by Susan A. Sheppard
“Werewolf “ comes from the Old Saxon word wer, meaning man, coupled with the word “wolf" literally translates as “man-wolf.” But unlike ghosts or spirits, the werewolf is a corporeal beast. One could turn into a werewolf just by being bitten by a wolf. Add wizened gypsies, a great full moon and some henbane, and voila, another werewolf is born.
During the Middle Ages, werewolves were looked upon pretty much the same as witches, or mortal human beings who made a pact to the Devil, ones who rubbed magical ointments on their bodies in order to fly, and were capable of transforming themselves into animals, such as a wild a cat, in order to gain power over others or visit evil upon them. They did not start out as a shade or a ghoul in legend as the vampire did. Instead, the werewolf was a brute of a beast whose only magical ability was shape shifting.
According to Hollywood movies, the werewolf is cursed and suffers because of it in his human form. The werewolf strives to defeat or contain his bestial nature, whereas, the vampire may know he is cursed, but does not wish to change and has no remorse over his beastly acts. The werewolf begs to be locked into a room upon oncoming night to contain his savage nature, especially during full moons, while the vampire gladly leaves his coffin for a night on the town under the very same circumstances.
Early 20th Century writer, Montague Summers firmly believed in werewolves and wrote and published his book “The Werewolf’ in 1933. But Summers concluded much as others did in Medieval times that Lycanthrope was the result of some dealings with the Devil, thus, werewolves, and witches too, were practicing a form of Satanism.
And yet, stories of werewolves abound in almost every society, every country, including non-Christian ones and places without wolves, such as Japan, might have Were-foxes, thus, stories of werewolves as beastly creatures of the night, pre-date Christianity by a few thousand years.
In ancient Greece and the Baltic regions, a number of cults worshipped werewolves, or at least canine creatures very much like them. The earliest Germans believed that their ancestors returned to them as wolves. Later in Germany, the hide of a hanged criminal could transform a man into a werewolf, if he chose to wear the skin during the Full Moon. At least, it was thought.
The dates of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are both linked to the werewolf Children born during Christmas or New Year’s Eve had a better chance of becoming a werewolf it was believed, especially if the baby was born having teeth already. A baby at birth wearing a “caul” (or membrane sac over the face) was also a possible werewolf.
Chthonic (from the Greek khthonios, of the lower earth) deities were spirits of the underworld, minor gods that were first thought to be ghosts of the dead or ancestral spirits among the ancient Greeks. Chthonic deities were sometimes referred to as “tomb snakes,” slithering things from beneath the earth. Many early Greek gods and goddesses had chthonic attributes such as snakes for arms, legs or hair. Most chthonic deities were barely more than twisted ghosts and were never given names.
Any spirit associated with the Underworld is considered a chthonic spirit such as Hecate and Persephone. Chthonic deities were not necessarily evil or malignant, but were unpredictable and usually had both positive and negative components.
The “Alfar” are Germanic elves that balance the forces between darkness and light according to Teutonic mythology. They are a balancing of opposing elements, but not necessarily as in good and bad. Alfar, itself, stems from the Indo-European word root word albus, meaning “white.” The Liosalfar are the elves of light and can often be mistaken for ghosts since they appear at night, in a nimbus of light, or appear as shiny.
Dokkalfar are the black elves who are less friendly toward humans. They are said to sit on the sleeper’s chest at night and whisper bad dreams into his ears. The Dokkalfar are known to be openly malicious, but once they make a promise or an oath, they cannot break it.
In Celtic lore, “Ankou” is the driver of a spectral cart whose appearance brings about the certain death to a household where his cart pauses or stops. Greatly feared, Ankou appears as a tall, gaunt figure with long, straggly white hair or hair of flames. He is sometimes seen as a skeleton with a revolving or spinning head able to see what goes on before or behind him.
Ankou is also able to view the past and the future with his twirling head. As a skeleton ghost, the French believed Ankou traveled at night, riding a creaking wagon with four black horses leading him. This links Ankou to another Celtic phantom, the Irish Banshee whose hearse is said to be led by black horses, sometimes headless. Sometimes two figures are witnessed walking on each side of Ankou’s cart, ready to open to the gates of the underworld where Ankou escapes before the sun rises just like the Slavic Nosferatu. Daylight is the only safe time that Ankou isn’t spreading his misery throughout the countryside.
In Celtic lore, the “Badb” meant “the fury,” and is a raven or crow-like goddess that lords over the outcome of war and battle. The Badb goddess primarily spreads evil and carnage, inciting violence wherever she travels. In ancient times, battlegrounds were often referred to as “Badb’s lands” by the Celts. She was also called the “Scald-crow,” usually taking the form of a crone or a hag with oily black hair with strands that floated like the feathers of a crow. Her other name, Badb Catha means “battle-raven.” Babd was also thought to sometimes take the form of a wolf. During Celtic and Teutonic wars it was claimed she roamed the battlefields, wringing out the bloody clothes of the dead, somewhat like her counter-part the Bean Sidhe or Banshee.
The “Banshee” is a good example that fairies do not always bring goodness and light. These ancient Irish-Scottish death fairies bring omens of doom to certain Irish and Scottish clans. The Banshee is most well known for her wailing cries, usually heard along waterways, where she washes out the bloody clothes that belong to members of her clan. The Banshee or Bean Sidhe among the Irish is literally translated as “woman of the hills.” The sidhe, or “the good people,” have long been thought to be fairies.
With long, streaming, red hair, milk-white skin and green, woolen clothing, the only way you can tell the Irish Banshee is a messenger of doom is her eyes remain blood red thought to be caused by her constant crying for her Irish dead. Although the Banshee is more often seen than heard, she is sometimes glimpsed combing her long hair with a silver comb by a lake or a stream.
The Bean Tidhe, or the fairy housekeeper, is the Scottish version of the Celtic Banshee. The Scottish Banshee appears as an old crone, dressed in funerary rags, and is often preceded by a black hearse with two headless horses leading the way. Some call the Banshee “the washer at the fords” because she is associated with bodies of water, across which her bloody cries are often heard. Some describe the Scottish Banshee as a hideous hag, with only one nostril, sitting stiffly on her horse, appear almost sexless from her advanced age.
On rare occasions the Scottish Banshee is sighted as a beautiful raven-haired woman in a shimmering green dress who rides a white mare. Some believe the Banshee steals souls and returns them to Celtic Fairyland where all Celtic souls come from. Likewise, the Banshee shares the power of “glamoury” (shape-shifting) with mortal witches, so she can project any age, image or vision that she wishes.
Although there are hundreds of Irish surnames who have attendant Banshees tied to their clans, a few stand out, such as O’Kennedy, O’Reagan, and O’Lennon. These names were later shortened to Kennedy, Reagan, and Lennon, three famous men of Irish descent who were felled by an assassin’s bullet in the 20th Century – only one survived. It is important to note that the sidhe, or fairy people, may be based on actual human beings that populated Ireland and Scotland before the Celts. Sidhe simply means “powers” or “fairy powers.”
(The above purple-red-eyed Banshee is the wonderful art of Ricardo Pustanio, to illustrate my story "The Banshee of Center Point, which is an area in Doddridge County, WV.)
“Billy Binn” is the name of a household spirit in the English countryside. He is a type of a ghost that watches over manors and old homes. Also found in Scotland, Billy Binn can be both helpful and mischievous. He works hard, but sometimes revolts against the owners so cannot be trusted. He will vandalize homes of owners who make him unhappy. In many ways, Billy Binn is much like a poltergeist, knocking ghosts or psychic energies that raise havoc in a home.
Popularized as an adolescent game played during slumber parties, the “Bloody Mary” legend seems to have first surfaced in the 1970s. The initial idea was to go to a mirror (usually the bathroom mirror) where the light would be switched off and the door closed to make the room pitch dark. Players are asked to take a candle, hold it up to their faces, and chant the phrase “bloody Mary” exactly thirteen times, no more and no less. In an instance the face of the alleged Bloody Mary is said to appear in the mirror whose face is seen by the light of the candle.
The participant should then drop the candle immediately and run from the room, for as legend has it Bloody Mary has been known to pull her victims into the mirror never to be heard from again. Even worse, she will slit their throats and they will die bleeding on the bathroom floor.
No one claims to know who Bloody Mary really was or how the legend really started. Some say Bloody Mary is the ghost of a woman who was burned as a witch and other stories tell she is the spirit of a young woman killed in an automobile crash. She is sometimes also called Mary Worth.
As most folklore believed in by adolescents and some adults, Bloody Mary holds most power over the human imagination, and no doubt will be part of sleepovers for a while. She may have a real historical basis. Mary I, daughter of Henry the VIII, and Catherine of Aragon, was also called “Bloody Mary” for her persecution of Protestants in England. Hundreds died under her reign which ran from July 19, 1553 until her death on November 17, 1558.
The Boggart is an ugly fairy related to boogers and gnomes of old English fairy lore. They are said to have flat feet, wearing a dirty red cap and tattered clothing. Boggarts are said to inspire mischief in small children, and other kinds of troubles for rural families especially. They are said to blow out lamps with their foul-smelling, farty breath, wake up sleeping babies, cause hens to stop laying eggs, break farm equipment, cause spills and create any number of annoying stresses in the household. A markedly homely fairy, this is upsetting to the Bogart, because, after all, he is a fairy and fairies are known for their vanity no matter how unappealing they are. Just like other fairies Boggarts do react positively to flattery it is told. In households where the Boggart is appreciated, he becomes helpful, showing great skill in his work around the farm, just like his cousins the Brownies.
It is believed that when you see curtains moving in the room as if by an invisible wind, a Boggart has just passed you by.
The word booger stems from the Welsh word bwg. Boogers are bog creatures that are lumbering and clumsy, rather than evil and cunning. They seem to have an indirect link to Shakespeare’s Puck, as in the fairy Pooka, but their origins were much plainer. Puck was originally considered to be a spirit of the forest. The Pooka aspect of the Booger associates him with nightmares and the Wild Hunt since Pooka was sometimes said to lead the Wild Hunt and kidnapped people out of their beds at night. Boogers are where our concept of the “Boogie man” comes from. Another related word is bogy, meaning nasal mucous, hence “boogers” are the evil leaving one’s body after one sneezes.
In Scottish folklore, the Cait Sith is a fairy cat, nearly-solid black, large than a fox, but with a small, white spot on its breast. Whenever portrayed in art or drawings, the Cait Sith is usually shown as a Halloween cat, with back arched and bristling.
The Highlanders believed that the Cait Sith were actually witches temporarily transformed into black cats. Some came to believe the Cait Sith was a demon cat.
In reality, there is evidence that the Cait Sith is may be a large cat roaming rural Scotland, a species known as the “Kellas Cat,” a hybrid cat of local feral cats and Scottish wild cats. Others believe that the Cait Sith belongs to the realm of the fairies since none have ever been captured, although there are photographs of the Kellas Cat.