Luckily there won’t be a Full Moon on Halloween this year, but it will be the day shortly after on November 2nd. The Full Moon means that there could be werewolves on the prowl and in France it was said that a man could turn into a werewolf (loup garou in French) if he, on a certain Wednesday or Friday, slept outside on a summer night with the full moon shining directly on his face.
As keeper of the night, the Moon has been at the heart of folklore and we take our word lunacy from the word Luna. Werewolves started raising their heads during the Middle Ages, especially from 15th to 17th century. At this time Europe was under the dark shadow of ignorance and superstitions. Towns were underdeveloped. people lived near woods and the fear of wolves was like a nightmare. Their attacks were so frequent and atrocious in nature that people even feared to travel from one place to another.
In 1450 in Paris a man-eating wolf pack terrorized the city, breaching through the city walls in winter, killing forty people. A wolf named Courtaud, or “Bobtail”, was the leader of the pack. Eventually the wolves were destroyed when Parisians, furious at the depredations, lured Courtaud and his pack into the heart of the city, where they were stoned and speared to death before the gates of Notre Dame Cathedral.
France holds the dubious title of having the most werewolves – between 1520 and 1630 some 30,000 individuals were labelled as werewolves, many of them underwent traumatic interrogation and torture. Two French peasants in 1521 got wide spread notoriety: Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun. Burgot was accosted by 3 mysterious black dressed horsemen when he was desperately trying to gather in his storm frightened sheep. One of them assured him the future protection of his sheep and gave him some money. In return the stranger asked Burgot to obey him as the Lord. Burgot accepted the offer and agreed to meet them again.
In the second meeting the so-called Lord announced the full conditions of the deal; Burgot must denounce the God, the Holy Virgin, the Company of Heaven and baptism. Burgot was later contacted by Michel Verdun who showed him how to transform into a werewolf and between the pair they ravaged the local countryside on killing sprees. When they were eventually caught they were duly put to death. Their picture was hung in the local church as a reminder of all the evil deeds that men could commit under the influence of Satan.
In the 1600s there were a series of famous werewolves: The Werewolf of Paris, of Caude, of Val de Travers and the Auvergne. The werewolf of Burgundy was actually a woman Claudia Gaillard, who was was spied changing shape behind a bush. Even when tortured, she didn’t shed a tear… which was proof enough for the judge that she should be burned at the stake.
One of the most famous cases in France was the Beast of Gevaudan who some people claim was actually a werewolf. The creature was described as being a huge wolf-like beast, which killed its victims ‘by savagely tearing out their throats before devouring their bodies or simply ripping them apart’. The beast came to public attention between June 1764 and June 1767 when a large number of murders (mainly women and children) occurred in Gévaudan, a place situated in the district of Lozère in south-eastern France.
In February 1765 King Louis XV sent a famous hunter called Denneval into Gévaudan with six highly trained bloodhounds to try to track down the creature. Unfortunately they did not succeed. However after two large wolves were killed in the area the murders finally ceased.
According to mythology werewolf deterrents are garlic, the herb wolfsbane, silver bullets, rye, mistletoe and mountain ash. The idea of the werewolf’s supposed vulnerability to silver probably dates back to the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, as 19th century novelists claimed it was killed by a gun loaded with silver bullets.
Wolves disappeared in the UK after centuries of hunting them down and the last wolf was killed in the Scottish Highlands in 1743 by a character called MacQueen. So you won’t come across a wolf this Halloween – but be careful as there might just be a werewolf watching from the bushes!