WERWOLVES AND EXORCISM
IN the preceding chapter I touched on one or two modes of evoking the spirits that have it in their power to confer the property of lycanthropy; I now pass on to the question of exorcism in relation to werwolves.
Is it possible to exorcize the evil power of metamorphosis possessed by the werwolf, or, as those would say who see in the werwolf, not the possession of a property, but a spirit, “to exorcize the evil spirit”?
For my own part, and basing my opinion on my own experiences with other forms of the superphysical, with regard to the success of exorcism I am sceptical. I have been present when exorcism has been tried—tried on people supposed to be obsessed with demoniacal spirits, and tried on spontaneous psychic phenomena in haunted houses—and in both cases it has failed. Now, although, as I have said, I regard lycanthropy in the light of a property, and do not believe in the lycanthropist being possessed of a separate individual spirit, I am inclined to think, were exorcism efficacious at all, that it would take effect on werwolves, since the property of werwolfery is a gift which is, more or less, directly acquired from the malevolent spirits.
But I am not only dubious as to the powers of exorcism generally, I am also dubious as to its effect on werwolves. I have come across a good many alleged cases of its having been successfully practised on werwolves, but in regard to these cases, the authority is not very reliable, nor the corroborative evidence strong.
Nearly all the methods prescribed embrace the use of some potion; such, for example, as sulphur, asafœtida, and castoreum, mixed with clear spring water; or hypericum, compounded with vinegar—which two potions seem to have been (and to be still) the most favoured recipes for removing the devilish power.
The ceremony of exorcism proceeded as follows: The werwolf was sprinkled three times with one of the above solutions, and saluted with the sign of the cross, or addressed thrice by his baptismal name, each address being accompanied by a blow on the forehead with a knife; or he was sprinkled, whilst at the same time his girdle was removed; or in lieu of being sprinkled, he had three drops of blood drawn from his chest, or was compelled to kneel in one spot for a great number of years.
A full description of the practice and failure of exorcism was cited to me the other day in connexion with a comparatively recent happening in Asiatic Russia:—
Tina Peroviskei, a wealthy young widow, who lived in St. Nicholas Street, Moscow—not a hundred yards from the house of Herr Schauman, the well-known German banker and horticulturist (every one in Russia has heard of the Schauman tulips)—met a gentleman named Ivan Baranoff at a friend’s house, and, despite the warning of her brother, married him.
Ivan Baranoff did not look more than thirty years of age. He was usually dressed in grey furs—a grey fur coat, grey fur leggings, and a grey fur cap. His features were very handsome—at least, so Tina thought—his hair was flaxen, glossy, and bright as a mirror; and his mouth, when open, displayed a most brilliant set of even, white teeth. Tina had three children by her first husband, and the fuss Ivan Baranoff made of them pleased her immensely. Their own father never evinced a greater anxiety for their welfare. Ivan brought them the most expensive toys and sweetmeats—particularly sweetmeats—and would insist on seeing for himself that they had plenty of rich, creamy milk, fresh eggs, and the best of butter.
“You’ll kill them with kindness,” Tina often remonstrated. “They are too fat by half now.”
“They can’t be too fat,” Ivan would reply. “No one is too fat. I love to see rosy cheeks and stout limbs. Wait till you’re in the country! Then you may talk about putting on flesh. The air there will fatten you even more than the food.”
“Then we shall burst, and there will be an end of us,” Tina would laughingly say.
But despite all this, despite the way in which he fondled and caressed them, the children involuntarily shrank away from Ivan; and on Tina angrily demanding the reason, they told her they could not help it—there was something in his bright eyes and touch that frightened them. When Tina’s brothers and sisters heard of this, they upheld the children.
“We are not in the least surprised,” they said; “his eyes are cruel—so are his lips; and as for his eyebrows—those dark, straight eyebrows that meet in a point over the nose—why, every one knows what a bad sign that is!”
But Tina grew so angry they had to desist. “You are jealous,” she said to her brothers. “You envy him his looks and money.” And to her sisters she said, “You only wish you could have had him yourselves. You know I love him already far more than I ever loved Rupert.” (Rupert was her first husband.)
And within a month or so of the marriage Tina left all her relatives in Moscow, and, accompanied by her children and dogs—some people hinted that Tina was fonder of her dogs than of her children—went with Ivan Baranoff to his ancestral home near Orsk.
Though accustomed to the cold, Tina found the climate of Orsk almost more than she could bear. Her husband’s house, which occupied an extremely solitary position on the confines of a gloomy forest, some few miles from the town, was a large, grey stone building full of dark winding passages and dungeon-like rooms. The furniture was scant, and the rooms, with the exception of those devoted to herself, her husband and the children, which were covered with crimson drugget, were carpetless. A more barren, inhospitable looking house could not be imagined, and the moment Tina entered it, her spirits sank to zero. The atmosphere of the place frightened her the most. It was not that it was merely forlorn and cheerless, but there was a something in it that reminded her of the smell of the animal houses in the Zoological Gardens in Moscow, and a something she could not analyse—a something which she concluded must be peculiar to the house. The children were very much upset. The sight of the dark entrance hall and wide, silent staircases, bathed in gloom, terrified them.
“Oh, mother!” they cried, clutching hold of Tina Baranoff and dragging her back, “we can never live here. Take us away at once. Look at those things. Whatever are they?” And they pointed to the shadows—queerly shaped shadows—that lay in thick clusters on the stairs and all around them.
Tina did not know what to say. Her own apprehensions and the only too obvious terror of the dogs, whom she had literally to drive across the threshold, and who whined and cringed at her feet, confirming the children’s fears, made it impossible for her to check them. Moreover, since leaving Moscow the warnings of her friends and relations had often come back to her. Though Ivan had never ceased to be kind, his conduct roused her suspicions. During the journey, which he had insisted should be performed in a droshky, he halted every evening directly the moon became invisible, and used to disappear regularly between dusk and sunrise. He would never tell her where he went or attempt to explain the oddness of his conduct, but when pressed by her would merely say:
“It is a habit. I always like to roam abroad in the night-time—it would be very bad for my health if I did not.”
And this was all Tina could get out of him. She noticed, too, what her blind infatuation had prevented her observing before, that there was a fierce expression in his eyes when he set out on these nocturnal rambles, and that on his return the corners of his mouth and his long finger-nails were always smeared with blood. Furthermore, she noticed that although he was concerned about the appetites of herself and the children, he ate very little cooked food himself—never vegetables or bread—and would often furtively put a raw piece of meat into his mouth when he thought no one was looking.
Tina hoped that these irregularities would cease on their arrival at the château, but, on the contrary, they rather increased, and she became greatly perturbed.
The second night after their arrival, when she had been in bed some time and was nearly asleep, Tina, between her half-closed eyelids, watched her husband get out of bed, stealthily open the window, and drop from the sill. Some hours later she was again aroused. She heard the growl of a wolf—and immediately afterwards saw Ivan’s grey-clad head at the window. He came softly into the room, and as he tiptoed across the floor to the washstand, Tina saw splashes of blood on his face and coat, whilst it dripped freely from his finger-tips. In the morning the news was brought her by the children that one of her favourite dogs was dead—eaten by some wild animal, presumably a wolf. Tina’s position now became painful in the extreme. She was more than suspicious of her husband, and had no one—saving her children—in whom she could confide. The house seemed to be under a ban; no one, not even a postman or tradesman, ever came near it, and with the exception of the two servants, whose silent, gliding movements and light glittering eyes filled both her and her children with infinite dread, she did not see a soul.
On four consecutive nights one of her four dogs was killed, each in precisely the same manner; and on each of these consecutive nights Tina watched Ivan surreptitiously leave the house and return all bloodstained, and accompanied by the distant howl of wolves. And on the day following the death of each dog respectively, Tina noticed the grey glinting eyes of the two servants become more and more earnestly fixed on the children and herself. At meal-times the eyes never left her; she was conscious of their scrutiny at every mouthful she took; and when she passed them in the passages, she instinctively felt their gaze following her steadily till she was out of sight. Sometimes, hearing a stealthy breathing outside her room, she would quickly open the door, demanding who was there; and she invariably caught one or other of the servants slinking away disconcerted, but still peeping at her furtively from under his long pointed eyebrows. When she spoke to them they answered her in harsh, curiously discordant tones, and usually only in monosyllables; but she never heard them converse with one another save in whispers—always in whispers. The house was now full of shadows—and whispers. They haunted her even in her sleep. For the first two or three days her husband had been communicative; but he gradually grew more and more taciturn, until at last he rarely said anything at all. He merely watched her—watched her wherever she went, and whatever she did; and he watched the children—particularly the children—with the same expression, the same undefinable secretive expression that harmonized so well with the shadows and whispers. And it was this treatment—the treatment she now received from her husband—that made Tina appreciate the company of her children. Before, they had been quite a tertiary consideration—Ivan had come first; then the dogs; and lastly, Hilda, Olga, and Peter. But this order was at length reversed; and on the death of the last of her pets, Hilda, Olga and Peter stood first. She spent practically every minute of the day with them; and, despite the protestations of her husband, converted her dressing-room into a bedroom for them. The first evening of their removal to their new quarters, Tina sat and played with them till one after another they fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. Then she sat beside them and examined them curiously. Hilda, the eldest, was lying composed and orderly, with pale cheek and smooth hair, her limbs straight, her head slightly bent, the bedclothes unruffled upon the regularly heaving chest. How pretty Hilda looked, and how odd it was that she, Tina, had never noticed the beauty of the child before! Why, with her fair complexion, delicate features, and perfectly shaped arms and hands she would undoubtedly one day take all Moscow by storm; and every one would say, “Do you know who that lovely girl is? She is the daughter of Tina—Tina Baranoff. [She shuddered at the name Baranoff.] No wonder she is beautiful!”
Tina turned from Hilda to Olga. What a contrast, but not an unpleasant one—for Olga was pretty, too, though in a different style. What a sight!—defying all order and bursting all bounds, flushed, tumbled and awry—the round arms tossed up, the rosy face flung back, the bedclothes pushed off, the pillow flung out, the nightcap one way, the hair another—all that was disorderly and lovely by night, all that was unruly and winning by day. Tina—dainty, elegant, perfumed, manicured Tina—bent over untidy little Olga and kissed her.
Then she turned to Peter, and, unable to resist the temptation, tickled his toes and woke him. When she had at last sent him to sleep again, it was almost dinner-time; and she had barely got into her dress when one of the servants rapped at the door to say that the meal was ready. The house was very large, and Tina had to pass through two halls and down a long corridor before reaching the room where the dinner was served. Rather to her relief than otherwise, her husband did not put in an appearance, and a note from him informed her that he had unexpectedly been called away on business and would not be able to return till late the following day.
Tina did not enjoy her dinner. The soup had rather a peculiar flavour, but she knew it was useless to make any comment. The servants either could not or would not understand, and Ivan invariably upheld them in everything they did. Unable to bear the man’s eyes continually fixed on her, she told him not to wait, and hurried through the meal so as to get him out of the way, and be left for the rest of the evening in peace. The big wood fire appealed to Tina—it was the only thing in that part of the house that seemed to have any life—and she resolved to sit by it, and, perhaps, skim through a book. Tina seldom read—in Moscow, all her evenings were spent at cards. She remembered, however, that somebody had told her repeatedly, and emphatically, that she ought to read Tolstoy’s “Resurrection,” and she had actually brought it with her. Now she would wade through it. But whether it was the heat of the fire, or the lateness of the hour, or both, her senses grew more and more drowsy, and before she had begun to read, she fell asleep.
She was, at length, partially awakened by a loud noise. At first her sleepy senses paid little attention and she dozed on. But again she was roused. A noise which grew louder and louder at last compelled her to shake off sleep, and starting up, she opened the door and looked into the passage. A few streaks of moonlight, streaming through an iron grating high up in the wall, enabled her to see a tall figure stealing softly along the corridor, with its back towards her. The thing was so extraordinary that for a moment or so she fancied she must still be dreaming; but the cold night air blowing freely in her face speedily assured her that what she saw was grim reality. The thing was a monstrosity, a hideous hybrid of man and beast, and as she gazed at it, too horror-stricken to move, a second and third form exactly similar to it crept out from among the shadows against the wall and joined it. And Tina, yielding to a sudden fascination, followed in their wake. In this fashion they crossed the hall and ascended the staircase, Tina keeping well behind them. She knew where they were aiming for, and any little doubt that she might have had was set at rest, when they turned into the passage leading to her bedroom. A moaning cry of fear from one of the children told her that they, too, knew by intuition of their coming danger. Tina was now in an agony of mind as to what to do for the best. That the intention of these hideous creatures—be they what they might—phantasms or things of flesh and blood—was sinister, she had not the slightest doubt; but how could she prevent them getting at her children? The most she could do would be to shout to Hilda and tell her to lock the two doors. But would that keep them out? She opened her mouth and jerked out “Hilda!” She tried again, but her throat had completely dried up, and she could not articulate another syllable. The sound, however, though faint, had been sufficient to attract the attention of the hindermost creature. It turned, and the light from the moon, coming through the half-open door of her bedroom, shone on its glittering eyes and white teeth. It sprang towards her. With one convulsive bound Tina cleared the threshold of a room immediately behind her, dashed the door to—locked it—barred it—flung a chair against it; and stood in an agony, for which no words exist. She seemed to see, all in a moment, herself safe, and her children—not a door closed between them and those dreadful jaws! She then became stupefied with terror, and a strange, dinning sound, like the pulsation of her heart, filled her ears and shut out every sense.
“It is a devil! a devil!” she repeated mechanically; and then, forcing herself out of the trance-like feeling that oppressed her, she combated with the cowardice that prevented her rushing out—if only to die in an attempt to save her children. She had not realized till then that it was possible to care for them more even—much more even—than she had cared for her dogs. She placed one hand on the lock, and looked round for some weapon of defence. There was not a thing she could use—not a stanchion to the window, not a rod to the bed. And even if there had been, how futile in her puny grip! She glanced at her tiny white fingers with their carefully trimmed and polished nails, and smiled—a grim smile of irony. Then she placed her ear against the panels of the door and listened—and from the other side came the sound of heavy panting and the stealthy movement of hands. Suddenly a scream rang out, so clear and vibrating, so full of terror, that her heart stood still and her blood congealed. It was Hilda! Hilda shrieking “Mother!” There it was again, “Mother! Mother! Help! Help!” Then a series of savage snarls and growls and more shrieks—the combined shrieks of all three children. Shrieks and growls were then mingled together in one dreadful, hideous pandemonium, which all of a sudden ceased, and was succeeded by the loud crunching and cracking of bones. At last that, too, ceased, and Tina heard footsteps rapidly approaching her door. For a moment the room and everything in it swam round her. She felt choked; the dinning in her ears came again, it beat louder and louder and completely paralysed her. A crash on the door panel, however, abruptly restored her faculties, and the idea of escaping by the window for the first time entered her mind. If her husband could use the window as a means of exit, why couldn’t she? Not a second was to be lost—the creatures outside were now striving their utmost to get in. It was the work of a moment to throw open the window, and almost before she knew she had opened it, she found herself standing on the ground beneath. The night had grown darker; she could not see the path; she knew that she was losing time, and yet that all depended on her haste; she felt fevered with impatience, yet torpid with terror. At length she disengaged herself from the broken, uneven soil on to which she had dropped, and struggled forward. On and on she went, not knowing where her next step would land her, and dreading every moment to hear the steps of her pursuers. The darkness of the night favoured her, and by dodging in and out the bushes and never keeping to the same track, although still keeping a forward course, she successfully eluded her enemies, whose hoarse cries gradually grew fainter and fainter. By good luck she reached the high road, which eventually brought her to Orsk; and there she sought shelter in a hotel. In the morning, on learning from the landlord that a friend of hers, a Colonel Majendie, was in the town, Tina sought him out, and into his sympathizing ears poured the story of her adventures.
Now it so happened that a priest of the name of Rappaport, a friend of the Colonel’s, came in before Tina had finished her story, and on being told what had happened, declared that Ivan Baranoff and his servants had long been suspected of being werwolves. He then begged that before anything was done to them he might be allowed to try his powers of exorcism. The Colonel ridiculed the idea, but in the end was persuaded to postpone his visit to the château till the evening, and to go there with an escort, a quartette of his most trusted soldiers, and accompanied by his friend the Rev. Father Rappaport. Accordingly, at about nine o’clock the party set out, and, on arriving at the house, found it in total darkness and apparently deserted.
But they had not waited long before a series of savage growls from the adjacent thicket put them on their guard, and almost immediately afterwards three werwolves stalked across the path and prepared to enter the house. At a word from the Colonel the soldiers leaped forward, and after a most desperate scuffle, in which they were all more or less badly mauled, succeeded in securing their quarry. In more civilized parts of the country the police would have been called in, but here, where that good old law, “Might is right,” still held good, a man in the Colonel’s position could do whatever he deemed most expedient, and Colonel Majendie had made up his mind that justice should no longer be delayed. The château had borne an ill reputation for generations. From time immemorial Ivan Baranoff’s ancestors had been suspected of lycanthropy, and this last deed of the family was their crowning atrocity.
“You may exorcize the devils first,” the Colonel grimly remarked to the priest, wiping the blood off his sleeves. “We will hang and quarter the brutes afterwards.”
To this the holy Father willingly agreed, for he did not care what happened so long as his exorcism was successful.
The rites that were performed in connexion with this ceremony (and which I understand are those most commonly observed in exorcizing all manner of evil spirits) were as follows:—
A circle of seven feet radius was drawn on the ground in white chalk. At the centre of the circle were inscribed, in yellow chalk, certain magical figures representing Mercury, and about them was drawn, in white chalk, a triangle within a circle of three feet radius—the centre of the circle being the same as that of the outer circle. Within this inner circle were then placed the three captive werwolves. It would be well to explain here that in exorcism, as well as in the evocation of spirits, great attention must be paid to the position of the stars, as astrology exercises the greatest influence on the spirit world. The present occasion, the reverend Father pointed out, was specially favourable for the casting out of devils, since from 8.32 p.m. to 9.16 p.m. was under the dominion of the great angel Mercury—the most bitter opponent of all evil spirits; that is to say, Mercury was in 17° . on the cusp of Seventh House, slightly to south of due west.
going to with in 14° .
Round the outer circle the reverend Father now proceeded to place, at equal intervals, hand-lamps, burning olive oil. He then erected a rude altar of wood, about a foot to the southeast of the circumference of the inner circle. Exactly opposite this altar, and about 1-1/2 feet to the far side of the circumference of the inner circle, he ordered the soldiers to build a fire, and to place over it a tripod and pot, the latter containing two pints of pure spring water.
He then prepared a mixture consisting of these ingredients:—
2 drachms of sulphur.
1/2 oz. of castoreum.
6 drachms of opium.
3 drachms of asafœtida.
1/2 oz. of hypericum.
3/4 oz. of ammonia.
1/2 oz. of camphor.
When this was thoroughly mixed he put it in the water in the pot, adding to it a portion of a mandrake root, a live snake, two live toads in linen bags, and a fungus. He then bound together, with red tape, a wand consisting of three sprigs taken, respectively, from an ash, birch, and white poplar.
He next proceeded to pray, kneeling in front of the altar; and continued praying till the unearthly cries of the toads announced the fact that the water, in which they were immersed, was beginning to boil. Slowly getting up and crossing himself, he went to the fire, and dipping a cup in the pot, solemnly approached the werwolves, and slashing them severely across the head with his wand, dashed in their faces the seething liquid, calling out as he did so: “In the name of Our Blessed Lady I command thee to depart. Black, evil devils from hell, begone! Begone! Again I say, Begone!” He repeated this three times to the vociferous yells of the smarting werwolves, who struggled so frantically that they succeeded in bursting their bonds, and, leaping to their feet, endeavoured to escape into the bushes. The soldiers at once rose in pursuit and the priest was left alone. He had got rid of the flesh and blood, and he presumed he had got rid of the devils. But that remained to be proved.
In the chase that ensued one of the werwolves was shot, and, simultaneously with death, metamorphosis into the complete form of a huge grey wolf took place. The other two eluded their pursuers for some time, but were eventually tracked owing to the discovery of the half-eaten remains of an old woman and two children in a cave. True to their lupine natures, they showed no fight when cornered, and a couple of well-directed bullets put an end to their existence—the same metamorphosis occurring in their case as in the case of their companion. With the death of the three werwolves the château, one would naturally have thought, might have emerged from its ban. But no such thing. It speedily acquired a reputation for being haunted.
And that it was haunted—haunted not only by werwolves but by all sorts of ghastly phantasms—I have no doubt.
I was told, not long ago, that Tina, whose property it became, pulled it down, and that another house, replete with every modern luxury—but equally haunted—now marks the site of the old château.
The wolf and puma, alone among savage animals, give in directly they are brought to bay.
The hauntings in houses are often due to something connected with the ground on which the houses are built.