Author Archives: noothergods
Last Post: Before I start into the subject of werewolves in medieval Europe, I want to let everyone know that this will be my last regular post on While We’re Paused. I have started a new blog of my own, and I’m afraid that posting daily there leaves little time for these posts. I will be continuing this series on my new blog, The Art of Writing, and the first post of that continuation is already up. If you don’t want to follow links, the url for the new blog is tobiasmastgrave.wordpress.com, and I will be posting there under the name tmastgrave.
Now, on to werewolves. As I mentioned last time, werewolves are really just a popular subset of a broader category of werecreatures (shape shifters limited to a human form and an animal form) that inhabit ancient mythology worldwide. However, werewolves themselves are predominantly European. While a few other cultures have a canine shapeshifter, usually foxes or dogs, there are only a couple that have actual werewolves. So, I want to restrict my comments in this post to the establishment of werewolf mythology in Europe. I am not going to go into the etymology of the terms for two reasons: 1) werewolf is a generic term, and these creatures have been known by a multitude of names across Europe (one list I looked at was 15+ names long and it still wasn’t complete), and 2) the etymology is not difficult to find as many people have already discussed it.
With vampires we saw that the mythology changed drastically from the ancient period to the medieval period, and then again between the medieval period and the modern period. However, the same is not true with werewolves. While there are some significant changes in mythology, the specifics generally remain the same. We also see the terminology appear earlier. You might remember that the term ‘vampire’ did not appear until the modern period, and terminology resembling it dates back only to the Medieval period (10th century). On the other hand, with werewolves, the term ‘lycanthropy’ dates back to ancient Greece, and has been linked (though not conclusively) with the myth of Lycaon in the first book of Ovid’s Metomorphoses. This myth is considered by many to be the birth of the modern werewolf legend (something that could not be specifically identified with vampire legends).
We also see even earlier evidence of werewolves in early historical writings. Herodotus, a 5th century Greek historian, wrote that a people called the Nueri, who lived in Scythia, became wolves for several days of every year, and then returned to their human forms. While the work of Ovid may mark the birth of the modern werewolf legend, this historical account lends evidence that the idea of werewolves is much older. Trying to follow the spread of the legend throughout Europe from this point forward would be impossible in a post of this kind (and with the level of research that I am willing to do for these posts), however we can say that the basics of the werewolf myth did not change much as it spread through European cultures.
In fact the greatest variation appears in the area of how one becomes a werewolf. According to some legends, lycanthropy is a generational curse, in others it is passed by bite (as rabies might be). Some legends tell of people who voluntarily become werewolves by donning a magical, wolfskin belt, while others change form by drinking from an enchanted stream, or performing a magical ritual. However, once the transformation is accomplished the legends reconverge describing the resulting creature as violent, wicked, powerful, and uncontrollable. Many legends also note that werewolves do not have tails, a trait that they supposedly had in common with metamorphosed witches.
Though silver has made its way into modern mythology as the great bane of the werewolf, this does not appear in either ancient, or medieval lore. In fact the earliest mention of silver in connection to werewolves appears to be in the 18th century story of the Beast of Gevaudan, where the creature is killed by a silver bullet. Before this common methods of repelling werewolves were rye, mistletoe, and mountain ash. The aconitum, or wolfsbane, plant has also been historically connected to werewolves, though not always as a repellent, and so the relationship is not clear.
There is some evidence in the mythology that lycanthropy was believed to be a reversible condition. Though early cures were often more likely to kill the afflicted than to cure him, some of the later legends refer to conversion to Christianity, exorcism, or simply calling the werewolf three times by his Christian name as potential cures. How efficacious these may have been (assuming they were ever actually attempted) has been lost to history. We also see, with the rise of Christianity, that lycanthropy takes on a demonic aspect that it did not originally possess. However, I will save this for later consideration on my new blog.
Well, I’ve said a lot about vampires – at least for a blog, I mean people write whole books on the subject – so I think it’s time to move on. Standing beside the vampire on the pinnacle of the modern monster popularity chain is the werewolf. These two creatures are often connected in modern folklore, either as hated enemies or master and servant. Some modern works have attempted to unify the two positions (I’m looking at you Underworld), but in my opinion the result is questionable at best. However, what the modern stage has generally missed is that you can’t just talk about werewolves. While the werewolf comes down to us from medieval European folklore, it is a part of a much broader (and older) family of werecreatures that populate ancient myth.
While shapeshifters are incredibly common in mythology both ancient and modern, they compose an incredibly broad category that includes certain fae, monsters like the doppleganger or changling, magicians, gods, demons, werecreatures, and other assorted physically malleable beings. Werecreatures – herein defined as beings that can take two forms, one human and one animal – are a distinct sub-category of shapeshifter that exist worldwide. In Europe we have the eponymous werewolf (or lycanthrope*), however we also see legends of men who could transform themselves into bears coming out of Scandinavia (and Canada). In Africa we see the Bouda, a kind of werehyena. In North America we see some mythology that has Thunderbirds turning into humans, along with the Bear-men of Canada, and a Coyote or Fox man out of Mexico. As we move further south in the Americas we find the Lobisomem, a dolphin that could turn into a small boy, from Brazil. The Chonchon from Chili, which is a woman that can turn into a vulture, and the more general Kanima, or Jaguar-men (also known as Runa-uturungu). Asia also has its share of werecreatures such as the Aswang, a Philippino creature that can take a canine or human form (interestingly, this name can also refer to the Manananggal, a Phillipino vampire). The Kitsune and Tanuki from Japan, Fox-women and Badger-men respectively (it is interesting to note that fox-men are very common throughout Asia), and the Lang Ren, or wolf-human, from China. I am going to include the Selkie in this group as well because, though they are technically Fae (at least to my understanding) they are also bound to human and seal forms.
When we look at the mythology of these creatures we can identify two specific types of werecreature. 1) Humans that turn into animals (usually either through intentional magic or because of a curse) such as the werewolf, the berserker (Norse bear-men), and the Chonchon, and 2) animals that learn to (or naturally can) take on human shape such as the kitsune, tanuki, lobisomem, or selkie. These distinctions generally affect the disposition and intentions of the creatures in the mythology. Animals that learn to take on human shape are generally curious, helpful, and desire human company, while humans that take on animal shape are generally dangerous, destructive, and evil. It is also fairly common for humans to be cursed when they take on animal shape, werewolves being the most obvious and common example of this.
It is also interesting to note that humans that take on animal shape are always given dangerous, predatory forms usually of the, or one of the, apex predator/s in the region. Bears are common in Scandinavia and so we have berserker** as well as ulfhoebar or eigi einhamir (Scandinavian wolf-men). However, in the majority of southern Europe bears are less common and wolves are the apex predator, so we have the French loup garou, the Russian wawkalak, the Greek zyrkoklas, and so on. In Central and South America coyote and jaguar are much more common and so we wind up with werecreatures that emulate them.
The animals turned humans, on the other hand, are generally much less dangerous animals and often not predatory. The fox, while a predator, is not an apex predator, nor are badgers, seals, or dolphins. All of these generally feed on insects or small animals and are not generally dangerous to humans, unless you run a chicken farm or fish hatchery.
I am forced to wonder if this dynamic has something to do with an innate fear of being removed as the apex predator. Animals that are not a threat are welcomed among us, in real life as pets and in mythology as magical friends. However, those animals that compete with us as the apex predator in a region are driven out (see the extermination of predatory species in early American history, we are still trying to reintegrate wolf packs into lands where they were once common) in real life, and they become the punishments, curses, and monsters of our folklore.
*Interestingly enough Lycanthropy is a psychological disorder that, I believe, has been included in the DSM since its inception (although I could not confirm it as I don’t have a copy of the DSM I handy). It is a disorder in which the diseased believes himself to be an animal or to be possessed of animalistic qualities (e.g. the need to hunt, kill, and eat raw meat, etc).
**Berserker is more commonly known as the ‘elite’ fighting force of the Vikings. They were real, and it is commonly believed that they went into battle naked, covered in warpaint, and whipped into a psychological state of rage that bordered on, or crossed over into, insanity. However, the name is in direct reference to the belief that they turned themselves into bears when they went into battle. Ulfhoebar were similar to Berserker, but they were believed to turn themselves into wolves. On the other hand, the mythology surrounding the Eigi einhamir is completely separate from the Berserker.
Among the Neshelim is now available in eBook on Smashwords and Kindle and in print from Amazon.com, I’ll have a link for the print copy coming soon. I am curious what people think of the blub. Does it draw you in? Make you want to read the book? If not, why not?
Among the Neshelim
Understanding. One little word, and yet it means so much. We spend our lives pursuing it in one form or another. We long for it, we seek it, but it is always a rare commodity.
Chin Cao Yu, priest and scholar, has sacrificed all he held dear in its pursuit. Now he undertakes the journey of a lifetime, a journey among the mysterious Neshilim, a people of power unlike any he has seen before. This journey will turn the world he thought he knew upside down and challenge everything his dearly held beliefs. Has he found the ultimate truth or the ultimate lie? And what will he do with it when he learns?
Well, I promised it, so here it is: My post on Twilight. Now let me start with a disclaimer that I have not read the novels, my only exposure to Twilight has been through the movies (which I have seen…most of them) and the constant, non-stop flow of insipid dialogue from young women obsessed with the series. I assume the dialogue to be insipid due to the nature of the series, because some of the young women I hear it from are actually quite intelligent. I want to start off with a link to a post I found concerning twilight. Warning: this post is both hilarious and disheartening, there are also some references to sexual activity, nothing disgusting, just a man talking about his marriage…how any woman could do this to her husband is beyond me…although the husband doesn’t seem to be a stand up guy either so…whatever.
First I want to focus on the attributes of vampires in Hellsing (the modern vampire story that keeps closest to the spirit of the original mythology) and Twilight (arguably the most popular modern vampire series…possibly tied with the Southern Vampire Mysteries series). In Hellsing we see two types of vampires: those vampires that are created by science (or freaks) and those vampires that are created naturally (in Hellsing a person can only become a vampire if he/she is a virgin, who is bitten by a vampire of the opposite sex [possibly, the last part is implied but not concrete within the series], otherwise the person becomes a ghoul). The main character of the series, Alucard, hunts both versions of vampires for the Order of Protestant Knights (Hellsing Organization), but he has a particular hatred of freaks because they are not true vampires, only pretenders. In Hellsing vampires naturally have greatly enhanced physical abilities (speed, strength, senses, etc) and can only be killed by 1)Cutting off the head or 2) Destroying significant portions of the body with bullets made of blessed silver(this generally includes removing the head, so it may be considered an extension of method 1). While they are not fond of sunlight, it does not actually harm them. However, they do have trouble with running water. They also have some of the normal abilities, such as the ability to mesmerize others, some have the ability to read mindes, etc. As vampires age they develop other abilities, such as the ability to regenerate portions of their bodies, access to certain types of magic, so on and so forth.
Alucard himself displays a great many abilities include the ability to summon and control demons, to regenerate his body (including his head), to phase through solid objects, to transform his body, or portions of his body, into other things (my favorite is when he turns his arm into a dog, and bites off another vampire’s legs), and an ability similar to telekinesis. Perhaps Alucard’s greatest ability is to consume and store the soul of every being he kills. It is revealed in the series that this is what makes him effectively immortal, whenever he receives an injury that should kill him (such as losing his head) he simply allows one of the souls he has stolen to take his place. He also has the ability to call out these souls and force them to fight for him (in the end of the series there is a three way battle in London between the Nazi Vampires, the Hellsing Organization/British Military, and the Order of Iscariot [evil Roman Catholic monster hunters]; Alucard effectively ends the conflict when he releases an army of millions of souls and wipes out London). So, needless to say, Alucard is kind of ridiculously powerful, and the enemies he faces are usually incredibly powerful in their own right. In Hellsing a vampire, with the exception of the very young, is usually powerful enough to combat a small army of humans. Most vampires also have dozens to hundreds of ghoul servants that they have created by feeding.
In Twilight, at least according to my research, vampires are effectively immortal and can only be truly destroyed by fire (though dismemberment is inconvenient and in the movies cutting off the head will kill a vampire). Vampires gain physical enhancements, strength, speed, senses, etc, and each vampire develops a special ability (such as the ability to manipulate emotions, read minds, or blind the senses of others). It is worth noting that the limitation to one ‘magical’ ability should make the Twilight vampires significantly weaker than the Hellsing vampires. Oh…and they glitter in the sunlight…I have to admit that I’ve never understood exactly why they glitter in the sunlight…it doesn’t exactly make sense. The introduction of ‘vegetarian’ vampires should also help make the Twilight vampires significantly weaker than the Hellsing vampires because, in both, the strength of the vampire is tied directly to the amount of human blood they consume.
Now, lets look at the reality of vampires in both Hellsing and Twilight. I said above that Hellsing, of modern vampire tales, retains the spirit of the original mythology the best. Among modern vampire tales Hellsing is rare in that it views vampires as monsters (as opposed to tragic heroes). Even Alucard, the protagonist of the series who works for the nominal heroes, is portrayed as a monstrous being capable of incredible evil and only reigned in by his bonds with the Hellsing organization. This emphasis on the monster, and the overarching theme of the series ‘Only a Man can kill a Monster’, is reminiscent of both the ancient vampire legends and the heroic legends of the distant past. I particularly love the theme of the series because it is presented, almost universally, from the voice of Alucard – who appears to be looking for a man who can slay him. Alucard defeats, generally with great ease, all of the monsters that come against him. Even the man-made monster, Alexander Anderson (aka Paladin), from the order of Iscariot is unable to stand against Alucard (though he comes the closest of all, because he is the closest to man). And he continually argues that only a true man, presumably a courageous, virtuous man, can slay a monster.
Compare this to Twilight, in which the combined themes of emotional/romantic love and man cannot kill monsters are dominant, and we can see that the significant differences between the two are not at the surface/power level only. The themes of Twilight not only seem (remember I haven’t read the books so I’m going off of what I’ve seen and heard in movies and from fans) to encourage the least successful, and most destructive kind of teenage love, but they also emphasize the weakness, frailty, and overall undesirability of the human condition. This is diametrically opposed to the general themes of ancient myth.
So, in light of this analysis, it is my assessment that Hellsing is far better than Twilight in every meaningful respect…oh…and Alucard would eat the entire Cullen family for breakfast.
The Hellsing Ovas can be purchased on Amazon starting with volume 1, here. However the Ova series is not yet complete; the Manga series, which is complete, can be purchased starting with volume 1, here.
The Twilight books can also be purchased on Amazon, here.
I’m not going to tell you where you can get the movies because, while I can’t comment on the books, the movies are horrible anyway.
Among the Neshelim
‘Understanding. One little word, and yet it means so much. We spend our lives pursuing it in one form or another. We long for it, we seek it, but it is always a rare commodity.
Chin Cao Yu, priest and scholar, has sacrificed all he held dear in its pursuit. Now he undertakes the journey of a lifetime, a journey among the mysterious Neshilim, a people of power unlike any he has seen before. This journey will turn the world he thought he knew upside down and challenge all of his dearly held beliefs. Has he found the ultimate truth or the ultimate lie? And what will he do with it when he learns?’