Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Werewolf

Artwork by Jim Perez
Dir. Henry MacRae

A Navajo witch-woman believes her husband has deserted her, but unbeknownst to her, he has actually been killed. When she is rejected by his family, she raises her daughter to hate all white men. The daughter grows up to become a werewolf and she seeks revenge on those who killed her father and wronged her mother.

While now believed to be a lost film, destroyed in a fire in 1924, The Werewolf is thought to hold the honour of being the first ever werewolf film. It also marks the first cinematic appearance of the female werewolf, a figure who, until relatively recently, was often overlooked (in cinema) in favour of her male counterpart. Interestingly, The Werewolf can also be seen (perhaps rather tenuously) as the first Universal horror film, though at the time, the distributor was still known as the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. It was directed by Canadian filmmaker Henry MacRae, who, amongst other things, is credited as pioneering the use of artificial light for interior filming and the use of double exposures in early cinema. The screenplay was written by Ruth Ann Baldwin, a former journalist, and is very loosely based on Henry Beaugrand’s short story ‘The Werewolves’ (1898), which tells of a band of pioneers who believe there are (Native American) werewolves prowling around outside their snowbound Canadian fort.

According to Chantal Bourgault du Coudray, author of 'The Curse of the Werewolf: Fantasy, Horror and the Beast Within', The Werewolf combined “anxiety about female sexuality with fears of racial degeneracy” and “contributed to a discourse that envisioned women as a threat to the lives and aspirations of men.” While the likes of Werewolf of London (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941) popularised the notion of the doomed lycanthropic (male) protagonist who desperately wanted to be free of his curse, The Werewolf’s depiction of a witch-woman who uses her ability to change into a wolf to obtain revenge, is something that became quite typical in representations of the female werewolf. Female werewolves tend to be more comfortable in their wolf skin than their male counterparts, and because they generally embrace their more primal impulses, are seen as a threat to (patriarchal) order and must be destroyed. The aligning of femininity with nature, the body and the wilderness stems from nineteenth century discourse which posited women as men’s ‘other’; masculinity was aligned with culture and the mind (hence the reason why male werewolves tend to be more psychologically tormented by their condition - which often guaranteed their salvation, whereas female werewolves were usually destroyed).

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)
As an interesting side note, various settings and themes from The Werewolf and Beaugrand’s 'The Werewolves' would be echoed in Grant Harvey’s Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004), which is not only set in The Great White North during frontier times and features a group of early pioneers coming under attack from roaming lycanthropes, but also addresses ideas concerning ‘monstrous femininity’, cultural identity and race, and the notion of cursed bloodlines, cyclical history and reincarnation…

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

How To Become A Werewolf

While researching all things lycanthropic for my book on The Company of Wolves, I came across a marvellous old tome by Elliott O’Donnell, entitled ‘Werwolves.’ O’Donnell (1872-1965) was the author of countless books concerning the supernatural and the occult, and when he wasn’t writing accounts of his own experiences as a real-life ghost-hunter battling spectres, spooks and banshees, he authored several novels, including ‘For Satan’s Sake’ (1904) and ‘The Sorcery Club’ (1912), and myriad short stories and articles. O’Donnell once claimed “I have investigated, sometimes alone, and sometimes with other people and the press, many cases of reputed hauntings. I believe in ghosts but am not a spiritualist.”

‘Werwolves’ (1912) was intended as a scholarly, encyclopaedic study of, funnily enough, werewolves, and it contains first-hand accounts of O'Donnell’s personal encounters with lycanthropes. While the facts contained within its pages are a wee bit questionable, it certainly remains one of the most fascinating, and, dare I say, entertaining resources on the subject, containing as it does, stories and sightings of wolfmen from various cultures across the globe.

While perusing an online copy of the book, I was immediately drawn to the fourth chapter: How To Become A Werewolf. According to O’Donnell, in cases when lycanthropy is not hereditary, it may still be acquired through the performance of certain ancient rites ordained by Black Magic. Phew! Before detailing these certain ancient rites, O’Donnell suggests that whoever intends to perform them must first of all find a suitable location, and secondly, be “earnest and a believer in those super-physical powers whose favour he is about to ask.”

He then goes on to suggest that "a spot remote from the haunts of men" is best, and that "The powers to be petitioned are not to be found promiscuously - anywhere. They favour only such waste and solitary places as the deserts, woods, and mountain-tops."

"The locality chosen, our candidate must next select a night when the moon is new and strong. He must then choose a perfectly level piece of ground, and on it, at midnight, he must mark, either with chalk or string - it really does not matter which - a circle of not less than seven feet in radius, and within this, and from the same centre, another circle of three feet in radius. Then, in the centre of this inner circle he must kindle a fire, and over the fire place an iron tripod containing an iron vessel of water. As soon as the water begins to boil the would-be lycanthropist must throw into it handfuls of any three of the following substances: asafoetida, parsley, opium, hemlock, henbane, saffron, aloe, poppy-seed and solanum; repeating as he does so these words:

Spirits from the deep
Who never sleep,
Be kind to me.

Spirits from the grave
Without a soul to save,
Be kind to me.

Spirits of the trees
That grow upon the leas,
Be kind to me.

Spirits of the air,
Foul and black, not fair,
Be kind to me.

Water spirits hateful,
To ships and bathers fateful,
Be kind to me.

Spirits of earthbound dead
That glide with noiseless tread,
Be kind to me.

Spirits of heat and fire,
Destructive in your ire,
Be kind to me.

Spirits of cold and ice,
Patrons of crime and vice,
Be kind to me.

Wolves, vampires, satyrs, ghosts!
Elect of all the devilish hosts!
I pray you send hither,
Send hither, send hither,
The great grey shape that makes men shiver!
Shiver, shiver, shiver!
Come! Come! Come!

The supplicant then takes off his vest and shirt and smears his body with the fat of some newly killed animal (preferably a cat), mixed with aniseed, camphor, and opium. Then he binds round his loins a girdle made of wolf's-skin, and kneeling down within the circumference of the first circle, waits for the advent of the Unknown. When the fire burns blue and quickly dies out, the Unknown is about to manifest itself; if it does not then actually appear it will make its presence felt.

Coaxing out the beast within...
There is little consistency in the various methods of the spirit's advent: sometimes a deep unnatural silence immediately precedes it; sometimes crashes and bangs, groanings and shriekings, herald its approach. When it remains invisible its presence is indicated and accompanied by a sensation of abnormal cold and the most acute terror. It is sometimes visible in the guise of a huntsman - which is, perhaps, its most popular shape - sometimes in the form of a monstrosity, partly man and partly beast - and sometimes it is seen ill defined and only partially materialized. To what order of spirits it belongs is, of course, purely a matter of conjecture. I believe it to be some malevolent, superphysical, creative power, such as, in my opinion, participated largely in the creation of this and other planets. I do not believe it to be the Devil, because I do not believe in the existence of only one devil, but in countless devils. It is difficult to say to what extent the Unknown is believed to be powerful by those who approach it for the purpose of acquiring the gift of lycanthropy; but I am inclined to think that the majority of these, at all events, do not ascribe to it any supreme power, but regard it merely as a local spirit - the spirit of some particular wilderness or forest."

O'Donnell opines that this is not the only method of acquiring lycanthropy. If you haven’t been able to obtain all of the ingredients and accoutrements to enable you to commune directly with the Unknown (cat lovers, I mean you), O’Donnell suggests ingesting a wolf's brain. If your vegetarianism or love of wolves (understandably) prevents you from doing this, try drinking water out of a wolf's footprint, or drinking out of a stream from which three or more wolves have been seen to drink...