The murky days of winter are a dangerous time, and none more so than the time surrounding the winter solstice, the darkest time of year as we wait for the sun to be reborn and grow in strength – a time of cold and death, of the stalking of ravening wolves. In folklore, children born at Christmas, or during the Twelve Nights of Christmas, are susceptible to becoming werewolves.
In Livonia and Poland, the Twelve Nights mark the season of the werewolves’ greatest rapacity – an excitable drunk is said to be like one ‘who runs amok at Christmas in a wolfskin’. According to an old superstition in Germany, children born during the Twelve Nights are possible werewolves, in Campania, those born on Christmas night turn periodically into werewolves, and in Naples, those born on Christmas Day have tails and the ability to shapeshift into a wolf.
It is also the time when witches were said to turn into wolves to commit mischief. The French historian Simon Goulart (1607) wrote that when Christmas day is past, a lame boy goes into the countryside and calls the devil’s slaves together in great numbers, and a great man comes with a whip made of iron chains, and they are changed into wolves. This is a belief echoed in Reginald Scott’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) which states that every year at the end of December a knave or devil summons witches to a certain place and leads them through a pool of water, when they change into wolves. To change back they have to go through the water again.
The wolf is associated with the wild side of nature, the time of chaos that threatens the world at the winter solstice, a liminal time between the end of one year and beginning of the next with the rebirth of the sun.
© Anna Franklin, History, Lore and Celebration, Lear Books, 2010