LOUP-GAROU: WITCHES, CANNIBALISM & THE WEREWOLVES OF FRANCE

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SYNOPSIS

From Salem to East Anglia, Bordeaux to the black forest of Germany, it seems there is no end of infamous witch trials that took place in history, spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Somewhat less well known are the many hundreds of werewolf trials that took place alongside them and with such a degree of crossover, that made them ultimately, synonymous with the occult world of demons and the Devil, with witchcraft and the sabbath. Whilst witches may have been feared for the damage they could cause to the crops, or the corruption they could sew within their communities, werewolves were feared on a far more primal level. Their danger came not from their insidious scheming, but their brutal ferocity, attacking, maiming and devouring the flesh of anyone who might find themselves alone on a dusty path at the wrong time. A predator, stalking in the shadows, werewolves struck fear into the rural communities of France for over two hundred years and whilst they may be considered hard to believe now, for many, they were once as real as the blood stains they left on the ground. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.

Elspeth, Whitney (2007) “On the Inconstancy of Witches: Pierre de Lancre’s Tableau de l’inconstance des mauvais anges et demons (1612)”. Renaissance Quarterly, Renaissance Society of America, Volume 60, Number 4, Winter 2007, pp. 1405-1406, USA
 
De Lancre, Pierre (2012) “On the Inconstancy of Witches: Pierre de Lancre’s Tableau de l’inconstance des mauvais anges et demons”, Paris, France
 
De Blecourt, Willem (2015) “Werewolf Histories (Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft & Magic)”, Palgrave Macmillan, London, UK
 
Baring-Gould, Sabine (1865) “The Book of Were-Wolves.” Smith, Elder & Co., London, UK
 
Danjou, F. (1839) “Archives curieuses de l’histoire de France depuis Louis XI jusqu’à Louis XVIII, ou Collection de pièces rares et intéressantes. Publiées d’après les textes conservés à la Bibliothèque Royale, et accompagnées de notices et d’éclaircissemens; ouvrage destiné à servir de complément aus collections Guizot, Buchon, Petitot et Leber., ser.1 v.8 1836.”, Paris, France
 
Evans, Hilary & Bartholomew, Robert. (2009) “Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behaviour”, Anomalist Books, New York, USA
Rosenstock, Harvey A. Vincent, Kenneth R. (1977) “A Case of Lycanthropy”, The American Journal of Psychiatry, 134(10), 1147–1149. USA

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Loup-Garou: Witches, Cannibalism & The Werewolves of France

 

Intro

 

From Salem to East Anglia, Bordeaux to the black forest of Germany, it seems there is no end of infamous witch trials that took place in history, spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Somewhat less well known are the many hundreds of werewolf trials that took place alongside them and with such a degree of crossover, that made them ultimately, synonymous with the occult world of demons and the Devil, with witchcraft and the sabbath. Whilst witches may have been feared for the damage they could cause to the crops, or the corruption they could sew within their communities, werewolves were feared on a far more primal level. Their danger came not from their insidious scheming, but their brutal ferocity, attacking, maiming and devouring the flesh of anyone who might find themselves alone on a dusty path at the wrong time. A predator, stalking in the shadows, werewolves struck fear into the rural communities of France for over two hundred years and whilst they may be considered hard to believe now, for many, they were once as real as the blood stains they left on the ground. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.

 

Witches & Werewolves in Medieval France 

 

When we think of werewolves today, it’s easy to conjure up images of painful transformations under a silver moon and of gory murders in dark forests. We may also think of basketball or starry eyed romance between handsome tweens. Modern folklore would have it told that werewolves originated in Easten Europe, Romania and Transylvania, synonymous with the shadowy forests of vampires and dilapidated castles, however, this is little more than modern fiction, drawing on American folklore and popular fiction. Likewise, the iconic werewolf, transforming under a full moon is one of pure modern invention. The werewolves of Eastern Europe, in fact, can be traced from those stories that seeped out of France, Switzerland and Germany into the wider area and eventually, into books of Gothic fiction and the black and white horror movies of early Hollywood. In fact, werewolf literature has a long history, extending back as far as the first century, when Petronius wrote “Cena Trimalchionis”, a work of fiction, containing a scene where dinner guests swap stories as they eat, one of which concerns a werewolf, an account which is repeatedly referred to by medieval demonologists to explain werewolf behaviour. 

 

In Europe throughout the 16th and early 17th Centuries, the mythology of the werewolf crossed over into the everyday landscape and saw rural communities terrorised by beasts that were better off left as whispered folk-tales. Coinciding with the widespread witch trials of the time,  there were a number of werewolf trials in France, originating on the Swiss border and spreading as far as the Western coast and the Pyrenees. The number of trials is a relative unknown and whilst there have been modern publications quick to put a figure on the number, ranging from 200 to 30,000. The exact figure, however, is both significantly smaller and significantly more difficult to pin down. As a single example of the issues that arise when trying to calculate the cases of werewolves in the hundred years that followed the first recorded case in 1521, one can evaluate the demonologist and aspiring politician, Henry Boguet who served as the ‘grand judge’ of St Claude in Franche Comté from 1596 to 1611. In various texts, Boguet has been attributed with sending upwards of 600 individuals to execution, however, by his own admission he put the figure at only 80 and in truth, of those recorded, he sentenced to execution only 28 of the 35 cases he presided over. There are some historians that put forward well developed arguments that the number of werewolf trials in France with which we have any evidence lay around the 50 mark rather than the spurious 30,000. This discrepancy in figures lies with not only the sensationalist witchcraft publications of the modern era, but with the political atmosphere of the day too. Men like Boguet and De Lancre, another demonologist and witch hunter from the same period who was keen to fill the French prisons with religious heretics from the Basque region, were keen to spread the dangers of witchcraft throughout France and impress upon the people that the trials they undertook were both justified and necessary rather than just a form of political or religious propaganda. Numbers were inflated, withdrawn, amended and miscounted from one book to the next in order to suit the agenda of the author. Outside of the cases recorded officially by the authorities, there were also the thousands of accusations based on slander, formal complaints and petty bickering amongst the common rural populations, a significant number of which were simply localised squabbling and which had their cases thrown out before ever reaching trial.

 

Another reason that makes singling out werewolf trials difficult, is that many held a distinct crossover with trials of witches. Many of the earliest accounts, in fact, stem from a witches ability to shape-shift into numerous creatures at will, from hares, to cats, dogs and of course, wolves. Many more accounts of witches tell of how they would ride through the night, not on broomsticks, but on the back of a bewitched wolf. With so much crossover, the lines become blurred very quickly as to who was tried as a witch and who as a werewolf. 

 

With wolves being such a widespread fear, it is fairly easy to see where the fear of the werewolf came from. Throughout the world, traditions of shape shifting humans is commonplace, from the were-leopards of Malaysia, through to the Were-Crocodiles and Elephants of Africa, the prominence of wolves in Europe, the preying on the livestock of the rural populations, decimated from the black death, made wolves the obvious villain, through the cultural context. On a deeper level, wolves were a symbol of the outsider, the predator, the trickster and in Christian belief, of greed, destructiveness and of the Devil. Once removed from this european context, it’s interesting to note that the symbol of the wolf could mean quite the opposite, as is the case in Japan, where the wolf was seen as a symbol of protection against fire and disease and were revered for their protection of the crops, as they prayed on the Boar and Deer that might otherwise destroy their harvests. 

 

In Europe, however, wolves were firmly cemented as an icon of fear. Those that ran with wolves were seen as demonic, social and religious deviants that messed with the black arts and made deals with the devil. English folklorist, historian and vicar, Sabine Baring Gould was one of several historians that documented such cases, one of the most famous of which, is the case of Gilles Garnier, a poverty stricken hermit that lived in the woods in the East of France, close to the Swiss border.

 

Gilles Garnier

 

7 Miles to the North-West of the French commune of Dole, perched in the woods sat a small, lichen covered house. Its roof was covered in turf, whilst its shabby, perimeter fence hung from its supports, broken in several places. The poorly constructed walls of the shack bowed under the weight of the algae that crept up its sides, blending it into the forested backdrop. The residents of the tired structure were well known and much disliked in the local vicinity, Gilles Garnier, colloquially known as the Hermit of St. Bonnard, was something of a social outcast, his rough appearance doing nothing to excuse his lack of religiosity. In the Rev. Sabine Baring-Goulds “The Book of Werewolves”, published in 1865, described him as,

 

“a sombre, ill-looking fellow, who walked in a stooping attitude, and whose pale face, livid complexion, and deep-set eyes under a pair of coarse and bushy brows, which met across the forehead, were sufficient to repel any one from seeking his acquaintance”

 

Gilles lived with his wife, Appoline, and the pair scratched out a meagre existence in considerable poverty. For some time that summer, the local vicinity had been terrorised by wolves, with several attacks having been reported and the local rumours throughout the neighbouring territories of Espagny, Salvange and Courchapon were of werewolves stalking through the woods and carrying away children. The rumblings of the villagers were enough that the local authorities issued a decree for a werewolf hunt to begin on the 13th September,

 

“the said Court, desiring to prevent any greater danger, has permitted, and does permit, those who are abiding or dwelling in the said places and others, notwithstanding all edicts concerning the chase, to assemble with pikes, halberts, arquebuses, and sticks, to chase and to pursue the said were-wolf in every place where they may find or seize him; to tie and to kill, without incurring any pains or penalties.”

 

The werewolf hunt continued for several months, with little to no fruit being bore, despite the attempts of the seething locals. On the afternoon of Thursday, 9th November, however, things were about to take a turn towards success. Two miles from Dole on the outskirts of the region, a group of peasants were returning home from work where they had been laboriously watching after the cattle all day. The midday heat was tempered by the grey clouds obscuring the sunlight that shone through brief cracks in the blanketed sky as they approached a large meadow, filled with the white flowers of the late blooming Narcissi. As the group walked, the lazy air was pierced with a high scream of a young girl and followed by the unmistakable howling of a wolf. Running towards the screams, the men burst upon the scene of a young girl lying on the ground, desperately attempting to defend herself against a stooped figure, that after turning to see the approaching crowd, jerked away from the child whom he left lying on the ground, injured but alive and lumbered off into the woods behind. Whilst the shadow of the trees that hung low behind the scene had cast a dim light across the girl and her attacker, many of the peasants swore blind they had seen a wolf, though still many more were sure they had seen a man they recognised as the local hermit, Gilles Garnier.

 

Once the story ripped through the local villages, it didn’t take long for the baying crowds to stamp their will upon the authorities, as more than fifty people signed statements against the hermit, leading to his imminent arrest.

 

No matter how fast the local had risen up against Garnier, however, it wasn’t fast enough and a week later, on the 16th November, with no arrest yet being made, a young boy aged 10 years old was attacked by the dusty roadside that ran along the vineyards of Gredisans, 6 miles to the North of Dole. His remains were discovered lying in a black, seeping pool of blood, the flesh from his arms, legs and stomach were chewed away. One of his legs lay torn from the rest of his body, discarded to one side of the macabre scene. Fearing a riot, the authorities promptly arrested Garnier and took him to trial on the charge of “homicide committed against the persons of several children, devouring of the flesh of the eyes, in the form of werewolf, and other crimes and misdemeanors.”

 

Gilles Garnier’s trial took place in the parliament of Dole, beginning in January of the following year. During hi testimony, he told the court of how he had been destitute and struggling to sustain his family for some time, until one day when he was out foraging in the local woodland for food, he met with phantom who promised him, aside from “many wonders of the world”, the trick to inexpensively hunt through the woods as a wolf, lion or leopard. Considering his options, it seemed a natural fit given the naturalisation of wolves in the area, to become a wolf and so, rubbing himself in a liquid given to him by the phantom, he began his journey of murder and bloodshed throughout the region.

 

On the 18th August, Gilles came upon a young boy around the age of 12 or 13, resting under a pear tree on the edge of the woods that surrounded the village of Perrouze. He lured the young man into a thicket, attacked and killed him, fully intending to eat him, until a group of men came upon the scene and disturbed him in the act, forcing him to flee. A month later, on the 29th September, he once more attacked a young child, this time a girl aged 10 years old in the vineyards of Chastenoy, by the outskirts of Dole. He killed her swiftly and dragged her body into the woods, stripped her naked and ate the flesh from her legs and arms. Once he had eaten his fill, he took a lump of the girls flesh home to his wife. Alongside these murders, he confessed to the other murders in the region too and gave the impression to many that he truly believed himself to have been a fully transformed wolf at the time he carried out the attacks. Witnesses, however, were mixed, as some claimed they saw the hermit make the attacks in the form of a man, whilst others said they saw only a wolf. Insanity was clearly ruled out, as he appeared lucid in every other way and communicated with the court with clarity. Judgement came swiftly for Garnier and the judge found him guilty, sentencing him to death. On the 18th January, he was dragged to the site of his execution, strapped to a pyre and burnt alive.

 

The account of Garnier’s Lycanthropy shares much in common with other werewolf trials from France in the 16th Century, but there were too, accounts that followed a more unusual path. The case of the Gandillon family was one of these cases, which saw not a single werewolf tried, but an entire family.

 

The Gandillon Family

 

25 years later, from 1598, a second case mentioned by Rev. Baring-Gould came from the Jura region of France, far in the East, nestled up against the border of Switzerland and 75 miles from the events at Dole. Amongst the wooded, mountainous hills, small hamlets and villages sprung into being, surrounded by the rolling countryside. Within one of these remote rural hamlets, lived the Gandillon family, Pernette, the young Gandillon daughter, Pierre, her elder brother and his two children, Georges and Antoinette. The Gandillon family were undoubtedly poor, they had a small attachment of livestock that they tended after, most likely goats, and bore all the classic hallmarks of a rural family living on a meagre income. They were dirty, with blackened fingernails and matted hair and concerned largely with surviving rather than the luxuries of church and community life. Pernette was the first to fall foul of the locals, a strange child, she was known to run about on all fours whilst howling like a wolf. The story follows that one day she came across two young siblings, a brother and sister, gathering strawberries in a field and in a violent blood rage, she lunged upon the young girl, attacking her with her claws and teeth. The brother who was at the time just four years old, fended the wolf-girl away from his sister by brandishing a knife. Pernette was identified as the attacker and tried for transforming into a werewolf, during which time she testified that her brother and sister were too afflicted by the dark arts. The trial ended poorly for the young girl and the judge, Henry Boguet, saw to it that she be put to death, a sentence the local villagers gladly carried out by stoning her to death.

 

Following Pernettes testimony, both Pierre and Antoinette were duly trialled by Boguet under the charges of Witchcraft. Pierre was accused of leading children to the sabbath, calling down hailstones to destroy crops and for transforming into a werewolf. Pierre admitted to all charges, elucidating upon the story and confessing to having slept with a she-demon, transformed into several animals including both a hare and a wolf and of having attacked and eaten several of the local livestock as well as their human masters. Pierres two children were next to the stand, and both George and Antoinette admitted to attending the sabbath, for Georges it was in the shape of a wolf, whilst Antoinette confessed to selling herself to Devil, who visited her in the form of a black goat. Both Pierre and Georges were said to have been covered in scars across their bodies, which were assumed to have been from wounds they had received whilst running as wolves. Whilst they were imprisoned during the trial, they prowled around their cell, howling like wolves and walking on all fours. Though they were never witnessed to transform fully into the shape of wolves, this was explained by their lack of access to the salves they had used that they had received from the devil when they were free. Boguet found all three guilty of the charges brought against them and were hanged before being burnt to ash and scattered into the cold, mountain winds.

 

Whilst many of the accounts of werewolves were written about in the 16th to 18th centuries via court transcripts or adapted from oral tales and whilst the overwhelming majority of werewolf trials ended in the death penalty for those accused, it’s essentially impossible to recieve an unbiased account of the trials. Amongst the litany of trials that took place in France, there is a singular account of a werewolf that saw the guilty party pardoned and allowed to live, that of Jean Grenier, a young, 14 year old boy from the Basque region in the South-East of France. Whilst the account is no less biased, it is unique in its account of the accused werewolf after his trial had become embedded in lore.

 

Jean Grenier

 

Born in Bordeaux, 1553, Pierre de Rosteguy, Sieur de Lancre was educated by Jesuit teachers in Toulouse and Turin before studying at the Jesuit College de Clermont in Paris. He received his doctorate of Law in 1579 and began working as a lawyer in Bordeaux. In 1582 he joined the Bordeaux Parlement as a magistrate. In 1599, he travelled extensively throughout Italy for a year, and upon returning wrote his first work on witchcraft, published in 1609, “Tableau de l’inconstance de totutes choses, ou il est monste qu’en Dieu seul gist la vraye constance a laquelle homme sage doit viser.” Off the back of this book, shortly after returning to Bordeaux in December of 1609, he was charged by King Henry IV with conducting a Royal Commission to investigate Witchcraft in the Labourd region, in the South-East corner of France, bordering the Pyrenees to the South. This four month investigation saw De Lancre rip through the region, identifying and punishing those who were known to dabble in the dark arts, of which there were many, according to De Lancre, who found the basque region filled to the brim with people engaged in sabbaths, dedicating their children to satan, eating human flesh and inflicting harm on the local cattle and crops. The people of Basque country were annexed into France in 1451 and had endured a great effort to maintain both their cultural and administrative independence from France. It’s little doubt that this played a strong hand in shaping the attitudes of the French Lawyer throughout his travels in the region. With these prejudices in one hand, and a firm belief in the realms of witchcraft in the other, De lancre committed himself to his work, with the aid of an interpreter, a French cleric named Lorenzo de Haulde who had grown up in the region, hunting out and exposing witches and their evil deeds with a zealous enthusiasm, keen to impress on the realities of the craft and of the dangers it posed to both people and public order. His time in Labourd culminated in his second work, which could be seen at least in part to have been written as a justification for his aggressive and less than stellar legal actions during the investigation, the “Tableau de l’inconstance des mauvais anges et demons, ou il est amplement traicte des sorciers et de la sorcelerie”, published in 1612. It is within this second work that De Lancre included the following story, of a young man named Jean Grenier, whom he had met in a monastery where he was serving life imprisonment for his actions as a werewolf. Though the tale as De Lancre told it was based upon a written record of a verbal account which De Lancre himself admitted was in such poor condition that he could “barely recognise the writer in the work,” it has become one of the more infamous stories of lycanthropy from the era.

 

On the 29th May 1603, an inquest took place concerning a series of wolf attacks that had been attributed, after confession, to a young man of fourteen named Jean Grenier. Jean lived in distinct poverty, his clothes were in tatters and his limbs emaciated. The full description is coloured with the knowledge of his werewolf credentials, including “small pale grey eyes” that “twinkled with an expression of horrible ferocity and cunning, from deep sunken hollows. His skin was a dark olive, his fingernails “pointed like bird’s talons,” and his canine teeth protruded over his lower lip.

 

The inquest followed an attack that had taken place in broad daylight, on Marguerite Poirier, a thirteen year old girl who resided in the village of Paulot, where both she and Grenier lived. Grenier had been quick to confess to the crime and embellished upon it further by adding that he would have eaten her, had she not defended herself with a stick. He further confessed to have already eaten two or three other young children in the past. As a witness during the inquest, Marguerite told the authorities that she had frequently tended to the local livestock together with Grenier, who had told her that he could change into a wolf whenever he pleased. In this form as a wolf, he told of how he had taken and killed dogs, eaten their flesh and drank their blood, though it had paled in comparison to the flesh of young children. In evidence of this, he told Marguerite of how he had recently taken a young boy, eaten “two pieces of him” and given the rest to a nearby wolf to finish off. Later he had killed a second child, this time a young girl and had eaten her entirely, save her arms and a part of her shoulder. Marguerite then gave the inquest a description of the beast that had attacked her,

 

“It was bigger and shorter than a wolf, had red fur and a short tail… The animal’s head was smaller than that of a wolf.”

 

Following Marguerite’s testimony, a second witness, eighteen year old Jeanne Gaboriaut, told the court her own story.

 

“She said that one day, as she and some other girls were tending the flock, Jean Grenier came up and asked them who the prettiest shepherdess was. Jeanne asked him why he wanted to know. “Because,” he said, “I want to marry her. So that if it is you, it is you I want to marry.” She asked him who his father was. He replied that he was a priest. At that point she replied that he was very dark skinned. And he replied that his skin had been dark only for a short while. She asked whether he had become dark from the cold, or from burning himself. And he replied that it was because of a red wolf skin that he wore. She asked who had given him this skin. He answered that it was a man named Pierre Labouraut. “And who is that?” asked the shepherdess. “A man,” he replied, “who, when in his house, wears an iron chain around his neck. And in this house there were people in chairs who were burned, others in beds who were in flames, and still others who were roasted and put on spits, and still others who were in a big pot.” And he said that the huse and the room were very large and quite black. She said that he had told her that when he put his wolf’s coat on, he would transform himself into a wolf and into whatever other kind of animal he wanted. He said that he had transformed himself into a wolf, and in this form had killed dogs and sucked their blood, but that it tasted bad, and that boys and girls were much more pleasant and agreeable to eat. He runs every Monday, Friday, and Saturday when the moon is low, one hour per day only, toward evening and toward morning.”

 

Grenier had also implicated nine other people that ran with him as a wolf, several who were his neighbours. Following the inquest, the young man was promptly arrested and set for trial.

 

The werewolf trial of Pierre Grenier took place a month later, on 2 June, 1603. During the trial, he laid out a picture of his life for the prosecution and confessed to far more crimes than the witnesses had initially accused him of. Though he had previously told Jeanne Gaboriaut he was the son of a priest, he now changed his story, saying instead he was the son of Pierre Granier, known commonly as “The Revolutionary” in his home parish of St. Antoine de Pison. Unsure of the exact timeline, Jean explained that three or four years prior, whilst working in the village of Paulet, he met another young man on the road home named Pierre from a well to do, wealthy family well known in their home village. Pierre told Jean that there was a man in the St. Antoine forest who wanted to speak to them, so together the pair entered the dense woodland in search of the mysterious caller. Whether or not Pierre knew where to go is not discussed, but the pair quickly wound up finding the man looking for them, dressed all in black and mounted on a large black horse. 

 

“They said “Good morning” to him because it was dawn; and then he dismounted and kissed them with an extremely cold mouth. Afterwards he got back on his horse, and shortly thereafter they lost sight of him, after he had made them promise that after he left they would seek him out whenever he asked for them.”

 

Before riding off, the man marked the boys buttocks with a pin and made them promise that they would seek him out whenever he called for them. The man did call them to the forest on three further occasions, each time making the boys rub down his horse, gave them wine to drink and promised them money. The boys drank their wine and saw to the horse and would then leave. In order to corroborate his story, Jean pulled down his pants and showed the court a red mark on his left buttock in the shape of a small shell, which, he said, was the scar left by the man. 

 

“He shows his mark, with which the Evil Spirit brande dhim, which is like a little circle that has no feeling inside, like that of the other witches. And it appears as if the parts touched by Heavens fire are in the part that has been made insensitive. One of the most certain proofs of a crime and of being the Devil’s succubus is the mark, as all those who have written on this subject have observed.”

 

When the court questioned him on the testimony of Marguerite Poirier, Jean confessed that every word was true, he had attacked and attempted to take her with plans to kill her, but he had been beaten away by a stick. He also added a somewhat contradictory statement to the story by telling the court that he had wanted to marry her. Of her original statement, Jean only protested that he had not drunk the blood of the dog, though he had no issues with admitting killing the animal. The thorny issue of who he had killed as a wolf then came to the fore, though Jean gladly recounted his story,

 

“He said that once, when he was on his way from Contras to St. Anlaye, following the villages of the Double, he entered a house where he saw no one, and there he found a baby boy about a year old who was in the cradle. He took this child between his teeth and carried him behind a garden wall, and ate as much of him as he wanted and gave the rest to a wolf that was nearby. He did not know the name of the village or the parish, but he said that there were only three houses there. He added that on his way to the parish St. Antoine de Fizon, he came upon a little girl wearing a black dress who was tending sheep. He killed her and ate as much of her as he wanted, just as he did with the boy, then he gave the rest to a wolf that was nearby. But it is remarkable that he said it was he who lowered her dress, because he did not rip it. This is something that we observed, to show that while real wolves tear with their claws, werewolves tear with their teeth, and just like men they know how to remove the dresses of the girls they want to eat without ripping them. He also said that about ten weeks earlier he took a little girl near a quarry and that after he dragged her into the briar he ate her.”

 

“When he wants to run, he wears a wolf’s skin, the one the Lord of the Forest brings him when he wants him to run. THen he rubs himself with some kind of grease from a pot the Lord of the Forest also gave him, after first taking off the clothes he normally wears in the fields and bushes.”

 

“Asked where he kept his skin and his pot of grease, he replied that all of it was at the home of The Lord of the Forest, who sent them to him when he wanted. And at every time put it on in order to run as a werewolf.”

 

After the testimony from Jean, the court closed for the day and summoned his father, Pierre, in order to corroborate some of Jeans story, earlier in the session he had mentioned that his father had on three occasions helped him to apply the grease to his body and put on the wolf skin. The following day, 3 June, testimonies from fathers of children who had been eaten or otherwise attacked by a wolf fitting the periods given by Jean were taken to see if they matched with Jeans story. 

 

“These witnesses and the accused completely agreed with regard to the crime, the place, and other circumstances concerning the time, the appearance of the werewolf, the wounds, the help that the parents of other people gave to their boys and girls who had been hurt, the words they said to each other while screaming at the wolf, the weapons or sticks they used – everything right down to the smallest details, even including which one of the three children the wolf had chosen because he was the most delicate and the most plump. Indeed, one of the witnesses, named Jean Roullier, reported that the werewolf had taken the plumpest of his three children whom he had found in the fields, who was saved by a brother of the witness with the weapons he had in his hand. Pursuing the evil animal, the brother of the witness, when he saw him run away, said: “I will get you!””

 

Several of the witnesses positively identified Jean after seeing him in the court and Jean himself said he recognised many of the witnesses and victims of his attacks, whilst Marguerite Poiroier displayed the wounds she still bore from her own attack. 

 

The court now rounded upon Jean in order to find out what he had been doing in more recent months and to question him on why he had apparently left his fathers home three months prior. Jean replied that he had left after he had fallen out with his father for eating a bowl of milk with cabbage during Lent and his father had beaten him. Out of spite, he had run away from home, though with little plan and with no way to support himself, he had been quickly reduced to begging in order to survive. His mother, he told the court, had left his father a long time ago, after she had witnessed him vomiting up the paws of dogs and hands of children. Jean went on to explain that he had, at times, ran together with his father as a wolf and that two years prior, together they had taken a young girl tending geese in a field outside the nearby village of Grillault, together they dragged her from the field and into the forest where they ate her. When he was confronted by his father in the courtroom, Jean stood steadfast behind his claims, accusing him outright of all that he had told. As the trial ticked onwards, Jeans testimony seemed to get wilder and wilder, he admitted to having eaten over 50 people, including a young baby from an empty house that he had dragged away and devoured, a young shepherdess, an elderly woman with skin “As tough as leather” and a dog owned by a Monsieur Millon, who had chased him away with a rapier.

 

Listening to Jeans testimony and the accusations against his father, the court found it time to make their decisions on what to do with the boy. For some, it was clear that a crime had been committed, that Jean had been communing with the Devil in the forest and had been causing both the wolf skin and grease obtained from the Devil to transform into a werewolf, but it was not so simple for everyone present. Several jurors took the stance that Jean was suffering from illusions, some believed it to be the work of witchcraft, whilst others thought he was simply insane, though this too was given a demonic bent and presumed likely that the onset of lunacy was brought about with the aid of demonic meddling. Whichever way their pendulum swung, they could all agree that Jean was undergoing some form of transformation, whether it be caused by imagination or something more otherworldly. In an act of some empathy, the court saw that Jean was a young boy and more, he was a young boy from the country. Being ignorant of God, they measured was not necessarily a crime and being unable to recognise, destroy or shake off the seductions of an evil spirit is something that even learned men of the time struggled with, so how could they expect an ignorant child to do any more? On the 6th September, 1603, the court condemned Jean Grenier to be locked up in one of the city’s monasteries for the rest of his life. He had escaped the death penalty, at least as long as he remained within the monastery, any attempt to leave would see him hanged or strangled. Jean’s father managed to walk free, despite his son’s best efforts against him.

 

In 1610, seven years after the end of the trial, Pierre De Lancre visited Jean Grenier, now aged 21,  in the monastery that was his prison. There he found the young man once more transformed, this time in more spiritual ways. De Lancre remarked that Jean now spoke more sense than when he was at trial and under the instruction of the fathers at the monastery had learnt to abhor his past actions and detest the Lord of the Forest. 

 

“He was a young man of medium height, rather small for his age, with wild-looking eyes that were sunken and black, and completely distraught. His eyes gave the impression that he was ashamed of his misfortune, which he seemed to understand somewhat; he did not dare look anyone straight in the eye.”

 

Though he now appeared to walk on two legs, when he first entered the monastery, it was remarked that he displayed a remarkable ability to walk on all fours and to jump large distances while doing so.

 

“He had very long and bright teeth that were wider than normal, protruding somewhat and rotten half black from being used to lash out at animals and people. His fingernails were also quite long and some were completely black from the base to the tip, even that of the thumb of the left hand, which the devil prevented him from trimming… This clearly shows that he was indeed a werewolf, and that he used his hands both for running and for grabbing children and dogs by the throat.”

 

All told, Jean seemed to be a changed man. The Lord of the Forest had visited him twice whilst he had been residing at the monastery and attempted to lure him back into his clutches via the promise of riches, but on both occasions, Jean had turned him away and made the sign of the cross in order to drive him out. Despite the years passing, Jean still appeared to hate his father and maintained that he was also a werewolf, moreover, he said that he still lusted after flesh, in particular, he had found the flesh of little girls particularly delicious. 



Theories

 

With all the cases of werewolves that were recorded throughout the 16th Century, we are left to question precisely what it was that was going on? Were people really transforming into animals? Were there really murderous werewolves riding alongside witches, kidnapping children? Did people really believe any of this?

 

In the case of Jean Grenier, it is often considered in a modern context to have been a case of Lycanthropy, a generic term that encompasses a group of psychiatric syndromes including delusions of being an animal, dissociation, schizoid personality disorder, organic brain syndrome, bipolar disorder, psychomotor epilepsy and psychosis. Rather than Jean literally transforming into a wolf, most theories consider that he was simply unwell, or unhinged. In fact, even at the time of his trial, there was serious consideration of his mental health during which may have well been a factor into his avoiding a sentence of death, along with his young age factoring into his inability to fend off the temptations of the Devil. 

 

Such diagnoses are not limited even to the middle ages, in 1977, the American Journal of Psychiatry documented a case of Lycanthropy involving a 49 year old Texas woman who “felt like an animal with claws.” Aside from the belief that she was a wolf, she was witnessed by her husband and members of her family as having walked on all fours, growling, gnashing her teeth, clawed at the air and said she felt Satan had entered her body. When she looked in the mirror, she saw not the face of a woman staring back, but,

 

“the head of a wolf in place of a face on my own body. – just a long-nosed wolf with teeth, groaning, snarling, growling… with fangs and claws.”

 

If this were the case, however, then how do we account for the witness reports of literal wolves carrying out attacks? The most obvious answer is that several attacks attributed to werewolves were simply attacks by normal wolves. Wolves were naturalised in France and relatively common right up until the 1930s, when they were eventually eradicated. On the complete flipside and in the bluntest terms possible, it’s very likely that much of the eyewitness testimonies were simply fabricated. Much in the way that the witch trials were often simple persecution of elderly women who fell outside of societal norms, so too were the werewolf trials focused around individuals who lived on the fringes of communities. In the case of Gilles Garnier, we have an outsider, living on the outskirts of civilisation, poor and likely an outcast, either due to one or a combination of reasons from physical, social or religious. He was known well enough in the area to have garnered the nickname of hermit, which might lead us to believe that his outcast status was both longstanding and well understood, if not instigated by the locals. If we are willing to believe the medieval testimonies, many suggested that though the literal werewolf was, for the large part the form of a full sized wolf, there were often key characteristics of the werewolves human form transferred, sometimes as incomplete transformations and sometimes as certain markings or trinkets which accounted for the witnesses being able to aim their accusations towards a singular target in the community.

 

One of the more interesting aspects of the werewolf trials was the sheer number that included rubbing a liquid or grease on their skin in order to begin their transformation. Similar ungents and ointments were referred to in witch trials across Europe, including the Witch trials of the 16th Century and can also be seen in the cases of the Bandanti from Italy. There is an argument to be made that much like the shaman might use Ayahuasca, the werewolves may well have been using a hallucinogenic compound to enact their transformation. Henry Boguet, the judge from Bordeaux who put the Gandillon family to death had considered the idea and a 17th Century physician named Jean de Nynauld wrote of the possibility of an ointment being made from henbane, opium, nightshade, parsley and belladonna root to induce hallucinations.

 

Today, the vast majority of people would consider the idea of a human transforming into a wolf as completely absurd, so why was it so easy to believe in the middle ages? In fact, Even in the 16th Century, the witch hunters were aware of the caution required when approaching an accusation of werewolves, in the case of Jean Grenier, Pierre de Lancre held that he did not believe Jean to have truly transformed into a wolf in a literal sense, rather that he had been under an illusion created by the devil. The Reverend Baring-Gould, despite being an acclaimed demonologist with some pretty off the wall ideas wrote in the 19th Century,

 

“It is a well known fact that men, whose minds are unhinged, will deliver themselves up to justice, accusing themselves of having committed crimes which have actually taken place, and it is only on investigation that their self-accusation proves to be false; and yet they will describe the circumstances with the greatest minuteness, and be thoroughly convinced of their own criminality.”

 

And lets not forget that many of the witches and werewolves that confessed to crimes did so only after a few good sessions of being tortured on the rack. 

 

For the heavily superstitious, rural population of the 16th Century, it was less difficult to imagine a literal transformation could be possible. Many lived their lives with firm beliefs based in the traditional folklore, often blended with religious teachings. It becomes somewhat easier to understand the point of view when we consider that the bible is scattered with stories of miraculous transmutations. Lots wife transformed into a pillar of salt, moses’ staff was turned into a serpent and one of the most infamous fables sees water turned into wine. Even the more educated, scientifically-minded of the times, saw that alchemy could create transformations within metals through applying heat, why should it have been so hard to believe that demons might also know how to bend nature in these peculiar ways? This twisting of the elements to one’s will was also seen as a viable answer for the ability of witches to control the weather.

 

Whether the werewolves of France in the 16th Century were symptoms of mental illness, bitter feuds, hallucinogenic drug use or blunt demonomania, there is no question that in the minds of many, they were a very real part of life in rural communities. The answers may lie in, one or all of the above theories, or none at all, but whatever the case, it’s probably safe to assume that people were not literally transforming into wolves on a regular basis and much like the the various witch trials of the time, the numerous executions were more than likely based on spurious trials, carried out by men who were wrapped up in self-interest, political and religious propaganda or simple examples of the ignorance of the times. No matter the answer, the werewolf trials of the 16th Century become no less fascinating when viewed through whichever lens you may choose to view them through. The story of a human transforming into a murderous beast to stalk in the shadows of the moonlight still endures in the folklore of today and with just as much ability to terrify and impress.

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