Most folk think they know the werewolf legend. You get bit by a werewolf and then become one. Yet how did the first werewolves begin? Its like the chicken and the egg dilemma. The best place to look is sixteenth century France. Between 1520 and 1630 there were 30,000 cases of lycanthropy. That’s a whole lot of baying at the moon. Reading through the various cases, I noticed some trends emerge.
The Dark Lord
It’s no surprise in a devout Christian country that the devil would be blamed for any wrongdoing. In two legends, a figure dressed all in black approaches the victims and tempts them. In 1502, Pierre Burgot was trying to gather up his sheep when he ran across an ominous horseman all in black. The stranger called himself “The Lord” and asked Burgot to obey him. In a second meeting, The Lord commanded that Burgot denounce God.
Another case involved a boy called Jean Grenier. He ran away from an abusive father, finally meeting the Lord of the Jungle in the woods. The man was tall, dressed in black, and sat upon a horse. (Puts a whole new meaning to tall, dark and handsome.) This Lord kissed Grenier with icy lips. On their second meeting (and it seems the nasty part of the deal happens at the second meeting) the Lord scratched a tattoo onto the boy’s thigh, marking him.
Apparently the Dark Lord carries around vials of werewolf ointment. In both the above cases, this is what caused the transformation. In the case of Burgot, he met a man called Michel Verdum (possibly a friend of the Lord). He commanded Burgot to strip naked and rub magic ointment on his body. During the process, Burgot saw his arms and legs transform, becoming hairy and lupine. Verdum also became a werewolf and together they ravaged the countryside.
The boy lycanthrope, Grenier, had a similar experience. The Jungle Lord gave the boy ointment and a wolf skin. After anointing himself, the wolfskin transformed Grenier into a werewolf. One view of the lycanthrope is as a skin walker.
Apparently, the favorite food of werewolves is children, raw and crunchy. Burgot tore apart a seven-year-old boy and abducted a four-year-old girl. He and Verdum ate up every last bit. Grenier attacked and ate fifteen children, including one from a cradle.
The werewolf of Caude (1598) was tried for killing and eating a boy of fifteen. There was also a werewolf who used a tailor shop to lure children (because so many kids desperately yearn to hem and stitch).
Finally, the Hermit of Dole (Gilles Garnier) munched down on several children in 1573. Another werewolf, Gilas Garner, attacked children with paws and teeth, eating flesh from their legs and belly. Bottom line, it did not pay to be a teen in medieval France.
In none of these cases do further werewolves multiply by excessive bites. The legends seem clear that some mingling with the dark forces causes lycanthropy, not some disease.