How did the werewolf mythology begin


The witch hunt began in western Switzerland. What is less well known is that werewolves were also hunted in Switzerland until the 18th century. About the alpine specialty of the werewolf trials.

This content was published on October 31, 2019 - 11:55 am

Western Switzerland became one of the early centers of witch hunts in the Middle Ages. Some knowledge had been gathered in the region in trials against heretics such as the Waldensians, which was now used against other members of the devil.

From 1430, people began to drag women and men to court in Valais, around Lausanne, Friborg and Lake Geneva, but also in Basel, because they were accused of having turned against the Christian community with devilishly damaging magic.

In those years, a figure crept into the protocols of the inquisitors who was supposed to cause an uproar among theologians and demonologists: the wolf.

Ridden the wolf

At first he suddenly appeared in several trials as a mount for witches. In 1433, for example, a woman was executed in Basel, denounced by her neighbor: she quickly rode past him while he was hidden in the bushes.

The images one made of witches were even more vague then than they are today: They did not travel on brooms, this attribute of the cleaning housewife, but on milking stools anointed with boy fat or various wild animals.

Riding on wolves, however, was an Alpine specialty, as the sources collected by the journalist and werewolf specialist Elmar LoreyExterner Link, who died this year, testify.

At the same time, accusations surfaced in the region that witches and wizards not only rode wolves, but took their form to tear down their neighbors' cattle or cause other mischief.

Often such accusations hit people who had moved to Germany, the poor or who had withdrawn from society. Society traced their edges on them with blood and fire.

In Valais in particular, conditions similar to civil war prevailed at that time. Here the denunciation served as a werewolf to eliminate unpopular competition. Between 1428 and 1431, almost two hundred people were executed in Sion.

Their opponents had accused them of being part of a devil sect that was planning to establish their own kingdom. One of the accusations, reported the chronicler Johannes Fr√ľnd, was that they turned into wild wolves: "The evil spirit" himself taught women and men how to turn into wolves - and back again.

The popular werewolf

The idea that humans can turn into wolves can already be found in ancient times. But in the mythology of that time, humans who became wolfs were on an equal footing with fellow sufferers who became pigs, birds and bulls.

The wolf of superstition that sneaks into the stories of informers and the confessions of the accused in the witch trials of the late Middle Ages is a popular wolf that comes from the harsh world of the mountains, a completely useless animal from a peasant's point of view, merely harmful.

The superstition was widespread that even a single hair of a wolf could hardly bring a dispute into any house and that its meat was considered poisonous. In the wild Valais in the early 15th century, gangs of young men terrified the population under animal masks - it was no coincidence that they called themselves werewolves: the wolf was considered a terrifying animal.

How theologians slowly began to believe in the werewolf:

Even if the Bible knows the wolf as an adversary, the word who-wolf was missing in church Latin. Because there was no need for a word for something that was not allowed to exist: the formation and transformation of living beings was reserved for God alone.

The first werewolf reports from western Switzerland were discussed in detail by the assembled bishops at the church council, which took place in Basel from 1431. The criminologically relevant question that ultimately interested her was: Was someone just fooled by the devil into feeling like a wolf - or did someone actually turn into a wolf on purpose under satanic guidance?

Some theologians were of the opinion that such transformations were entirely possible: Just as the creator as a potter makes a jug, it is possible for sorcerers and witches to form a new body. The content, you I, remained stable - and could therefore also be found guilty.

In the course of the 15th century a middle ground was found: although no one could turn into a wolf, he could make a pact with the devil that he would make him appear as a wolf to himself and to other people. This also turned the supposed transformation into a werewolf, due to the alliance with the devil, into witchcraft.

Processes in Switzerland

The "Hexenhammer" of 1486, the central European handbook for combating witchcraft, popularized this idea throughout Europe. Werewolf trials also increased in Switzerland from the 16th century onwards. In 1580 a man was executed in Geneva who allegedly turned himself into a wolf with "black art" and then murdered 16 children.

In Lucerne in 1664 a farmer confessed that he turned a twig in a pot of magical ointment three times and thus became a wolf and killed his neighbor's sheep. Knowledge of how to recognize werewolves circulated in society: eyebrows that had grown together were an indication of nocturnal escapades, werewolves were recognized by their blunt or even missing tail.

The inclusion of the werewolf metamorphosis in the inquisitorial questionnaire made it one of many witchcraft outrage. Because of this, she increasingly lost herself alongside other allegations, such as the weather magic, in which not just a few sheep, but entire regions saw themselves as victims.

One of the last known executed werewolf women was Christina Jungtso, a maid from Sion. But the witch craze would only come to a standstill in Switzerland a hundred years later.

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