The Beast Of Gevaudan – an HML post


BESTIE~130 June 1764, Gevaudan, southern France. A 14-year-old girl named Jeanne Boulet is found dead in the hills near the village of Les Hubacs where she often tended to her sheep and cattle. Her body was found savagely maimed. Authorities attributed the attack to some wild animal. Given the girl’s youth and vulnerability they thought nothing more of the incident.

Within two months of Boulet’s death however, there were 6 more attacks in the Gevaudan (now modern-day Lozere) area. Those that did not survive the attacks were found to have sustained serious injuries to the face and neck and parts of their body appeared to have been eaten. Those that did survive gave an alarming description of their assailant: possessing the features of a wolf it was bigger than a cow, had giant teeth, an enormous tail and dark-reddish fur. It also had a terrible odour and some eyewitnesses claimed that they saw it walk on its hind legs…

What creature was this that was roaming the French countryside, devouring humans at will? To this day the true identity of the Beast of Gevaudan still remains a mystery…

The hunt begins…

By September 1764, the number of attacks not only escalated but became ever more violent. Some corpses were found decapitated as a result of their necks being torn out completely. These incidents caused such a stir that the reigning King Louis XV felt obligated to get involved.

In June 1765, he dispatched Francois Antoine, his personal Lieutenant of the hunt to hunt and kill the beast after previous searches by professional wolf-hunters proved unsuccessful. On 21 September, Antoine killed a large grey wolf which he believed to be the one guilty of the attacks. Everybody believed so too, and Antoine was hailed as a national hero. The animal was stuffed, preserved as a token of his achievement, and sent to the King’s Court.

Two months later however, the attacks started again and more deaths were reported. The Beast of Gevaudan was still at large…

Antoine shows off the stuffed wolf at the King's Court in Versaille.

Antoine shows off the stuffed wolf at the King’s Court in Versaille.

The reign of terror comes to an end

In June 1767, nearly three years after the first attacks, farmer Jean Castel shot and killed a large animal resembling a wolf. When its body was cut open, human flesh was found in its stomach. The attacks ceased completely after that day and Castel has become a legend –now known as the man who killed the Beast of Gevaudan. This heroic feat of Castel’s is shrouded in controversy however. Legend claims that Castel used a gun loaded with silver bullets and waited for the animal which approached him cautiously. The farmer was then able to fire at close range. This is apparently were the idea that silver bullets kill werewolves originated from.

Theories abound

Not surprisingly, thanks to historians, cryptozoologists and animal behaviourists, a range of theories exist as to the nature of the Beast of Gevaudan:

Not just one?

A popular theory was that a pack of wolves were responsible not just one single animal. It could explain how the attacks stretched across a vast distance of 90sq kilometres across the countryside. Although survivor accounts always seem to state the presence of one attacker.

Asian Hyena?

Some experts are adamant that the Beast of Gevaudan was not a wolf but in fact the Asian(now extinct) or Striped Hyena. They argue that no breed of wolf, even a large one would be able to able to bite through human bone but the hyena can (however it should be noted that hyenas tend to have distinct markings (stripes/spots) on their bodies, which the Beast did not).

Mutation?

Some claim that the Beast was a mutation of some sort, a hybrid of a wolf and another animal. Animal behaviourists state that its behaviour was very unusual for a wolf. Wolves generally fear humans and are known for attacking domestic animals and livestock. Why attack people but leave their cattle (which were clearly in plain sight) alone? Its appearance might have been that of a wolf but its behaviour suggests some other DNA in its makeup.

Human Involvement?

Plaque dedicated to Jean Castel in the village of la Besseyre Saint Mary in Lozere where he killed the 'Beast'.

Plaque dedicated to Jean Castel in the village of la Besseyre Saint Mary in Lozere where he shot the ‘Beast’.

A theory that is quite popular is that Jean Castel was somehow responsible for the attacks, the human agent that was controlling the Beast. If Castel’s story of how he killed the Beast holds true, then the animal’s behaviour towards Castel comes into question. Castel managed to get awfully close to it without it attacking which was unusual for the Beast. Theory goes that Castel kept the Beast as a pet or possibly reared a wolf pup to become a killing machine. Although as to what Castel’s motive could have been in setting this monster upon the citizens of Gevaudan has not properly established by theorists.

Werewolf?

And what sort of mystery would this be without a possible supernatural explanation? Even if cynics do call out the overactive imaginations of superstitious 18th century peasants, they would still find it hard to explain the exclusive tastes of the Beast. Why did it only attack humans? What also added to this theory were the accounts of bipedalism in the animal from some eyewitnesses.

In three years, there were over 100 deaths attributed to the murderous beast and a hundred more people who were attacked but who escaped with their lives. The events from 1764 to 1767 were well documented yet almost 250 years later it’s still a topic of debate.

So, my perceptive readers, who or what exactly was the Beast of Gevaudan? Was it an ordinary animal with extraordinary strength? Was it a crossbreed, a mutation? Maybe a human agent was involved, controlling the beast. Were a pack of wolves responsible? Or was it in fact a werewolf???

NM 🙂

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

REFERENCES

Breverton, T. Breverton’s Phantasmagoria: A Compendium of Monsters, Myths and Legends, Lyons Press, USA. 2011.

Smith, J. Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast.Havard College, USA. 2011.

Wikipedia-Beast of Gevaudan

Other interesting sites:

http://www.unknownexplorers.com/beastofgevaudan.php

http://cryptozoology.wikia.com/wiki/Beast_of_Gevaudan

http://cryptidchronicles.tumblr.com/post/26205872354/beast-of-gevaudan

The Pied Piper of Hameln – An HML Post


Most of us are familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale, the Pied Piper of Hamelin. 
The German town of Hamelin(or Hameln, the German variant spelling) is besieged by rats and the townsfolk are at a loss at how to deal with this pestilent problem.
One day a man appears, dressed in an outfit of many colours, and offers to rid the town of the vermin in exchange for a fee. The town elders agree on a price and the man takes out a flute and starts playing a strange tune. As he walks through the streets of Hameln, the sound of his music brings forth the rats, which follow him as he makes his way to the river Weser. He leads them straight into the water where they all drown.

Oldest picture of the Pied Piper, reproduced from the painting on the glass window of the Market Church in Hameln. Image in Public Domain.

Relieved as the people were to be rid of the rats, the town elders go back on their word and refuse to pay the Piper for his troubles. Seeking revenge for their treachery, the rat-catcher returns to the town the very next day. He plays a different melody but this time it is the children who become influenced by his playing and start dancing and following him through the streets. He leads them out of the town, to the base of a mountain where a cavern opens up. The children enter the mountain, the cavity closes, and they are never seen again.

No doubt a grim and morbid fairytale but did this incident really take place? Does this children’s story have a basis in fact?

Of course, the town of Hameln really does exist in the German province of Lower Saxony. And to this day the town still holds certain traditions and annual festivals in honour of the missing 130 children and two 16th century houses bear commemorative plaques mentioning the date in which they disappeared.

But what do the historical records say?

The commemorative plaques give the precise date of that fateful day as 26 June 1284. A historical document called the Luneberg Manuscript (published in the 1400’s) also gives this exact date this yet later records give the date of 22 July 1376.

It should be noted however that the earliest mentions only tell of the children’s disappearance. No reason or explanation is given. It’s only until the 16th century that mention of the Pied Piper is made and was popularized by English poet Robert Browning and the Grimm Brothers.

Interestingly, the Market Church in Hameln’s town centre has a stained glass window on which is a clear depiction of a colourfully dressed flute player leading a group of dancing children who are all dressed in white. The construction of the building dates back to the 1300’s.

The Symbolic Rat-Catcher

Where precise dates are given for the children’s’ disappearance, the figure of the Pied Piper seems to be shrouded in mystery. There obviously is a supernatural quality to the Piper but did such a person actually exist or was there someone who at least inspired the famous fairytale figure?

During the Middle Ages, rat-catching was a popular profession due to the outbreaks of bubonic plague and rat-catchers were often sought for their services. But no disgruntled rat-catcher with a grudge to bear has been noted. Perhaps the iconic Pied Piper was representative of, not so much the rats, but of the certain death that was brought on by the plague-some scholars feel he’s a representation of the Grim Reaper leading the children away into the afterlife…

The Missing Children

If the Piper really did represent Death, there is no historical proof to suggest that the children died of natural causes. There are no records stating that the plague was responsible. In fact the plague, or Black Death, only reached Europe in the 14th century.

Re-enactments of the Pied Piper story take place annually in Hameln. Image in Public Domain.

Due to the motif in the legend that the children were ‘dancing’ to their doom, some claim that the disease was not the plague but St.Vitus’ Dance, an infliction that was common during Medieval times and characterised by involuntary body movements due to the motor senses being affected.

Of course this is also conjecture as there’s no solid evidence to back this theory either. Up until the 19th century, two crosses stood erect at the base of the Koppelberg Mountain to mark the spot where the children apparently entered and were last seen. The original date when the crosses were erected could not be found but perhaps this is evidence that the kids had indeed left the town?

The Children’s Crusade

One of the more popular explanations given for the mass disappearance were the events that took place during the 13th century known as the Children’s Crusades.

In 1212, due to the European Christian Crusaders’ failure to capture Jerusalem, two armies, consisting of entirely children from France and Germany, marched on to the Holy Land. Convinced that God would protect them, the children were determined to fight the Muslim Crusaders but the mission was a disaster and many of the kids died along the way due to exhaustion and the rest never made it back home.

There have been some incidents recorded of travellers to Eastern Europe and North Africa, who met locals who claim to have been born in Germany and were separated from their families. Indeed the Grimms’ fairytale version (possibly an attempt to give the story a happier ending) has an itinerant come across a small village in Transylvania, whose residents spoke German and who claimed their forefathers were from a town in Germany.

The problem with the Children’s Crusades theory however, is that the earliest date given for the disappearance of the Hameln kids is 1284. The Children’s Crusades were well-documented and the well-established date of 1212 is given.

*******************

Whether a complete literary hoax or a legend based on fact, the origins of the Pied Piper will continue to be a mystery.

To this day, the town of Hameln celebrates its association with the legendary rat-catcher as re-enactments are carried out every year on 26 June, in honour of the 130 children who disappeared. There is even a street, named the Bungen-Strasse, which forbids the playing of music (the Bungen-Strasse was allegedly the route the Pied Piper had taken). If that isn’t enough, a bronze statue of the iconic flute-player stands proudly outside the Hameln Town hall.

So my perceptive readers, do you think the Pied Piper really existed? What of your thoughts on the children’s disappearance? If it’s all just a fairytale, how do you explain the preciseness of all the dates given? All thoughts are welcome 🙂

NM 🙂

LITERATURE

The Pied Piper of Hamelin(poem) by Robert Browning

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by the Brothers’ Grimm

MOVIES 

The Pied Piper of Hamelin(1957) –(dir.) Bretaigne Windust

The Pied Piper(1986)(Original Czech title: Krysar)- (dir.)Jiri Barta

REFERENCES

Facts and Fallacies, Readers’ Digest, pages 354-355. Readers’ Digest Association. USA.1988.

http://www.hameln.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin

http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/3805/the_lost_children_of_hamelin.html (MJ Perez Cuervo)

ALL IMAGES TAKEN FROM WIKIPEDIA COMMONS.

And now for something completely different…


Exciting times awaits, folks. The end of this month marks the one-year anniversary of NM’s Writers’ Bloq. Yessiree, consider me a blog pro! Well almost.

Anyhoo, so in honour of the anniversary, the month of March will see some new ‘developments.’

Firstly the Writers’ Bloq will play host to its very first Guest Blogger, so look out for that this coming Sunday.
And secondly…

I have a confession to make.

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I can remember. Yes, I know, that’s not really a confession and hardly a revelation, just let me continue…

When I nurtured dreams of being a writer as a young girl, I never, ever thought that I would be writing…. fiction.
How’s that? Surprised? I always saw myself writing articles and when it came to books, the only kinds I imagined myself publishing were textbooks and celebrity autobiographies (I’m being serious). Hey, I was young- I was allowed to dream big.
I only started dabbling in fiction writing about three years ago, hence my lack of confidence sometimes with regards to my stories.

Non-fiction, however, is what I consider my comfort zone. I’m not saying it’s easy, in fact, it can be just as difficult even with all the information at your disposal. I enjoy reading and writing it however so I’m hoping you would humour me in this regard.
See, I’ve decided to start a new feature on this blog. I’m calling it History, Myths and Legends. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. There is already a category dedicated to this, as you can see on the side but I’ve decided to up the ante. If you are into historical events, true life mysteries and the supernatural then you’re in for a treat!!!

Once a month, I will dedicate one post to a famous legend, myth or piece of history with/without a supernatural twist. I can’t promise that they will have some literary link but I will try. Therefore to all my writer buddies, if this isn’t your cup of herbal tea, I do apologise. You will just have to wait for another one of my regular posts where I moan about editing. 😉
Also if you have a sensitive disposition and a natural aversion to the supernatural, I will understand if you make yourself scarce. I would hate to think I was the cause of nightmares or sleepless nights. I have affectionately abbreviated the feature to HML (not to be confused with the web-link abbreviation!) so you will recognise the article.

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts about my new blog feature. My very first HML post will be next week : Spring-heeled Jack, the Scourge of England.
See ya then!

NM 🙂