Artwork Courtesy of Ian Daniels
In honor of St Patrick's Day and the Largest Full Moon in 18 years tomorrow night we thought we'd share an excerpt from Dr. Bob Curran's Werewolves: A Field Guide to the Shapeshifters, Lycanthropes, and Man-Beasts. This is from Chapter 3: Old Irish Wolves and Other Wonders. Enjoy a wee bit of Irish story telling!
‘Tis like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon.
—William Shakespeare, As You Like It
As with early vampire tales, one of the oldest written stories concerning werewolves comes from
Up until the 18th century (and maybe even after)
Wolves in the Wild
The First Tale
The story, according to Giraldus Cambrensis, supposedly occurred only a few years before the arrival of Prince John in
The story, taken as true, seems to have caused some consternation in the Irish clergy. Two years afterward, Giraldus was in the same area where he was approached by two priests at the behest of a local bishop asking him for his views on this “serious matter.” Giraldus met with the bishop and a small synod and gave his views in writing. These writings formed the basis of a sealed report, which was sent through the Bishop of Ossory directly to Pope Urban
These questions were well-founded, for in the late medieval period (when Giraldus was writing) there were a number of challenges to the established order of things. It was an age of great scholasticism and thinkers were once again rediscovering the philosophical works of ancient
In this context, very ancient theories about the nature of the world were starting to re-emerge during this period. One of these was the notion of metempsychosis, which was said to have “originated” with the Greek philosopher Pherecydes (although some say it was an even older form of thinking that had come from
There was yet another idea that influenced to this theory of mutability. Many people believed that the world was in its end times, and that Christ was coming once again to judge it and establish a
There was, however, a flaw in the Church’s argument concerning metempsychosis. At the heart of Christian ritual lay the Mass, and that rite involved the mystery of transubstantiation. It was part of Church teaching that when the Eucharist was placed on the tongue of the supplicant, it became the actual physical body of Christ, and that when the wine was drunk, it became his blood. In other words, under God’s power, the bread and wine were transformed into something else that was the essence of the living, breathing Jesus. This was the very core of Christian belief, and although the Protestants would later rail at the belief it has continued to be so until now. The Church could hardly argue against mutato (as it referred to the transmigration of the soul) if it continued to hold such a similar central theory. It was a serious problem for Church teachers, and so Giraldus’s story about men changing into wolves was a highly controversial one.
As part of the tale, in subsequent editions of the Topographica, Giraldus also includes a long and rather rambling exposition of the underlying elements. This may be part of the sealed report that he sent to Pope Urban. In it, he tried to debate the story within an academic and ecclesiastical context (ineffectively, it has to be said). He draws attention to one of the transubstantive miracles of Christ—namely the changing of the water into wine at the wedding feast in Canaan of Galilee, the miracle of transubstantiation, and the transfiguration of Christ. The result is, however, pretty inconclusive.
Dr. Bob Curran was born in a remote area of County Down, Northern Ireland. Since leaving school, he has travelled throughout the world, fascinated by the myths and stories he has found. He has written a number of books looking at culture and lore, including Vampires; Lost Lands, Forgotten Realms; Zombies; and Werewolves, all for New Page Books. He now works as a writer and broadcaster, as well as in an advisory capacity for a number of governmental organizations with regard to culture and education. He lives in Northern Ireland with his wife and family. He appears frequently on Coast to Coast AM and other radio programs regularly.