So… now that this chapter is finally starting it’s slow wrap up, I’m gonna have a nice sit-down and briefly talk to you guys about the Hounds of God/’Benandanti’ werewolves. I didn’t want to bend your ears too terribly earlier, since, well, your ears were being bent enough by Mr. Oppressive. Since this is just an artist’s comment, not a term paper, this of course won’t include every scrap of information available, that’s for you to research. But I figure it’ll let you folks know a bit about where I’m coming from and why I made some of the decisions I did regarding this comic.
As I mentioned earlier, when I first heard of a particular group of good werewolves, it was from a not-well-cited source… in a metaphysical book. (The Magic of Shapeshifting, by Rosalyn Greene, if you must know. Please don’t judge me.) I rolled my eyes and figured it was just something the author had made up, and, since I was an ignorant, idiotic little creature who had done some research and thus assumed I knew everything. I disregarded it at the time. However, then, to my surprise, I came across the same thing a few years later.
If I recall correctly, the first place where I rediscovered these good lycanthropes was in a (at the time) brand-new book called <I>Werewolves</I> By Nigel Suckling. In this book there is a little section on “The Benandanti Wolves” that described good werewolves that battled for the wellbeing of the crops and fought with iron bars. I knew that I wanted to do something with this, but not what exactly… Unfortunately, the book opens with a quote from publisher Sir Willam Collins reading “A book without a mistake in it has had too much money spent on it.” While this probably was a comment on any possible grammatical errors, it put a certain grain of doubt in my mind regarding the merit of the book as a primary source. However, it was a start, and that was all I needed to begin looking for more.
It wasn’t long before I found information in a copy of <I>Witches, Werewolves and Fairies</I> by Claude Lecouteux. It was a goldmine of information for me, though it surprised me. In this book, there were no “Benandanti Wolves” But rather, it described two different, yet remarkably similar events. Two groups, one in Italy and one in Livonia (http://www.raremaps.com/maps/medium/22205.jpg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/88/Livland_15jh.png a historic Baltic area that I am admittedly rather unfamiliar with and need to research further, but seems to include a chunk of modern-day Lithuania. http://eurodialogue.org/files/fckeditor_files/lithuania-map.gif . Because of this, while most of my sources place Theiss and his kind Livonia, some say Lithuania.) The Italian crowd, the Benandanti, were a group of spiritual warriors, who could, among other things, leave their bodies in the form of small animals and fought for the crops (this is a rather oversimplified description). Meanwhile, I found a detailed record of the trial of Livonain werewolf Theiss, who also spoke of German and Russian werewolves who engaged in activates similar to him and his comrades… That is, he and his kind traveled to hell to fight with the devil for the crops. So, I thought, I was dealing with two entirely separate, but curiously similar things.
Around the same time, I first saw a book that had actually come out a year prior to Suckling’s work… Rosemary Guiely’s <I>Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves and Other Monsters.</I> It contained very similar information to his work, including the use of Iron bars as weapons, but rather than calling these werewolves “Benandanti wolves,” they were called The Hounds of God (though it was explained that they shared characteristics with the Benandanti.)
Now, enter author Carlo Ginzburg and his work <I>The Night Battles</I> (otherwise known as “I Benandanti.”) It discussed at length the various exploits of the Benandanti, and their work against the witches and Melandanti, as well as their various methods of battle and their weapons, including fennel stalks (which, I may note, showed up in the seventh page of the first chapter of this comic. I plan stuff way ahead.) This is a book that I had thought at the time was going to be strictly about the Italian Benandanti, when, to my surprise, good Ol Theiss of Livonia/Lithuania made a little appearance there as well, and he called himself one of the “Hounds of God.” The author, of course, did not call Theiss a Benandanti, since that was an Italian phenomenon, however, the connections between the two and shamanic practices were drawn. In addition, it was there that I learned that in some cases, the Benandanti (as well as witches) were said to ride various animals, including dogs, into battle. The canine connection there, combined with Theiss’s Hounds of God statement, well… it got my brain working a tad…
Then there is Adam Douglas’ <i>The Beast Within</i> which also makes note of Ginzburg’s work. In it is a theory that the Benandanti were not merely a local phenomenon, but were perhaps the westernmost protrusion of eastern influences. So, I thought, if such an event, unlikely as it may seem… It is possible that the Benandanti themselves came from the lycanthropic traditions of the Germans and Russians mentioned by Theiss, linking them back together as a continuation, spread, and evolution of one set of folk beliefs, that divided into various localized practices while retaining its basic ideas and principles.
But, well, surely those mentioned above were the only similarities, correct? Well… maybe not. In Ginzburg’s work, it mentioned that some Benandanti were called to their spiritual duties by an angel. Montague Summers’ work, currently published as <I>The Werewolf in Lore and Legend</I> describes an event in Livonia in which a crippled boy summons folks around Christmastime, at which point, those who follow him are then turned into wolves for an extended amount of time. Curiously enough, Theiss said that some of his lycanthropic exploits took place on the eve of Saint Lucy… the 13th of December. The dates don’t match exactly, sure… but they’re close enough to catch my attention, and close enough to note the similarity, especially given the summons by a being that would generally be considered as good or at the very least harmless in appearance. Furthermore, Summer’s work describes the werewolves being flogged with a whips knotted with iron… which is a curious reversal of what is written in Ginzburg’s work, which describes the Hounds of God perusing the devil and attacking him with whips of iron. While there is no definitive proof that the Livonian werewolves in Summer’s book are the same as those in Ginzburg’s… there are some links here. In addition, given Summer’s position as a reverend, it could be possible that the concept of good werewolves made him uncomfortable, so he tweaked the story to suit his own beliefs, turning good werewolves into bad ones, or, the option that I prefer, that he simply misunderstood.
As time passed, imagine my surprise when I then stumbled across a book from my childhood <I>A Lycanthropy Reader</I> which was edited by Charolette Otten, and Theiss, referred to as the “Good Werewolf of Lithuania” was mentioned briefly in the notes. In addition, previously, while researching the Greek God Apollo, Theiss had once again shown up. In <I>Apollo, the Wolf-God</I> Daniel E. Gershenson spent some time musing over the werewolf confraternities like that which Theiss belonged to, and its connection with agriculture. He made note of his loyalty to his particular group of werewolves, which I had been finding kind of cultish. This got me to thinking about what sort of social structure such a group might have today, especially if, as implied above, they were connected along a wide space, including Italy, and the wolf-linked city of Rome, where the heart of the Catholic Church is.
I’m sure that by now you can see where some of the various aspects of this comic came from, and I continued research well into the start of Eldritch. I find that as time progresses, the connection between the Benandanti and werewolves is being drawn even more, with ‘Benandanti’ being used as a descriptive term indicating a particular, shall we say, formula of belief rather than the actual Benandanti of the Firuli region of Italy. The, well, not-terribly accurate 2009 book <I>The Complete Idiot’s Guide: Werewolves</I> By Nathan Brown flat-out calls Theiss a Benandanti werewolf, and a less-than perfect resource, yet one I still enjoy greatly, <I>The Werewolf Handbook</I> from 2010 has a small section on what it calls “Benandanti Werewolves.” The 2011 book <I>Werewolves</I> By Zachary Graves also has a section on The Hounds of God, referring to Theiss as “a werewolf of the Benandanti kind” and later referenced a group of “Benandanti werewolves” in 1610.
There could be plenty of good arguments made on either side about the validity of such a term as “Benandanti Werewolf” in a scholarly context (As opposed to a fictional context as seen in this comic.) However, given this trend, it seems that Benandanti Werewolf is a term that will continue to stick around in nonfiction werewolf works, inaccurate as it may or may not be. One only needs to look at the odd myths that imply that a werewolf becomes a vampire when it dies, or the numerous meanings or the variations of the French term loup garou to see that this kind of confusion is not unheard of in werewolf lore, and likely will continue into the future.
I’d like to end this by noting that in an odd twist of irony, sitting next to me as I write is a 2010 book titled simply <I>Werewolves</i> by Konstantanos. It was published by Llewellyn, a company known for its metaphysical publishings. And yes. It also briefly mentions Theiss, and the Benandanti. I suppose it’s just a little jab at my younger self, reminding my current self not to be closed minded, or to utterly disregard interesting information and fail to research further just because I think it’s wrong, or because the source isn’t perfect. It just means that I need to remember that I will never, ever know everything, and more work will always have to be done to discover what the facts are, if there are any to be had… because, you never know what wonderful ideas you may get from doing a little hard work and research.