness, he fell asleep, and for the first time for weeks his slumber was sound and undisturbed. Awaking in the morning much refreshed, he would have attributed his experience to imagination or to a dream, had it not been for the spots of blood on the bedclothes and the stains on his knife, and this evidence, as to the reality of what had happened, was strengthened by his discovery of certain circumstances in connexion with Miss Jansen, towards whom his sentiments had now undergone a complete change.
Curious to learn if anything had befallen her, he made cautious inquiries, and was informed that owing to a sudden indisposition—the nature of which was carefully hidden from him—she had been ordered abroad, where, in all probability, she would remain indefinitely.
Nielsen now had no more nightmare, and he and Osdeven, becoming firm friends, agreed that the next time they fell in love they would take good care it was not with a mara.
Another method of getting rid of maras was to sprinkle the air with sand, at the same time uttering a brief incantation. For example, in a village on the borders of Schleswig-Holstein, a woman who suffered agonies from nightmare consulted a man locally reported to be well versed in occult matters.
“Make your mind easy,” said this man, after she had described her dreams to him; “I will soon put an end to your disturbances. It is a mara that is tormenting you. Don’t be frightened if she suddenly manifests herself when I sprinkle this sand, for there will be nothing very alarming in her appearance, and she won’t be able to harm you.” He then proceeded to scatter several handfuls about the room, repeating as he did so a brief incantation.
He was still occupied thus, when, without a moment’s warning, the figure of a very tall, naked woman appeared crouching on the bed. With a yell of rage she leaped on to the floor, her eyes flashing, and her lips twitching convulsively; and raising her hands as if she would like to scratch the incantator’s face to pieces, she rushed furiously at him.
Far from being intimidated, however, he quite coolly dashed a handful of sand in her eyes, whereupon she instantly disappeared. “Now,” he said, turning to the lady, who was half dead with terror, “you won’t have the nightmare again”—which prophecy proved to be correct.
These instances will, I think, suffice to show the similarity between werwolves and maras. Both anomalies are dependent on properties of an entirely baneful nature; and both properties are either hereditary, having been established in families through the intercourse of those families in ages past with the superphysical Powers inimical to man; or are capable of being acquired through the practice of Black Magic.