The Werewolves Advance
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
“In Livland there is the following legend: When Christmas Day is over a boy who limps with one leg goes around calling together all those who have yielded to the Evil One — and there is a large number of them — bidding them to follow him. If any one of these resists or hesitates, then a large tall man is also there who hits at them with a whip braided from iron wire and little chains, driving them along with force. It is said that he whips at the people so cruelly that a long time later marks and scars can still be seen on their bodies, and they are in great pain.
As soon as they begin to follow him, it appears as though they lose their former shape and turn into wolves. Several thousand of them come together. Their leader, with the iron whip in his hand, leads the way. When they have been led into a field, they cruelly attack the cattle, ripping every animal to pieces that they can catch, thus doing great damage. However, they are not able to harm humans.
When they come to a body of water, their leader strikes at it with his switch or whip, and it divides, allowing them to cross over with dry feet. After twelve days have passed, they abandon their werewolf form and become humans once again.”
- Deutsche Sagen (“German Legends”), 216. (The two volume set was published in 1816 and 1818.)
The editor of the page notes:
“Livland, also known as Livonia, is a region on the Baltic Sea that comprises present Estonia and parts of Latvia.”
I was reading about werewolves last night… because I was interested in the ‘belted werewolf’ legends, and stumbled across the above. And suddenly I recalled that I had, in fact, read about elements this account elsewhere. The Grimms appear to be warping of statements from the trial of Thiess of Kaltenbrun. Carlo Ginzburg writes about him in The Night Battles:
“The trial of Gasparutto and Moduco was the first in a long series involving the benandanti (both men and women) who declared they fought at night with witches and warlocks to secure the fertility of the fields and abundance of the harvests. This belief (we have hinted at its presumably ritual origins) does not appear to the best of our knowledge in any of the countless rials for witchcraft or superstitious practices held outside the Friuli. The sole and extraordinary exception is furnished by the trial of a Livonian werewolf which took place at Jürgensburg in 1692 – more than a century after the trial of Gasparutto and Moduco, and at the other extremity of Europe.
The accused, a certain Thiess, an old man in his eighties, freely confessed to his judges that he was a werewolf (wahrwolff). But his account seriously differs from the concept of lycanthropy in which was widespread in northern Germany and the Baltic countries. Thiess related that he once had his nose broken by a peasant of Lemburg named Skeistan, who at that time was already dead. Skeistan was a witch, and with his companions had carried seed grain into hell to keep the crops from growing. With other werewolves Thiss had also gone down into hell and had fought with Skeistan. The latter, armed with a broom handle (again, the traditional symbol of witches) wrapped in the tail of a horse had struck the old man on the nose. This was not a casual encounter. Three times each year on the nights of St. Lucia before Christmas, of Pentecost, and of St. John, the werewolves proceeded on foot, in the form of wolves, to a place located ‘beyond the sea’: Hell. There they battled the devil and witches, striking them with long iron rods, and pursuing them like dogs. Werewolves, Thiess exclaimed, ‘cannot tolerate the devil’. The judges, undoubtedly astonished, asked for elucidation. If werewolves could not abide the devil, why did they change themselves into wolves and go down into hell? Because, old Thiess explained, by doing so they could bring back up to earth what had been stolen by the witches – livestock, grains, and the other fruits of the earth. If they failed to do so, precisely what had occurred the previous year would be repeated: the werewolves had delayed their descent into hell, found the gates barred, and thus failed to bring back the grains and buds carried off by the witches. For this reason last year’s harvest had been different, and, thanks to the werewolves, the harvest of barley and rye, as well as a rich catch of fish, were assured.”
(P. 28 – 29.)
[EDIT]: Fixed the title of the Grimm’s book, & added a link to the (non-translated) title.