The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 34

Page 10

Our oldest native notions make the assumption of wolf-shape depend on arraying oneself in a wolf-belt or wolf-shirt (ûlfa-hamr), as translation into a swan does on putting on the swan-shift or swan-ring (p. 427-8). (105) One who wears a wolf-belt, ûlfhamr, is called in OHG. wolfhetan, ON. ûlfheðinn (the ð repres. an orig. d); especially do raging berserkir become ûlfheðnir: 'þeir höfðu vargstakkar fyrir brynjur,' Vatnsdœla saga 36. 'berserkir þeir vâru kallaðir ûlfhiedar (r. ûlfheðnir),' Grettissaga 32a. We also find a man's name Ulfheðinn, and OHG. Wolfhetan, MB. 28, nos. 52. 246. Apart from wolves, we have biarnheðinn, geitheðinn, i.e. dressed in a bearskin, goatskin; as a proper name, both Biarnheðinn, Landn. 45, and a simple Heðinn, ancestor of the Hiaðnîngar, AS. Heodeningas fr. Heden or Heoden. The vowel is therefore ë (not e), and we must suppose a lost verb OHG. hëtan, hat, pl. hâtum, Goth. hidan, had, hêdum. Lye quotes a 'heden, casla,' meaning prob. casula, robe; and on ON. geitheðinn is supposed to be 'pallium e pelle caprina'; but I prefer to take Wolfhetan as a participle. We see then, that the transformation need not be for a magical purpose at all: any one that puts on, or is conjured into, a wolf-shirt, will undergo metamorphosis, remain a wolf nine days, and only on the tenth be allowed to return to human shape; (106) some stories make him keep the wolf-body for three, seven or nine years. With the appearance, he acquires also the fierceness and howling, of the wolf: roaming the woods, he rends to pieces everything that comes in his way. (107) Fornald. sög. 1, 50 speaks of a 'liosta með ûlfhandska,' striking with wolf's glove, by which a person is turned into a bear, and wears the animal form by day, the human at night. In a similar way the notion of werewolves also gets mixed up with that of outlaws who have fled to the woods. A notable instance is that of Sigmund and Sinfiötli (ibid. 2, 130-1): when they sleep, their wolf-shirts hang beside them.

Werewolves thirst for youthful blood, and carry off children and maidens with reckless audacity. Out of many stories in Woycicki 1, 101-113. 152-8 I select only this: A witch twisted her girdle together, and laid it on the threshold of a house where there was a wedding; when the newly married pair stepped over it, the bride, bridegroom and six bridesmen were turned into werewolves. They fled from the cottage, and for three years ran howling round the witch's house. At length the day of their deliverance came. The witch brought a pelisse with the fur turned outwards, and as soon as she covered a werewolf with it, his human shape returned; the covering reached over the bridegroom's body, all but the tail, so he became a man again, but kept the wolf's tail. Schafarik (Slow. st. 1, 167) observes, that in a very marked degree these wolf-stories are native to Volhynia and White Russia, and thence draws an argument for his opinion that the Neuri were a Slavic race.

According to the French Lai de Melion pp. 49. 50, the man, when undressed, (108) must be touched with a magic ring: forthwith he turns into a wolf, and runs after game. Marie de Fr. 1, 182 makes a knight become a bisclaveret three days every week, and run about naked in the wood; if the clothes he has laid aside be removed, he has to remain a wolf. (109) Pluquet (Cont. pop. 15) remarks, that he can only be delivered by being beaten with a key till he bleeds.

The common belief among us is, that the transformation is effected by tying a strap round the body; this girth is only three fingers broad, and is cut out of human skin. Such a werewolf is to be distinguished from natural wolves by his truncated tail. From the witch-records of Lorrain we learn, that when stalks of grass were pulled up, blessed and thrown against a tree, wolves sprang forth, and immediately fell upon the flock; Remigius pp. 152. 162 leaves it doubtful whether the men that threw the grass themselves turned into wolves, but from p. 261 we can think no otherwise. Bodin's Dæmonomanie (Fischart's transl. p. 120 seq.) has several werewolf stories. Rhenish and Westphalian superstition makes men alone become wolves; maids and matrons change into an ütterbock (uddered buck, hermaphrodite?): an uncanny old hag is called 'the cursed ütterbock!' According to a peculiar Danish superstition (K, 167), if a bride uses a certain specified charm to secure painless labour, her sons become värülve, her daughters marer (nightmares). Thiele 1, 133 remarks, that the werewolf goes in human shape by day, yet so that his eyebrows grow together over the nose, (110) but at a certain time of night he turns into a three-legged dog, and can only be set free by some one calling him 'werewolf.' Burchard's account also seems to make lycanthropy something innate to man (see Suppl.).

That a change of the human form into that of the bear should also be familiar to Norse antiquity, is no surprising thing, as that animal was considered rational (Reinh., app. on p. lvi), and held in high esteem, p. 667. Finnbogi talks to him, and calls him bessi, Finnb. saga p. 246. A Danish song makes the transformation take place by tying an iron collar round one's neck, DV. 1, 184. In Norway it is believed that the Laplanders turn into bears: of a bear that is uncommonly daring and destructive they say, 'this can't be any christian bear.' An old bear in Ofoden's prästegjeld, who had killed six men and over sixty horses, had the same reputation, and when at last he was slain, a girdle is said to have been found on him (Sommerfelt Saltd. prästeg. p. 84).

Conversion into the cat has most of all to do with the works and ways of home-sprites (pp. 503-9): there is nowhere the slightest hint of donning any belt or shirt. It is a common saying, that a cat of twenty years turns witch, and a witch of a hundred turns cat again. Vintler (Sup. G, 1. 232) notices the assumption of cat-shape. As was the case with night-wives (p. 1060), examples occur in almost every witch-trial, and particularly common is the story of the wounded cat, whom you afterwards recognise in a bandaged woman. Cats meeting you are of double meaning, Sup. I, 643. One should never hurt a strange cat; the witch might serve you out. A farmer took on to ail from the day of his wedding: on that day he had shied a stone at a cat that walked into his yard with a saddle on her. The saddled cat is a kind of Puss-in-boots, KM. 3, 259. Wolf's Wodana pp. 123. 131 has stories of magic cats. But the cat is also to be spared because she was Frouwa's favorite beast (p. 305): if it rains on your wedding-day, they say in the Wetterau 'you have starved the cat,' and so offended the messenger or handmaid of the love-goddess. Now night-wives and witches apparently travel in the train of that divinity.

The goose too is a magic beast and easily referable to the nobler swan of older legend. A sportsman shot at some wild geese and hit one, which fell into the bushes; when he came up to the place, there sat a naked woman unhurt, whom he knew very well, and who begged hard that he would not betray her, but get some clothes sent her from her house. He threw her his handkerchief to cover herself with, and sent the clothes (Mone's Anz. 6, 395). Niclas von Wyle, in the Dedication to his translation of Apuleius, tells us of a different case, which he had heard from the lips of Michel von Pfullendorf, clerk to the Imp. treasury: An innkeeper had through a woman's witcheries (gemecht, conf. make = conjure, p. 1032) been a wild goose for more than a year, and flown about with other such geese, till one day a goose that he was quarrelling and snapping with, happened to tear from off his neck the little kerchief in which the enchantment was knit up: again therefore a swan-ring, except that the witch does not wear it herself, but has changed an innocent man into the beast, just as werewolves are by turns enchanters and enchanted. In Kinderm. 193 white strips of cloth take the place of the swan-shift.

As the raven stands on a par with the wolf, we may fairly assume transformations of magicians into ravens, though I can think of no example: trolds in Dan. songs often appear as ravens, p. 993. Perhaps witches may be found turning into crows rather, as we already hear of an ôskmey (wish-maid, Völs. cap. 2): 'hun brâ â sik krâku ham, ok flýgr;' and Marpalie in Wolfdietrich doffs her garments, claps her hands (p. 1026 n.) and turns into a crow (see Suppl.).

If the cast-off clothing, human or animal, be removed (p. 427-9), a re-assumption of the former shape becomes impossible; hence in lengend and fairytale the practice of secretly burning the beast's hide when stript off. (111) Yet the human shape may be restored on this condition, that a spotless maid keep silence for seven years, and spin and sew a shirt to be thrown over the enchanted person, KM. 1, 53. 246. 3, 84. And such a shirt not only undoes the charm, but makes one spell-proof and victorious (Sup. I, 656. 708); (112) in the last passage, victory in a lawsuit has taken the place of the old victory in battle. In the Mid. Ages it was called St. George's shirt, and was spun on a Saturday (Vintler; conf. Sup. I, 333 the thread spun on Christmas night); Wolfdietrich receives it from Siegminne, i.e. from a wise spinning norn or valkyr (p. 434): obviously the old heathen idea was afterwards transferred to the conquering saint of the christian church. Not unlike are the golden shirt that defends from drowning, Beow. 1095, and the frid-hemede (App. Spells x); a woven flag of victory will be mentioned p. 1112. To me these famous shirts of fate seem connected with the threads and webs of the norns and dame Holda. A magic weaving and spinning was probably ascribed to witches, who in Sup. I, 824 are called field-spinsters; and Burchard's allusions to the superstition 'in lanificiis et ordiendis telis' are worth comparing, Sup. C, int. 52, and p. 193d. Hincmar of Rheims (Opp. 1, 656) speaks of sorceries 'quas superventas feminae in suis lanificiis vel textilibus operibus nominant'; again p. 654: 'quidam etiam vestibus carminatis induebantur vel cooperiebantur.' (113) A similar thing is the magic and spell in the case of swords, conf. p. 687-8 (see Suppl.).

There may be magic in the mere look, without bodily contact, what our old speech called entsehen (p. 1035), Ital. gettare gli sguardi, Neapol. jettatura, fascino dei malvagi occhi. The bleared, envious, evil eye (114) of a witch who walks in (Sup. I, 787), let alone her breath and greeting, can injure in a moment, dry up the mother's milk, make the babe consumptive, spoil a dress, rot an apple, visu fascinare (p. 1066 and Sup. C, p. 199d): 'the coat is so handsome, the apple so red, no evil eye (onda öga, Sup. Swed. 57) must look upon it;' hurtful look, Sup. I, 874; obliquus oculus, Hor. Epist. i. 14, 37. Of sick cattle especially they say: 'some evil eye has been at it'; to look at a beast with sharp eyes. In Virgil's Ecl. 3, 103: 'nescio quis teneros oculus mihi fascinat agnos.' The Renner 18014 says, the glance of the eye kills snakes, scares wolves, hatches ostrich-eggs, breeds leprosy. Radulfi ardentis Homil. 42a: 'cavete ab illis qui dicunt, quosdam oculis urentibus alios fascinare.' Persius 2, 34 has urentes oculi; and fascinare, baskainein with the ancients meant chiefly this kind of sorcery. The ON. expression is sion-hverfîng, look-throwing: 'sundr stauk sûla for sion iötuns,' asunder burst the pillar at the look of the giant, Sæm. 53b. Stîgandi can by his look destroy anything; when taken prisoner, they pull a bag over his head (dreginn belgr â höfut honum): he peeps through a hole in the sack, and with one look spoils a field of grass, Laxd. p. 152-6. Different and yet similar are the sharp eyes of certain heroes (p. 391) and maids, e.g. Svanhildr being bound is to be kicked to death by horses: 'er hun (when she) brâ î sundr augum, þâ þorðu eigi (dared not) hestarnir at spora hana; ok er Bikki sâ þat, mælti hann, at belg skyldi draga â höfuð henni,' Fornald. sög. 1, 226. And of one Sigurðr we are told in Fornm. sög. 2, 174: 'at hann hefði snart augnabragð, at allir hundar hurfu frâ honum, ok var enginn svâ grimmr at þyrði â hann at râða, er hann hvesti augun îmôt þeim,' as dogs cannot endure the look of spirits and gods (p. 667). Any one possessed of this perilous power, who is evil-eyed, can prevent its baneful operation by directing his looks to a lifeless object. The phrase 'no one shall say black is your eye' means, no one can exactly report any harm of you (Brockett p. 66). Has that peculiar conformation of the witch's eye-pupil (p. 1080) anything to do with her evil eye? As a safeguard against its influence, the paw of the blind mole is worn (115) (see Suppl.).

But as great beauty enchants by the radiant glance of the eye, it has also magic power in the smiling of the lips. In a Mod. Greek song, when the charming maid laughs, roses fall into her apron (opou gela kai peftoune ta roda j thn podian thj), Fauriel 2, 382. In Heinr. von Neuenstadt's Apollonius of Tyre, composed about 1400, it is asked 1. 182: 'wâ sach man rôsen lachen?' and then follows a tale about a man who laughs roses:

'der lachet, daz ez vol rôsen was,

perg und tal, laub und gras.'
A Nethl. proverb (Tuinman 1, 306) says: 'als hy lacht, dan sneuwt het rozen.' The myth must have been very popular, as I frequently find in records (e.g. Böhmer's Cod. francof. 1, 185), and even at the present day, the names Rosenlacher, Rosenlächer, Blumlacher. The same poem of Apollonius has at 1. 2370:

er kuste sie wol dreissig stunt (30 times)

an iren rôsenlachenden munt (mouth);
other passages to the point are quoted Aw. 1, 74-5. Gifted children of fortune have the power to laugh roses, as Freyja wept gold; probably in the first instance they were pagan beings of light, who spread their brightness in the sky over the earth, 'rose-children, sun-children,' Georg 48-9, laughing daybreaks (p. 747), rose-strewing Eos (p. 749). Mart. Cap. says, a silver urn 'quæ præferebat serena fulgentia et vernantis coeli temperie renidebat' was called risus Jovis (see Suppl.).

The kissing mouth has even greater power than the smiling. It is a recurring feature in our nursery-tales, that a kiss makes one forget everything (KM. 2, 168. 508), yet also that it brings back remembrance (2, 463). The unbinding of a spell hangs upon a kiss (p. 969). In the Norse legends oblivion is produced by a potion called ôminnis-öl (-ale), ôminnis-dryckr, the opposite of minnis-öl (p. 59): such an ôminnisöl Grimhild hands to Sigurð, who thereupon forgets Brynhild; and Goðrun, before she could forget Sigurð and chooses Atli, had to drink an ôminnis-veig, whose magical concoction the poem describes, Sæm. 223b. 234a. So valkyrs, elfins and enchantresses offer to heroes their drinking-horns (p. 420), that they may forget all else and stay with them; conf. the Swed. tale in Afzelius 2, 159. 160 and the song in Arvidsson 2, 179. 282, where the miner makes the maiden drink of the glömskans horn and forget father and mother, heaven and earth, sun and moon. Now, seeing that minna in the Swed. folksongs and minde in the Dan. signify to kiss (minna uppå munnen, Sv. vis. 3, 123-4. D. vis. 1, 256. 298), as filein is amare and osculari, and with us in the 16th cent. 'to set the seal of love' is roundabout for kissing; there must be a close connection between kissing and the minne-drinking at sacrifices and in sorcery. (116) But magic potions are of various kinds and extreme antiquity, their manufacture trenches on the healing art and poison-mixing (see Suppl.). Love-drinks have love-cakes to keep them company. Burchard describes how women, after rolling naked in wheat, took it to the mill, had it ground against the sun (ON. andsœlis, inverso ordine), and then baked it into bread. Popular superstition in Samland makes out, that when a wife perceives her husband growing indifferent toward her, she lays aside a piece of the raw dough from nine successive bakings of bread or scones, then bakes him a scone out of the pieces, on eating which his former love returns. The Esthonians have a karwakak (hair-bread), a loaf into which hairs have been baked as a charm. The love-apples, in which symbols were inscribed (Hoffm. Schles. monatschr. p. 754), are to the same purpose (see Suppl.).


105. The girdle was an essential article of dress, and early ages ascribe to it other magic influences: e.g. Thôr's divine strength lay in his girdle (megingiörð, fem.), Sn. 26. Back

106. It is also believed, that every ninth day the seal (selr) doffs his fishy skin, and is for one day a man (Thiele 3, 51). In medieval Germany the nine years' wolf was supposed to give birth to adders, Ms. 2, 234b; to which may be compared Loki's begetting the wolf Fenrir and the snake Iörmungandr (p. 246), and that gandr again means wolf. Back

107. A married couple lived in poverty; yet, to the man's astonishment, his wife contrived to serve up meat at every meal, concealing for a long time how she obtained it; at length she promised to reveal the secret, only, while she did so, he must not pronounce her name. They went together to the fields, where a flock of sheep was grazing, the woman bent her steps toward it, and when they were come near, she threw a ring over herself, and instantly became a werewolf, which fell upon the flock, seized one sheep, and made off with it. The man stood petrified; but when he saw shepherd and dogs run after the wolf, and his wife in danger, he forgot his promise, and cried 'ach Margareit!' The wolf disappeared, and the woman stood naked in the field (Hess. Folktale). Back

108. But he begs people to keep his clothes safe for him: 'ma despoille me gardez,' as in the Aesopian fable: deomai sou, ina fulaxhj ta imatia mou. Back

109. I have not read the O.E. tale of William and the Werewolf in Hartshorne's Anc. metr. tales. Back

110. Otherwise a mark of the witch or wizard who can set the alb on other men: he comes out of their eyebrows in butterfly shape, Deut. sag. 1, 132. Back

111. Aw. 1, 165. KM. 2, 264. Straparola 2, 1. Pentam. 2, 5. Vuk 1, xxxix seq. Fornald. sög. 2, 150-1. Back

112. This shirt of victory reminds us of the child's shirt of luck (p. 874), which in Denmark is likewise called a victor's shirt (seyers-hue, -hielm, -serk). If we may ascribe high antiquity to the phrase 'born with helmet on,' such seyers-hielm foretells the future hero. Conf. Bulenger 3, 30 on amniomantia, i.e. divinatio per amnium seu membranam tertiam embryonis. Back

113. Disenchanting or defensive shirts have their counterpart in bewitching baneful ones. In a Servian song (Vuk 3, 30, 1. 786) a gold shirt is neither spun nor woven, but knitted, and a snake is worked into the collar. The shirt sent to Herakles, drenched in dragon's blood, is well known. Back

114. übel ougen, Parz. 407, 8 are spiteful eyes; whereas 'ein bœsez ouge' 71, 16 is a weak, sore eye. Back

115. It is another thing for conjurors to blind the eyes of men by jugglery: 'sunt et praestigiatores, qui alio nomine obstrigilli vocantur, quod praestringant vel obstringant humanorum aciem oculorum,' Hincm. Rem. ed. 1645. 1, 656. Back

116. Minna = to kiss may indeed seem a corruption of mynna (to give mouth), ON. mynnaz, conf. mundes minne, MsH. 1, 45a; still the other explanation has its weight too. Back

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