Although wolves were made extinct in much of Eastern Canada in the 1800s, there may still be wolf-like creatures prowling our woods at night, especially under the light of a full moon. When I was a child, my French-Canadian grandmother would warn me about the dangers of staying outside after dark, especially near forested areas. What was to be feared above all was a creature she called the loup-garou. I knew that loup meant ‘wolf’ in French, and since the meaning of the word garou was unknown to me, it fueled my imagination by amplifying the cunning, bloodthirstiness of the feared creature.
Reluctant to come indoors at the end of the day, I discounted my grandmother’s stories as nonsense. After all, she was in the habit of telling other far-fetched tales, ones of horses acting strangely around men of questionable character or of ghostly hands pulling on your hair at night while you were asleep. It wasn’t until I read about the loup-garou in my French reader in elementary school that I realized there might be more to her tales than I had previously thought.
That account of the loup-garou was far more detailed than anything my grandmother had told me. It explained how the transformation from human to wolf took place when a person missed Easter Sunday communion for seven years in a row. The only way such a wretched soul could be ‘saved’ was to go to confession and ask forgiveness from the priest. Once they then took communion on Easter Sunday, they would no longer be doomed to transform each night into a ravenous wild animal. So much for the silver bullets used to destroy werewolves in English stories.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, there were numerous convictions and executions of loup-garous among the French during the 16th century. I wonder if any loup-garous came to Canada back then to escape such persecution.
A full moon is expected for tomorrow night. If you’re out walking near woods after sunset, do consider taking an extra look over your shoulder. If you’re a loup-garou reading this, and have grown tired of having to be on the prowl at night when others are tucked in their cozy beds, you might want to find out this weekend if there’s any truth to the Easter Sunday remedy.
Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012