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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Baring-Gould - Scandinavian Werewolves - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Today's story came to me as a surprise gift from "across the pond" and British storyteller and friend, Tim Sheppard.  That generosity is evident on his Tim Sheppard's Storytelling Resources for Storytellers page.  He sent me The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould.  The cover of this reprint of the 1865 book  explained, "Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) was a prolific novelist, historian, archaeologist, folklorist and parson with a fascination for the darker side of human nature."

The book takes a fairly businesslike look at the subject and there are many brief lycanthropic anecdotes in the book.  When I picked it up today, I saw I had marked the true story of Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary in the chapter titled "Natural Causes of Lycanthropy."  Because it is a matter of record easily found and she is also sometimes called a vampire, I will skip telling about this serial killer.  Instead I will turn to the "Folk-lore Relating to Were-wolves" chapter.  The paperback binding can't survive scanning, so retyping is the best way to give a taste of the material.  Woops!  Don't try tasting this too literally.

Here are some Scandinavian portions.

In Norway it is believed that there are persons who can assume the form of a wolf or a bear (Huse-björn), and again resume their own; this property is either imparted to them by the Trollmen, or those possessing it are themselves Trolls.

In a hamlet in the midst of a forest, there dwelt a cottager named Lasse, and his wife.  One day he went out into the forest to fell a tree, but had forgot to cross himself and say his paternoster, so that some troll or wolf-witch (varga mor) obtained power over him and transformed him into a wolf.  His wife mourned him for many years, but, one Christmas-eve, there came a beggar-woman, very poor and ragged, to the door, and the good woman of the house took her in, fed her well, and entreated her kindly.  At her departure the beggar-woman said that the wife would probably see her husband again, as he was not dead, but wandering in the forest as a wolf.  Towards night-fall the wife went to her pantry to place in it a piece of meat for the morrow, when, on turning to go out, she perceived a wolf standing before her, raising itself with it paws on the pantry steps, regarding her with sorrowful and hungry looks.  Seeing this she exclaimed, "If I was sure that thou wert my own Lasse, I would give thee a bit of meat."  At that instant the wolf-skin fell off, and her husband stood before her in the clothes he wore on the unlucky morning when she had last beheld him.

Finns, Lapps, and Russians are held in particular aversion, because the Swedes believe that they have the power to change people into wild beasts.  During the last year of the war with Russia*, when Calmar was overrun with an unusual number of wolves, it was generally said that the Russians had transformed their Swedish prisoners into wolves, and sent them home to invest the country.

In Denmark the following stories are told: --
A man, who from his childhood had been a were-wolf, when returning one night with his wife from a merry-making, observed that the hour was at hand when the evil usually came upon him; giving therefore the reins to his wife, he descended from the vehicle, saying to her, "If anything comes to thee, only strike at it with thine apron."  He then withdrew, but immediately after, the woman, as she was sitting in the vehicle, was attacked by a were-wolf.  She did as the man had enjoined her, and struck it with her apron, from which it rived a portion, and then ran away.  After some time, the man returned, holding in his mouth the rent portion of his wife's apron, on seeing which, she cried out in terror,--"Good Lord, man, why, thou art a were-wolf!"  "Thank thee, wife," said he, "now I am free."  And from that time he was no more afflicted.

*(LoiS) There were many Russo-Swedish wars yet the most likely for this 1865 volume would be the Finnish War of 1808 and 1809 as that was between Sweden and Russia, ending in the eastern third of Sweden becoming the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire.  Another storytelling friend of mine, Neppe Petterson, is a Swedish-speaking Finn, a minority group in Finland that also includes the composer of their national anthem, Finlandia, Jean Sibelius.

Returning to Tim's present, I'll echo his handwritten dedication to me: Fangs for everything.
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This is part of a series of bi-weekly posting of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories. 

Currently I'm involved in projects taking me out of my usual work of sharing stories with an audience.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  This fall I expect to return to my normal monthly posting of a research project here.  Depending on response, I will decide at that time if "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my monthly postings.



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