Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

All Hallows' Eve Countdown: Heroic Werewolves

Image Source: Symbolic Symmetry.

The further back you go, the more ambiguous the mythological treatment of werewolves or human-wolf chimeras. Quite clearly, there was a cultural conflict between the worshippers of prehistoric wolf deities and organizers of later established religions. The increasingly negative view of werewolves appears to mark points of transition from animism to institutionalized systems of human faith. This seems to have been as true for the Greeks and Romans as it was for later Christians: an archaic positive view of wolfmen was followed by newer gods inflicting lycanthropic curses.

From Symbolic Symmetry (via Ancient Worlds), here is a short description circulating online about the positive myths surrounding the Irish werewolf, or Faoladh (pronounced FuEH-luh or FWEE-luck or FWEE-luh depending on the Irish dialect):
The Irish werewolf is different from the Teutonic or European werewolf, as it is really not a "monster" at all. Unlike its continental cousins, this shapeshifter is the guardian and protector of children, wounded men and lost persons. According to some ancient sources, the Irish werewolves were even recruited by kings in time of war. Known in their native land as the faoladh or conroicht, their predatory behaviour is typical of the common wolf, not beneath the occasional nocturnal raid on local sheep or cattle herds. If attacked or surprised while in wolf form, they usually simply run off because this causes them to shift back into their more vulnerable human form. However, after changing back into a man or woman, evidence of their lupine adventure remains on their bodies. If wounded, the injury remains. If they kill a sheep or cow, the telltale bloodstains stay on their faces and hands.

The most famous of the mythical Irish werewolves are the people of Ossory (modern day Kilkenny) whose legends live on even today. Among other lingering tales, the Ossory folk were documented by none other than Giraldus Cambrensis who, in the year 1185 transcribed what was no doubt a much older, oral folktale. According to Giraldus, the Ossory werewolves worked in pairs, male and female. A chosen couple lived as wolves for seven years before returning to human form to be replaced by a matched set of two others. During their time as wolves, they fed from the herds but this was taken as their due for watching over wandering children, healing the wounded, and guiding lost strangers to safety.

Despite the fact that this is a pre-Christian folk belief, the Irish werewolves eventually gained a reputation for being under a curse from either St Natalia (St Nailè) or, naturally, St Patrick as punishment for some vague transgression committed long ago. If you read Giraldus' account of these creatures, it is easy to separate what may be the original tale from his preachy commentary at the end.
Faoladh. Image Source: Ancient Worlds.

The Wulver - Scots Poem (2010) © by cybopath. Source: deviantART. Reproduced with kind permission.

The positive aspect of the Faoladh is currently popular in some corners of Millennial pop culture (evident in the convincingly faux-archaic Scots-styled poem, above from 2010).  There is similar interest in the legendary, non-aggressive Wulver of the Shetland Islands, except the Wulver was considered to be an immortal animist spirit and not a metamorph.

Dolon. Image Source: Aedicula Antinoi.

Looking further back in time, the blogger at Aedicula Antinoi finds Greek and Roman wolfmen who were positive figures; these include, of course, the very founders of Rome, who, he explains, unsurprisingly had Greek precedents:
The above picture is from an ancient Greek vase painting, showing Dolon, who disguised himself as a wolf during the Trojan War and was eventually caught by Odysseus, as detailed by Euripides in his Rhesus (the title character of which was a Thracian prince–and, the Thracians and Dacians certainly had quite a bit of wolf and werewolf lore associated with them as well!). While there are various deities and heroes associated in different ways with wolves in Greek and Roman mythology, the population most associated with them is the Arcadians ... . Their ancient legendary king, Lykaon, was the first werewolf after Zeus cursed him. Zeus, as well as Apollon, are given the epithet Lykeios in various different locations, including Arcadia itself.

There was a legend, related by Plutarch, that not unlike the story of Romulus and Remus, one of the Arcadian descendants of Lykaon had twins by Ares who were called Lykastos and Parrhasios ... .
Despite the negative curse associated with the Greek werewolf story of Lykaon, the pro-pagan blogger at Aedicula Antinoi prefers the positive Romulus and Remus legend. The blogger, Aediculaantinoi, challenges mythical negative lupine attributes still evident everywhere today, notably the 'alpha male' concept of a dominating, aggressive Millennial leader. Thus, even at the turn of this new Millennium, the perception of mythologized man-wolf hybrids is still split between those who think it's not a bad idea, and those who do. Does the werewolf speak, then, to two conflicting anthropomorphized views of the lupine spirit?

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  1. Wonder what the people from way back then would think of Teen Wolf on MTV today?

  2. Thank you for this! I love seeing that there's historic context to werewolf heroes and that it isn't just some weird trend for romances.

  3. On reflection, I wonder if the positive elements of lupine-human stories represent some kind of folk memory of the taming of wolves and the domestication of the earliest dogs. But that is just wild conjecture.

  4. Some people have their minds set that lycanthropy isn't real, but do you ever wonder how people thought of things like this in the first place?

  5. I just wanted to thank you.
    I'm doing a report on the Faoladh for my "Monsters & Demons" class, and I am the only person who found a "monster" that's really not a monster!
    I couldn't have done it without this valuable information, though, so thanks again.

    1. You're welcome, Anon, glad it helped.