Photo by Authorsden Poet Theresa: http://authorsden.com/theresafjodray
"The better to eat you with, my dear," said the Wolf to Little Red Riding Hood.
The real wolf is not nearly as dangerous nor as friendly to humans as he is depicted in our myths or even in old news reports. Men themselves are worse enemies and better friends than the huge wolves who reportedly carried off children in France during the great famines or the kind wolves who suckled the founders of Rome. And no matter how ferocious a wolf might be, he is a good pet for a god or a saint. When Odin sat at feasts he did not eat but rather threw his divine portion to his two wolves. Saint Francis of Assisi converted the wolf of Gubbio to Christianity; thereafter the wolf was his peaceful companion. However, in Norse myth we recall the awesome Fenris wolf who had heaven and Earth in his jaws; Fenris was the son of Loki and brother to the World Serpent and to Hel, the corpse-like queen of death. At the End Time, Fenris broke loose from the magic cord restraining him and gobbled down not only the Sun but Odin as well. Let us beware then: we should not persecute real wolves, but neither should we discount the power of wolves even though some of them have become man's best friend.
Fenris' father, Loki, whose schemes usually turned out to be of some benefit to the gods, was the mischief-maker Christians compared to the Devil. Indeed, wolves have always been associated with the Devil and gods and heroes. The heroic prototypes of Hercules and Apollo associated with wolves 40,000 years ago. Beast-taming Hercules is also the model for spirit-tamers who exchanged lion-skin and club for cloak and staff - no doubt some of them are wolves in sheep's clothing. Even almighty Zeus took the form of a wolf now and then. As a matter of fact, any competent devil can assume the lycanthropic form; he even prefers it. As we know from their tortured confessions prior to conviction and execution, witches are quite fond of Satan's wolves and enjoy riding them.
If we were not so superstitious we might look into our own mirrors to prove the existence of gods and devils and to speculate on the real difference between the two. A werewolf might look right back at us. But we must be careful before crying "Wolf!" lest we put upon the Devil's gift, the magic girdle of wolfskin, and run berserk like enraged bears, or dig up graves at night and feed on corpses if none are left on the battlefields. Do not laugh: in the 17th century a number of accused werewolves were apprehended and hanged or burned - one magistrate bragged he had sentenced 600 of them to death - apparently they had discovered the real Devil within. Of course we consider such behavior to be a form of mental illness today: Lycanthropy, or believing oneself to be a wolf - the male werewolf kidnaps, rapes, murders, dismembers, and devours his prey.
Sigmund Freud was interested in wolf-lore; it came in handy during his famous psycho-analysis of the 'Wolf Man.' Freud placed Johann Weyer's book, De praestigiis daemonum (1583), on his top-ten list of best books ever written - an account is given therein of medieval werewolves. As a consequence of Freud's endorsement, Weyer became extolled as yet another "father of psycho-analysis." Weyer opposed the superstitious presumptions and barbaric practices of the Inquisition. I have John Shea's translation of Weyer's book before me, entitled in English: Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance. Weyer provides us with an account of the 1521 confession of Peter Bourgot and Michael Verdung, who were imprisoned by the Inquisition for the heresy of maleficium. Peter confessed he encountered three black horsemen on a stormy night while he was searching for his scattered cattle. Peter made a deal with the devil: one of the horsemen identified himself as the Devil's servant, and promised to make sure Peter's cattle were safe from wolves and other beasts and to give him some money later on provided he renounce God, the Virgin Mary, the saints, baptism and so on. "This done, the demon horseman held out his left hand, black and cold as death, for him to kiss; and Peter fell to his knees, bared his head, and paid homage to Satan, calling him Lord..." He served Satan for a couple of years, until he stopped tending cattle for a living, at which time he started going to church again. Enter Michael Verdung, who urged Peter to obey Satan in order to get the money promised. And, if Peter would trust him, he would be "enable him to run nimbly as he could." They proceeded to a grove where Peter stripped; Michael anointed Peter and himself with liniment, whereupon they were transformed into wolves and "ran together as swiftly as a blast of wind flies." They slaughtered a four-year-old girl and ate all but her arm. They sucked the blood out of another girl and ate her neck. They devoured the stomach of another, and Peter broke yet another's neck in his jaws because she refused him alms. In addition, they took great pleasure in copulating with she-wolves.
Weyer picked the confession apart. For instance, not to mention the absence of physical evidence such as bodies or body parts, he pointed out the inconsistencies between the stories of the two men, the unlikelihood Satan would allow his slaves to beg for alms in the name of God, and, "In what stomach or bodily recess, pray tell, did the flesh and bones of the girl lie hidden when they turned back into men so suddenly?" As for intercourse with wolves, Weyer attributed that to dream-images produced during the sleep, obviously induced by the liniment. Weyer did not dare deny the existence of the Devil; he said the wolf-images were mere illusions produced by the Evil One. Furthermore, nobody in their right mind could believe it is possible for a man to turn into a wolf or into any other animal for that matter. In conclusion:
“If individual confessions were weighed in a balance of this sort - confessions often extorted by the cruelest tortures, or even given voluntarily by prisoners, if you will - that accursed slayer of men (Satan) would certainly experience a greater diminution of his tyrannical power day by day, and the glory of Christ, Who is truth and life, would increase mightily. Also, the magistrate could perform his duties more wisely in accordance with God's will, the piles of wood by which innocent persons are often burned to death might be turned to better use, and the money unjustly expended to pay the salaries of the executioners might be saved."
Now, then, my dearest reader already knows about the dream that led me to descend into Hades in search for evidence of Freud's Death Instinct, and how I was too preoccupied with Love instead. She has also read my essay on Thanatos, the Greek god of death; he is hardly a frightening god, or at least he was not one the Greeks were inclined to talk about at any great length. And my fond reader knows about Freud's Repetition Compulsion, the tendency to repeat painful and pleasurable experiences; Freud gave precedence to the former, attributing the destructive tendency to the Death Instinct. She is also by now familiar with Freud's admiration of the pre-Socratic psychiatrist Empedocles; that Greek poet's dualism - Strife or Hate versus Friendship or Love - confirmed Freud's theory of Life Instinct versus Death Instinct, or, in neo-Classical terms, Thanatos versus Eros. Finally, my dearest reader will remember the loathsome stench Aeneas was confronted with as he approached the birdless entrance to Hades, the foul jaws of the underworld, that he might descend to find his blind father, who would enlighten him with the Orphic doctrine of reincarnation. The Golden Bough Aeneas plucked from a tree served as his passport; and the Sibyl of Cumae was his guide to the Below. Ah, but I forgot to relate what transpired just before the descent, something that might cause my faithful reader to wonder, if she is a vegetarian, whether or not Hell is located on Earth instead of somewhere below or beyond. A sacrifice took place in Homeric fashion, as follows:
Here as the first office of the sacrifice
The Sibyl stationed four black bullocks. Next
She poured wine on their foreheads and plucked out
The tufts of bristles growing between their horns
And laid them on the sacrificial flame,
As an outset of the rites, and cried aloud
To Hecate, mistress of Heaven and Hell.
Others applied the sacrificial knife
To the victim's throats and caught the still-warm blood
As it gushed in bowls. Aeneas drew his sword
And slaughtered a lamb of sable fleece in offering
To the mother of the Furies and to her mighty sister;
And, Porserpine, to you a barren cow.
Then he consecrated to the King of Styx
His altars for the Rites of Darkness piling
Whole carcasses of bulls on the flames and pouring
Rich oil on the glowing entrails. Then behold
Before the first glimmer of the rising sun
The ground beneath their feet began to bellow,
The woods heaved tossing to the mountaintops,
And in the shadows the howling of spectral hounds
Proclaimed the goddess at hand.
"Keep off! Keep off
Whoever is unhallowed!" shrieked the priestess,
"Keep clear from the whole grove! You, Aeneas,
Step forth upon your way! Draw your sword from the scabbard!
Now is the time for courage, now for a steadfast heart!
(The Aenead, translated by Patric Dickinson).
By Jove, welcome to the holy slaughter and the sacred kitchen! Carnivores might hope all that meat cooked chewy did not go to waste - the gods for their part feast on perfumes, the scent of aromatic spices, especially frankincense and myrrh. Perhaps heroes among Aeneas' crew carried off their portions when Sibyl ordered the grove cleared. Homeric heroes loved to gorge themselves with meat and wash it down with gallons of wine. Nobles who had large herds ate plenty of meat, but ordinary folk including lower-ranking soldiers, workers and peasants did not eat much meat in Homeric days except at religious festivals. "We are the masses born to eat the fruits of the earth" (Nos numerus sumus et fruges consumere nati... - Horace); the serfs and slaves must leave the meat to their masters. Of course, centuries later, anyone who abstained from meat when it was available was considered to be a heretic.
We are still enthralled by Vergil's Homeric epic even though finical vegetarians and transmigrating ascetic sages might be appalled by the sacrificial rites depicted. We do have available another poet for ancient reference, one who opposes Homer's fields of battle; namely, Hesiod, the poet of pastoral peace. Sometimes the following line about the Golden Age is cited in support of abstinence from meat: "..the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods." We assume for argument's sake that the flocks were not eaten. We find this passage in the Old Testament:
Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground - everything that has the breath of life in it - I give every green plant for food." And it was so. (Genesis 1:29).
We note well that god did not provide Man with animal-food. But then came the great Flood. Noah, his family and his animals disembarked from the Ark under the Rainbow, sign of the New Covenant. Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them:
"Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall upon the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.”
The bloody contradiction is easily overcome by draining the blood from the corpse before eating it. Customs varied in different parts of the world; for example, the blood may be drained down the side of god's table, the altar, or it may be drained directly into Mother Earth. The distribution of the various parts of the slaughtered beast to god, priests, and other diners proceeds according to plan. Human beings were sacrificed and eaten as well. Humans have always been meat-eaters. The large-brained Homo erectus is believed to be the first hominid hunter; they were six-foot tall, hunted in bands, shared food, used fire to warm themselves and to cook - fire was first employed as a tool about 500,000 years ago. Homo erectus somehow merged with homo sapiens neanderthalensis, a powerful hominid possessing a larger brain than ours. The Neanderthal man is considered to be the most carnivorous of our omnivorous human league.
Nevertheless, the myth of a prehistoric Golden Age persisted in the human mind; it was a peaceful age when our ancestors got along with animals and subsisted on fruit and vegetables. Many of our hominoid ancestors were herbivores and fructivores - some supplemented their diet with maggots and insects. Small apes were evolving 25 millions years ago. The climate was warm and wet 15 or so million years ago when the earth was covered by rain forests. The old ice ages 13 million years ago must have created quite a challenge, met by true hominids, among whom there lived "amiable fructivores." The toolmakers and hunters showed up much later, Australopithecus 4 million years ago; as for their diet, the anthropological finding are controversial. But no doubt their heirs, Homo erectus and Homo sapiens, hunted animals and ate meat; not because humans are natural-born killers and meat-eaters, but because most likely some strain was put on the food supply; and, if anything, human beings are opportunistic. In short: the omnivorous human race had to eat meat or perish. Humans will even eat each other if they must; there is some evidence of cannibalism among Neanderthals; human flesh is usually a poor food source in comparison to the alternatives, but human sacrifice and cannibalism may be practiced religiously until the Last Good Man is eaten. Nevertheless, the key word from Hesiod's Golden Age is abundantly, for when fruit is not falling from the trees....
Colin Spencer argues in The Heretic's Feast that some hominids made a conscious decision not to kill animals or to eat meat; they could have imitated the behavior of carnivores, but they chose not to do so until they had to do just that. Hence Spencer also supports the controversial argument for a higher level of consciousness in "subhumans" and lower animals than most experts care to entertain. He believes in an actual basis for the Golden Age: "I strongly believe that myths stem from a wish to explain phenomena, suffering and distant memories which are passed through story-telling from one general to the next. If killing, aggression and the consumption of raw, bloody meat were the only truth of our distant past, that vision of the Golden Age would never have appeared in legend."
I believe myths can be a reaction to disgust with the past or present; a wish for a better future may then be projected onto the past in a mythical form. In that case the myth explains the ideal future instead of the real history. Yes, perhaps our race does have a "collective unconsciousness" of a Golden Age even before Homo sapiens evolved. For instance, when I was a small child, the killing of animals horrified me and eating them sometimes caused me vomit; yet I went along with society in order to survive. On the other hand, the development of self-consciousness along with its emotional aspects brings us to the realization that we are akin to animals, causing us to sympathize with them, to love them even the more, and to imagine ideal situations or utopias. The realization of the "impossible ideal" is not wholly impossible wherefore it may be gradually achieved.
However that may be, Homo sapiens have made a habit not only of slaying beasts but each other as well, as if there were in fact some sort of self-destructive death instinct opposed to the love of one's own kind. Each person killed is one of us: the killing is suicide. If there be no such "instinct", if the so-called death instinct is the product of an environmental challenge, why does the unnecessary bloodletting continue unabated even in good times? Some say because it is a habit assumed long ago when man donned the wolfskin and was transformed into Man the Wolf.
Robert Eisler (1882-1949) delivered such a werewolf theory in the form of a lecture to the Royal Society of Medicine. That lecture together with ample supporting notes and an introduction by David K. Henderson may be found in Man Into Wolf, An Anthropological Interpretation of Sadism, Masochism, and Lycanthropy, Philosophical Library, c. 1951.
First of all, Eisler states that, if there be any 'laws of nature' governing human conduct, then human activity cannot contradict those laws; hence sadism and masochism is not 'unnatural' or 'perverse.' He then declares the naive pleasure versus pain, hedonistic theory of human nature to be as absurd as the theory of the deluded person who thinks traffic is being driven by traffic lights. In fact it is more necessary to feel pain than pleasure in order to survive. We need to experience pain even during good times; most of us do so vicariously by watching horrifying shows and such. Sadists enjoy real shows of pain; masochists need to actually feel more pain than others; their emotional sensitivity is subnormal. He notes a necessary but paradoxical association of cruelty (blood-lust) and love in the sadist.
Eisler thinks psychopathologists are wrong to assume sadism is an atavistic throwback to primeval savagery: "The flaw in this argument is that it implies a total misrepresentation of the state of human evolution to which the term 'savagery' is properly applied. The word 'savage', from ... Latin silvaticus, derived from silva means nothing but a wood-dweller.' Now primitive man in the primeval virgin forest is most certainly not a killing, cruel, murderous, or war-making animal; quite the reverse."
Eisler presents our silvan ancestors as innocuous and gregarious forest-savages who relied on their intelligence instead of carrying arms - they were ignorant of war. Those hairy creatures ate fruits, berries, acorns, leaf buds, young shoots, sprouts and such. They did not descend from large, solitary, jealous apes who have large canines - used primarily to fight for females - but from smaller apes such as the modern gibbon or the siamong. He also mentions the American howler monkey - howler females take on all comers. Said creatures brought to Eisler's mind the peaceful, food-collecting pygmies, and the free-loving Polynesians, Yakuts and witches. And he was also led to consider the ancient Spartan institution of sexual relations, and Plato's utopian scheme to eliminate jealousy. Furthermore, we should duly take note of the free-love, pacifism, and vegetarian movements throughout human history.
But opposed to the loving tendency is another human strain that took shape when certain men began to ape beasts of prey; they gathered together in gregarious hunting bands, pursued their prey, ripping it apart while devouring it alive. The human wolf-packs left the forests. They donned the wolf-pelts of the slain animals, gradually becoming less hairy themselves, and were able to spread out over the planet - the wolf was once more widely distributed than mankind. In other words, these men became werewolves - or the less widespread wer-tigers, wer-hyenas, wer-boars, wer-crocodiles, wer-elephants, and company. Eisler refers to numerous myths of the transformation of man into wolf. He summarizes his fascinating hypothesis:
“While these vegetarian herds are the ancestors of the recent wholly peaceful food-gathering tribes and of the primitive grain- and fruit-growing populations, the lupine packs of carnivorous predatory 'wer-wolves,' running down and tearing their game to pieces, as the canine predatory beasts do, became the ancestors of the 'hunting' - i.e., 'hound-ing' - tribes who attacked not only what we would call 'subhuman' animals, but also preyed on the more conservative fruit-gathering human herds reluctant to adopt the bloodthirsty new mode of life, killing the males, raping and enslaving the females, falling upon them while they were gathering and treading ripe grapes of the wild vines in the wood and enjoying the new must [unfermented grape juice]. While the food-gatherers had left in peace 'every beast of the field and every fowl of the air' amidst the 'trees pleasant to the sight and good for food', using 'for meat' 'every herb-bearing seed' and 'the fruit of every tree', the new hunting type 'filled the earth with violence', putting the 'fear and dread of them into every beast of the earth, into every fowl of the air, into all that moveth upon the earth, and into the fishes of the sea', 'delivered into' their 'hand even as the green herb.'”
Thus we have the genesis of hell on Earth, a primal scene referred to in ancient myths and ritually re-enacted in ancient times in several parts of the world. For example, Herodotus certainly did not believe in werewolves, but he told us of "a story current amongst the Scythians and the Greeks in Sythia that once a year every Neurian turns into a wolf for a few days, and then turns back into a man again. I do not believe this tale; but all the same, they tell it, and even swear to the truth of it." (Herodotus the Histories, translated by Aubrey de Selincourt.)
Those who put on the wolfskin were called "skin-changers" in some parts of the world. Wild warriors and outlaws were wont to wear wolfskins and bearskins - they literally ran "berserk." On the other hand, shamans did the same - they took on the wolf-form. After all, the wolf can be both friend and foe. In fact humans and wolves have a great deal of animal-behavior in common. If wolves did not want our meat, we would not be so eager to demonize or kill them. Of course when we observe wolves and other members of the dog family eating human corpses on the battlefield and elsewhere during famines, we are inclined to associate them with the diabolical forces of death. Yet under dire circumstances we might eat each other. We do what we must in order to survive; in those cases we should speak of the life instinct rather than the death instint. Nonetheless, something else again is involved when we are responsible for the casualities of war and famine.
We may wish that Freud had taken up the Werewolf Complex at length instead of devoting so much time to the Oedipus Complex as his explanation for human civilization. The psycho-analyst, heir to the shaman, might then wear a sheepskin during the seance and guide us back to the Primal Scene. Then we might become conscious of the original horror and no longer be condemned to unconsciously repeat it. That is, if there is no such instinct as Freud's death instinct, a will to repetitive self-destruction independent of its sado-masochistic, erotic involvement with the love instinct.
Finally, we may ask why man demonizes wolves and makes of them something they are not. Because man is a wolf to man.