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The White Devil

The Werewolf in European Culture

From Ovid’s Lycaon to Professor Lupin, from Teen Wolf to An American Werewolf in Paris, the lycanthrope, or werewolf, comes to us frequently on the page and the silver screen. These interpretations often display lycanthropy as a curse, with the afflicted person becoming an uncontrollable, feral beast during every full moon. But this is just one version of the werewolf—its origins can be traced back thousands of years to early prehistory, and everything from Iron Age bog bodies and Roman gods to people such as Joan of Arc, Adolf Hitler, and Sigmund Freud feature in its story. Exploring the role of this odd assortment of ideas and people in the myth, The White Devil tracks the development of the werewolf from its birth to the present day, seeking to understand why the wolf curse continues to hold a firm grip on the modern imagination.
Combining early death and burial rites, mythology, folklore, archaeological evidence, and local superstitions, Matthew Beresford explains that the werewolf has long been present in the beliefs and mythology of the many cultures of Europe. He examines prehistoric wolf cults, the use of the wolf as a symbol of ancient Rome, medieval werewolf executions, and the eradication of wolves by authorities in England during the Anglo-Saxon period. He also surveys werewolf trials, medical explanations, and alleged sightings, as well as the instances in which lycanthropes appear in literature and film. With sixty illustrations of these often terrifying—but sometimes noble—beasts, The White Deviloffers a new understanding of the survival of the werewolf in European culture.

262 pages | 60 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2013

History: European History

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"The White Devil is informative and entertaining, filled with grisly anecdotes and case histories, religious, social, and medical interpretations, both credible and laughable. It leaves us wanting to know more. This is serious scholarship expressed in an easy, readable prose that examines the phenomenon from its beginnings with the tribal shaman all the way through to the legend’s popularization in film and television."

New York Journal of Books

“[Traces] the career of the werewolf from its roots in the shamanistic cults of prehistory, through its demonisation in Christian Europe, to the reclassification of lycanthropy as a mental illness . . . The stories told in this book are arresting and often bloody: the crimes of Gilles Garnier and other self-confessed ‘werewolves’ of the 16th century open a window on to changing perceptions of human barbarity in the pre-modern world. . . . This excursion into a fascinating but largely unvisited area of the past is welcome.”

BBC History Magazine

“Happily, The White Devil reintroduces us to an old fiend we thought we knew, and shows us there’s a lot more to the werewolf than a full moon and a lust for human flesh. . . . Beresford writes with a wolfish enthusiasm.”

Chronicle of Higher Education

“Beresford’s The White Devil may cause Twihards to re-examine their love of werewolves, but for the cultural historian in us all, it is a significant work on the religious and socio-cultural development of an idea that sheds light on the basic psychology of humankind. Beresford shows us that sometimes our fear of monsters is actually a fear of the world that we made.”


Table of Contents


Part One: The Cult of the Wolf

1              Of Man and Beast: The Prehistoric Cults of Europe

2              The Wolves of Rome: Classical Accounts of the Werewolf Myth

3              Fits of Fury: The Wolves of Germania

Part Two: Magic and Mayhem

4              The Medieval Wolf

5              A Cruel and Savage Beast: The Werewolf in Folklore

6              Of Wolf and Man: Werewolf Cases from Europe

Part Three: Darkness Visible

7              Methods to the Madness: Medical Explanations of the Werewolf Myth

8              Evolution Creates Dissolution: The End of the Myth?


Select Bibliography


Photo Acknowledgements


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