Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Werewolves and Hanno Wotan

As Halloween approaches, I thought it'd be fun to dig a little deeper into the distant beliefs of European prehistory.  Though only bones and stones, the Bell Beakers appear to have had some recognizable beliefs based on their materials, which I will link in my speculations below.

We know in modern lore that werewolves are normal men who undergo a transformation initiated by the moon.  This unleashes a crazed and uncontrollable blood lust that is merciless.  In various Indo-European languages he could be the "Lunatic" or the "Monetic" (after the moon), also known as "Zănatic" or "Dianaticus" (or madness from moon goddess Selene Artemis, σεληνιάζομαι).  He tears off his clothes running naked through the night like a wildman.  He pants and foams at the mouth.  He is the lycanthrope, λυκάνθρωπος, berserker, ulfhéðinn, wilkołak, vilkatis, lobisomem and about a hundred other terms.

A good place to begin understanding the werewolf phenomenon is to begin with North Sea berserker or ulfhéðinn.  These were the real warriors (shapeshifters*) of Hanno Wotan, otherwise known as Woden, Odin (Apollo, the sun god)  They either wore wolfskins, bearskins or were naked or both.  These wild shock troops were feared in Early Christian Europe because they were nuts

We are told by the ancients that the night before a battle, elite Scandinavian warriors began drinking heavily but not any old psychotropic beer at your mother's table.  The gruits of these beers were hotly steeped in hallucinogens such as hene-bane or heng-belle (in Ang-Sax "heng = death"), also Herba Apollinaris cognate in PtG with Henno Wotan (Liberman, 2008), and further PIE bhongo or soma, itself appearing to descend from an even more ancient word related to PtU for mushrooms.
Hanno Wotan and Berserker
The dirty little secret of warfare is that many belligerents typically consumed narcotics before battle.
Zulus, Somalis, Aghans, Apache, Inca, Paupans, suicide-bombers, whatever.  In the professional militaries of Europe, this became less common over time but with notable exceptions.  This is likely the human norm since the Paleolithic.  This is the mostly likely reason Celtic warriors famously doffed their clothing before battle, the intolerance toward clothing often felt by people who are ramped up on mood altering substances.

It's not difficult to understand why men did this and still do this.  One is the performance edge needed in active hand-to-hand combat which rarely lasts longer than a few minutes.  During this time maximum adrenaline, testosterone and metabolic function are exhausting the body.  Water, electrolytes, lactic acid, blood loss, hyperventilation, paralytic fear - all create a dangerous vulnerability in a contest to kill or be killed, with dying itself the least of his problems.

Some performance enhancers may also create inhibition, something important for the one who dons the suicide vest, volunteered for by his nice peers.  Although narcotics can cloud one's clarity and decision-making ability, this may pale in comparison to the paralysis caused by the fog of war.  The psychological effect of substance use may have its greatest impact in the confidence and carefreeness of someone who needs to focus on killing instead of worrying about problems at home.

The last aspect, again varying by the substance, is being able to tolerate pain and to be relentless in the attack.  The inner city crack-heads of the 1980's were notorious for having super-human strength.  Often, this resulted in a cop shooting a charging suspect multiple times, only to be accused of excessive force later.  This has an important psychological on the defender, who not only has less time to react, but also becomes convinced that his best and most lethal efforts are ineffective against a madman.

A lunatic.
 We can see these behaviors seeping into the historical era.  To quote the Yngling Saga via Wiki:

"His (Odin's) men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them. This was called Berserkergang."
 And another interesting quote concerning Varangian Goths by Hilda Ellis-Davidson, again via Wiki:

"This fury, which was called berserkergang, occurred not only in the heat of battle, but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power. This condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its colour. With this was connected a great hot-headedness, which at last gave over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met without discriminating between friend or foe. When this condition ceased, a great dulling of the mind and feebleness followed, which could last for one or several days."
There is plenty of evidence that this was excessive henbane in most cases, however I'm not aware of any direct chemical analysis other than residue from pots and beakers.

But let's focus our attention on Bronze Age European warfare.  In both Greek and Germanic languages the hebane plant is known as the herb of the solar deity.  Apollo Helios (a divergent amalgam of the same deity) is associated with fire, fury and death and of course his plant, the death herb.  His crown is the halo.  His opposite is his sister, the moon goddess, who is associated with archery, boars, cornos and cattle.  They alternate rising and setting of the sun and moon via solar boats or chariots.

Hypothetically, if Iron Age berzerkers were hyped up on beverages that included henno-wotan (Herba Apollinaris) then the delicate balance of overdosing or being unable to come of a multiday high would have been a great danger.  So what do you do when you overdose?!

You need an antidote! (Thx)

What is the antidote for a frothing at the mouth warrior?   It would have to be a powerful sedative.
How about Wolfsbane! (aconitum) also (aconitum lycotonum)  It is a convenient choice since this is the traditional antidote for werewolf-ism, along with strenuous exercise, conversion to Catholicism (for Protestant werewolves) or burning at the stake (100% solution!).

Medicinally, wolfsbane is used to treat anxiety or sleeplessness.  It is "the queen of poisons" and like the henebane can be deadly, hence dead in the root.  In small doses though, it may bring our blood-spattered warrior back to Earth.

Here's a previous post about beer gruit [here].  Anyhow, Happy Halloween!
* Shapeshifting is also commonly associated with one other mortal, the witch.  I've offered my view on the Indo-European evolution of the witch, [here], and a few other entries.  I find it interesting that the two shapeshifters of lore are those that potentially made the gruits and beer, and those that drank it.


  1. anecdote = brief story about a personal experience
    antidote = drug used to counteract another drug