A Madness In The Blood
Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
– Curt Siodmak
Aconitum: Commonly known as aconite, monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard’s bane, mousebane, devil’s helmet, queen of poisons, or blue rocket. Native to mountainous regions in North America, the plant is extremely poisonous through ingestion or touch. The flowers are a saturated blue-purple and crown the plant which grows shoulder high. Death can be instantaneous if the flowers are consumed. Contemporary preparations of wolfsbane can be seen in both Chinese and Slovenian natural medicine. As with Belladonna, the poison can be used as a curative in minute amounts. Primary historical use was as a poison applied to spear tips or arrows in Japan and Alaska to paralyze a bear or whale. While wolfsbane appears in film and literature as central to the werewolf mythos (for example, the plant is used to cure lycanthropy in the movie GINGER SNAPS), this isn’t present in historical accounts. The plant possesses one of the deadliest poisons in nature and use by anyone other than a chemist would result in death. Merely touching the flower can result in illness.
A Forest That Knows All Legends
There is a feral country, an empire, really, that exists in the wilderness of every horror writer’s imagination. To go there you enter an ancient forest, intricate with mad shadows. A wolf pack howls at the scarlet rising of a harvest moon and the game paths begin to stir with nocturnal life. Fear travels in the sterling threads of moonlight and something struggles to transform as midnight rolls around on razored tracks. It is the hour of the wolf, and there’s no safety to be had in flight or hiding, for the hunger will find you out. Your blood is a ruby treasure, and your heart beats like a clarion bell.
For many horror aficionados, an understanding of the Wolfman begins with an approach to the frailty of the beloved victim, confronting the primal horror of being eaten alive by an unspeakable evil.
This month, we’ll look into the vocabulary of the werewolf. Most sources cite the original term with coming from ancient Greek in which two words were combined to create Wolfman, but the mythology predates written language and extends across all cultures. In North America, the native species is the Gray Wolf, now rare and endangered.
The Werewolf In Language, With Associated Forms
Lycanthropy: from the Greek, lykanthropos, historically two independent forms that together constitute wolfman. Pertaining to the werewolf. The definition includes the possibility of insanity in which one believes themselves to be a wolf. The original term was associated with mental illness, often affecting a group or tribe of people.
Lycanthropia: alternate spelling for lycanthropy.
Lycanthrope: a person possessing the ability to transform into a wolf. Less common: a person suffering from mental illness that acts as if they are a wolf, eating raw meat, with a hunger for blood. There are many precedents for this form of madness.
Lycan: of, and concerning, the wolf.
Wolf: (in legend) of all animals the wolf is perhaps the most feared in terms of superstition, being a favorite disguise of the Devil and everywhere linked with evil. In times gone by, the mere sight of a wolf was supposed to be enough to render a man dumb, assuming that the wolf saw the man first, and similarly even saying the word “wolf” risked an imminent encounter with one. According to Welsh legend, the wolf was created not by God but by the Devil, and the creature has retained its association with evil ever since, being framed for attacking livestock and humans alike. Wolfskins are reputed to have many powers, for good and ill, including lending the ability to change into a wolf through the inherent sorcery of the skin while at the same time being able to stop seizures, as in epilepsy.
Lupine: of, like, or pertaining to a wolf. Ravenous, fierce.
Lupinus: the wolf flower. Any reference to wolves or the wolfman would be obscure.
Snout: (specific to the nose of a wolf) A wolf’s sense of smell is one hundred times greater than a human’s and is superior to a dog’s in scent recognition. The animal can smell prey 1.75 miles distant and uses this acute ability to position itself in front of the target, which moves into the trap set by the pack. A wolf can recognize species, age, and health by scent alone. Their social hierarchy and mating customs are regulated by smell, each wolf having a scent as distinctive as a fingerprint.
Blood-guilty: The guilt associated with the murder of an innocent.
Bloodstone: A red hematite or red jasper appearing in quartz. Believed to be curative in preventing spontaneous bleeding and nosebleeds. In legend, a stone capable of magical powers, including those of transformation.
Bloodlust: a murderous desire, a passion to spill blood.
Bloodroot: a species of the poppy family, with red roots.
Bloodwit: historically, a financial penalty paid as a remedy for an act of murder.
The Wolfman In Its Origins
As we discussed, the genesis of the word wolfman is generally granted to the ancient Greeks, but the term was in common usage in both the Greek and Roman cultures. Werewolf evolved centuries later from the Middle English werwulf. As in the Greek, the word combines man and wolf, although there is more emphasis on transformation. In its Greek origin, wolfman describes a creature that is both a man and a wolf, with a connotation of mental illness. Contemporary film has followed this tradition. In the movie THE HOWLING, the werewolf community is overseen by Patrick Macnee in the role of a psychiatrist. The werewolf pack is in intensive therapy for their more bloodthirsty impulses.
Luceres: One of three werewolf tribes known to Rome. Lucumones translates as the mad people, the Spanish derivative to this being loco, or crazy. The Romans considered the Luceres to be wild, as in primitive, as well as mentally ill, and associated them with a pack of wolves. The word is sometimes associated with Lokroi, or Lokros, a she-wolf in the pack maintained by the Goddess of the hunt, Artemis.
Lupercali: the ritual of children being “blooded” after their first hunt as a testament to their courage and skill, this consisting of being marked on the forehead with blood. There is evidence of a much older use for the term in which a person was “wolf-blooded,” which is to say being marked as a lycanthrope and marked with a victim’s blood.
Lupicinus: Refers to the unique conception of a wolf-enchanter, a hunter and tribesman with an ability to communicate with wolves (in nature, most communication occurs through body posture with some evidence of wolves being able to communicate through sophisticated changes in scent).
Maenads: from the cult of the god Pan. Worship in which the believer was driven into a frenzy and tore apart animals and snakes. The connection to lycanthropy comes from records that Maenad women nursed wolf cubs with their milk.
Attribution: The Werewolf Book by Brad Steiger. The Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. The Consolidated Webster’s Encyclopedia.