Imagine this: the year is 1691, and you are a judge for the Swedish town of Jürgensburg. Recently, there was a theft from the local Lutheran Church, which is the only form of Christianity that is sanctioned. Some of the villagers have suggested that an octogenarian named Theiss might have witnessed the crime, and so you have the man brought in before the court.
This is where things get interesting…
For one thing, many of the villagers also believe that Theiss is a werewolf, but that has nothing to do with your investigation…
Until Theiss brings it up himself.
Theiss starts by reminding you and the other judges how this wasn’t his first time in court.
No, ten years earlier he had tried to sue a local farmer for breaking his nose.
Indeed, his nose had been broken…
But in Theiss’ prior court testimony, it was the circumstances that made his accusation unique:
Apparently, Theiss had gone down to Hell to battle Witches.
These Witches were stealing local grains, produce and livestock and taking it to Satan, who they served.
On specific Christian feast days/festivals, Theiss and his band of Werewolves would make the descent into Hell, fight the Witches, and bring back the stolen goods.
It was in Hell that one of these Satanic Witches, the farmer Theiss was suing, broke his nose with a “broomstick decorated with horses’ tails”.
In that case, the judges had laughed him out of court…
The good news, according to Theiss: he’d given up lycanthropy after that.
Ten years wolf-free.
At this point, you and your fellow judges are trying to figure out if this man is actually sane.
You consult with the locals: indeed, they state he is sound of mind.
In fact, in the past ten years, his standing in the community has grown; he had become a folk magician, who gave charms and performed healings…a fact not lost upon you or the other incredulous judges.
How Theiss became a werewolf:
Many years earlier Theiss had been a beggar, when “a rascal” came along, made a toast, and gave him a swig of ale.
Theiss, in turn, could pass on this unique gift in a similar fashion; by making a toast, breathing into a mug three times, and reciting a simple spell, “you will become like me”. Should the other person then take a drink, they would become a “Hound of God”, as Theiss described himself.
Unfortunately, Theiss still hadn’t met anyone he felt would make a suitable successor.
You question the old man some more, and his story starts contradicting itself.
First, Theiss explains that he and the other werewolves made the transformation by wearing wolf pelts; he had obtained his from a farmer, and had passed it on.
Who was the farmer? Who did Theiss give his pelt to?
At this point, Theiss gets cagey. No, he was mistaken…there were no pelts.
He and the others just went into the bushes, got naked and shape-shifted.
Before making the descent into Hell, they would tear apart local farmer’s animals – and then roast them.
“Roast them?” you ask.
“Yes, yes!” says the old man. “We like our meat with salt.”
“But how does a wolf roast an animal?” you inquire.
“With fire.” Theiss adds, “this is while we’re still human. And we never have any bread.”
“So last year, I went down to Hell, chased the Devil and his Witches, and returned with as much barley, oats and rye as I could, which is why the harvest was so good.”
“What? But-” you stammer.
“Oh come, you remember how good last year’s harvest was. That was thanks to me being a Werewolf.”
“But you said you gave that up ten years ago.”
“Okay, I might have fibbed a little bit about that.”
“Okay, Theiss. You love God, and you hate the Devil, correct?”
“Yes, of course. You remember the whole “Hound of God” thing, right.”
“So that means you’re a good Lutheran, right? You obviously go to Church, and partake of the Lord’s Supper?”
“Um, no. I’m told old to understand this new time religion.”
“Okay, okay. But these charms that you give the people, surely they invoke the power of the Almighty, right?”
Theiss looks back sheepishly, quite ironic for a wolf.
“No, not so much…”
In 1691, Theiss of Kaltenbrun was sentenced to ten lashings, and permanently banished from Jürgensburg.
The court’s final finding: Theiss was guilty of something far worse than lycanthropy:
He was turning the good folk of Jürgensburg away from Lutheranism.
While the narrative portions are my own invention, the trial isn’t. The record still exists.
And what became of Theiss?
Maybe he’s still out there, battling with Witches…
I, for one, will be toasting him on the night of St. Lucia’s feast, which is one of the nights Theiss made his transformation (the others were on Pentecost and St. John’s feast).
Hopefully, it’s a full moon…