In the section of Dixie Spirits dealing with Louisiana, there is a chapter devoted solely to the loup garou—the Cajun version of the werewolf.
Before researching that chapter, I had assumed, like most folks, that the werewolf’s home turf was mainly England and Germany. After all, thanks to Hollywood, who doesn’t know about the werewolves of London and their Anglo-Saxon and Germanic kith and kin? The truth is, like most else occult emanating from Hollywood and the media, they have got it all wrong.
While there are indeed credible tales of man-wolf encounters that come from the British Isles and Germany, the truth be told, the epicenter of lycanthropy—in the Old World at least—is France. While in English we have but two terms for the werewolf, in France and its former colonies there are no fewer than sixty different names for the werewolf and its kith and kin. One variant one hears in Louisiana, for example, is rou garou, who simply seems to be the Cajun version of the beast.
Of course we are all familiar with the French fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast and Perault’s Little Red Riding Hood likewise centers on a wolf who can walk and talk like a human, and devours human flesh—although Perault also intimated that the carnal desires of the werewolf had sexual overtones as well. But as early as the Middle Ages, the French were penning romances involving werewolves, including one by poetess Marie de France. Obviously, when the French first colonized Louisiana, something not quite human came with them to settle in the swamps and bayous of the Delta.
The French, in fact, make an important distinction between genuine werewolves—skin changers who transform from man to wolf—and those persons who are mentally deranged and imagine themselves to be wolves. The delusion they call lupomanie—lupomania—while the term lycanthropy is reserved for the phenomena of true werewolfism. Even in English, someone who is disoriented or out of their senses is called “loopy.” Sigmund Freud treated a case of lupomania in late nineteenth century Vienna, although he confused the issue by calling it lycanthropy.
Another popular misconception perpetrated by the media is that werewolves (assuming there be such things) are cursed with this condition through no fault of their own, that it is a curse brought on by a cruel twist of fate. In fact, from accounts in the Middle Ages we know that those who practiced lycanthropy did so willingly, using a belt of wolf’s skin treated with a magic ointment to transform themselves. They were, in fact, considered sorcerers and assumed to be in league with the devil.
This last accusation—consorting with the devil—was disputed by at least one confessed werewolf. In 1692, in Livonia, on the Baltic Sea, one elderly lycanthrope named Theiss said that he and his confreres regularly fought the witches, who were in the service of the devil, and that he and his fellow lycans were in fact “god’s dogs.” In Italy there is a similar allegation; there the werewolves call themselves “benandanti” or “good walkers,” who, entering into a trance state, leave their human bodies and assume the spirit body of a wolf, in which form they do battle with the Evil Ones.
In the case of Louisiana’s loup garou, my sense is that though it is much talked about in general terms and Cajun folk will gladly spin a yarn or two for you, when you try to pin them down to specifics—date, place, name—they clam up real quick. Cajuns—or at least the ones I have met—are garrulous and outgoing, but when it comes to loup garou and who and where they may be found, my experience was an extreme reluctance to divulge specifics. Whether this is because they genuinely don’t know or whether they do and are afraid to talk I can’t say for sure, although I think the latter is true. I go into depth on this subject in Chapter 15 of Dixie Spirits and for more on it see that book.
One curious fact I did uncover was that the loup garou of the bayou gather together and hold a ball or party on occasion and this fete du bete is alleged to occur near a small community in swamp country called Bayou Goula. Why there and exactly when the clans of werewolves gather to cavort and make merry remains a secret I have yet to plum. As with all else uncanny and unexplained, I often rely on the kindness of strangers to inform and enlighten me on such things. Therefore, any out there who know more than I have so far unearthed, I and other readers of this blog would love to hear from.
So while the loup garou may not be quite the evil monsters the media and the Inquisition have made them out to be, until we know more of this fey creature and his family, I would advise caution to the curious—especially when the moon is full.
For more fey creatures and uncanny encounters in Louisiana and elsewhere in the South, see Dixie Spirits; for more weirdness in the same jugular vein, also read Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.