Monsters and Ghosts A to Z : The Garou
Sometimes known as simply the Garou the shapeshifting beast of the Louisiana swamps has earned many names throughout the years. Included in these are the perhaps more well known Rougarou and the loup garou. The French origins of the creature can be seen in the latter with loup meaning wolf in French and Garou meaning a man who can change into a beast.
Much like the werewolves of European folklore, the Garou is an 8-foot beast who is described as bipedal with the body of a man and the head of a wolf. It often sports glowing red eyes and razor sharp teeth. Many believe it to have superhuman strength and tremendous speed.
The Origins of the Loup Garou
Although there are various tales of the beast that have been passed down for centuries through oral tradition there is a generally accepted theory that it originated in the folklore of the French Canadian settlers who moved down to Louisiana from Quebec.
It is believed that the tale of the Loup Garou began as a way to frighten children into obedience. It acted more as a boogeyman type of creature that was promised to get little children who decided to wander off into the woods.
Similarly, there are tales that Catholics who do not adhere to the rules of Lent can be transformed to a loup garou, again making it a cautionary tale.
Tales of the Loup Garou go as far back as medieval times when French countrymen believed that the werewolf-like beast was the product of genetics. It was thought that some individuals had a type of gene that caused them to respond to a trigger that would make them grow in size and desire raw meat. It was not until they feasted on human flesh that the individual would completely transform to the Rougarou.
Of course, like many mythical creatures, there is also a belief that an individual can become a loup garou by either selling their soul to the devil or by falling under the curse of a witch as well.
Many of these traditions and folk tales have been passed down through generations as French Canadian settlers made their way to Louisiana. However, there does seem to be a Native American connection as well. While the garou is not a Native American beast, some connection between this and the Wendigo can be found.
The Legend of the Rougarou
While the legend varies from region to region there seems to be a common thread throughout. The individual, whether transformed by the curse of a witch or other means, remains as a rougarou for one year and one day. This is interestingly similar to the year and a day studies that Wiccans often take when entering the craft.
When the blood of a rougarou is drawn by an attacker the beast will transform back into human form. At this point, the individual is obligated to reveal their identity to their attacker. If the individual tells anyone about the encounter within a year and a day they too will become a loup garou.
Another means of transmission appears to be direct eye contact. When looking into the eyes of the rougarou an individual can also be transformed into a similar beast.
Finally, some believe that after a year and a day the curse is simply passed on to someone else and the original rougarou is free to go about their life in peace, no longer hungry for human flesh.
Interestingly, a direct bite like seen in many other werewolf traditions appears to be the least likely means of transmission for this form of lycanthropy.
Defense from a Rougarou
Much like other beasts of legend, there are some very specific means of deterring the loup garou as well as ways to dispel one if encountered on a dark night.
The Centaurea Cyanus plant ( aka the blue-bottle) is believed to ward off evil spirits and so is carried in the pocket to keep the loup garou at bay.
A hexagonal talisman can also be painted under an individual’s bed ( particularly useful for women) to ward off the creature. While I was unable to find an exact replica of the talisman I feel that this tradition ties into the veve of voodoo culture that can be found in Louisiana.
The veve is a religious symbol commonly used in African branches of voodoo. It is believed to represent astral figures to help draw them to Earth during ritual. In ritual, the veve is commonly drawn onto the floor with a powder like substance ( cornmeal, wood ash, gunpowder, etc)
Unlike the traditional European werewolf, the silver bullet seems to be useless against the superhuman strength of the rougarou.
According to legend the only ways to dispel the beast is to catch fire to it or to cut off its head. There have been many reports of bodies mutilated after death to prevent them from turning into a loup garou.
Sightings of the Rougarou
While there are many sightings that have been passed down through oral traditon there appears to be only one sighting in modern times with evidence of what some believe to be the beast.
A woman by the name of Barbara Mullins was driving along highway 12 in Deridder Louisana one hot summer day when she happened upon what some believe is the body of a loup garou.
Many, however, believe that the creature is nothing more than a dog.
featured image via Enrico Strocchi