Admittedly, after covering the first two parts of this blog series and taking a long holiday, I am daunted by the topic of the current post. You see, from the dawn of human history, monsters have existed. They have stalked us, they have killed us, they have destroyed. This much is their legacy, and I would say it even continues to this day.
If it strikes you as odd that I’d make these claims, consider for a moment that many monsters may in fact be human. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of the existence of serial killers. While certain killers are more famous than others, such as John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer, there are others such as the schizophrenic killer Richard Chase, who would blend the organs of killed animals with coca-cola and drink it, to ensure his heart would not shrink; later Chase would go on to murder six people, engaging in necrophilia and cannibalism, and would be caught and imprisoned for the rest of his life until committing suicide. Before his death, Chase also claimed that he could apprehend the Nazi UFO’s responsible for his actions with a radar gun.
These actions seem to echo similar occurrences such as in the case of Peter Stumpp, who would also be called the “Werewolf of Bedburg”. There is not much known about Stumpp, save for what was published in an English pamphlet in 1590. The details of the pamphlet reveal that Stumpp was a wealthy farmer who was accused and found guilty of serial killing and cannibalism. Stumpp was placed on a torture rack and questioned.
While one must keep in mind that under torture, what a person says cannot always be taken at face value. There are extreme memory issues that arise from intense interrogation, let alone from something like the rack. But that is not to say that the information is false either, and I would personally think that out of all things, autobiographical information would be one to remain strongly in many situations; and of course one cannot rule out entirely that one says anything under such torture to end it as quickly as possible, even if it ends in death.
However, Stumpp confessed to having practiced black magic, and to having a belt that the devil had given him which allowed him to turn into “the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body, and mighty paws.” Interesting to note he said likeness. But I digress. Stumpp also confessed to sucking on the blood of animals and humans, and to killing, dismembering and eating his victims. He also claimed to have had relations with a succubus. Perhaps these two people, Peter Stumpp and Richard Chase have nothing in common, or perhaps they are both examples of human monsters.
Another modern example of such human activities is the case of Swift Runner, a Cree trapper from Alberta, Canada who killed and ate his wife and five children after his son died, while they were starving in the harsh winter. Swift Runner would be hung, saying before he died that “I am the least of men and do not merit even being called a man.” He would later be considered to have what was called “Wendigo Psychosis”, a controversial culture-bound syndrome. The wendigo, a half-man beast associated with winter and famine is found in the Algonquian peoples legends and was described by Ojibwe teacher and scholar Basil Johnston as such;
“The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Weendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody [….] Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.”
We already know that humans are capable of the heinous crimes such as those of Peter Stumpp, Swift Runner and Richard Chase, but what of the belief that one turns into a werewolf? Well, if you think that is outside the realm of observable reality, you’d be wrong. Clinical lycanthropy, or the delusional belief that an individual has, that they can turn into or are an animal, be it wolf, snake or what have you. This actually happens to exist, though as far as I can tell violence is by no means an inherent trait. However, as we have seen with my blog post on both the Dancing Plague and Witch Epidemics, the susceptibility of the human psyche to cultural, or informational influences is extreme, as are the ramifications of those susceptibilities. I would not find it out of the question to think that, plagued by clinical lycanthropy that a person in the time period of the Witch hunts in Europe (during which lycanthropy was a known, though not as common, as a threat and was an accusation placed on suspected witches and others) would interpret the feeling of being able to turn into an animal as related to devilry, as perhaps would a non-lycanthropic compulsive serial killer. In our society such an individual, a clinical lycanthrope that is, might not see such a belief as necessarily violent or cursed, and as such might not act out on it quite the same way.
And of course, there were various cures for these lycanthropes as well as ‘witch- doctors’ (as always, the term is used loosely and with respect to the individual beliefs of various people) who were tasked to cure the afflicted, which many times actually succeeded, going to show the psychical aspect of such afflictions. Exorcists and medieval doctors were known to cure lycanthropy, though in the latter’s case the patients were known to suffer high casualty rates during the ‘medical’ process. Folk-Cures from various geographical locations ranged from putting nails through the afflicted’s hands (in Sicily) to calling them by their Christian name three times (Germany).
In the case of wendigos, there was a famous case involving a man named Jack Fiddler, also called Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow, who was a “ogimaa” (chief/shaman) of the Suckerdoodem (totem) among the Anishinaabe. Fiddler was rumored at the time to be known to be able to effectively “cast out wendigo demons” and after investigation by Canadian Mounties was charged with murder for euthanizing those who believed themselves (and were believed by the community) to have been possessed by a wendigo spirit, which would cause them to crave human flesh.