Lycanthropy: Werewolves and the Law of Reciprocity

Gary Kramer / Public domain

Lycanthropy

There are many examples in folklore around the world that feature werewolves and lycanthropy where there is a transformation from human to wolf or vice versa. Sometimes a human may transform completely into a wolf or a wolf may transform into a human as is the case in this story.  In other examples a beastly hybrid of the two species – half-human – half wolf is the result. Sometimes the human shows some degree of shame or guilt over what they are and what they become. In the story below a werewolf in his human form expresses a frank admission to being both evil and fierce offering no excuses and showing no shame or guilt. He and his family, accept what they are without question and show no desire to be fully human. Quite simply they are what they are.  

The Law of Reciprocity

Despite their admission there is a very human law that appears to be of great importance to them and that is the Law of Reciprocity.  They never forget a kindness done to them. Part of that law says that when someone receives kindness from another they repay that person with an equal or better act of kindness in return. It can also mean that when someone hurts another the injured party in return repays that person with an equal amount of harm.  Another term may be “an eye, for an eye.”

Presented below is a retelling of a story titled “A Wolf Story, from Ancient legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland,” by Lady Wilde.  It is set in Ireland in a time when wolves roamed the wilds of that island and reveals a surprising side to werewolves not often seen while revealing a hidden gem of wisdom.

A Wolf Story

This story begins way back in Ireland many years before before the last wolf was killed in about 1786 and begins with a farmer named Connor.  One day as Connor was walking home through a lonely glen he heard a sniveling, whimpering sound, like some creature in great pain.  Looking around him he spied hiding in a thick bush a young wolf cub who appeared to be in great distress. He approached carefully and quietly not wishing to frighten it and not wanting to risk a confrontation with any parent wolf that might be at hand.

Wolf Cub

Seeing it was the cub was in considerable distress for a moment he was caught in two minds.  His first thought was that he could kill it and claim the reward the authorities gave on the production of a dead wolf.  His second thought was that here was a creature in distress who needed his assistance and without which it would surely die a slow, cruel, death.  Either way he could claim the reward. As a farmer he had at times had livestock taken by wolves and had little cause to find sympathy over the death of a wolf cub.  

Nevertheless,  he was an inherently kind man who objected to seeing the suffering of any creature.  A third thought then came to him that he should help it. Carefully examining the stricken creature found a large thorn in its side which he gently removed.  The small cub lay still in much distress and Connor thought that it would probably die anyway. Nevertheless, he resolved to help it all he could to live and put aside thoughts of reward. Therefore, before he left he got the stricken cub a drink of water and placed it in a safe place hoping a parent would find it. After offering s short prayers for its recovery he went on his way thinking no more of it.

Missing Cows

Time passed and he forgot the incident completely. One day many years later Connor was checking the well being of his livestock and was aghast to discover two of his finest cows were missing.  He looked all around his farmyard and searched his fields but no sign of them could he find anywhere on his property. Therefore he began a search of the surrounding countryside. He traveled on foot and in his hand he carried a stout blackthorn staff. This was to aid his walking and also for security for one never knew who or what was abroad in those days.

Having not the slightest idea which way his cows might have gone he walked around and around his property in ever widening circles asking everyone he came across if they had seen them.  He traveled many miles in this way and reached a considerable distance from his farm but no sight or sign did he see or hear any word of where his cows might be.

The Desolate Heath

All day long he walked and as evening began to fall he began to feel hungry and tired.  He had traveled along way from his farm and inhabited parts and realized he was alone in the wilds of a desolated and dark heath.  Looking all around at the dreary darkening landscape at first he could see no sign of any human presence other than a dilapidated, ancient shelter. At first he thought it to be thee den of some outlaw or vagabond or maybe some wild beast.

As he looked weighing up what do in the fast failing light he saw a small chink of light escaping from a crack in the boarding of the shelter. Thinking that there must be some human inhabitants present he took heart and approaching the shelter gently tapped on the door.   The door creaked open to reveal a tall, slender man with grey hair and dark glittering eyes. To Connor’ s surprise before he could say a word the old man spoke saying, “Ah! So you have found us at last.  Please come in, we have been awaiting you!”

Ushering the bemused farmer through the door and into the dwelling the old man gestured inside to an old  woman sitting by the fireside. She was thin and grey and had long,sharp teeth and her eyes eyes glittered lit by the flames of the fire. She gazed upon him and said, “Yes indeed you are welcome, we have been waiting for you to get here and now you are here and it is supper time.  Please won’t you join us for a bite to eat.”

A Family of Wolves

Connor was no coward but he was wary of the two and although bewildered he looked both up and down appraising them.  They were both old and weary looking but he was young and vigorous and still had his blackthorn staff. He reasoned he could quickly overcome them should he need and he was very, very hungry and outside the heath was steeped in pitch black darkness.  He knew he could never find his way back in the dark so he sat down at a table to join them, watching as the old woman stirred a bubbling pot hanging over the fire. Although she appeared to be giving all her attention to the pot he got the strange feeling that all the time she was watching him with her strange glittering eyes.

After a little while their came a knock at the door and the old man got up and opened it.  To the surprise of Connor in trotted a young, sleek, black wolf. Ignoring the visitor the black wolf trotted across the floor and disappeared into an adjoining room.  Shortly out of the adjoining room their came a handsome young man. He sat opposite Connor and looked hard and deep at him with glittering, penetrating eyes.

“Welcome, we have been awaiting your arrival,” he said at last. However, before the bemused farmer could answer there was another knock at the door.  Again the old man opened it and in trotted another handsome wolf that disappeared into the adjoining room.  Shortly, there emerged from this same room another handsome youth who sitting next to the first studied Connor intently with his glittering, grey eyes, but said not another word.

Connor’s Story

“These are our sons, ” said the old man gesturing towards the young men, “Now you must tell us what brings you here and what you want.  Few people ever come this way and we do not like strangers or to be spied upon.  Speak now and hold nothing back!”

So Connor told how he had lost his two cows and how he had begun searching for them.  Although he had searched all of his farm and the area around it but found no sign. He told how he began searching beyond his farm until he had at last arrived on this dark and bleak heath and found their home and was asked to take supper and shelter the night.  He told them he was no spy and not remotely interested in their doings though he wished them all good health and well being. Beginning to feel uncomfortable he added that if they could tell him where his cows were he would be most grateful and be off to find them.

After he had spoken his hosts looked from one to the other knowingly and laughed.  Connor was appalled at their laughter and although he feared their glittering eyes he grew angry and taking up his blackthorn staff said,. “I have told you my story with honesty and without guile and you mock me!”

Never Forget a Kindness

Now although he was outnumbered his anger was hot and standing up with his staff in his hand asked them to make way and he would go for he would not stay and be mocked and would rather face the the dark, desolate heath than stay. Their laughter stopped and the eldest of the young men who had been the first stood up and said,

Nay, friend pay our laughter no need.  We are fierce and we are evil, but we never forget one who has done us a kindness. Cast your mind back years ago to the day in the glen when you found a young wolf cub pierced through his side by a sharp thorn in agony and waiting for death. 

It was you who pulled out that thorn and tended my wound and gave me good water to drink. Having done all you possibly could you said a prayer for the cub’ s recovery and went your way to either die in peace or recover as God pleased.  I was that cub and it pleased God that I should recover.”

“Yes indeed I remember it and I am glad God saw fit to heal you,” said Connor, “and I remember how you licked my hand in gratitude!”

“Indeed I did, for I was greatly in your debt and still am but for now put your fear aside, sit down, enjoy supper with us and stay tonight with us without fear.  Tomorrow you shall find your cows and more,” the young man told him.

Putting his fear aside Connor sat down with them and partook of the meal.  Indeed it was a fine supper and he ate his fill and his hosts were merry, friendly and good company.  He soon fell asleep and after enjoying a good night of rest he awoke to find himself lying comfortably on one of his own hayricks in one of his fields.

Three Strange Cows

Remembering the events of the previous night and the words of the wolf he was optimistic he would at last find his cows.  Therefore hebset off in a circle looking for them. Although he searched all his fields and his farmyard he could find no trace of them and began to feel bitterly disappointed.   As he approached the haystack he had started from he saw that there were three fine looking cows quietly grazing in the field. Although they had a strange air they were very handsome and comely but he had never owned such cows and knew of no else who ever did either.  Nevertheless, being an honest man, wielding his blackthorn staff he tried to drive them out through the gate to find their proper owner.  

The Black Wolf

However, standing in the middle of the gateway stood a handsome black wolf who prevented the cows from passing through the gate.  Each time Connor tried to drive the cows through the wolf jumped up and drove them back. At last it dawned on him that this was the wolf he had spoken to the previous night whose life he had saved long ago in the glen.  Then he realized that the strange cows were a reward for saving the life of that wolf and so closed the gate and let the cows graze peacefully in the field.  

The Three Cows

Those three cows proved to produce the best milk and cream that made the finest butter and cheese in all of the island of Ireland.  Furthermore when he bred them they produced a fine, productive and valuable breed of cattle whose descendants still graze the rich grassy meadows of Ireland to this day.  

Connor wanted to thank the wolf but although he tried to find that dark and desolate heath he never could find it. He never again met one of those wolves who had been present that night.  Every now and then a hunter, or farmer, brought the body of a slain wolf into town to claim  bounty from the authorities for its death. This would cut him to the quick for he feared that it might be the wolf he had saved or one of his family. He could never know for sure but being a good man grieved nonetheless.

Through his kindness in saving the wolf cub Connor grew rich and prospered greatly and became proof of the ancient  Irish proverb,

“Blessings are won,

By a good deed done.”

The End

An Eye for an Eye

So on this occasion kindness was rewarded with kindness and Connor benefited greatly from it. Another relevant proverb is, “One good turn deserves another,” but what about when someone does us a bad turn is the opposite then true? Do we we invoke an “an eye for an eye“? When kindness is used people naturally want to repay in kind and there is a kind of gentle competitiveness to be the kindest. This builds strong positive bonds and relationships benefiting everyone, but when we enact an “eye for an eye,” everyone ends up blind.

Be kind!

© 26/02/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 26th, 2020 zteve t evans

The Legend of Nurse Maggie, The Crystal Palace and Old Father Rhine

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Crystal Palace from, The Crystal Palace and Other Legends, by Marie H. Frary and Charles Maurice Stebbins

There was once a rather quaint old lady who was named Nurse Maggie by the children who lived in a village called Zurdof along the great River Rhine.  Nurse Maggie was very kindly and caring and was a very good nurse and was often called upon to care for the village children when they fell ill.   The children loved this because she would tell them the most wonderful stories of the olden days; of  bold knights and lovely ladies and the great castles they lived in. She told them stories of the nymphs of the wood and water and of fairies and elves, but the stories they liked the beast were the ones she told of old Father Rhine and what follows was one of their favorites.

One Dark, Wet, Night

The story begins one dark, wet,  night while Maggie was sat at home in her tiny cottage knitting before the fire. All of a sudden she heard a sharp knock at the door.  Putting her knitting on the table she went to the door to see who was rapping upon her door.  Opening it she found a very strange man carrying a lantern of peculiar design and pattern.  He did not say a word but instead beckoned to her to follow him, but Maggie hesitated.  Outside the rain was pouring down and the road was littered with puddles deep and wide, but that was not the reason for her hesitation.  The reason was because the man was a stranger and she had never seen anyone like him before in her life.

Seeing her hesitate and understanding her wariness, the stranger smiled kindly upon her, easing her anxiety and again he beckoned to her to follow him.  This time she followed him of the warmth and shelter of her cottage and down the dark street that led to the River Rhine. Along the way she paddling through puddles that became deeper and deeper.  Suddenly water began to flow all around her and she began to panic, but the stranger beckoned her on.

“Sir,” she said, “I cannot go on!  What kind of a man are you and what do you want of me, this of all nights?”

The River Rhine

The stranger said nothing, instead he scooped her up into his arms and plunged forward into the River Rhine which had burst its banks.  Its waters were rose fast swirling all around poor, terrified Maggie who was now carried in the arms of the stranger.   Down into the swirling water he took her, down, down and deeper than down, through the cold, dark, water he carried her.  She closed her eyes and prayed for surely this was her end and stopped her struggling giving into the overwhelming force of the water.  Down the stranger carried her and Maggie wondered why she had not drowned and after what seemed like age they came through the water and she found herself in the most marvelous crystal palace.

The Crystal Palace

Mighty relieved at finding herself out of the cold water Maggie gazed around her and was awestruck at what she saw.  All around her were walls of pure crystal imbedded with precious stones and gems. A massive, magnificent, crystal dome arched over her head and she saw she was in an enormous crystal palace. Above and around it flowed the cold, dark waters of the mighty Rhine. All around were ornaments and artifacts of  gold and silver and then she spied, laid upon a bed of pure crystal with silk coverings a most lovely golden-haired nymph. She looked very pale, very weak and very ill and yet had fragile kind of beauty and the kind heart of Maggie reached out to her knowing she was close to death.

Nursing the Nymph

The strange old man turned to Maggie and said,  “I know you are an excellent nurse and this is my beautiful wife, who is very ill as you can see.  I have bought you here to my crystal palace in the hope that you will agree to nurse her back to health.  If you agree and bring her back to health, I will reward you so well you shall never regret it.”

Maggie looked upon the poor wan nymph and was touched by how beautiful she looked and as compassion rose in her heart she instantly agreed.   Maggie nursed her so carefully and diligently that her charge soon began to improve in health and gain strength and soon she was well and whole again.

When she became strong enough to talk, the nymph told her that her husband was, in fact, the water god that people called Old Father Rhine.  She explained that she had once lived on earth and that her father was King Rheidt and told her the story of how she had met her husband.

The Dance

One day she was at a dance held in a village alongside the Rhine, when a strange old man wearing clothes of foamy green had asked her to dance.  Being someone who is polite and friendly she had agreed. He took her round and round the dance floor, faster and faster with each turn, until finally they danced alongside the river and they had plunged into it.  Taking her in his arms, he took her down, down deeper than down, to his crystal palace. There they fell in love and had married and lived happily together ever since.  

Then she said,  “With your kindness, compassion and skill you have nursed me back to health and I thank you for that, but soon it will be time for you to return to earth.  When it is time Father Rhine will offer to reward you most generously, but only accept from him your normal fee. He will offer try to persuade you to accept far greater reward but you must insist he only pay you your normal charge.   Father Rhine detests greedy money-grabbing people, but loves those who are generous and sincere and he will remember you.”

Maggie’s Reward

As she finished talking Father Rhine came into the room and seeing his wife healthy and once again in full bloom asked Maggie to follow him.  She followed him through many wonderful halls of the crystal palace until they came to a vast room filled with all kinds of treasure. There were piles of gold and silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and precious gems of all kinds.  The river god was grateful to old Maggie for nursing his beautiful wife back to health and he implored her to take whatever she wanted from the treasure. As she gazed at all the wonderful treasures before her eyes he watched thoughtfully waiting to see what she would select.

Maggie gazed upon the treasure and it filled her eyes.  She thought just how much good she could do if she only had a fraction of that glittering hoard and after all she had earned a reward for saving the life of his wife.  Then she thought of all the people she had heard of who had let greed enter their rule their hearts and rule them.  

Stooping down she select a small item of the value she would have charged for her normal fee.  Old Father Rhine urged her to take more, but she firmly and most courteously refused. She told him nursing was her gift from god and it was her duty to help others with that gift.  Therefore, seeing his wife whole and healthy was for her the greatest gift possible.

Nurse Maggie

The river god nodded and took her by the hand and led her along a long, dark, corridor and she found herself in cold swirling water, but he took her up in his arms and swam up through the water and gently placed her on the bank of the Rhine near her own dear cottage.  As he turned to say goodbye, he placed a handful of gold coins into her lap and dived into the swirling waters and was gone. Ever since Nurse Maggie has continued to nurse the sick people, especially the children, of her village back to health. All her patients – especially the children – love her tell them the story of Old Father Rhine and how she nursed his wife in the crystal palace under the waters of the mighty River Rhine.

© 13/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 13th, 2018 zteve t evans