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An account of the trial of a Livonian werewolf in Jurgensburg in 1692

From Carlo Ginzberg’s The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries:

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 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 Thiess had also gone down into hell and fought with Skiestan. The latter, armed with a broom handle (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, and in the form of wolves, to a place located ‘beyond the sea’: hell. There they battled the devil and witches, striking them with lon iron rods and pursuing 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 earh what had been stolen by the witches – livestock, grains, and the other fruits of the earth…

At this point the judges asked where the werewolves went after death. Thiess replied that they were buried but that their souls went to heaven. The judges were visibly shaken. They insisted that werewolves served the devil. The old man emphatically rejected this notion: the werewolves were anything but servants of the devil. The devil was their enemy to the point that they, just like dogs  – bceause werewolves were indeed the hounds of god – pursued him, tracked him down and scourged him with whips of iron. They did all this for the sake of mankind. The Livonian werewolves were not alone in their fight with the devil over the harvests. German werewolves did so as well, although they did not belong to the Livonian company and they journeyed down to their own particular hell. The same was also true of Russian werewolves…

The parish priest was summoned, who scolded him and called on him to abandon the errors and diabolical lies with which he had tried to cover up his sins. But this too was useless. In a burst of anger Thiess shoted at the priest that he was tired of hearing all this talk about his evil doings: his actions were better than the priests, and morever he, Thiess, would neither be the first nor the last to commit them. The old man remained steadfast in his convictions and refused to repent.


Postcards from Bohemia: Laura Riding’s bold plan to stop time

I’m enjoying Virginia Nicholson’s book, Among The Bohemians, with its tales of bohemian experiments in living at the beginning of the 20th century. I particularly enjoyed David Garnett’s account of the strange love triangle between the poet Robert Graves, his mistress the poet Laura Riding, and the young poet Geoffrey Phibbs:

Laura Riding took [Geoffrey Phibbs] as her lover and drove him all the way from Hammersmith to the Burlington Arcade in a taxi where she bought him an immensely expensive pair of black silk pyjamas for him to wear in bed with her. She had the bill sent to Robert Graves. He had been sent providentially to help in the great work. Laura Riding had everything planned out. And her plan was to shake the Universe itself.

…One day, quite unexpectedly, Geoffrey Phibbs sent me a telegram saying that he was coming to stay with me at Hilton Hall. He wanted advice…

I spent almost all the time of his visit discussing the predicament in which he found himself and his future and giving him advice. The trouble was that he was scared of Laura Riding. She had told him, as a great secret, that she was going to stop TIME, and that his help was necessary for this operation. Stopping time was carried out in bed. Robert was all right in bed and she loved him and admired him – but he had proved no good as a time-stopper. [Geoffrey] discovered that she really believed that with the assistance of this vigorous new young lover she was going to break the frame of the universe. What was more, she was dead nuts on doing it.

‘Time has been going on long enough’, she would say earnestly. ‘We can break through and stop it. Not just move about in it as Donne has shown is possible, but smash it up altogether.’ She expected him to do his share of the work. No shirking was allowed. She had a timetable.

…Geoffrey had decided that on no account would he go back to live with Laura. It was not that he was afraid that she would be proved right and that he would suddenly find himself an Immortal. No. It was not the consequences that scared him but the process designed to bring it about. he could not and would not face it any longer…

Graves eventually tracks Geoffrey down to Hilton Hall. There were flurries of telegrams.

‘Will never return to Laura.’

‘Laura cannot live without you. Robert.’

‘Absolutely refuse to return to Laura. Geoffrey.’

‘Am coming to fetch you. Matter of life and death. Robert.’

Graves eventually hired a car and drove to Hilton to fetch him. Geoffrey departed with him ‘but within twenty-four hours he was back again, wild eyed and on the verge of an emotional collapse.

It reminds me of a story my mother told me, about her days as an English teacher. She had taught one of her students – a Brazilian lothario – how to compliment his English girlfriend by saying ‘you have a timeless beauty’. He came back the next lesson miffed at her reaction when he’d told her ‘your face would stop a clock’.