Real Cases of Lycanthropy: Jean Grenier
Case studies of lycanthropy are not as steeped in folklore and mythology as they were in the 18th, 19th, and even in the early 20th centuries. Today, we have the science and technology, as well as the psychological skills to understand that lycanthropy is not only a highly entertaining theme in films, but also a recognized mental illness. But almost 200 years ago, in France, –which, unlike England, is saturated in werewolf legends, –there weren’t too many psychiatrists or therapists.
Jean Grenier, dubbed the ‘Werewolf of France’ by historians, was around 14 years old when he announced to his village that he had stalked, killed, and eaten children in the area. Children had been going missing in the area, so Grenier was immediately arrested. Back then, before the separation of church and state, if you committed a crime, you’d have the right to a trial, but you’d be tried and sentenced by primarily church officials. Jean Grenier was declared mentally unfit. The judges concluded that Jean Grenier had been possessed by a demon, resulting in lycanthropy. His sentence was to be sent to a monastery to live for the rest of his life.
Jean Grenier was even examined by the infamous Pierre de Lancre; the man who single-handedly initiated the Basque Witch Trials, –a witch-hunt that killed over 600 men and women in France, almost a century before the Salem witch trials took place in colonial Massachusetts. He also wrote several popular volumes of religious anti-witch guides, and witch-hunting books. After several years at the monastery, de Lancre examined Grenier, and found the boy “diminutive in stature, very shy, and unwilling to look anyone in the face. His eyes were deep set and restless; his teeth long and protruding; his nails black, and in places worn away; his mind was completely barren; he seemed unable to comprehend the smallest things..”
One of the older case studies of Grenier comes from the fictionalized accounts by Sabine Baring-Gould, who almost novelized Grenier’s ordeal. Baring-Gould embellished various different real case studies of demon possession, lycanthropy, cannibalism, and other ‘supernatural afflictions.’ Baring-Gould’s ‘The Book of Were-wolves’ goes from scientific observation, to a collection of stories about real lycanthropy cases.