Taking into consideration the subject-matter of this article, it’s only appropriate that we start with the world’s most famous shapeshifter of them all, the werewolf. A full moon and monstrous mayhem are part and parcel of both legend and reality when it comes to this particular breed of supernatural monster. There is no doubt that many of the centuries-old reports of werewolves originated specifically in Europe. One person with a particular interest in such tales was Alexander Schöppner. In the latter part of the 19th century he published a fascinating tale that fits right into the pages of this book. It was in 1874 when the story surfaced, in the pages of Schöppner’s book, The legend of the Bavarian Lands: From the Mouths of the People, the Chronicles, and the Poets; however, it told a story that dated back centuries. The location was Bavaria, Germany, and specifically the Fichtel Mountains, which cover Germany’s Red Main River to the border of Czechoslovakia. So Schöppner’s story went, the mystery began when a local shepherd realized that, day by day his flock of sheep was growing smaller and smaller. Something deadly and predatory was on the loose. But what? That was the big question the shepherd wanted answering – and before he lost anymore of his flock.
Finally, there was an answer: the shepherd caught sight of a massive wolf that emerged from nearby woods and seized and killed one of his baby lambs. He knew all too well that the wolf was clearly not going to stop, and regular attacks and killings were likely to continue. Unless, that is, the shepherd decided to take matters into his own hands – which he did. The man was acquainted with a particular character who was an expert shooter. When the shepherd asked for his help in killing the creature, he eagerly agreed. It was not quite the easy situation that both may have anticipated. When the wolf finally made its next appearance, the hunter carefully aimed his gun and fired. That is when things got very strange: the bullet quite literally bounced off the body of the massive, muscular animal. The hunter was not going to give up that easily, however. On the very next day, shepherd and shooter were back again – lying in wait for the monster-wolf. This time, the shot not only hit the animal but wounded it, to the point that it raced back into the thick trees from which it had first surfaced. Then, things got even weirder. On the next day, he ran into another villager – an old lady who he had crossed paths with previously, and not in a positive or good way. He noticed something as the two passed by: she was noticeably limping. The possibility that the woman and the beast were one and the same quickly crossed the man’s mind.
Scowling at him, she effectively told the man to mind his own business. He remained convinced that something strange was going down, chiefly because the old woman had, for a long time, been suspected of practicing the black arts. And, although nothing was ever conclusively proved, suspicions still remained that she was guilty of the attacks – and particularly so when she managed to escape from a nearby jail, after being briefly incarcerated on suspicion of being the culprit. There was far more to come. On the next occasion – long after the sun had set – the wolf was back. This time, however, the beast was not seeking out a sheep or a lamb. No: it was set upon feeding on human flesh. The farmer’s flesh. The monster lunged at the man and a wild battle to the death began. While the wolf certainly had the upper hand – or the upper paw, to be correct – it was most fortunate for the man that his hunter friend was soon on the scene and not only shot the beast but plunged his knife into it, too. Then something dramatic occurred: the wolf, as it lay dying, started to transform into the old witch. The horrified pair sped up the dying process and buried her body deep below the ground. So the story went, a cross was placed over the burial site, which became known locally as The Wolf Stone. According to Schöppner, from then on the specific patch of land was perceived as evil. Now, to a fearsome family
The latter part of the 1800s saw yet another mysterious tale of shapeshifting surface out of Germany – a country that has a long and checkered history of encounters with werewolves. It’s specifically to the year of 1879 and the town of Ludwigslust to which we have to turn our attentions; a town with origins that date back to 1724, when one Prince Ludwig – also known as Christian Ludwig II – had his workers construct a hunting lodge in the area. Such was the prince’s love of the area, he renamed it Ludwigslust. Today, the town is dominated by the huge Ludwigslust Palace. In 1879, however, the area was dominated by werewolves; a family of them. Even more than a century after the prince’s passing in 1756, the area was still a favorite one for hunting wild animals. One particular creature that became almost legendary was a large, wild wolf that seemingly was completely unaffected by bullets. The brazen beast would even creep up on hunters and steal their bounty: their dinner, in other words. It’s no surprise that word soon got around that maybe the wolf was more than just a nimble animal that had been lucky enough to avoid getting shot. Some thought it was supernatural in nature. Others, in quiet tones, suggested Ludwigslust had its very own werewolf. They were right. On one particular day, a cavalry man rode into town atop his horse, with the intention of meeting a man who history only records as Feeg. The military officer found Feeg’s isolated home quickly. But, he didn’t find Feeg. Instead, he was confronted by a terrified group of young children who were seemingly fleeing for their lives, amid hysterical cries for help. One of the group breathlessly told the soldier that none of the family were home – except, that is, for a young boy who, the man was told, had shapeshifted into a werewolf before their terrified eyes. Quite understandably, none of them wanted to hang around to be attacked by the child-beast.
With the petrified group standing on the fringes of the property, the man made his tentative, cautious way towards the house. As he got to the door, the boy loomed into view; although, by now, he had reverted back to his human form. The cavalry man ordered the child to tell him what diabolical activity was afoot in the Feeg house. He soon got an answer; a deeply sinister one. The boy told the man that his old grandmother – who comes across like a wizened old witch in the story – possessed a magical strap that, when he wore it, would transform him into a wolf. Incredibly, when asked to prove his claims, the boy did exactly that. The man, however, was leaving nothing to chance. He told the boy not to tie the strap around him until he, the man, was safely in the loft and with the stepladder out of the hands of the child. Now safe from attack, the somewhat skeptical man essentially said, “Do your worst.” He did. As he placed the belt around himself, an uncanny transformation occurred and the boy, in an astonishingly quick fashion, mutated into the form of a large, formidable wolf. The beast-boy raced out of the front-door, terrorizing the group of children who, by now, had tentatively got closer to the property, and to the point where they fled for their lives. The werewolf then raced back into the house, flung off the belt, and immediately transformed back into human form. Despite the boy’s savage state when in definitive werewolf mode, while in human form he was placid and even polite – even to the point of letting the cavalry officer examine the belt, which, to him, exhibited no abnormal traits at all.
The man soon made an exit and shared his strange story with a local forester, who near-immediately concluded the werewolf-boy and the elusive, bulletproof wolf that had plagued the landscape for so long were one and the very same. The hunter proved to be highly proactive: he secured a number of silver bullets, vowing to slay the beast, once and for all. As luck would have it, the monster soon put in a return appearance. At first, it was the same old story: regular bullets seemingly had no effect on the creature. Frustration abounded among the hunter’s friends. He, however, equipped with silver-bullets – the arch-foe of the werewolf – had far more luck, hitting the animal, in one of its hind legs. It fell to the ground, with a pained howl. It was, however, too powerful for the hunters and suddenly leapt up and bounded away and towards the town. Due to its injury, the werewolf was unable to outrun the hunters, who carefully followed it. It soon became clear that the terrible thing was heading for the Feeg home. As it shot through the door, the group followed. They entered the house, slowly and carefully, but the wolf-thing was nowhere to be seen. At least, not right away. With no sign of the beast in the living room or kitchen, a search of the bedrooms was made. Pay dirt was soon hit. Lying in one of the beds was an old lady; none other than the creepy crone and grandmother to the young boy-monster. To the group’s horror, the witch did not appear entirely human: a large, powerful, hair-covered tail hung over the side of the bed. The aged hag, in her state of pain from the piercing bullet, had not fully shapeshifted back into her human form.
What became of the woman and her grandchild is unknown. What we do know, however, is that 19th century werewolf chronicler Karl Bartsch investigated the story deeply; a story that still circulates among the approximately 13,000 people who, today, call Ludwigslust their home. Scotland’s Shetland Islands have more than a few legends of shapeshifters attached to them. Black cats and sea-based “manimals” are two of many. Then, there is the Wulver. It is just about the closest thing that Scotland has to a real-life werewolf. It’s also a creature that particularly caught the attention of an expert on Scottish legends, a woman by the name of Jessie Margaret Saxby. In her 1932 book, Shetland Traditional Lore, she described the Wulver as being a man-sized, and shaped, beast that was covered in a coat of brown hair, and which had a head that was near-identical to that of a wolf. Oddly, for the most part – and in stark contrast to the werewolf of the rest of Europe – the Wulver was neither violent nor savage, and, providing that people left it alone, it would do likewise, said Saxby. It was most often seen fishing in streams and in the surrounding waters of the islands, sometimes leaving a few fish on the doorsteps of the villagers. That is not to say that the Wulver didn’t have its dark side: it most definitely did, as we shall now see.
Jessie Margaret Saxby was not the only person who took a keen interest in the stories of the Wulver. Elliott O’Donnell, an expert on werewolf lore and legend, and the author of a 1912 book titled Werewolves, also became fascinated by the man-beast of the Shetland Islands. One story that particularly stands out came to O’Donnell from one Andrew Warren, a local. Warren explained to O’Donnell that as a teenager he lived on the islands with his grandfather, who held a senior position in the local church. He was also a keen collector of fossils. On one occasion, the old man discovered in a dried-up small lake an old human skeleton. This particular skeleton was unlike any other, however: its skull was that of a wolf.Young Warren and his grandfather carried the skeleton back to their home, specifically leaving it outside. That is when distinctly strange events suddenly erupted. As night fell upon the area, Warren was left alone, as his grandfather was at the church on business. Suddenly, and while reading a book, he heard a curious scratching noise coming from the kitchen. On entering it, Warren was shocked to see a dark, vague, wolf-like head peering at him through the glass – a head that sat upon what looked like a human neck.
Warren wondered for a few fraught moments if what he was seeing was actually nothing stranger than an optical illusion. It clearly was not: that much became obvious when the vague appearance became fully formed: sharp teeth, an undeniable snarl-like appearance, green eyes, pointed ears, and slim hands with long finger-nails were all quickly in evidence. There was no doubt in Warren’s mind that the man-monster was utterly evil. Warren made the sign of a cross, but it had absolutely no effect on the animal: it continued to malevolently stare at the frightened boy. Terrified that the presumed Wulver would eventually try and break in, Warren fled the kitchen, and stayed in the hallway, waiting for his grandfather to return. When the old man finally got home, and shaken Warren told him of what had taken place, they quickly decided that the best course of action would be to take the skeleton back to where they originally found it and bury it – which is exactly what they did, and immediately, too. The Wulver – or, more likely, its spirit form – was apparently satisfied by their decision, since it never again bothered Andrew Warren or his grandfather.