THE SPIRITS OF WERWOLVES
IT seems that there is a disposition in certain minds to associate lycanthropy with the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. A brief examination of the latter will, however, suffice to show there is very little analogy between the two.
Transmigration of souls, a metempsychosis, deals solely with the passing of the soul after death into another mortal form. Lycanthropy confines itself to the metamorphosis of physical man to animal form only during man’s physical lifetime.
Metempsychosis is a change of condition dependent on the principle of evolution (i.e. evolution upward and retrogressive). Lycanthropy is a change of condition relative to a property, entirely independent of evolution. The one is wholly determined by man’s spiritual state at the time of his physical dissolution; the other is simply a faculty of sense, either handed down to man by his forefathers or acquired by man, during his lifetime, through the knowledge and practice of magic.
There are absolutely no grounds, other than purely hypothetical ones, for supposing a werwolf to be a reincarnation; but on the other hand there is reason to believe that the wolf personality of the werwolf, at the latter’s physical dissolution, remains earthbound in the form of a lupine phantasm. So that although there is nothing to associate lycanthropy with metempsychosis, there is, at all events, something in common between lycanthropy and animism. Animism, be it understood, holds that every living thing, whether man, beast, reptile, insect, or vegetable, has a representative spirit.
As an example of a lupine phantasm representing the personality of the werwolf, I will quote a case, reported to me some years ago as having occurred in Estonia, on the shores of the Baltic. A gentleman and his sister, whom I will call Stanislaus and Anno D’Adhemar, were invited to spend a few weeks with their old friends, the Baron and Baroness Von A——, at their country home in Estonia. On the day arranged, they set out for their friends’ house, and alighting at a little station, within twenty miles of their destination, were met by the Baron’s droshky. It was one of those exquisite evenings—a night light without moon, a day shady without clouds—peculiar to that clime. Indeed, it seemed as if the last glow of the evening and the first grey of the morning had melted together, and as if all the luminaries of the sky merely rested their beams without withdrawing them. To Stanislaus and Anno, jaded with the wear and tear of life in a big city, the calm and quiet of the country-side was most refreshing, and they heaved great sighs of contentment as they leaned far back amid the luxurious upholstery of the carriage, and drew in deep breaths of the smokeless, pure, scented air. Their surroundings modelled their thoughts. Instead of discussing monetary matters, which had so long been uppermost in their minds, they discoursed on the wonderful economy of happiness in a world full of toil and struggle; the fewer the joys, they argued, the higher the enjoyment, till the last and highest joy of all, true peace of mind, i.e., content, was the one joy found to contain every other joy. Occasionally they paused to remark on the brilliant lustre of the stars, and, not infrequently, alluded to the Creator’s graciousness in allowing them to behold such beauty. Occasionally, too, they would break off in the midst of their conversation to listen to the plaintive utterings of some night bird or the shrill cry of a startled hare. The rate at which they were progressing—for the horses were young and fresh—speedily brought them to an end of the open country, and they found themselves suddenly immersed in the deepening gloom of a dense and extensive forest of pines. The track now was not quite so smooth; here and there were big ruts, and Stanislaus and his sister were subjected to such a vigorous bumping that they had to hold on to the sides of the droshky, and to one another. In the altered conditions of their travel, conversation was well-nigh impossible. The little they attempted was unceremoniously jerked out of them, and the nature of it—I am loath to admit—had somewhat deteriorated. It had, in fact, in accordance with their surroundings, undergone a considerable change.
“What a vile road!” Stanislaus exclaimed, clutching the side of the droshky with both hands to save himself from being precipitated into space.
“Yes—isn’t—it?” gasped Anno, as she lunged forward, and in a vain attempt to regain her seat fell on their handbag, which gave an ominous squish. “I declare there—there—will be—nothing left of me—by the—by the time we get there. Oh dear! Whatever shall I do? Wherever have you got to, Stanislaus?”
The upper half of Stanislaus was nowhere to be seen! His lower half, however, was discovered by his sister convulsively pressed against the side of the droshky. In another moment this, too, would undoubtedly have disappeared, and the lower extremities would have gone in pursuit of the upper, had not Anno with admirable presence of mind effected a rescue. She tugged at her brother’s coat-tails in the very nick of time, with the result that his whole body once again hove into view.
Just then a bird sang its final song before retiring for the night, and Stanislaus, hot and trembling all over, shouted out: “What a hideous noise! I declare it quite frightened me”; whilst Anno shuddered and put her fingers in her ears. They once more abused the road; then the trees. “Great ugly things,” they said; “they shut out all the light.” And then they abused the driver for not looking out where he was going, and finally they began to abuse one another. Anno abused Stanislaus, because he had disarranged her hat and hair, and Stanislaus, Anno, because he couldn’t hear all she said, and because what he did hear was silly. Then the Stygian darkness of the great pines grew; and the silence of wonder fell on the two quarrellers. On, on, on rolled the droshky, a monotonous rumble, rumble, that sounded very loud amid the intense hush that had suddenly fallen on the forest. Stanislaus and Anno grew drowsy; the cold night air, crowning their exertions of the day, induced sleep, and they were soon very much in the land of nods: Stanislaus with his head thrust back as far as it would go, and Anno with her head leaning slightly forward and her chin deeply rooted in the silvery recesses of her rich fur coat.
The driver stopped for a moment. He had to attend to his lights, which, he reflected, were behaving in rather an odd manner. Then, scratching his head thoughtfully, he cracked his whip and drove hurriedly on. Once again, rumble, rumble, rumble; and no other sounds but far away echoes and the gentle cooing of a soft night breeze through the forked and ragged branches of the sad and stately pines. On, on, on, the light uncertain and the horses brisk. Suddenly the driver hears something—he strains his ears to catch the meaning of the sounds—a peculiar, quick patter, patter—coming from far away in the droshky’s wake. There is something—he can’t exactly tell what—in those sounds he doesn’t like; they are human, and yet not human; they may proceed from some one running—some one tall and lithe, with an unusually long stride. They may—and he casts a shuddering look over his shoulder as the thought strikes him—they may be nothing human—they may be the patter of a wolf! A huge, gaunt, hungry wolf! an abnormally big wolf! a wolf with a gallop like that of a horse! The driver was new to these parts; he had but lately come from the Baron’s establishment in St. Petersburg. He had never been in this wood after dark, and he had never seen a wolf save in the Zoological Gardens. The atmosphere now began to sharpen. From being merely cold it became positively icy, and muttering, “I never felt anything like this in St. Petersburg,” the driver shrank into the depths of his furs, and tried to settle himself more comfortably in his seat. The horses, too, four in number, were strangers in Estonia, the Baron having only recently paid a heavy price for them in Nava on account of their beauty. Not that they were merely handsome; despite their small and graceful build, and the glossy sleekness of their coats, they were both strong and spirited, and could cover twenty-five versts without a pause. But now they, too, heard the sounds—there was no doubt of that—and felt the cold. At first they shivered, then whined, and then came to an abrupt halt; and then, without the slightest warning, tore the shifting tag and rag tight around them, and bounding forward, were off like the wind. Then, away in their rear, and plainly audible above the thunder of their hoofs, came a moaning, snarling, drawn-out cry, which was almost instantly repeated, not once, but again and again.
Stanislaus and Anno, who had been rudely awakened from their slumbers by the unusual behaviour of the horses, were now on the qui vive.
“Good heavens! What’s that?” they cried in chorus.
“What’s that, coachman?” shrieked Anno, digging the shivering driver in the back.
“Volki, mistress, volki!” was the reply, and on flew the droshky faster, faster, faster!
To Stanislaus and Anno the word “wolves” came as a stunning shock. All the tales they had ever heard of these ferocious beasts crowded their minds at once. Wolves! was it possible that those dreadful bogies of their childhood—those grim and awful creatures, grotesquely but none the less vividly portrayed in their imagination by horror-loving nurses—were actually close at hand! Supposing the brutes caught them, who would be eaten first? Anno, Stanislaus, or the driver? Would they devour them with their clothes on? If not, how would they get them off? Then, filled with morbid curiosity, they strained their ears and listened. Again—this time nearer, much nearer—came that cry, dismal, protracted, nerve-racking. Nor was that all, for they could now discern the pat-pat, pat-pat of footsteps—long, soft, loping footsteps, as of huge furry paws or naked human feet. However, they could see nothing—nothing but blackness, intensified by the feeble flickering of the droshky’s lanterns.
“Faster! drive faster!” Anno shouted, turning round and poking the coachman in the ribs with her umbrella. “Do you want us all to be eaten?”
“I can’t mistress, I can’t!” the man expostulated; “the horses are outstripping the wind as it is. They can’t go quicker.” And the driver, consigning Stanislaus and his sister to the innermost recesses of hell, prayed to the Virgin to save him.
Nearer and nearer drew the steps, and again a cry—a cry close behind them, perhaps fifty yards—fifty yards at the most. And as they were trying to locate it there burst into view a gigantic figure—nude and luminous, a figure that glowed like a glow-worm and bent slightly forward as it ran. It covered the ground with long, easy, swinging strides, without any apparent effort. In general form its body was like that of a man, saving that the limbs were longer and covered with short hair, and the feet and hands, besides being larger as a whole, had longer toes and fingers. Its head was partly human, partly lupine—the skull, ears, teeth, and eyes were those of a wolf, whilst the remaining features were those of a man. Its complexion was devoid of colour, startlingly white; its eyes green and lurid, its expression hellish.
Stanislaus and Anno did not know what to make of it. Was it some terrible monstrosity that had escaped from a show, or something that was peculiar to the forest itself, something generated by the giant trees and dark, silent road? In their sublime terror they shrieked aloud, beat the air with their hands to ward it off, and finally left their seats to cling on to the back of the driver’s box.
But it came nearer, nearer, and nearer, until they were almost within reach of its arms. They read death in the glinting greenness of its eyes and in the flashing of its long bared teeth. The climax of their agony, they argued, could no longer be postponed. The thing had only to make a grab at them and they would die of horror—die even before it touched them. But this was not to be.
They were still staring into the pale malevolent face drawing nearer and nearer, and wondering when the long twitching fingers would catch them by the throats, when the droshky with a mad swirl forward cleared the forest, and they found themselves gazing wildly into empty moonlit space, with no sign of their pursuer anywhere.
An hour later they narrated their adventure to the Baron. Nothing could have exceeded his distress. “My dear friends!” he said, “I owe you a profound apology. I ought to have told my man to choose any other road rather than that through the forest, which is well known to be haunted. According to rumour, a werwolf—we have good reason to believe in werwolfs here—was killed there many years ago.”