Werewolf Lore: The Varulv
Werewolves in Sweden and Norway are called the ‘Varulv’. Eastern Europe is particularly rich with werewolf folklore, unlike England, where wolves were hunted almost to extinction. The Varulv almost has its own mythology, though in many ways it is similar to the traditional werewolf lore we’re so used to hearing about. He’s half man, half werewolf, hairy, sharp teeth; you know, the usual. But similarities end there; for one thing, the affliction is not brought on by biting, or violence.
In much of the Varulv lore, the creature become a werewolf voluntarily, with the use of a certain article of clothing, such as a belt, like that described in one of the oldest werewolf stories, ‘Peter Stubbe’s Magical Belt’. In Northern and Central Sweden, live the indigenous Sami people, –called pejoratively ‘Laplanders’, which is the more common, though offensive term. The Sami were generally self-supporting nomads, and, like gypsies, were regarded with much suspicion. Many locals believed that Sami people could turn you into a werewolf, or were werewolves themselves.
There are even modern prejudices regarding the Sami and werewolves; some theories speculate that porphyria can be traced back to the Sami people, and it was them who spread the disease to the rest of the world. The Sami are not Romani, like gypsies, but instead, lived more like the indigenous people of North America.
The Varulv has a variety of methods for transformation, though the belt method is most traditional in Swedish folklore, and many ways for being cured as well. In some instances, one can just say to the varulv “You are a wolf.” There is also a much more grisly method; eating an unborn fetus. Also interesting, that the Swedish believe only “a man of faith” can become a werewolf, –as in, the ‘People’s Faith’, which is describes as the belief in the rules of folklore, belief in a shared world between the corporeal and the incorporeal.
There are several references in Swedish folklore texts, the the native Varulv was a beer drinker; the Swedish werewolves have a difference in their behavior. For example, a werewolf who changes voluntarily is more often the savage beast portrayed in horror. The varulv bitten, or changed against his will, attaches himself to mankind. The reference to beer drinking may be related to these gentle werewolves who tried to live as men, eating only cooked food, and drinking beer, –never murdering or slaying cattle.
Olaus Magnus, a Catholic Archbishop in 1490 claimed that werewolves were able to transform by drinking beer and singing an incantation; this is supported by many examples of werewolf lore from Russia. Russia’s folklore is very similar in some regards to Sweden’s; the two countries are linked by the indigenous Sami people mentioned above. Folklore and cultural beliefs of the Sami could have easily been filtered slowly to the rest of the native population, in both Sweden and Russia, creating the obvious links and shared beliefs we see today in their mythology.
Olaus, who as mentioned above, claimed that werewolves preferred beer and by drinking beer could transform to his wolf shape. In several passages from his book, he talks about the indigenous peoples to the Nordic region; –these were the Sami. Piecing together various legends, folklore, and superstition, Olaus made significant discoveries about the cultural beliefs of the “indigenous people” he refers to. Olaus supports the theory that the varulv is not a creature tied to geography, –instead, it comes from Sami culture. Also, the Sami, often mistaken for gypsies, may be responsible for the popular image of the gypsy appearing to warn people of the varulv.