Around 1487, two famous Papal Inquisitors named Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger published The Malleus Maleficarum with the blessing of Pope Innocent VIII. The book covered supernatural topics such as witchcraft, demons and monsters in a question and answer format. It remained a highly influential text among inquisitors and witch-hunters for around three centuries.
In the peculiar pages of The Malleus Maleficarum, the authors gave several accounts of monsters, or, at least, illusions of monsters inspired by witches or the devil. One of the more interesting tales recorded in the book told of a delirious man who unfortunately believed he turned into a murderous wolf whenever he slept. The authors of the text used the following story as an example of the magical illusions that witches and devils could impose on unsuspecting people.
The Inquisitors cited a certain William of Paris as the source of this tale. The story began with a troubled man living alone in a cave. He truly and honestly believed that he became a wolf while he slept. Cursed by witchcraft or preyed on by demons, the man dreamed that he crept into nearby towns at night and devoured helpless children. When he awoke, however, he realized that children truly had been killed in nearby towns. Whenever the man dreamt that he had murdered a child, without fail, a child would be found mauled to death the next day, as if by an animal. With these revelations, the man believed to his very core that he was a genuine werewolf.
According to the Inquisitors, however, the man was being deceived. They wrote that while the cursed victim dreamed horrible visions of hunting children, the devil possessed a wolf and reenacted the man’s nightmares in reality. The dreaming man tossed and turned harmlessly in his cave while a separate wolf, supposedly controlled by demonic forces, stalked into town and attacked the vulnerable youth.
According to The Malleus Maleficarum, the diabolical charade continued for a long time. In the end, the story concluded with the townspeople finding the man writhing in delirium on a forest floor. The Inquisitors left no mention of what was done with the mad man, and no names were provided except their source, William of Paris.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers. New York: Dover Publications, 1971.