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"En forêts noir je vais les soirs..."

The Symbolic Meaning of Lycanthropy

Copyright 1989 by Lynna Landstreet. Please don't reproduce or redistribute this paper without asking me first. I'll probably say yes if you do ask, but I do like to know where my work is going.
 This is an essay I wrote in 1989 for an undergraduate course on the psychology of the arts. My reason for hauling it out of cold storage, despite the fact that I wrote it when I was (a) an undergrad, and (b) considerably more credulous about the writings of certain feminist and neopagan authors than I am now, is that I think that its subject matter is relevant to some of the recurring themes in other material in the Temple and other areas of this site. Several of the letters in the Temple Library refer to my discomfort with the growing phenomenon of what could be called "Wicca Lite" -- a sort of Disneyfied version of the Craft which downplays or eliminates anything difficult, threatening, or "dark", and hence sacrifices a considerable part of its depth and meaning. This paper delves into the side of nature, and human nature, that the Wicca Lite enthusiasts would prefer to avoid.
 If you wish to cite this paper in your own work, the following format is suggested: Landstreet, Lynna. "En forêts noir je vais les soirs...": The Symbolic Meaning of Lycanthropy." Unpublished paper, available electronically from Wild Ideas (http://www.wildideas.net).This is better than using the specific URL of this document, because I may reorganize the directory structure of this site from time to time, causing the addresses of specific pages to change.

There are many symbols and themes that recur in my work from time to time; a partial list might include witchcraft (Wicca) and other forms of pagan mysticism, animals of various kinds, the moon, the earth, the night, violence and the "dark side" of nature, and misunderstood "outsiders" of various types, including people or creatures that are thought to be evil but then revealed not to be. There is also one specific image that has been appearing of late, which seems to synthesize all of these: that of the wolf, or more specifically the werewolf.
 In this paper I propose to examine some of the symbolic and mythic associations of the image that may have played a part in my attraction to it, beginning with the wolf's popular role as an image of evil, and then looking beyond the surface to what qualities our culture has, often erroneously, stigmatized as evil, and how the wolf has come to symbolize these qualities, which include: nature, particularly untamed nature, nature not subject to the control of culture; the night, and hence the unknown and unconscious; and the earth, and all that is considered earthly -- the body, mortality, animality, sexuality, predation, and death. I will also look specifically at the image of the werewolf, its pagan and shamanistic roots, and what it means to the human psyche. Specific examples of the use of these images will include two pieces of fiction of my own, "Full Moon" and "The Girl in Red"; two works by fantasy writer Tanith Lee, the novel Lycanthia, or the Children of Wolves and the short story "Wolfland" from her anthology of revisionist fairy tales, Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer; and Neil Jordan's film The Company of Wolves.

The primary association that most people seem to have with the image of the wolf is that of evil. No other creature has been so unrelentingly cast as a villain in virtually every medium, from fairy tales to Saturday morning cartoons. While the existence of this symbolism may be obvious, the reasons for it are somewhat more obscure. If one takes the time to look beyond the representation of the wolf and examine the reality, one discovers not the rapacious, sadistic destroyer we fear, but an animal which is highly intelligent and social and above all, very similar to our own species.
 In the book Wolf and Man: Evolution in Parallel, a number of writers from both the social and natural sciences explore these similarities. While the idea of a commonality between humans and any sort of animal, let alone wolves, may be threatening to some, the editors make clear their opposition to what they term "...the absurdity of recognizing a division of the animal kingdom into two categories, human and nonhuman, with the concomitant moral loading of categories," [1] asking:

Who has the audacity to analyze human behavior as if it were a world apart when we can document cultural innovation among Japanese macaques, carry on grammatical conversations with chimpanzees, and report that a wolf would rather answer live wolf howls made by humans than audio recordings of other wolves? [2]

Psychologist Roger Peters notes that, like humans, wolves seem to employ "cognitive maps" (mental representations of geographical areas), and a variety of hunting strategies which implies "not only knowledge of destinations, routes and landmarks, but weighing of probabilities and values, such as prey availability and time away from young." [3] A study on wolf vocalization concludes that it includes universal as well as individual communication, necessitating a symbolism that is the same throughout the species. [4] And I use the word symbolism deliberately, despite the widespread belief that the use of symbols is one of the factors that distinguish humans from nonhuman animals, for according to the editors of Wolf and Man:

The complexity that we are now beginning to recognize in scent-marking and in wolf vocalizations suggests that, though they include signs, they also include symbols... (Wolf) Vocalizations are not merely responses to stimuli. They are patterned to serve as an integral aspect of the social system and a tool of wolf culture. [5]

The fact that the wolf has been widely misunderstood and wrongly labelled as evil may in fact be a key to its appeal as a symbol to many people, myself included. Anyone who has ever felt misunderstood, isolated, or rejected by society can identify with the wolf. Loners, introverts, and other assorted "misfits" can readily relate to it -- indeed, one epithet frequently applied to these people is "lone wolf".

Why is it that the wolf has been stigmatized in this way? To answer this question, we must explore some of the other things our society has traditionally defined as evil:

From the beginning, when Genesis commanded man to go forth, be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over the earth, Western civilizations have grappled with a nature-culture opposition that has allowed no place for nature. [6]

This opposition was perhaps the first of the series of dualisms that characterize Western thought, and Christian thought in particular, to this day; culture/nature, human/animal, light/dark, spirit/flesh, heaven/earth, rational/irrational, male/female... [7] Every conceivable form of polarity is codified into a rigid opposition in which one pole, the "evil" one, must be suppressed at all costs. But according to the Jungian principle of enantiodromia, the suppression of one of a pair of opposites that would normally form a dynamic balance results in the suppressed quality reasserting itself forcibly, generally in the subconscious. [8] Thus an immense amount of psychic power resides in the symbols and images that Christianity has stigmatized as evil, including that of the wolf. And in light of the culture/nature opposition, the wolf's very intelligence and similarity to humans may in fact be a key factor in its stigmatization:

In our cultural tradition, where nature is intolerable and animals are inferior, the wild wolf becomes not only intolerable and inferior, but downright immoral in its refusal to accept the position allocated to it. Only the Devil opposes the just and moral goals of Christian Western man, so it is not surprising that the wolf is our prototypical symbol of evil... No other animal is as symbolic of of the assumptions upon which our culture is based; no other animal, by its very existence, poses such a threat to our well-being. [9]

The wolf is also associated with many other phenomena which are likewise relegated to the "darker" side of Christian dualism. As a nocturnal creature, the wolf is linked to the night and the moon. In Western occult tradition, the moon governs magic, psychic abilities, dreams, emotion, and intuition. The moon also, by its very nature, as it waxes and wanes and causes the tides to flow, represents change, especially cyclic change. This has an obvious connection to the idea of lycanthropy, and werewolves are often thought to take on their wolf form at the full moon, a time which is considered in Wicca to be the peak or "high tide" of the psychic energy which is the basic stuff of magic. The wolf's lunar quality also links it to moon-goddesses such as Artemis and Hecate, as Robert Graves writes in The White Goddess:

Why the cat, pig and wolf were considered particularly sacred to the Moon-goddess is not hard to discover. Wolves howl to the moon and feed on corpse-flesh, their eyes shine in the dark, and they haunt wooded mountains. [10]

Leto, the mother of Artemis and Apollo, took on the form of a wolf during her last months of pregnancy. According to the classical myth, this was to hide herself from the wrath of Hera, since it was Hera's husband, Zeus who had impregnated her. Hera also decreed that Leto "was to give birth in a time of utter blackness, or 'when only wolves could see.'" [11] Wolves are often associated with Artemis, not surprisingly considering her identity as the goddess of the moon, the forests, and the hunt. Artemis Lykeia (from lykos, wolf) was one of her titles [12], and in Attica she was known as Wolf One. [13] Her brother Apollo also had his wolfish aspect as Apollo Lykaon [14], a title which may be traceable to pre-Ionian origins, since the classical image of Apollo as god of the sun, light, and reason would hardly seem compatible with the symbol of the wolf. According to Barbara G. Walker, lycanthropy derived its name from this aspect of Apollo, who was "mated to Artemis as a divine Wolf Bitch at Troezen" [15], an image which must certainly stem from preclassical mythology. Probably both Artemis and Apollo, like many other deities, were adopted from cultures conquered and absorbed by the Greeks.

From a psychoanalytic standpoint, the wolf's link with the night is also significant. The night corresponds to the subconscious, and the shadow. In a visually oriented culture, darkness is disorienting, as visibility is limited, and familiar objects are reduced to vaguely defined, sinister shapes. One is forced to rely on the other, less developed senses. The clarity and certainty that we are so accustomed to vanish with the setting sun, and there are few things that our society seems to fear more than uncertainty. The night thus represents the unknown and the unknowable.
 Jungian analyst Nor Hall writes of a time of night known as "the hour of the wolf":

The hour of the wolf is the time between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is the deepest, when nightmares are most palpable, when ghosts and demons hold sway. The hour of the wolf is also the hour when most children are born. [16]

It is perhaps the night and the dark, more than anything, that represent the suppressed side of Christian dualism. Even our very language reflects this: we speak of the "dark side" of something, meaning its negative or destructive side, "dark nights of the soul", "black magic", "black moods", and so on. Wiccan priestess Starhawk writes that the dark is "all that we don't want to see -- fear, anger, sex, grief, death, the unknown." [17] The primordial dark is the dark of the earth, which is simultaneously womb and tomb, the beginning and end of life. And the earth and all things earthly, flesh and body and sex and birth and death, are also firmly placed on the negative pole, as part of what Aniela Jaffé refers to as "the chthonic spirit", when writing of the influence on modern art of a "mysticism of the spirit of the earth... alien to the 'heavenly' spirit," and thus to Christianity itself. Indeed, she characterizes the chthonic spirit as "Christianity's dark adversary". [18]
 The chthonic spirit will remain the "dark adversary" of Christianity, as long as Christianity continues to rigidly separate heaven and earth, spirit and flesh, for it affirms the sacredness of the very things we are accustomed to seeing as the repository of all evil: the earth, the body, and untamed nature. And as a wild, nocturnal, earthly and predatory creature, the wolf is a chthonic symbol par excellence. Perhaps because of its association with all things earthly, the wolf has also come to be associated with sexuality. This aspect of the wolf is evident in Lee's Lycanthia and in my own "Full Moon", and is one of the major themes in The Company of Wolves, as we shall see. In particular, the wolf seems to be associated with socially unacceptable forms of sexuality. According to Montague Summers,

The wolf is the eternal symbol of ferocity and inordinate evil appetite, hard by which rides cruel devouring lust. The desire of blood and the desire of the flesh are found to be never far apart. [19]

Summers notes that the Greek word lykos was sometimes applied to an aggressive homosexual lover, while the desires of older women who pursue younger men are likened to "the venery of she-wolves in heat". [20] The Roman word lupa (she-wolf) was synonymous with "whore", giving rise to various related words such as lupari, to fornicate, lupanarium, a brothel, and lupanaris, lascivious or lewd. [21] Psychiatrist Robert Eisler in his book Man Into Wolf, connects lycanthropy with sadomasochism, likening Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs to Artemis Lykeia. [22] Nor Hall confirms that Artemis as "Wolf One" had a more sexual image than is usually associated with the classical image of the goddess as chaste maiden: "With Artemis the frenzy feared was more the frenzy of estrus -- of animal heat or rutting." [23] In Sparta, young men were whipped with willow branches (a tree ruled by the moon) at her shrine during the festival of Tithenedia. [24] (I was rather surprised that Eisler did not refer to this, considering his thesis!)
 The specific association of the wolf or werewolf with aggressive or violent sexuality presumably stems from the fact that it is a predatory creature. Our society has always had an ambivalent attitude toward predation. On the one hand, the human species fancies itself "naturally" carnivorous (despite a fair amount of physiological evidence to the contrary [25]), and glorifies the image of "Man, the Mighty Hunter", but on the other, few people nowadays wish to hunt their own meat, or even to be reminded of its origins, and predatory animals are alternately glamourized as "noble" and stigmatized as cruel or evil. Ellen Cannon Reed observes modern humans' attitude toward our own predation with a certain amount of cynicism:

We are a civilized people. We buy our meats neatly packaged and bloodless in a grocery store. We are not a pack of howling savages who chase down a stag, kill it with knives, who shout with triumph at its death, dance around covered with blood and gore. No, that isn't us... We 'civilized folk' nearly wiped out the American bison, leaving only bones littering the plain... We do civilized things like hunt wolves from helicopters and bash in the heads of baby seals so some rich bitch can line her gloves or give her kid a stuffed seal made with real fur... [26]

A wolf is pictured on the tarot card The Moon, which traditionally refers to mystery, hidden things, the unknown, the unconscious, and dreams. In Reed's book, The Witches' Tarot, in which she links each tarot card to a "path" on the Tree of Life in the Hebrew Qabala, The Moon corresponds to the 29th Path, entitled "The Corporeal Intelligence", which runs between the spheres Netzach, which governs the emotions, and Malkuth, which represents the earth. The 29th Path deals with physical evolution, the body, and all of the fleshly "facts of life" that Christian dualism relegates to the Devil's sphere of influence; sex, death, birth, and predation. Reed is sharply critical of the stigmatization of this Path:

The 29th Path, and all it represents, is part of the Tree, and is as holy, as spiritual in its own way as any other path or sphere on the Tree. To deny it, to accept only the 'nice' parts of the tree, is foolish and wrong. That savagery, that aspect of Nature is still with us, and not just in darkest Africa... What would you do if someone harmed your child? What would you do to protect your loved ones? Yeah, me too. Without a second thought...
 'Civilization' denies the 29th Path, or relegates it to less holy places. We, who are the most dangerous predator of all, have nearly wiped out Nature's other predators in our denial... [The tarot card] The Moon has a wolf on it, a symbol of Nature, its savagery and nobility... the wolf never kills for fun. It never kills just to prove that it can. It kills for food, and never more than it needs... The presence of the wolf acknowledges humankind's attitude toward this path, for the wolf has one of the worst, and least deserved, reputations of Nature's creatures. [27]

However, if we look beyond our own society's preoccupation with "civilized" dualism, we can often find evidence of reverence for those aspects of life that are symbolized by the wolf, and for the wolf itself, and here we begin to see what the true origins of lycanthropy might be. Robert Graves connects the wolf with the Oak-cult in pre-Christian Britain and Europe [28], and Barbara G. Walker tells of Irish tribes who said that their "spiritual fathers" were wolves; a Slavic custom in which newborn children were passed through a wolf skin, in order to be "born of the She-Wolf"; and an Irish tribe in Ossory and an Amazon tribe called the Neuri, both of whom were said to turn into wolves during an annual religious festival. [29] Legends such as these last point toward a possible origin of the werewolf myth in totemistic religious practises. The myth itself seems to be universal, with virtually every society on earth having some form of legend of humans who periodically transform into animal shape. In areas where wolves are not found, we hear instead of werefoxes, werejaguars, or weretigers. [30] Frank Hamel traces the roots of these myths to an animistic worldview:

The belief that men can change into animals and animals into men is as old as life itself. It originates in the theory that all things are created from one substance, mind or spirit, which according to accident or design takes on a distinctive appearance, to mortal eye, of shape, colour and solidity. Transformation from one form to another then becomes a thinkable proposition. [31]

The idea of lycanthropy is thus rooted in a sense of connectedness with nature, and in the experience which Jaffé refers to as "mystical submission in the chthonic spirit and the primal ground of nature." [32] Thus it is no wonder that it is seen by rigidly Christian writers such as Rev. Summers as an evil and abominable practise. Summers is contemptuous toward writers such as Hamel and the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould who attempt to find mythic or spiritual origins for the myth, accusing them of "disregard(ing) the science of God for the science of man." Anthropology, he declares, is and must remain "the humblest handmaid of theology." [33]
 Evidence of the culture-nature split is easy to find in accounts of lycanthropy. In one mediaeval werewolf trial, we are told that the accused "fell into the way, as is natural to defiant and desperate people of rude habits, of wandering into the woods and wild places." [34] In another, we are told that the werewolf received his power as a gift from a mysterious figure called the "Lord of the Forest," who was assumed by the court to be the Devil. [35] This approach to shape-changing is by no means universal, though, for as Hamel points out:

Savage races do not necessarily connect the idea of transformation with any thought of evil... Among primitive peoples, to change in to an animal did not necessarily imply a descent in the scale of being. To them there is but a slight line of demarcation between the animal world and mankind. They are not influenced so much by the idea of human degradation as by a beautiful belief in the brotherhood and fellowship of all creation. [36]

The idea of thus immersing oneself in the "primal ground of nature" also carries with it the implication of surrender to the unconscious, or a loss of conscious control. And since Western society has fetishized control as much as certainty, rationality, and separation from nature, this is an additional reason for the horror with which lycanthropy is viewed. But in a society which values the mystical and mysterious, such surrender could be experienced as a transcendent, ecstatic state, a unity with all that is. Thus, we find older legends of shape-changing as sacred:

The goddess (Artemis) is a shape-shifter: she and her brother both -- the two lights of heaven, moon and sun, born out of utter blackness, are children of endless transformations. They inspire sudden changes, especially into animal forms. Artemis favoured stags and she-wolves and bears. [37]

This is not to suggest that these peoples had a purely positive, "Disney-like" view of nature by any means. Animistic societies were and are generally well-acquainted with the "dark side" of nature, that aspect that is "red in tooth and claw", which forms the basis for our fear of the Qabalistic 29th Path. As Hall notes:

All-animal Artemis could be a dreadful goddess, taking revenge on man by killing, dismemberment, and devouring. Blood giving and blood letting, she rules deep within the untamed forests of the human psyche. To heed her call means "to go berserk" -- to don the thick coat of the bear. Berserkers, the mad warriors and werewolves of the North, were exempt from laws and social order and were feared because the animal frenzy that might overcome them at any time, even off the battlefield. [38]

Lycanthropy and other forms of shamanistic shape-shifting could thus be dangerous and disturbing as well as ecstatic: a form of submission to the Shadow, which always holds both negative and positive attributes. One interesting aspect of the werewolf myth is the concept of the lycanthropic flower. It is given by Summers as one of many methods of becoming a werewolf:

The transformation was sometimes effected by donning a girdle made of the pelt of the animal whose shape was to be assumed... the use of a magical ointment... the drinking of water out of the footprint of a savage wolf, eating the brains or flesh of the animal, drinking from haunted streams or pools, plucking and wearing or smelling of the lycanthropic flower, [or] the chawing (sic) of some herb... [39]

I found the idea of a lycanthropic flower extremely compelling when I first read of it, in Lee's "Wolfland". I am still not certain what precisely drew me to it, but I suspect it had something to do with the association of two symbols which would seem to be contradictory in their meaning: the wolf and the flower. The former, as we have seen, is largely associated with evil, or at best the "dark side" of nature and the unconscious, while the latter is almost exclusively positive in its valence, a symbol of love, peace, and beauty. But there is always something attractive in such a "beauty and the beast" pairing -- perhaps this is reflective of a suppressed cultural longing for a balanced polarity, rather than the inimical dualism of Christian Western thought.
 Wicca, like other Western occult or esoteric traditions, and Eastern religions such as Taoism, recognizes the existence of polarity in all things, so in that sense it is a dualistic religion, but the type of dualism it works with is one of balanced, complementary opposites. This is reflected in the Wiccan image of divinity: a God and Goddess whose union creates all things. The traditional Wiccan wine blessing emphasizes the necessity of this balance: the athamé (a sacred knife), representing the male principle and the elements of air and fire, is placed in the chalice, representing the female principle and the elements of water and earth, while a blessing is spoken:

Neither one can work without the other;
One without the other is incomplete...
The Sun brings forth light,
And the Moon holds it in darkness.
As above, so below...
And conjoined they be one in truth... [40]

The image of the lycanthropic flower reflects this sort of dynamic balance of opposites, wherein the "dark" and "light" sides of nature meet. It is also a remarkably sensual image, perhaps because a dynamic interplay of this sort always recalls sexuality. The simple image of a flower itself can also evoke sexuality, as in the work of Georgia O'Keefe, whose flower paintings appear vibrantly fleshy and sometimes bear a distinct resemblance to the female genitalia. There is also a legend that orchids grow where a wolf's semen has fallen on the earth. [41]

Lycanthia, the wolf-goddess in Tanith Lee's book of the same name, is associated with lilies, and her very name means wolf-flower (from the Greek lykos, wolf, plus anthea, flower, although the name is erroneously identified as Roman in the book). [42] Lee is a writer who draws very heavily upon symbols and archetypes to give her work the almost mythic richness that characterizes it . Christian, the novel's protagonist, is a young musician who is dying of a tuberculosis-like disease of the lungs, and leaves his studies at the conservatory in Paris to spend the winter at an old château in the north of France that once belonged to his grandfather. The château is located in the midst of a vast forest, into which he is advised never to go alone by night. The small village near the château is steeped in traditions of the past, and riddled with curious symbols and images, including one inn that has a giant lily above its doors, another whose sign is an image of two hands making a peculiar slanted cross, a mysterious stone monument in the village square, and a very unusual stained glass window in the local church:

...the Virgin Mary, shrouded in veils, her arms overflowing with lilies... Her eyes were like sockets, her long mouth had no gentleness, rather it was cruel, peculiarly unhuman... The lilies spilling over her hands were also wrong. Hairy, fleshy flowers, impure and ugly... [43]

Christian is also warned about a strange couple, the de Lagenays, who live somewhere in the forest and have some mysterious connection with the château. His efforts to find out more about them are met with silence and the slanted-cross gesture from the villagers. Christian is clearly portrayed as the civilized stranger intruding upon a primeval world where nothing is as it seems. Reason and rationality are of no use in solving the mystery; it is only when Christian departs from the safe and accepted way of doing things and wanders into the forest alone that he meets the mysterious de Lagenays and discovers their secret: they are werewolves.
 Lee's werewolves are hardly the ravening monsters of legend, although they initially put up a pretense of such in an effort to frighten Christian -- because they are frightened of him. Rather, they are the misunderstood and hated victims of the local peasantry. Even the legend of their origin reflects their identity as victims: long ago, a young woman was raped by a magician -- Christian's ancestor -- in the form of a wolf. Her child was a werewolf, and, ever after that, the lycanthropic gene is activated by a rape. Gabrielle de Lagenay was born after her mother, who bore the lycanthropic gene, was raped by Christian's grandfather, and her son Luc was born after she was raped by the caretaker of the château.
 The werewolves are adamant that they do not kill humans, and seem content to live outcast from the village, hated but reluctantly tolerated. When the villagers do finally descend upon the château in order to "exorcise" the de Lagenays, they do not attempt to defend themselves, even knowing that they will probably be killed. They seem pacifistic almost to the point of self-destruction, as though they have so internalized their role as victims that they cannot conceive of being anything else. However, in contrast with Christian's morose pessimism, Lee's werewolves seem to live in a state of innocence, almost like the "holy fools" of myth, or Rousseau's "noble savages". The forest that holds nameless terrors for Christian and the villagers is for them a refuge, a place of peace and beauty, as reflected in the song Gabrielle habitually sings:

En forêts noir je vais les soirs,
Les belles étoiles sont au-dessus.
Je pense que dans leurs luminéres
Je vois les yeux de ceux qui m'aiment.

(In forests dark I go by night,
The beautiful stars are up above.
I think that in their light
I see the eyes of those that love me.) [44]

The association of the wolf or werewolf with sexuality, especially aberrant sexuality, is clearly evident. Gabrielle and Luc are lovers as well as mother and son, and eventually form a ménage á trois with Christian. Although Christian and Luc never in fact become lovers, there seems to be an implicit sexual attraction between them throughout. Even when Christian is attacked by Luc in wolf form early in the book, the experience is described in a distinctly sexual terms:

The beautiful face of something entirely beyond evil was poised close to his... Terror came. Christian knew terror. Terror was sensuous. It demanded surrender in a thrashing of limbs, wordless screaming. Paroxysm. An orgasm of agonized death beneath the warm body of this relentless lover. [45]

There is a curious interplay between Christianity and Paganism in the book. The village is nominally Catholic, but the Virgin Mary is worshipped as La Dame aux Lys (The Lady of the Lilies), a Christianized version of the primeval wolf-goddess whom the Romans named Lycanthia. [46] An image of the goddess crowns the bizarre monument in the village square:

It came out of the stone just above the waist, as though leaning from a window. And it was female, so much was definite, for two full but pendulous breasts hung from the torso. The hands, which rested behind it, lightly gripping the supporting pylon, had four long fingers, which in turn extended into spatulate claws. The arms, the shoulders, the neck, these had an oddly prepossessing femininity, a delicate roundness... the anatomy seemed of a more recent design than the rest of the carving. The representation of hair, too, resembled the crimpings and coilings of Roman statuary. But the face -- the face belonged to some remoter time... Despite the decay, and the bluntness of its original formation (which might be contemporaneous with the drawings of the Trois Frères cavern), the visage was, however, unmistakable. It was the face of a wolf. [47]

However, the Lady of the Lilies seems to be more propitiated out of fear than worshipped out of adoration, and the werewolves are feared and hated for their perceived association with her. The association, however, seems to exist only in the minds of the villagers; the werewolves themselves are alienated from their Pagan roots and feel no more connection with the goddess than with the Christian church. The peculiar X-shaped cross which is everywhere in the village, and is particularly associated with the werewolves, is revealed to be a symbol known as the Lysinthe, or wolf-cross, which is rooted in the gesture instinctively made by someone being attacked by a wolf -- the crossing of the arms to protect the throat. [48] The importance of symbols in the book is explicitly acknowledged by Christian, when the villagers intent upon exorcising the werewolves break in the door of the château using the statue of the wolf-goddess as a battering ram.

But to break in the door was a symbol, just as the implement of ramming was a symbol. As the Lysinthe itself was a symbol. They were attuned to symbols here, they relied on them. And in this bizarre vocabulary, having got so far, there could be no symbol to replace that of the exorcism, no pattern in which they might fit the alternative of retreat. [49]

Ultimately, it is Christian who becomes the true outcast, rejected by both the de Lagenays and the village. For what was feared by the villagers was not the werewolves alone, but the trinity formed of the magician, the master of the château, and the two wolves, his acolytes, which will provide a focus for the power of the wolf-goddess. When Christian is unable to protect the de Lagenays, the villagers realize there is no threat -- and the werewolves (and Christian himself) realize that he does not truly love them. Having failed to adapt himself to the numinous world of the forest and village, he returns to the world of the city, realizing that, in his heart, he had never left the city behind at all.

The short story "Wolfland" has certain similarities to Lycanthia, but many differences as well. A revisionist Little Red Riding Hood (it appears in an anthology of skewed versions of fairy tales), it concerns a young girl, Lisel, who is sent off (in a scarlet riding-cloak) to visit her mysterious grandmother, Anna the Matriarch, who lives "in a great wild château in the great wild forest." [50] (Interestingly, this is the same phrase used in The Iron Stove, and which I used in the exercise we did in class to come up with the story which eventually led to "The Girl In Red".) The grandmother is revealed to be a werewolf, and eventually makes Lisel one as well. Like Lycanthia, "Wolfland" employs the image of the lycanthropic flower, according it more importance, in fact, as the eating of the lycanthropic flower is the means of becoming a werewolf. The image of the wolf-goddess also appears, but there the similarities end. Anna, the werewolf of "Wolfland", is hardly a victim, as her title ("the Matriarch") implies. Lycanthropy, in fact, provided her an escape from victimization; she deliberately became a werewolf in order to escape an abusive husband, after the legend of the lycanthropic flower was told to her by a nurse while she was recuperating from a severe beating:

...it's always been here. The wolf-magic. Wherever wolves have been, you can find the wolf-magic... The château has it. That's why the flowers grow here... It's simple. If any eat the flowers, then they receive the gift. It comes from the spirit, the wolfwoman, or maybe she's a goddess, an old goddess left over from the beginning of things, before Christ came to save us all... You swallow the flowers, and you call her, and she comes, and she gives it to you. And then it's yours, until you die. [51]

Less pacifistic than Luc and Gabrielle de Lagenay by far, Anna had no qualms about tearing out her husband's throat while in wolf form. Although Lisel is initially appalled by her grandmother's secret, she is gradually shown to have a wolflike side to her as well. When a wolf jumps up on the carriage in which she rides on her way to Anna's château, she responds in a distinctly wolflike manner:

With a shrill howl, scarcely knowing what she did, Lisel flung herself at the closed door and the wolf on the far side of it. Her eyes also blazed, her teeth also were bared, and her nails raised as if to claw. Her horror was such that she appeared ready to attack the wolf in its own primeval mode... [52]

When Lisel learns that the liqueur which her grandmother has been serving her is in fact made from the lycanthropic flower, she is horrified, but Anna points out to her:

I've put nothing on you that was not already yours. Look in a mirror. Look at your hair and your eyes and your beautiful teeth. Haven't you always preferred the night to the day, staying up 'til the morning, lying abed till noon? Don't you love the cold forest? Doesn't the howl of the wolf thrill you through with fearful delight? And why else should the Wolfland accord you an escort, a pack of wolves running by you on the road? Do you think you'd have survived if you'd not been one of their kind, too? [53]

Thus Anna plays the role of psychopompos or initiator, guiding Lisel into discovering a hidden part of herself, a part which, in the context of this story, is connected with freedom and empowerment.

Neil Jordan's film The Company of Wolves, written by Jordan and novelist Angela Carter and based on a story by Carter, also derives from the Red Riding Hood myth, but there the resemblance ends. The film takes place within the dream of a young girl, in which she imagines herself living in a mediaeval village surrounded by a wild and rather surrealistic forest. Throughout the film she is told a series of stories -- morality tales, in essence -- by her prudish and overprotective grandmother, all of which involve werewolves.
 But where the werewolves of Lycanthia and "Wolfland" were female-identified and, respectively, either misunderstood victims or women empowered to escape victimization, the werewolves of Rosalie's grandmother's stories are all male, victimizing women and children. She is continually warned to beware of wolves, never to stray from the path in the forest, and not to trust men (especially not if their eyebrows meet in the centre, a sure sign of lycanthropy). Her grandmother's warnings about werewolves seem in this context to be essentially warnings against sex, a mediaeval version of the familiar "They're all after one thing" refrain.
 The culture/nature split is one of the pervading themes of the film, as Rosalie is repeatedly cautioned to stay in the safe, predictable world of the village and the well-worn path, and to steer clear of the dangerous, chaotic realm of nature, sexuality, wolves and men. (It is interesting that here women are linked with culture and men with nature, rather than vice-versa as is more common.) However, Rosalie is not content to accept the worldview presented to her. She is fascinated rather than repelled by the forest and its creatures, which continually intrude upon the village. She questions everything, from the assumptions of female powerlessness (when her grandmother remarks how tragic it was that her sister was caught by wolves "all alone, with nobody to save her," Rosalie asks "Why couldn't she save herself?"), to the negative image of wolves ("When the real wolves mate, do the dogs beat the bitches afterwards?" she asks her grandmother, after hearing a story in which a woman is abused by two successive husbands, one a werewolf and one a "normal" human).
 Gradually, she finds the courage to tell her own stories, which evolve as her own awareness of the world does. In the first, a peasant woman who has been "done a terrible wrong" by a young noble, shows up, pregnant, at his wedding, and after declaring that "the wolves in the forest are more decent," smashes a large mirror in the hall, which causes the assembled guests to all transform into wolves. These werewolves, however, appear more ridiculous than menacing, as, still dressed in their wedding finery, they climb onto the tables and messily devour the remnants of the feast while the musicians play on as if nothing had happened, and the peasant woman laughs hysterically. Later, she has the wolves "serenade" her and her baby as she rocks her child, high in a tree, still laughing. "What would be the pleasure in that?" asks Rosalie's mother. "The pleasure," Rosalie says, "would come from knowing the power that she had."
 Eventually, while on her way to her grandmother's house, she meets a genuine werewolf on the path. Rather than being afraid, she willingly follows him off the path to picnic on the food she was bringing to her grandmother. She does not, however, submit to his sexual overtures any more than to her grandmother's warnings, and after the picnic, returns to the path and continues on her way. As in the fairy tale, he reaches the house before her and kills the grandmother, but rather than wait passively to be rescued by a brave woodsman, Rosalie seizes his gun and shoots him with it. However, she only wounds him and when she sees him, in wolf form, whining and licking at his wound, she apologizes and sits down beside him, telling him a story about another wounded wolf. In this story, a young she-wolf is wounded by a hunter, and, having transformed into a little girl, is taken in by a priest, returning eventually to the forest after she is healed, "for after all, she was just a young girl, who had strayed from the path in the forest, and remembered what she found there."
 When Rosalie doesn't return from her grandmother's house, the villagers come looking for her, and seeing a wolf jump out the window of the house, break down the door, fearing the worst -- and find a second wolf, wearing Rosalie's cross around its neck. Her mother stops her father from shooting the creature, and the wolf runs off to join the others in the forest. In the final scene, the entire pack of wolves are seen running into the house where the girl who has dreamed the entire film is sleeping, and burst into her bedroom as she awakens.
 Thus the symbolic meaning of the werewolf changes through the film as Rosalie's attitude toward that half of reality represented by the "chthonic spirit" does: from a terrifying, uncontrollable menace, it becomes something that can be mastered, then something that is not evil at all, but merely misunderstood, and finally, an essential part of the self.

I began the story "Full Moon" several years ago, but abandoned it after a few pages, as I've done with quite a number of stories, plays, first chapters of novels, and so on. This summer, while sorting through a file folder full of old writings, I discovered the story fragment, and decided to rework it. I've been working on it on and off since then, and presented a thirteen-page excerpt of it in my Fiction Workshop class in October.
 The story explicitly links lycanthropy with totemism and Pagan ritual, as a Wiccan coven on a retreat in the wilderness meets a mysterious woman who has been injured accidentally by a hunter, apparently while performing some sort of totem animal ritual wearing a wolf skin. The connection with the wolf-goddess Artemis Lykeia is also made; the narrator's name is Diana, the Roman name for Artemis, and the wolflike woman's name is Lykeia.
 The story is a romance of sorts between the two, and also an account of Diana's gradual evolution away from "civilized" city life and toward making a reality of the connectedness with nature that her religion preaches, but doesn't always practise. Lykeia is somewhat contemptuous of "city witches" who speak of identifying with nature, but are unwilling or unable to truly give themselves over to it, or to sacrifice the benefits of civilization. She continually challenges Diana on the contradiction between her ideals and her actual lifestyle, and, when Diana finally discovers that Lykeia is a werewolf, gives her the choice of remaining in the forest with her and becoming a werewolf as well, or of returning to the city and never seeing her again: culture or nature, but not both. Or more specifically, not a hypocritical fetishization of nature while refusing to truly confront it on its own terms.
 The connection of the wolf with sexuality is also very apparent. The attraction between Diana and Lykaia is fierce and immediate, almost frightening to Diana in its intensity. In fact, the sexual component of the story came close to frightening me at times. It is always a somewhat unsettling experience when a story begins to "write itself", when the words pour seemingly straight from the unconscious to the page, bypassing the censor of the conscious mind as they go. (I suppose this shows that I am not immune to Western society's fetishization of conscious control!) This began happening during the first sexual encounter between Diana and Lykaia, and the resulting passage was disturbingly intense, almost to the point of being violent (I deleted this section when I presented the story in the Fiction Workshop).
 I was somewhat reassured, though, when I attended a lecture on pornography given by writer Susie Bright while in San Francisco earlier this fall. According to Bright, much of what we are accustomed to referring to as violent sex is in fact not violent at all, but merely excessively intense by society's standards, an absolute submission to the animal side of our natures, which a culture conditioned to suppressing that side finds threatening in the extreme. In this light, the scene in question seems to fit very well with the essential concept of the piece.

The other story, "The Girl in Red", developed, as I mentioned earlier, out of an exercise we peformed in class, which involved meditating on an image drawn from the fairy tale "The Iron Stove", and seeing if the image "wanted to tell us a story". The image I chose to work with was "the great wild forest", and the story it told me was the following:

A little girl is sent on an errand into the great wild forest. She is warned to beware of wolves. In the forest, she becomes afraid; although she doesn't see any actual wolves, she is convinced that they are lurking behind every bush and tree. She decides to leave the path, because she is sure that the wolves are waiting to ambush her further along the way. She soon becomes lost in the forest, still afraid that the wolves are hiding all around her. Finally it is too dark to continue, and, still terrified, she lies down to sleep. She awakens, thinking that daylight has arrived, but then realizes that the light is that of the full moon above. She looks down at her hands and sees that they are wolves' paws -- she has become a wolf.

"The Girl in Red" developed from this framework, but it is far more complex. When looking over the above story after I had written it, I realized its parallels to Little Red Riding Hood. Later that night, when I was in that state between waking and sleeping where I get so many of my ideas, the phrase "The story is often told, but it is always told wrong" came into my head, followed by a flood of ideas and words centering around a profoundly altered Little Red Riding Hood. I knew that by the time I managed to wake up, turn on the computer and boot up my word processing program, I would have lost the flow, and if I tried to write it down by hand, I probably wouldn't be able to read it by morning, so I simply willed myself to remember it. Fortunately, this actually worked, and the next day I was able to begin the story with the following:

The story is often told, but it is always told wrong. Too much time has passed; the young know nothing and the memories of the old grow dim. But there are a few, even now, who remember...

The tale is set in a tiny village in an unnamed place and time, but it seems to me to resemble "dark ages" Europe, shortly after the introduction of Christianity, although depending on the specific locale, it could probably have taken place at any time up through the 17th century or so. Christianity has nominally taken hold, but the villagers are still in essence worshipping Pagan gods who "wore the clothing of saints," and propitiating a mysterious presence known as the Old Woman of the Woods, or the Grandmother, and the surrounding forest is still regarded as a magical, numinous entity. The church is determined to stamp out the old ways, but when the people reluctantly cease such practises, the village is stricken by a mysterious plague causing madness and miscarriages.
 In their panic, the villagers revert to an archaic means of averting the Grandmother's wrath: since stillborn children are thought to belong to the Grandmother, and children who have survived difficult births are said to have been "stolen" from her, a child of the latter type must be sent into the forest as a sacrifice. According to legend, those who are sent to the Grandmother "return transformed or not at all" -- generally the latter, as a small child stands little chance of surviving against the wild beasts of the forest, particularly the packs of wolves that haunt the area. But the girl who is sent is visited in her dreams by a wolf-spirit who guides her through the forest, and then begins to dream herself a wolf as well . I haven't yet finished this story; it seems to come in fits and starts, where I'm suddenly struck by inspiration and write furiously, hardly able to keep up with the flood of words, and then, just as suddenly, the flow ceases, and I'm unable to write another word.
 I have a vague idea of the end of the story: the girl finally meets the Grandmother, and finds that she and the wolf-spirit are in fact one and the same. The Grandmother initiates the girl into her magic, but the rite is interrupted by the girl's father, who has come looking for her, his fear for her safety stronger than his fear of the Grandmother. As in the fairy tale, he kills the wolf-grandmother and takes the girl back (unwilling) to the village, but, true to the legend, she has been transformed, and can no longer live among humans. At the first full moon, she transforms into a wolf and runs back to the forest to take the Grandmother's place as guardian spirit of the woods. However, I will have to wait and see whether the story actually proceeds along these lines, or in some different, entirely unexpected direction.
 The significance of the wolf, and the lycanthropic Grandmother, in this story, clearly echoes the associations with the moon, the night, and the unknown or unconscious, and also with untamed nature and all that it involves. What the girl is seeking in her venture through the forest is the "mystical submission in the chthonic spirit and the primal ground of nature" that Jaffé writes of [54], and when she finds it, she is set apart from those who lack the necessary will or courage for such a transformation. She also represents the archetype of the "Chosen Maiden" of innumerable myths and legends, who is offered as a sacrifice to the powers of nature. [55]

The image of the werewolf, as I stated initially, synthesizes many of the symbols and themes that recur frequently in my work: Pagan mysticism, animals and wild nature, the moon and the night and their attendant themes of the unknown and unconscious, the earth and the chthonic spirit described by Jaffé, including its so-called "dark" side, and the theme of secret good hidden behind an image of evil, which has its roots in an awareness of the process of enantiodromia, and a dislike of the dogmas of Christian dualism which attempt to suppress or deny half of reality, a half without which we cannot be truly human.
 It is my hope that by continuing to work with the wolf and related symbols, I can play a part in restoring the sacredness of this misunderstood and vilified side of ourselves and our world, so that we can eventually find ourselves once more whole and healed.


  1. Hall, Roberta L., and Henry S. Sharp, "Introduction: The Anthropology of the Wolf", in Hall and Sharp (eds.), Wolf and Man: Evolution in Parallel. New York: Academic Press, 1978, p. xi. [Return to text]
  2. Ibid.[Return to text]
  3. Peters, Roger, "Communication, Cognitive Mapping, and Strategy in Wolves and Hominids," in Hall and Sharp (eds.), op. cit., pp. 9 8-103. [Return to text]
  4. Harrington, Fred H., and L. David Mech, "Wolf Vocalization", in Hall and Sharp (eds.), op. cit., p. 127. [Return to text]
  5. Hall and Sharp, "Conclusion: Wolf and Man," in Hall and Sharp (eds.), op. cit., pp. 200-01. [Return to text]
  6. Hall and Sharp, "Introduction...", op. cit., p. xii. [Return to text]
  7. See, for example, Susan Griffin's Woman and Nature: the Roaring Inside Her (New York: Harper & Row, 1978) on the effect of the alignment of women with the "nature" pole. [Return to text]
  8. Edinger, Edward F., "An Outline of Analytical Psychology", photocopied article handed out in class. [Return to text]
  9. Hall and Sharp, "Introduction...", op. cit., p. xiii. [Return to text]
  10. Graves, Robert, The White Goddess. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: 1948, p. 222. [Return to text]
  11. Hall, Nor, The Moon and the Virgin: Reflections on the Archetypal Feminine. New York: Harper & Row, 1980, p. 117. [Return to text]
  12. Eisler, Robert, Man Into Wolf: An Anthropological Interpretation of Sadism, Masochism, and Lycanthropy. London: Spring Books, 1950, p. 49. [Return to text]
  13. Hall, Nor, The Moon and the Virgin, op. cit., pp. 118-19. [Return to text]
  14. Summers, Montague, The Werewolf. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1966, pp. 143-44. [Return to text]
  15. Walker, Barbara G., The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. New York: Harper & Row, 1983, p. 1068, 26[Return to text]
  16. Hall, Nor, The Moon and the Virgin, op. cit., p. 117. [Return to text]
  17. Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982. p. xiv. [Return to text]
  18. Jaffé, Aniela, "Symbolism in the Visual Arts", in C.J. Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols. London: Aldus Books, 1964, p. 307. [Return to text]
  19. Summers, Montague, The Werewolf, op. cit., pp. 66-67. [Return to text]
  20. Ibid.[Return to text]
  21. Ibid, p. 69. [Return to text]
  22. Eisler, Robert, Man Into Wolf, op. cit., pp. 48-49. [Return to text]
  23. Hall, Nor, The Moon and the Virgin, op. cit., p. 119. [Return to text]
  24. Stone, Merlin, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, vol. II. New York: New Sibylline Books, 1979, p. 189. [Return to text]
  25. See, for example, Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (New York: New York Review, 1975) or virtually any other book on vegetarianism. [Return to text]
  26. Reed, Ellen Cannon, The Witches' Qabala, Book 2: The Witches' Tarot. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1989, pp. 21-22. [Return to text]
  27. Ibid, pp. 22-23. [Return to text]
  28. Graves, Robert, The White Goddess, op. cit, p. 282. [Return to text]
  29. Walker, Barbara G., The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths & Secrets, op. cit., p. 1069. [Return to text]
  30. Hamel, Frank, Human Animals. London: William Rider & Son, 1915, pp. 78-102. [Return to text]
  31. Ibid, p. 1. [Return to text]
  32. Jaffé, Aniela, "Symbolism in the Visual Arts", op. cit., p. 311. [Return to text]
  33. Summers, Montague, The Werewolf, op. cit., pp. xi-xii. [Return to text]
  34. Hamel, Frank, Human Animals, op. cit., p. 57. [Return to text]
  35. Ibid, pp. 62-63. [Return to text]
  36. Ibid, pp. 2, 7. [Return to text]
  37. Hall, Nor, The Moon and the Virgin, op. cit., p. 118. [Return to text]
  38. Ibid.[Return to text]
  39. Summers, Montague, The Werewolf, op. cit., pp. 109-113. [Return to text]
  40. The Wiccan Church of Canada, oral tradition. [Return to text]
  41. This was told to me by a friend, who could not recall where he had heard it. [Return to text]
  42. Lee, Tanith, Lycanthia, or the Children of Wolves. New York: DAW Books, 1981, p.170. [Return to text]
  43. Ibid, pp. 79, 81. [Return to text]
  44. Ibid, p. 149. [Return to text]
  45. Ibid, p. 58. [Return to text]
  46. Ibid, pp. 169-170. [Return to text]
  47. Ibid, p. 127. [Return to text]
  48. Ibid, p. 166. [Return to text]
  49. Ibid, p. 184. [Return to text]
  50. Lee, Tanith, "Wolfland", in Red as Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. New York: DAW Books, 1983, p. 106. [Return to text]
  51. Ibid, p. 130. [Return to text]
  52. Ibid, p. 112. [Return to text]
  53. Ibid, p. 134. [Return to text]
  54. Jaffé, Aniela, "Symbolism in the Visual Arts", op. cit., p. 311. [Return to text]
  55. For further elaboration of the "Chosen Maiden" theme, see Marion Zimmer Bradley's Introduction to Sword and Sorceress II (New York: DAW Books, 1985, pp. 8-9). [Return to text]


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