By Charles Spratley
Sometimes I like to travel to other countries and look at their mythos and folklore and see how they differ from ours. Tonight I want to turn our eyes to France and to the Loup- garou, or better known as the werewolf. Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the etymology of the word to Old French with the words leu which means wolf plus the word garoul which means werewolf. The first time the word was used was circa 1580 to describe this magical man-killer.
There are two very famous incidents of loup-garou attacks in French history. The first, involves a one Gilles Garnier. Accused of killing and devouring several children, Garnier was captured and interrogated. He confessed that he made a pact with a “spectral man” and was given a salve that allowed him to transform into a wolf and kill. He was convicted of witchcraft and burned alive at the stake in 1573 in the town of Dole. The most famous case of the loup-garou is probably the most famous story of lycanthropy, the Beast of Ge’ vaudan. Between 1764 and 1765 in the Ge’ vaudan region of France several people were killed including the heart eaten out of a female farmer. This led to one of the largest wolf hunts in French history where hunters from all over Western Europe came to hunt this beast. Wolves by the hundreds were slaughtered throughout the region. The Paris Gazette at the time described the Beast as much larger than a normal wolf, having reddish hair and the muzzle more like a greyhound than that of a normal wolf, and bearing razor sharp teeth and talons instead of normal claws. Some even speculated that the large wolf was a hyena or some kind of shape-changing sorcerer and of course, a loup-garou.
Two large wolves were killed in the area and were claimed to be the Beast of Ge’ vaudan. One was shot by the kings own Huntsman in September 21, 1765. Francois Antoine killed a large wolf that was over five and a half feet long and weighed around 130 lbs. The other story has a much more romantic turn. On June 19, 1767, Jean Chastel went into the woods to hunt this loup-garou. According to him, he knelt in prayer and prayed until the creature came to him. He then raised his rifle before the beast could lunge at him and killed it with…yep, a silver bullet. The dead monster was paraded around the countryside from town to town and soon deteriorated and was reported to be buried in an unknown location. There are some that believe that the Beast of Ge’ vaudan may not have even been a wolf at all, let alone a loup-garou. According to a taxidermist at France’s Museum of Natural History in Paris, he believed that by the description of the beast given by Chastel and others that the creature was a striped hyena and there was a stuffed specimen placed in the museum from 1766-1818.
The loup-garou has made its way to this continent as well. First in Canada, then it made its way via the Cajun settlers in Louisiana. Stories of the loup-garou are prevalent in Southern Louisiana not just amongst the Cajun but the Creole Afro-American populations. In this region though, the creature is more of a bogeyman meant to make children behave than a mythological shape-shifting killer. I have read stories and anecdotes that mention voodoo rituals like that of Marie Laveau (1801-1881) used as a form of protection against these creatures. And according to a hoodoo legend, a special sachet or gris-gris bag can be made to protect oneself from both becoming and being slain from one.
Throughout the centuries, from Ancient Greece and the stories of Ovid to modern day, Lycanthropy has been part of our culture. Whether you believe in one that changes with the phases of the moon or can change at will the werewolf has always been something to be feared in mythos and folklore. Even though I don’t adhere to belief in these mystical beasts, doesn’t keep me from keeping a silver .50 caliber ball for my flintlock in my zombie apocalypse go-bag. You know…just in case. Happy hunting, everyone.