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Werewolves in French Switzerland :: History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts

Werewolves in French Switzerland

Picture1To peasants whose livelihoods depended upon livestock, wolves were one of the most feared and loathed animals, making the idea of transformations into werewolves an ominous one; however, folk belief about werewolves and demonological beliefs about them differed significantly. While the educated demonologists viewed the belief that humans could transform into werewolves as superstitious, they did not deny the possibility that the Devil could disguise himself as a wolf or that witches associated with wolves. The idea that the Devil could physically manipulate a person’s body and soul into that of a werewolf was widely rejected by demonologists, especially Protestants who preferred to categorize all of the Devil’s wonders as “mira rather than miracula,” or illusions rather than miracles.

Similarly, one Catholic Jura demonologist, Henri Boguet, provided two possible explanations for supposed cases of lycanthropy: either the Devil becomes a wolf and then tricks the witch into thinking the witch had committed the crimes all along, or the Devil would make the witch think he was a wolf when in reality the witch was committing every crime in his ordinary human body.

However, the opinions of demonologists did not stop the provincial parliament from organizing wolf-hunts in several parts of the Franche-Comté in the 1630s. Notably, a large number of the werewolf cases in Europe occurred in the Jura region of France and Switzerland.

William Monter, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland: The Borderlands During the Reformation. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976), 144-151.

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