Werwolves Chapter 17
THE WERWOLF IN RUSSIA AND SIBERIA
THE ideal home of all things weird and uncanny—is cold, grey, gaunt, and giant Russia. Nowhere is the werwolf so much in evidence to-day as in the land of the Czar, where all the primitive conditions favourable to such anomalies, still exist, and where they have undergone but little change in the last ten thousand years.
A thinly-populated country—vast stretches of wild uncultivated land, full of dense forests, rich in trees most favourable to Elementals, and watered by deep, silent tarns, and stealthily moving streams,—its very atmosphere is impregnated with lycanthropy.
At the base of giant firs and poplars, or poking out their heads impudently, from amidst brambles and ferns, are werwolf flowers—flowers with all the characteristics of those found in Hungary and the Balkan Peninsula, but of a greater variety. There are, for example, in addition to the white, yellow, and red species, those of a bluish-white hue, that emit a glow at night like the phosphorescent glow emanating from decaying animal and vegetable matter; and those of a brilliant orange, covered with black, protruding spots, suggestive of some particularly offensive disease, that show a marked preference for damp places, and are specially to be met with growing in the slime and mud at the edge of a pool, or in the soft, rotten mould of morasses.
Werwolves haunt the plains, too—the great barren, undulating deserts that roll up to the foot of the Urals, Caucasus, Altai, Yablonoi, and Stanovoi Mountains—and the Tundras along the shores of the Arctic Ocean—dreary swamps in summer and ice-covered wastes in winter. Here, at night, they wander over the rough, stony, arid ground, picking their way surreptitiously through the scant vegetation, and avoiding all frequented localities; pausing, every now and then, to slake their thirst in deep sunk wells, or to listen for the sounds of quarry. Hazel hen, swans, duck, geese, squirrels, hares, elk, reindeer, roes, fallowdeer, and wild sheep, all are food to the werwolf, though nothing is so heartily appreciated by it as fat tender children or young and plump women.
In its nocturnal ramblings the werwolf often encounters enemies—bears, wolves, and panthers—with which it struggles for dominion—dominion of forest, plain and mountain; and when the combat ends to its disadvantage, its metamorphosed corpse is at once devoured by its conqueror.
Of all parts of Russia, the werwolf loves best the Caucasus and Ural Mountains. They are to Russia what the Harz Mountains were to Germany, centuries ago—the head-quarters of all manner of psychic phenomena, the happy hunting ground of phantom and fairy; and over them still lingers, almost, if not quite, as forcibly as ever, the glamour and mystery inseparable from the superphysical.
Times without number have the great black beetling crags of these mountains been scaled by the furry, sinewy feet of werwolves; times without number have the shadows of these anomalies fallen on the moon-kissed, snowy peaks, towering high into the sky, or mingled with the rank and dewy herbage in the pine-clad valleys, and narrow abysmal gorges deep down below.
It was here, in these lone Russian mountains, so legend relates, that Peter and Paul turned an impious wife and husband, who refused them shelter, into wolves: but Peter and Paul, apparently, had not the monopoly of this power; for it was here, too, in a Ural village, that the Devil is alleged to have metamorphosed half a dozen men into wolves for not paying him sufficient homage.
There is no restriction as to the sex of werwolves in Russia and Siberia—male and female werwolves are about equal in number, though perhaps there is a slight preponderance in favour of the female. Vargamors are to be encountered in almost all the less frequented woody regions, but more especially in those in the immediate vicinity of the Urals and Caucasus.
Though many of the werwolves inherit the property, many, too, have acquired it through direct intercourse with the superphysical; and the invocation of spirits, whether performed individually or collectively, is far from uncommon.
Black Magic is said to be practised in the Urals, Caucasus, Yerkhoiansk, and Stanovoi Mountains; in the Tundras, the Plains of East Russia, the Timan Range, the Kola Peninsula, and various parts of Siberia.
I am told that the usual initiating ceremony consists of drawing a circle, from seven to nine feet in radius, in the centre of which circle a wood fire is kindled—the wood selected being black poplar, pine or larch, never ash. A fumigation in an iron vessel, heated over the fire, is then made out of a mixture of any four or five of the following substances: Hemlock (2 to 3 ounces), henbane (1 ounce to 1-1/2 ounces), saffron (3 ounces), poppy seed (any amount), aloe (3 drachms), opium (1/4 ounce), asafœtida (2 ounces), solanum (2 to 3 drachms), parsley (any amount).
As soon as the vessel is placed over the fire so that it can heat, the person who would invoke the spirit that can bestow upon him the property of metamorphosing into a wolf kneels within the circle, and prays a preliminary impromptu prayer. He then resorts to an incantation, which runs, so I have been told, as follows:—
“Hail, hail, hail, great wolf spirit, hail!A boon I ask thee, mighty shade. Within this circle I have made,Make me a werwolf strong and bold,The terror alike of young and old.Grant me a figure tall and spare;The speed of the elk, the claws of the bear;The poison of snakes, the wit of the fox;The stealth of the wolf, the strength of the ox;The jaws of the tiger, the teeth of the shark;The eyes of a cat that sees in the dark.Make me climb like a monkey, scent like a dog,Swim like a fish, and eat like a hog.Haste, haste, haste, lonely spirit, haste!Here, wan and drear, magic spell making,Findest thou me—shaking, quaking.Softly fan me as I lie,And thy mystic touch apply—Touch apply, and I swear that when I die,When I die, I will serve thee evermore,Evermore, in grey wolf land, cold and raw.”
The incantation concluded, the supplicant then kisses the ground three times, and advancing to the fire, takes off the iron vessel, and whirling it smoking round his head, cries out:—
“Make me a werwolf! make me a man-eater!Make me a werwolf! make me a woman-eater!Make me a werwolf! make me a child-eater!I pine for blood! human blood!Give it me! give it me to-night!Great Wolf Spirit! give it me, andHeart, body, and soul, I am yours.”
The trees then begin to rustle, and the wind to moan, and out of the sudden darkness that envelops everything glows the tall, cylindrical, pillar-like phantom of the Unknown, seven or eight feet in height. It sometimes develops further, and assumes the form of a tall, thin monstrosity, half human and half animal, grey and nude, with very long legs and arms, and the feet and claws of a wolf. Its head is shaped like that of a wolf, but surrounded with the hair of a woman, that falls about its bare shoulders in yellow ringlets. It has wolf’s ears and a wolf’s mouth. Its aquiline nose and pale eyes are fashioned like those of a human being, but animated with an expression too diabolically malignant to proceed from anything but the superphysical.
It seldom if ever speaks, but either utters some extraordinary noise—a prolonged howl that seems to proceed from the bowels of the earth, a piercing, harrowing whine, or a low laugh full of hellish glee, any of which sounds may be taken to express its assent to the favour asked.
It only remains visible for a minute at the most, and then disappears with startling abruptness. The supplicant is now a werwolf. He undergoes his first metamorphosis into wolf form the following evening at sunset, reassuming his human shape at dawn; and so on, day after day, till his death, when he may once more metamorphose either from man form to wolf form, or vice versa, his corpse retaining whichever form has been assumed at the moment of death. However, with regard to this final metamorphosis there is no consistency: it may or may not take place. In the practice of exorcism, for the purpose of eradicating the evil property of werwolfery, all manner of methods are employed. Sometimes the werwolf is soundly whipped with ash twigs, and saturated with a potion such as I described in a previous chapter; sometimes he is made to lie or sit over, or lie or stand close beside, a vessel containing a fumigation mixture composed of sulphur, asafœtida, and castoreum, or hypericum and vinegar; or sometimes, again, he is well whipped and rubbed all over with the juice of the mistletoe berry. Occasionally a priest is summoned, and then a formal ceremony takes place.
An altar is erected. On it are placed lighted candles, a Bible, a crucifix. The werwolf, in wolf form, bound hand and foot, is then placed on the ground at the foot of the altar, and fumigated with incense and sprinkled with holy water. The sign of the cross is made on his forehead, chest, back, and on the palms of his hands. Various prayers are read, and the affair concludes when the priest in a loud voice adjures the evil influence to depart, in the name of God the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and the Virgin Mary.
I have never, however, heard of any well-authenticated case testifying to the efficacy of this or of any other mode of exorcism. As far as I know, once a werwolf always a werwolf is an inviolable rule.
Apparently women are more desirous of becoming werwolves than men, more women than men having acquired the property of werwolfery through their own act. In the case of women candidates for this evil property, the inspiring motive is almost always one of revenge, sometimes on a faithless lover, but more often on another woman; and when once women metamorphose thus, their craving for human flesh is simply insatiable—in fact, they are far more cruel and daring, and much more to be dreaded, than male werwolves. The following story seems to bear out the truth of this assertion:—
The Case of Ivan of Shiganska
Shiganska was—for it no longer exists, having been obliterated about fifty years ago by a blizzard—a small village on the left bank of the Petchora, about a hundred miles from its mouth.
Owing chiefly to the character of the adjacent country, Shiganska was wanting in every beauty and variety that charms the eye. It was situated on a stretch of flat land between two mountain ranges, i.e., the Ural on one side and the Taman on the other, and surrounded by a wood so thick that it was with the greatest difficulty anyone could force a way into it, supposing they had been sufficiently fortunate to escape sticking fast in the morasses of soft, rotten mould, that lie hidden in the least suspicious looking places, on its borders. Here were to be found lycanthropous blue and white flowers, which those desirous of becoming werwolves sought from far and wide, some even coming from Siberia, and some from away down South as far as Astrakan. And the woods abounded not only in werwolves, but in all sorts of supernatural horrors—phantoms of the dead, i.e. (of murderers and suicides) Vice Elementals and Vagrarians, vampires and ghouls; no region in Russia boasted so many, and for this reason it was scrupulously avoided by all sensible people after sunset.
Ivan, like most of the male inhabitants of Shiganska, lived by the chase: the black fox, the sable, the fox with the dark-coloured throat, the red fox, white fox, squirrel, ermine, and black bear alike fell victims to his gun; whilst in the Petchora, when the weather permitted it, he caught, besides many other kinds of fish, a goodly proportion of salmon, nelma (a kind of salmon trout), bleak, sturgeon, sterlet, tochü, muksun, omul, and Salmo Lavaretus.
It was a good living, that of the chase, albeit fraught with grave dangers; and Ivan, thanks to his exceptional powers with the rod as well as the rifle, was on the high road to prosperity.
He lived with his mother and two sisters in a pretty house about a kös from Shiganska, and facing it was a level stretch of reed-grass terminating in the hemlock-covered banks of the Petchora. A few trees, chiefly birch and larch, dotted about the reed-grass afforded a delightful shade from the fierce heat of the short summer sun; and birds of all sorts, whose singing was a source of the keenest delight to Ivan and his sisters, made their homes in them.
Unlike any other hunter in Shiganska, Ivan was fond of poetry and music; moreover, he had a dreamy disposition, and when his day’s work was done he was content—nay, more than content—to watch the changing colours in the sky, or see in the glowing embers of the charcoal fire strange scenes and wildly familiar faces.
One morning, in the month of April, Ivan set off to the woods, gun in hand, accompanied by his old and faithful dog, Dolk, in search of big game. He paused every now and then to look at the ice on the summits of the distant mountains. The sunlight falling on it imparted to it many different hues, and made it sparkle like flaming jewels. He stopped repeatedly to listen to the croaking of the raven, the cawing of the crows, and the piping of the bullfinches—sounds of which he was never weary, and never tired of trying to interpret.
On this occasion, as usual, it was not until long after noon that he began seriously to think of looking for his quarry, and it was not until he had searched for some time that he at length came upon the tracks of a wild reindeer. Loosing Dolk, and tightening the buckles of his snow-shoes, he set to work to stalk the animal, and eventually sighted it browsing on a clump of reed-grass that grew on the bank of a mountain stream. The chase now began in earnest. It was a beautiful animal, and Ivan strained every effort to get within shooting range by leaping from rock to rock, and springing over stream after stream. In this manner he had progressed for more than a kös, when blood from the feet of the reindeer began to be visible on the fresh frozen snow; from its faltering pace the poor creature was evidently tired out, and Dolk was drawing closer and closer to it. In these circumstances Ivan was counting on the likelihood of his soon being near enough to fire, when suddenly the joyful barking of the dog changed to a prodigious howl of agony. With redoubled speed Ivan pushed ahead, and, presently, at a distance of about two gunshots, he saw two small black objects lying on the snow covered with blood.
They were the remains of Dolk, who, having come up with the reindeer and driven it into a small brook, was keeping it there until Ivan arrived, when a hungry wolf had leaped down the side of a rock and, seizing him in his powerful jaws, had bitten him in half. The wolf had evidently intended to eat Dolk, but, catching sight of Ivan, had made off.
Ivan was inconsolable. Dolk had hunted with him as a puppy of six months old, and for eight years the dog had never let him know a hungry day. Ivan had been offered ten reindeer for him, but he would not have parted with him for any number, and without Dolk he knew not how to show himself at home, for both his mother and sisters were devoted to the faithful animal.
Determined on vengeance, Ivan followed the wolf’s tracks, which led, by an unfamiliar path, to the mouth of a vast and gloomy cavern. There he lost sight of them, and he was deliberating what to do next, when a loud peal of silvery laughter broke on his ears and awoke the silent echoes of the grim walls around him. Ivan started in open-mouthed astonishment. Standing before him was a girl more lovely—ten thousand times more lovely—than any woman he had hitherto seen. To the magic of a beautiful form in woman—the necromancy of female grace—there was no more ready and willing subject than Ivan; and here, at last, he had found grace personified, incarnate, the highest ideal of all his wildest and most cherished dreams. His most magnificent “castle” had never contained a princess half as fair as this one. Her figure was rather above the medium height, supple and slender. Her feet and hands were small, her wrists well rounded, her fingers long and white, and tipped with pink and glossy almond-shaped nails—if anything a trifle too long. But it was her face that so attracted Ivan as to almost hold him spellbound—the neat and delicately moulded features all in perfect harmony; the daintily cut lips; the white gleaming teeth; the low forehead crowned with golden curls; the long, thick-lashed, blue eyes that looked steadily into his, and seemed to read his very soul.
Moreover, in her blue eyes there was bewildering depth; a sense of coldness that was positively benumbing, and which was reminiscent of the blue petrifying waters of the Ural Lakes; a magnetism that was paralysing, that held in complete obeisance both mind and limb, and was comparable to nothing so nearly as the hypnotic influence of the tiger or snake, but which differed from the latter inasmuch as its inspirations were just as delightful as those of the tiger and snake are harrowing and terrifying.
She was clad from head to foot in fur—white fur—but neither her dress nor her presence excited any other thoughts in Ivan except those of intense admiration—admiration which surged through every pore of his skin.
“Well!” she demanded, “what brings you here, my good man? There is no game in this cave.”
“Isn’t there?” Ivan stammered, his eyes looking at her adoringly. “All the same I would cheerfully forgo all the pleasures of the chase to come here.”
“You are very gallant for a huntsman, sir,” the girl replied with a smile; “but for your own sake I must urge you to go away at once. I live here with my father—a confirmed recluse who detests the sight of human beings; were he to discover me talking to one I should get into sad trouble, and with regard to you I could not say what might happen.”
But Ivan came of a race that paid little heed to any warning when once their blood was fired; consequently, despite the repeated admonitions of his beautiful companion—admonitions which her eyes seemed to contradict—he stayed and stayed, whilst—forgetful of mother and sisters, home, and even Dolk—he made a passionate avowal of his love. The afternoon quickly passed, and the sun was beginning to set, when the girl, whose name he had learned was Breda, almost pushed him out of the cavern.
“If you don’t go now,” she urged, “I may never see you again.”
“And would you care?” he asked.
“Perhaps,” she replied; “perhaps, just a little—a wee, wee bit. You see, I don’t get the opportunity of meeting many people!”
He caught her by the hand and kissed it passionately; and with the sound of her light, intoxicating laughter thrilling through his soul, he descended to the bed of the mountain streamlet, and turned his steps blithely towards home.
That was the beginning, but not the end. He courted her—he married her and she came to live with his mother and sisters, who for his sake tried to like her and even pretended that they did like her. But in secret they said to one another, “She has no heart; she is cold as an icicle; her lips are thin and cruel. She would serve Ivan badly if we were not here to check her.”
And Breda certainly had her idiosyncrasies. She preferred raw to cooked meat, and would not sleep in the same room as her husband. She grew very angry when Ivan expostulated, saying, “You promised you would never thwart me. If you do not keep your word, I shall despise you, scorn you, hate you.” And Ivan, who loved his wife beyond anything, yielded.
Some weeks after their marriage, neighbours complained of losing cattle and horses. They said there was a wolf about, and that its tracks, which they had followed, always ended under the walls of Ivan’s house. They asked Ivan if he had not heard the brute. But he had heard nothing, he slept very soundly. Then they inquired of Ivan’s sisters and mother, who also replied in the negative; but there was hesitation in their voices, and they looked very frightened and ashamed. And then people began to talk. They looked at Breda curiously, and finally they cut her. One night, when there was a downfall of snow, and the wind howled down the chimneys of Ivan’s house and blew the snow, with heavy thumps against the window-panes, Ivan, who could not sleep for the storm, heard the door of Breda’s room open very softly, and light steps steal stealthily down the passage. Then there came a half-suppressed, half-smothered cry, a groan, and all was still. Ivan got out of bed and opened his door, but his wife’s voice called to him from the darkness and bade him go back.
“Do not be alarmed and make a fuss,” she said; “I was ill a moment ago, but am quite well again now. Go back to bed at once, or I shall be very angry.” And Ivan obeyed her.
In the morning his eldest sister, Beata, was found dead in bed, her throat, breast, and stomach slit open, as is the custom with wolves, and her flesh all mangled and eaten.
Breda took no food that day, and Ivan’s mother and other sister, Malvina, looked at her out of the corner of their eyes and shuddered. But Ivan said nothing. A week later the same fate befell Malvina. Then Ivan’s mother spoke. She told him that he must assuredly be under some evil spell, or he would never remain idle whilst his sisters’ destroyer was at large, and she adjured him, by all that he held holy, not to allow himself a moment’s rest till he had had ample vengeance for the loss of two such valuable lives.
Roused at last, Ivan, instead of going to bed, sat up, gun in hand, and watched. He passed many nights thus, and his patience was well nigh exhausted when, during one of the vigils, he fell asleep, dreaming as usual of the blue eyes and golden curls of Breda, whose beauty held him just as much enthralled as ever. From this slumber he was awakened by loud screams for help. Seizing his gun, and taking a random aim at a huge white wolf as he went (though without stopping to see the effects of the shot), he ran to his mother’s bedside. She was dead. Her throat and body were slit; but she was not eaten.
Wild with grief and thirsting for revenge, Ivan started off in pursuit of the wolf, and discovered, in the passage, a track of blood which terminated at his wife’s door. Receiving no reply when he asked for admittance, he entered the room and found Breda lying on the floor, in her nightdress, the blood streaming from a wound in her shoulder. Ivan knelt down and examined her. She had been struck by a bullet, and the bullet fitted the bore of his gun.
He knew the truth then—the truth he might have known all along, had he not, in his blind love, thrust it far from him—and, in the sudden alteration of his feeling, he raised his knife to kill her. But Breda opened her eyes, and the weapon fell from his hand.
“You know part of my secret now,” she whispered, “but you don’t know everything. I am a werwolf, not by inheritance, but of my own free will. In order to become one I ate the blue flowers in the wood. I did so to be avenged on my husband.”
“Your husband!” Ivan cried; “good God! then you were a widow when I met you?”
“Yes,” Breda said slowly and with apparent effort. “I was forced into my first marriage by my all too worldly parents, and my husband ill-used and beat me!”
“The devil! the cold-hearted, cowardly devil!” Ivan ejaculated, “I would have killed him.”
“That is what I did,” Breda remarked; “I did kill him, and it was in order to make certain of killing him that I became a werwolf.”
“Did you eat him?” Ivan asked, horribly fascinated.
“Don’t ask questions,” Breda said, averting her eyes, “and for God’s sake don’t lose any more time. As you love me, screen me from detection; hide all traces of to-night’s handiwork as quickly as possible.”
As usual, Ivan did as she requested him, and giving out that his mother had died suddenly, from heart failure, he had her interred with as little publicity as possible.
Before very long, however, the neighbours began to ask such pointed questions, that Ivan now lived in a state of chronic suspense. He feared every moment that the truth would leak out, and that his beautiful young wife would receive condign punishment.
At last, finding such a state of apprehension intolerable, he confided in an old man who was reputed a sage and metaphysician—one who was extremely well versed in all matters appertaining to the spiritual world. “There is only one course to pursue,” the old man said, “you must have the evil spirit in her exorcized, and you must have it done immediately. Otherwise, she will continue her depredations, and your good neighbours will find her out and kill her. They more than half suspect her now, and are talking of paying a visit some night, when you are snug and safe in bed, to the cemetery, to see if the story you told them about your mother’s and sisters’ sudden deaths is correct.”
“What kind of exorcism would you use?” Ivan inquired nervously. “You would not hurt her?”
“The form of exorcism I should make use of would do her no lasting harm,” the old man said feelingly; “you can rely on me for that.”
“But is exorcism always effectual?” Ivan persisted.
“When exorcism is ineffectual it is the exception, not the rule,” the old man replied, “and there are very few cases of exorcism being employed ineffectually upon those who have become werwolves through the practice of magic, or the medium of flowers or of water.”
“Should my wife refuse to undergo the ceremony, what would you advise then?” Ivan asked.
“Strategy and force,” the old man said, “anything to prevent her continuing in her demoniacal ways, and being burned or drowned by an infuriated mob.”
Thus admonished, Ivan, without delay, broached the matter to Breda. But she was so angry with him for having dared even to mention exorcism, that he thought it best to act on the advice of the old occultist and to catch her unawares. Consequently, one evening, when the moon was in the full, and she had just changed into wolf form, he stole into her room accompanied by the old man and two assistants. After a desperate struggle, Ivan and the three exorcists overpowered her, and bound her so securely that she could not move.
They then took her out of doors, to a lonely spot at the back of the house, and placed her in the centre of an equilateral triangle that had been carefully marked on the ground, in red chalk. At seven or eight feet to the west of the triangle they then kindled a wood fire, and placed over it a vessel containing a fumigation mixture of hypericum, vinegar, sulphur, cayenne, and mountain ash berries.
The old man then knelt down, and crossing himself on his forehead and chest, prayed vigorously, until the preparation in the pot began to give off strong fumes. He then arose, and both he and his assistants took up specially prepared switches, cut from a mountain ash, and gripping them tightly in their hands, approached the recumbent form of the werwolf. This, however, was more than Ivan could stand—he had objected strongly enough to the fumigation, which, being nauseous and irritating, had made his wolf-wife gasp and choke; but when it came to flogging her—well, it turned him sick and cold. He forgot discretion, prudence, everything, saving the one great fact—monstrous, incredible, abominable—that the being he loved, adored, and worshipped was about to be beaten with rods! With a shout of wrath he rushed at the trio, and snatching their wands from them, laid them so soundly about their backs that they all three fled from the ground, shrieking with pain and terror. Then he knelt by his prostrate wife, and cutting the thongs that bound her, set her free. She rose on her feet a huge, white wolf. Regarding him steadily for a moment from out of her gleaming grey eyes, she swung slowly round, and with one more look, more human than animal, she darted swiftly away, and was speedily lost in the gloom.