Halloween Hauntings, Part 5: Cajun Country Werewolves

Halloween Hauntings Part 5:

LOUP GAROU: CAJUN COUNTRY WEREWOLVES

loup garou por vous
Loup garou (or rou garou) is native to the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, although it migrated there from France.

In the part of Dixie Spirits dealing with Louisiana, I devote a chapter solely to 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? Besides the fact that werewolves don’t eat beef chow mein, the truth is, like all else occult lore emanating from Hollywood, they have 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 or related kith and kin. One variant one hears most in Louisiana, for example, is rou garou, who is 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.

Charles Perault made the tale of an innocent girl falling for the wiles of a loup garou famous, but the story goes back into antiquity.
Charles Perault made the tale of an innocent girl falling for the wiles of a loup garou famous, but the story goes back into antiquity.

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.

According to some lycans, they serve God not the Devil. In Italy they were called Benandanti and are "hounds of God" who fight witches and protect villages.
According to some lycans, they serve God not the Devil. In Italy they were part of a group of skinchangers called Benandanti and claimed to be “hounds of God” who fought witches and protected villages.

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.” I

n Italy there is a similar allegation; there the skinchangers–persons who went into trances and transformed into various animals, including wolves, who called themselves “benandanti” or “good walkers,” 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.

Les Lupins higher resolution lith 1858
Werewolves, being gregarious folk, like the Cajuns, have often been known gather together at the full moon to party and dance. Once such place  is Bayou Goula, where they hold the Werewolves Ball--Le Bal Goula. The real werewolf cotillion is not open to non-lycans. But mortals who fear not the moon when it is full may venture to Houma LA and take in RouGarou Fest.

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.

Werewolf attack 18th Cent engraving
Werewolves are traditionally believed to be ravenous beasts filled with carnal desire. Some confessed lycans have disputed this claim.

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.

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks
Dixie Spirits: true tales of the Strange and Supernatural south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
open-uri20150930-11-1wp63v
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South

Addendum:

Even in Charles Perault’s day the carnal proclivities of wolves, real and figurative, were well known and the French racontour added this wry moral to the end of his story:

The Moral
From this short story easy we discern
What conduct all young people ought to learn.
But above all, young, growing misses fair,
Whose orient rosy blooms begin t’appear:
Who, beauties in the fragrant spring of age,
With pretty airs young hearts are apt t’engage.
Ill do they listen to all sorts of tongues,
Since some inchant and lure like Syrens’ songs.
No wonder therefore ’tis, if over-power’d,
So many of them has the Wolf devour’d.
The Wolf, I say, for Wolves too sure there are
Of every sort, and every character.
Some of them mild and gentle-humour’d be,
Of noise and gall, and rancour wholly free;
Who tame, familiar, full of complaisance
Ogle and leer, languish, cajole and glance;
With luring tongues, and language wond’rous sweet,
Follow young ladies as they walk the street,
Ev’n to their very houses, nay, bedside,
And, artful, tho’ their true designs they hide;
Yet ah! these simpering Wolves! Who does not see
Most dangerous of Wolves indeed they be?

Halloween Hauntings Part 2: OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Halloween Hauntings 2:

OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Andrew Jackson visits the witch.
Andrew Jackson attempted to solve the mystery of the Bell Witch, but even he was no match for the Mysterious Spirit.

“A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted.”

—–Albert Goodpasture, 1886

John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the
John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the “Mysterious Spirit”

Much has been written about the supernatural doings between 1818 and 1820 in Adams, Tennessee.  In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, I devoted two full chapters to the Bell Witch, and in my latest effort, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I discuss her along with other Tennessee witches.  Although referred to as the Bell Witch, it was neither a witch, nor did it belong to the Bell family, although they were the ones mainly bedeviled by it.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

It began innocently enough; knockings and scrapings at night; then strange creatures were sighted in broad daylight.  John Bell, the patriarch of the family, at first thought it was just some local youths playing pranks on his family.  But soon it became clear to him and his family that no humans were causing the sounds and other physical phenomena.  Then one night it began to attack members of the family—notably John Bell and his beautiful daughter Betsy.  Quilts were pulled from the bed in the dark of the night, and Betsy and the others were violently assaulted by unseen hands; scratching and slapping and biting.  Yet there was nothing and no one to be seen.

At first the Bells only discussed the incidents among themselves, calling it “Our Family Troubles.”  Eventually word got out about the malevolent poltergeist haunting their home.  First their neighbors visted to see what was up; then the curious came from farther away came to see it for themselves.  Fame of the Mysterious Spirit spread far and wide.

At times the spirit was just mischievous and amusing; but it could turn vicious at a whim.  Moreover, it seemed to be aware of goings on over the whole community, traversing great distances unseen.

This image is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.
This old engraving is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.

The unearthly phenomenon even attracted the attention of the famous General Jackson, who mounted an expedition to get to the bottom of the haunting.  He arrived with a wagon and an entourage of skeptics.  First Jackson’s wagon became frozen on the road–until he acknowledged the Witch’s reality.  Then that night, one of Jackson’s entourage thought he could outsmart the invisible spirit–instead the would be witch-slayer became the object of the entity’s wrath and was driven out of the house.  Although Jackson was all for staying, his followers decided to flee for the safety of Nashville–the first time General Jackson was ever forced to retreat!

Many of the disturbances focused on the beautiful, buxom Betsy Bell, and the spirit—by now called The Bell Witch—took a personal interest in the girl, to the point of telling her to break up with her fiancée, and threatening violence if she didn’t.

Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was beset by paranormal events in Mississippi.
Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was bedeviled by paranormal events in Mississippi.

Ultimately Betsy married the local schoolteacher and moved to Mississippi with him.  As for her father, it was said he was poisoned by the witch; but who the witch really was, no one could say.

It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.
It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.

A local matron of common birth but ample girth, Kate Batts, was named by some as the culprit.  While Kate Batts had a number of personal oddities in her behavior, for all of that she was a God-fearing woman and no one dared accuse her to her face. Indeed, her modern descendants I have talked to say she was more sinned against than sinning by John Bell. The Bell family today has a different story, needless to say.

Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church.
Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church with her entourage.

Still, when Kate died, cats howled around her grave in a most uncanny way and such a dread fell on her resting place that no one dared approach it.  Her grave became overgrown and forgotten and to this day its location is not known.

As the historian Goodpasture declared, a book could be written about the Bell bewitchment—and have.  In fact, quite a number of books, plus two plays and an opera at last count.  Still, no one has fully plumbed the mystery—nor can it be said that the Bell Witch has ever truly gone away from Adams.

This frontier home where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and is allegedly still haunted.
This frontier home was where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone, but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and still haunted–so they say.

This brief post cannot hope to tell you all you need to know before you go to Adams; for further reading see, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and my more recent Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Go there, if you dare, and see for yourself

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South. Witches, Haints, Strange Lights & Sights, Uncanny Creatures; and where to go to experience them.