Traditional Bogymen, by Francesca Quarto
No child was more afraid of the dark than I.
Truth be told, I still get a shiver when the sound of a creak penetrates the gauzy fabric of my dreams, with the force of a thunderclap.
It’s rather an embarrassment to admit, but the bogyman that occupied the closet in my childhood bedroom, has used my imagination to hitchhike a ride into my adulthood.
I have long ago given up on using rational thinking to disabuse myself of such a silly notion as monsters creeping about in the shadows. I now subscribe to the modern outlook of embracing life and all it holds. Sometimes, when I swear something has bumped my bed, this open-armed acceptance means allowing the bogyman a little time to cavort while I shrink myself into a four year old girl and wait.
Every society has produced its share of fanciful creatures. Many of these monsters have even crept over from one culture to another.
While doing some research on the existence of Skin Walkers for the first book in my “Witch of Appalachia” series, I discovered that this “Shape Shifter” creature can also be found among some European folklore. I believed this powerful being was only found in Native American cultures; primarily the Navajo.
Werewolves and Vampires have been spreading their particular brand of blood-letting over the course of centuries. Let’s just concentrate this brief study on the much maligned (likely had an awkward childhood) Werewolf.
Werewolf / Lycanthrope …the word from Old English: wer, “man” and Greek: lykos, “wolf”.
Tradition teaches that this mythical creature is a human, with the ability to shape-shift into a really big, bad, wolf! Belief in this dreadful monster mash-up can be traced back to Petronius (27-66 BC) and Gervase of Tilbury (1150-1228 AD).
(Don’t worry, I looked all that up…)
The werewolf has existed in European folklore in many forms, all directly related to the interpretation of the Christian churchmen on such matters.
Of course, much of this folklore developed during the medieval period; a grim time one could say, with lots of ugly things like plague and witch burnings taking a toll on general morale.
Belief in werewolves would eventually spread to the New World with colonization. These outpost of civilization really couldn’t be called “new”, since the brave colonizers took all the preconceived notions of Bogymen into the very heart of their society. Remember, witches? The belief in witchcraft sprang up around the same time as the werewolf.
We humans do have a propensity toward accepting the superstitions of the day. Likely driven by the fear of our own mortality, we go to extraordinary measures to eliminate threats to our continued existence; even burning old women who looked too unclean, or, like poor Esmerelda, had a dancing goat! (A respectful nod toward Victor Hugo to bring class to this scribbling…)
In what is now Switzerland, in the early 15th century, trials of suspected werewolves were the social rage. And rage they did!
These caught on like the fagots used to burn the unfortunates throughout the rest of Europe, and only peaked in the 17th century, finally ebbing like a bloody tidal wave, in the 18th century.
Even Elvis didn’t have that long a run!
But lest we forget, we humans have other qualities besides being gullible and suspicious of warts on old ladies noses.
Case in point; the werewolf became a subject of interest in folklore studies and in the dark, Gothic genre. We can find this fascination in the werewolf fiction, in some ground-breaking (as genres go) medieval romances. This carried over as a genre into the 18th century.
So, this hybrid human has been tearing up (literally) the citizens in many a country over a long span of time. Traditionally, he hasn’t been well received among the peasantry, but in modern times, found a place among the readers and movie mavens who look for monsters that can scare them without doing actual bodily harm.
After all, who doesn’t like to be scarred witless? Outside of Presidential elections, nothing gives me goose bumps like:
“A powerful, hairy arm wrapping around my slender waist. Pulling me closer to a slavering mouth, filled with yellowed fangs, bits of flesh from his last victim dangling like bloody cords…”
You get the picture. Oh, I made that part up about the “slender waist”!
Francesca Quarto, Author
“Wolf Master of Iron Mountain” Book 1