A common belief in many countries on both sides of the Atlantic was that a person could become a werewolf if someone cursed them. And the person doing the hexing was often a priest or even a saint, punishing you for real or imagined sins!
Repeatedly failing to attend annual confession at Easter or Christmas was a trespass likely to result in a lupine curse...
In 14th century Normandy, the varouage was an excommunicated person who became a werewolf between Christmas and Candlemas or during Advent. During this time, the sinner was either redeemed – or doomed to belong to the devil and run as a wolf forever. (By the way, in Finland, if you were lucky enough to break the spell, you were still stuck with a wolf’s tail for the rest of your life!)
Curses abounded for anyone with the misfortune to be born on the wrong day. In Italy, it was bad luck to be born on the winter solstice, December 20-21, and a sure way to become a shapeshifter. In many other European countries, such as Poland, it was believed that children born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day automatically became werewolves when they grew up. In Germany, a child was still in danger of becoming one if he or she was born during the 12 nights of Christmas, which run from December 25 until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.
Whatever the country and the legend, it was generally agreed that the lupine curse was some sort of divine punishment for blasphemy, as the hapless baby was viewed as competing with the Christ child! Many kinds of rituals were vigorously performed for the first few days after Christmas to help the infant avoid his wolfish fate
In Romania, this legend went a step further. Children conceived on Christmas Eve were cursed to become werewolves because their parents were supposed to have abstained from sex at that time!
Winter solstice (which falls about December 21st), was traditionally celebrated as the first day of the 12 days of Yule. The veil between worlds was thin during that time, and people stayed indoors at night because supernatural creatures were out and about – and that included werewolves!
In 1555, Swedish archbiship Olaus Magnus wrote “The History of the Northern Peoples”, in which he said that at the festival of Christmas, there was a strange conversion of men into wolves. “There is a gathering of a huge multitude of wolves which have been changed from men, and which during that night rage with such fierceness … that the inhabitants suffer more hurt from them, than they ever do from natural wolves, for these human wolves break down doors … and descend into cellars where they drink out whole tuns (sic) of beer or mead.”
Magnus goes on to describe a high stone wall where the werewolves would afterwards gather, and eventually compete to leap over it.”
|Image: Public Domain|
The concept of werewolves waiting at the wall was illustrated by Maurice Sand in his 1858 lithograph of Les Lupins (shown above).
Physician Casper Peucer recorded a similar legend of mass lycanthropy in 1560 in Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). “At Christmas a boy lame of leg goes round the countryside summoning the Devil’s followers, which are many, to a general conclave… The human form vanishes, and the whole multitude become wolves… They fall upon herds of cattle and flocks of sheep.” The entire transformation, he wrote, lasts twelve days: “…at the expiration of which the wolf skin vanishes, and the human form reappears.”
On the flip side, there were some beliefs in the notion that the sheer holiness of the Christmas season would suppress a werewolf’s transformation, enabling him to walk freely among men without fear of his animal nature getting the better of him. After this blessed period of dormancy however, werewolves in January were all the more active and aggressive.
In some parts of Poland, it was believed that werewolves only transformed into their animal form twice a year: on Midsummer Day and on Christmas. In Slovenia, the Twelve Days of Christmas were also known as Wolf Days. The original story was that the Wolf-Shepherd, or Master of Wolves, was active during that time and could do the most damage then. Later, the story shifted so that St. Blaise (Saint of the Wild Beast) became the Wolf-Shepherd. It was his job to summon the wild wolves, and then to banish them for a time, thus preserving the herds of livestock from predation.
One final, rather odd, holiday superstition also comes from Slovenian folklore. Farmers would make a special effort not to leave manure lying in the fields over the Christmas season by plowing it into the soil. Apparently one of the easiest ways a werewolf could make his transformation was by rolling in manure!
Book 1 of the Haunted Holiday Series by Dani Harper
A Yuletide Paranormal Romance
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