Our youngling has been begging us to post the story of how he lost his faith in Santa Claus, a story that involves a haunted forest, Halloween jump-scares, and werewolves. Add to that my pithy attempts at consolation, and you have a recipe for therapy. But before I continue with that tale, I started looking into the history of lycanthropes (werewolves), and was surprised as to where it led me.
I expected to go no further back than the folklore of Europe. This is where the interesting monsters lurk, be they vampires, banshees or witches (my favorite being the cannibal witch Baba Yaga). Surely, this was the original stomping-grounds for werewolves…
But then I dug deeper, and found a most disturbing tale, one that actually gives its name to lycanthropy. The horrific tale of Lycaon of Arcadia.
Like most Greek myths, this tale has multiple versions; however, the most common gist is this: Zeus went to Arcadia in human form. To test if Zeus was truly omniscient, Lycaon, the king of Arcadia, fed him a meal containing the flesh of one of Lycaon’s own children, Nyctimus. Outraged at the desecration, Zeus restored Nyctimus to life, and transformed Lycaon and the remainder of his sons into wolves.
Following this tradition, or more likely predating it, was a ritual festival called the Lykaia. Held every nine years, sources from antiquity, including Plato, maintained that initiation at the Lykaia, performed at Mount Lykaion (Wolf Mountain), involved the sacrifice and consumption of a young boy by one of the chosen male initiates.
Upon completing this gruesome task, the initiate would be transformed into a wolf. If he could abstain from human flesh for nine years, he would be restored to a man. Otherwise, he was cursed to be a wolf for the rest of his life. And thus we have the birth of the lycanthrope, far before he moved into the deep, dark woods of Eastern Europe.
But back to the deep, dark woods of a Halloween “haunted” forest in Midwestern America.
At $20 a person, and a hour long line, I for one was terrified.
Still, I wasn’t as scared as the wife and child when two werewolves came at us.
As we made our way through the emergency exit, I consoled my frightened child by pointing out that werewolves weren’t real, just like the Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus.
I thought I did well, and all was forgotten as Halloween receded and Christmas approached. Probing for gift ideas, my wife casually asked the little fellow, “when did you stop believing in Santa?”
You can guess the answer.
So now, here’s my quagmire. The only way I can rebuild his faith in Santa is by rebuilding his faith in werewolves.
I’m sure many a pastor, pundit and priest has faced similar variations of this problem.
So be it; let Operation: Lycaon begin…
Image, wood engraving by Hendrik Goltzius. P.D.