Among Other Things; We’ve Thought about Banging Werewolves for a Really Long Time | Mythology Mondays

It’s hard to think of a full moon without thinking about werewolves.

Last week (Jan 12th) we had a full moon. I mean, it wasn’t any 2016 Supermoon, but it was nice enough for me to pull a Bear in the Big Blue House (obscure late nineties/early noughties reference) and give the moon a thumbs up before tucking myself in for the night. 

So the moon was pretty cool and because of that, I got thinking about werewolves, particularly about the lesser known werewolves out and about there in humanities collective consciousness. Like the Irish werewolf (Faoladh/Conroicht) very different from the European or Teutonic werewolf in that it really isn’t a monster at all. It’s actually seen in Ireland as a protector of children, the wounded and the lost. A lot of ancient Irish sources actually cite werewolves’/shape shifters as being recruited by kings in times of war. 

There’s also a long time association of werewolves with kings. Greek mythology (Ovid, Metamorphoses) tells of Lycanon and Arcadian king, who after the God's war with the Titians, became something of a little shit and refused to worship Zeus and his buddies, mocking others for doing so. He was also a cannibal (because of course he was), which along with his blasphemy Zeus punished him for, transforming him into a wolf after he cooked and tried to feed Zeus his son. 

Probably my favourite thing about these differing ‘were-myths’ is that not all werewolves are depicted as bloody thirty, or even really wolf like in behaviour at all. Take the Germanic Stüpp, a Rhenisch version of the werewolf which, instead of biting its victim; lies low in liminal spaces (crossroads, river beds, cemeteries) usually around midnight (another liminal space) and waits for wanderers to pass. At this point it appears like a small dog, and joins the wanderer in their journey until some time passes and a false sense of security blooms. Only then does the Stüpp jump onto the wanderer’s back, dig its claws in deep so they can’t be shaken off (in Rhinish dialect this procedure is called “pöözen” or “hackeln”) and start to grow.

Once attached, the Stüpp grows heavier and larger with each step its victim takes, feeding on its free ride's fear. Eventually the victim dies from either physical exhaustion, or mental exhaustion and panic. A grim metaphor for life really.

Not everyone is so bothered by werewolves though, actually there’s a fairly decent sum of people out there in the world who feel nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings for the critters (in their pants that is), and I don’t just mean TWILIGHT fangirls still griping on about Jacob Black’s loyalty and hot bod, or that other werewolf soap TEEN WOLF (TV). Aside from being thin allegories for HIV (looking at you J.K), being queer*, going through puberty/menstruation or having other such "'afflictions"', if you go to a bookstore or scan online you’ll notice pretty quickly that the majority of werewolf stories are romance novels. 

At some point we stopped wanting to hunt and slay werewolves and started wanting to stroke our fingers through their matted, flea ridden fur, talk about their tragic back stories whilst knotted together (*note* Do not google this is you don't know what this means. For those that do and not from the usual sources e.g. education, what happens in fandom stays in fandom okay. Rule one: don't talk about fandom.)

Perhaps it’s animal magnetism, or the idea of primal instincts, nature and urges residing inside all of us as dark and mysterious secrets that attracts our curiosity and stir our inner Furry. Whatever the reason, people have wanted to fuck werewolves for longer than we’ve ever realised, certainly longer than publishers and studio execs have been banking on.

As far as I'm aware, Marie de France wrote one of the first werewolf romance stories; an Anglo-Norman lai (long poems composed between 1160-1180) of Celtic origin written in the 12th century. One of her twelve lai’s I’m talking about in particular is her work; Bisclavret, the lycanthropic love story between a werewolf and a king (more kings!).

The tale begins with a happily married Breton knight. He and his wife love each other, but soon the wife begins to worry about his frequent and mysterious trips into the woods for days at a time. She fears he leads a double life, perhaps has another lover (returning from such trips “happy and gay”), so she probes and she pries until finally the knight relents. He explains that he is “bisclavret”— Marie de France compares this term to the Norman lore of the “garwolf,” (werewolf) a savage beast that, “eats men, wreaks havoc, does no good / Living and roaming in the deep wood.”

Terrified, Bisclavret’s wife refuses to share his bed, and at this point it is revealed that another knight is in love with her, and that she’d hasn’t thought of him with affection until discovering Bisclavret’s Furry-Suit affliction.

They hatch a plan together, deciding to steal her husband’s clothes (without clothing, like a selkie’s seal skin, he will remain in wolf form) she hides them in a chapel near their home and is delighted when her husband does not return to the household after his change. Assuming he has disappeared into the woods, she marries her other man, and takes over Bisclavret’s estate.

A year later, the king of the land is hunting in Bisclavret’s forest when he spots Bisclavret and calls for a chase. Knowing he must somehow convince the king and his party not to kill him, Bisclavret throws himself at the king’s feet, kissing every part of him he can reach.

The king, amazed by this beast's begging calls off the hunt and decides to keep Besclavret as “a great treasure, He tells his people it’s his pleasure / For them to take the best of care / Of it; let no-one harm it, or dare / To strike it, for love of the King.”

Everyone soon comes to be impressed by Besclavret’s gentle and well-bred nature. Apparently he doesn't act like a wolf, which amuses and enchants them all. He and the king also, grow ever closer as time passes. “Wherever the King might go / It didn’t want to be separated, so/ It went along with him constantly / That it loved him was easy to see.”

And when the king visits Bisclavret’s once home land, Bisclavret’s ex-wife, hears of the impending royal visit and attempts to suck-up to the king with expensive gifts. She gets her nose bitten off by Bisclavret for her trouble (who again, is normally gentle) and as she is carted off she reveals the entire scandal, her deed and Bisclavret's identity (see: Villian monologue/Evil Gloating on TVTropes.org) in the hopes that this will work against Bisclavret.

It doesn’t.

The king leads Bisclavret back to his court, invites him into his bed for kisses and then, offers the once knight clothes which he accepts and in doing so is transformed back to a man. Together them embrace and celebrate Bisclavret's return to humanity.

"On the king’s royal bed, they see/Lying fast asleep, the knight./The king ran to hug him tight;/He kissed him a hundred times that day./When he catches his breath, he hands/Him back all his fiefs and lands,/And more presents than I will say..."

Essentially, the king and Bisclavret live happily ever after.

Which is, I think, the best kind of werewolf story. The ones that end happily and queer-sucker-punch scholars who try to 'No-Homo' our myths, legends and history. 

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*There is long and treasured history of, analysis and debate in queer theory feat. werewolves, if this is a topic you're interested in I highly recommend diving further into it! Mythological and Medieval sexualities is an invigorating and challenging stream of thought, constantly changing, constantly in debate. Take a peek at   [[“The Werewolf Pride Movement: A Step Back from Queer Medieval Tradition”  or "Why Men Still Aren't Enough" ]] if you're thinking of stepping through this door, if even only for a visit. If queer theory, werewolves and medieval literature interest you, these serve as an interesting intro to the diverse topic.