The second installment in our new season of Literary Legends takes us on a journey across the realms of wolf and man.
While Luxembourg certainly boasts an impressive repertoire of original mystical characters, it pays respects to the classics as well. Grab your silver bullets and check the moon cycle because today, we're howling with the (were)wolves!
When it comes to folklore and the supernatural, there are a few myths and beings that are so well-known that they truly need no introduction. Stories of humans turning into ferocious wolves and terrorising their local neighbourhoods are certainly among the classics.
You may be surprised to learn that Luxembourg has quite a lot of werewolf stories. During my research for this article, I was amazed to find no less than 29 legends involving werewolves from across the Grand Duchy.
To keep things concise, we will discover two of these stories today, one from Lintgen and one from Differdange, before delving a bit deeper into the lore behind these mythical beasts.
I. The Missing Grandfather
Our first story takes place in Lintgen.
In Lintgen, there once was a grandfather who lived at a mill with his children and grandchildren. This particular grandpa had the (mis?)fortune of being blessed with a particularly large family, and he regularly travelled to Fischbach to see his other grandchildren.
One faithful Christmas Day, he undertook just this journey from Lintgen to Fischbach… but he did not come back home.
The family grew worried and one of them was sent to Fischbach to investigate, but, ultimately, the grandfather seemed to have vanished without leaving a single trace.
A few months later, in March, the sons were working in their fields when they suddenly encountered an old, scrawny wolf. The animal started approaching them every day, becoming bolder each time. One day, the wolf came so close that it startled the horses. In response, one of the sons threw a stone at the wolf, hitting its hind paw and causing it to bleed.
To their astonishment, as soon as a few drops of blood flowed, the wolf vanished, and standing before his bewildered children was the pale and exhausted grandfather. He had an overgrown beard, shaggy hair, and appeared weak. He proceeded to share his incredible story:
On the morning after Christmas, as he was on his way home from Fischbach, he was walking through a forest while the rain just kept on pouring down.
Seeking shelter, he eventually came across what appeared to be an abandoned charcoal burner's hut.
The grandfather went inside, noticing a pile of fresh meat in the corner. Connecting the dots, he instantly came to the only logical conclusion: He had stumbled upon the dwelling of a werewolf.
Almost as soon as that thought had crossed his mind, an enormous wolf entered the hut, carrying a sheep.
The grandfather quickly hid behind the pile of meat, hoping that it would conceal his scent.
The wolf came inside, dropped the sheep, and performed a number of mysterious movements. Suddenly, he transformed into a man.
Back in human form, the man hung a belt, which he had been wearing, on the wall and left the hut without noticing the intruder.
More curious than frightened, the grandfather emerged from his hiding place and fastened the belt around his waist. In an instant, he became a werewolf.
Not knowing how to revert to his human form, he remained a werewolf until his children broke the spell by making him bleed.
II. The Diabolical Employer
A more unusual werewolf tale comes to us from the town of Differdange.
According to legend, no other than the devil himself got involved in the construction of the Rotenhof ("Red Farm") in Differdange. You see, the workers' boss at this construction site was a rather unpleasant and tyrannical individual who was not afraid to contact ol' Lucie himself, if it meant gaining more power over his workers.
The devil granted him the ability to transform into a terrifying wolf (and probably didn't ask for anything in return), an ability which the boss used to closely monitor his unsuspecting workers.
Taking the form of a wolf, the boss would lie in wait on the forest's edge, overseeing the laborious tasks performed by his workers. If he observed any laziness or incompetence, he would immediately deduct their wages.
The perplexed workers tirelessly pondered the source of their employer's uncanny knowledge. One fateful day, one of them noticed the ever-watchful presence of the wolf. Alarmed, he alerted his comrades to the eerie scrutiny they were under.
Driven by curiosity and a desire to unveil the truth, the workers sought a solution. They obtained a rifle, hoping to deter the mysterious wolf. However, their initial attempts failed to hit their elusive target. They then decided to seek divine intervention and had a bullet blessed by a member of the clergy before loading it into the rifle.
With newfound determination, they took aim at the wolf and unleashed the blessed bullet. The shot rang out, and the creature let out a piercing, agonising howl as it collapsed to the ground. The workers rushed over, drawn to the unsettling cries, only to discover their boss lying amidst a pool of his own blood, his transformation forcibly ended.
III. Beyond silver bullets and full moons
While we think we know everything there is to know about werewolves, the first story featured an element that not every one of you may be familiar with. I for one had never heard of a belt or strap that could turn you into a werewolf – and was quite surprised to find it featured in the vast majority of werewolf legends from Luxembourg.
As it turns out, the so-called "wolf strap" is a trope from German and Polish folklore in particular. They were thought to be gifts from the devil, given to someone as part of a deal.
Once you had received this "gift," it was thought to be impossible to get rid of it again, as you had entered into a bond with the devil himself.
The tale entitled "The Werewolf Shepherd of Rodange," featured in Dr Nicolas Gredt's Sagenschatz des Luxemburger Landes, specifies that if you find someone else's wolf strap and put it on, you are cursed to put it on every day, at the same hour you originally found it, and roam around as a werewolf for one hour.
The 1898 book Der Werwolf by F. Asmus and O. Knoop answers a question which I'm sure at least some of you may be asking yourselves at this point: Why on Earth would you choose to become a werewolf in the first place?
The answer of Asmus and Knoop is quite simple: poverty.
"When the pantries and meat containers were empty, one would only have to fasten on the wolf strap, run off as a wolf, seek out a fat sheep that was wandering off toward the edge of the woods, creep towards it, seize it, and drag it into the woods. In the evening one could bring it home without anyone noticing."
Probably the most well-known mention of a wolf strap in real life is the story of "the Werewolf of Bedburg," Peter Stumpp.
Stumpp's case from 1589 is probably one of the most famous werewolf trials in history. Under torture, he admitted to having practiced black magic since he was 12 and claimed to have received a wolf strap from the Devil.
Following his arrest, he said that he had lost his belt in a local valley. Despite a thorough search of the area, the belt was never found, but this being the Middle Ages, people simply contended themselves with believing that the Devil must have come up from Hell to retrieve it himself.
It is worth noting that some of the most well-known myths regarding werewolves are quite recent additions, some dating back no further than the 1940s, such as the belief that werewolves only transform under full moons.
As for the famous silver bullets, the werewolf tales found in Luxembourgish folklore place a lot more emphasis on the bullet needing to be blessed. Some stories don't even mention whether the bullet was silver or not, while those that do always stress in the same line that it had also been blessed.
More Literary Legends