The Golden Star
When lambent flames glide searching in the dark Abodes of sorcery and sin, and flicker, gleam, and twinkle full malicious:* * *
lascivious tongues of passion lick the pendant sullen lips of hideous fervency and lust.
Oh, Sons of Light! destroy that monstrous crew of wickedness; iniquity that soils the verdant earth with sly pretence and counterfeit of Love Divine.* * *
And sidelong glances under beetling brows, satanic, out of dev’lish eyes, besmirch the bloom of innocence, that lies like peach-down on the cheeks of radiant youth.* * *
Alas! . . . too often do foul demons in the guise of men, in wanton rollicking, bereave sweet purity of all that holiness with which the Angels sent it into incarnation. A bitter lesson! Earned in thoughtless play of long-lost ages; learned with scalding tears, that flood despairing eyes in agony, and deep regret.
In front of the dark forest lay a vast rolling plain, rising up to wooded hills, with mountains on the far horizon. The only light came from the stars that shone within the blue-black firmament.
Ma-u and Ma-uti watched the sinister form of Pluto stride slowly towards the hills; his figure a blot upon the shadows of the night.
From the far distance sounded a long drawn-out note, mysterious and menacing, and at this signal Pluto raised to his lips a horn and sent forth a shrilling blast, whereupon a choir of eerie howls and yapping broke out afar and rapidly approached.
Anon was seen a troop of wolf-like animals, galloping towards Pluto, and upon reaching him they fawned around with slavering jaws and heaving sides; eyes glowing wickedly in red and green through quenching gloom. No other sound is heard, but the faint whimpering or the low moans of these brutes, now and then raising to a fierce growl, when a touch of wind sets the leaves of the forest shivering in the trees. A low command from Pluto, and the beasts are silent and cower down at his feet, and the stillness becomes almost audible.
From afar come half-sounds of plodding steps a-whispering through the night, and the moving figure of a man is discernible as he slowly walks along towards an unseen destination. Pluto keenly watches him for a few moments and the animals seem frozen with expectancy, for their sharp ears and eyes have also discovered the wanderer.
Breathlessly, Ma-u and Ma-uti watch the weird scene and gasp with sudden fear as Pluto raises his arm and points to the man; whereupon the wolves start silently in pursuit.
Some instinct seems to give him warning, for they see the pale face of that man as he looks round, and, seeing the loping shadows of the beasts approaching on the plain, he suddenly begins to run towards the forest, hoping to climb a tree to be out of reach of the pack; but too late. Before he can reach the wood they are upon him, and his dreadful cries of agony ring out, as with rending, tearing claws and fangs they kill him, and, snarling angrily, fight amongst themselves for his flesh and blood.
“Oh, dear Messenger,” sobbed Ma-uti, as Pluto, shaking with silent laughter walked away, “Could you not have saved the poor man? His terrible cries for help, and the growling of these beasts, will haunt my dreams!”
“It was but a memory of a happening in the past, my dear,” said the Messenger. “These wolves you saw are really men, who, by means of a form of witchcraft, transfer themselves into semblances of animals, in order to indulge their low instincts by drinking the blood of man or beast and eating their flesh. Even the Gods themselves have from time to time changed their shapes; as Jupiter did when he changed himself into a bull; Hecuba, who became a bitch; Actæon, who changed into a stag; the comrades of Ulysses, who were transformed into swine; the daughters of Prœtus, who believed they were changed into cows. In a poem by Marcellus Sidetes you can read how a madness attacked men in the beginning of the year, chiefly in February, when they retired to cemeteries at night, living in the manner of dogs and wolves. Herodotus tells that the Neuri, who were sorcerers according to the Scythians, change themselves once a year into the forms of wolves, and they continued in these forms for several days, after which they resumed their former shapes. Ovid tells of Lycaon, the King of Arcadia, who, on entertaining Jupiter, set a hash of human flesh before him, whereon the God transformed him into a wolf, ‘hoary, his countenance rabid, his eyes glitter savagely . . . the picture of fury.’
“Pliny tells that on the festival of Jupiter Lycæus, one of the family of Antæus was selected by lot, and led to the brink of the Arcadian lake, into which he plunged, whereupon he was transformed into a wolf. If after nine years he had not tasted human flesh he was allowed to resume his human shape.
“Agriopas relates that Demænetus, after having assisted at an Arcadian human sacrifice to Jupiter Lycæus, ate of the flesh and was at once transformed into a wolf, in which shape he prowled round for ten years, after which he recovered his human form and took part in the Olympic games. St. Augustine, in his De Civitate Dei, declares that he knew an old woman who was said to turn men into asses by her enchantments.
“The belief in were-wolves is world-wide, and they are supposed to haunt the Norwegian, as well as the German forests, whilst Oriental literature is full of stories connected with them.
“In Norway and Iceland it is believed that men can enter animal bodies, whereby their natural strength becomes doubled or quadrupled, as they acquire the strength of the beast in whose body they travel, in addition to their own. Their own body lies in a cataleptic trance meanwhile. The only parts of the man which do not change are the eyes, by which he can be recognised when in the animal body. He may become a bird, a fish, or a wolf, and he takes on all the characteristics of whatever animal he enters.
“According to the Norwegian teachings, there are two ways in which a man can change into an animal. The first one is to take the skin of an animal and cast it over the body, after which the transformation is complete. The second method is more complicated: Here the mind has to leave the human body and enter that of the animal, as already mentioned. But there is still another method, where, by means of incantations a seeming transformation is made in front of spectators. The latter are merely hypnotised by this means and believe that a transformation has taken place, whereas in reality the individual remains unaltered.
“When the mind of a man enters the body of an animal, the man’s intelligence accompanies it, but he takes on all the ferocity of—say—a wolf as well, and becomes full of rage and malignity.
“In the Völsunga Saga it is related how the mother King Siggeir changed herself into a she-wolf and appeared night after night in a forest where Sigmund and his nine brothers were imprisoned in a row under a great piece of timber, which had been cast across their feet. Every night she devoured one of the brothers, until only Sigmund was left. Signy, his sister, then sent a trusted man to Sigmund, with instructions to smear his face with honey and fill his mouth with it. When, on the tenth night the she-wolf appeared again to devour Sigmund, she licked the honey off his face and then thrust her tongue into his mouth. He thereupon took hold of her tongue with his teeth, whereon she sprang up, setting her feet against the piece of timber in order to tear herself away. But he held firm and ripped out her tongue by the roots, so that the she-wolf died.
“A comparative study of Norse mythology will give an idea of how the were-wolf myth may have arisen: It was the custom of the warriors to wear animal skins of such beasts as they had slain, and so give themselves an air of ferocity, calculated to strike terror into the hearts of their foes. We hear, for instance, of Harold Harfagr, who had in his company a band of berserkir, who were dressed up in wolf-skins. In the same manner the word berserkr was applied to a man possessed of superhuman powers, subject to excesses of diabolical fury, and it was originally used to designate those doughty champions who went about with bear-skins over their armour.
“The berserkr was much feared, and an object of aversion to the peaceful inhabitants of the countryside, as it was his avocation to challenge quiet farmers to single combat. It was law in Norway that if a man declined to accept a challenge he forfeited all his possessions, even to his wife; he being considered a coward, not worthy of the protection of the law; and every item of his property passed into the hands of his challenger. If he accepted and was slain, his conqueror also came into possession of his property! These berserkir also amused themselves by joining any fair, or merry party and snapping the backbone, or cleaving the skull of anyone who displeased them; thus keeping themselves in practice too.
“In this way it can be well imagined that popular superstition went hand in hand with the dread of these wolf-and-bear-skinned rovers, so that in the end they were believed to be endued with the force, as well as with the ferocity, of the beasts whose skins they wore.