Thursday, October 13, 2011

Werewolf-what? No, Rugaroo.

A few months ago I began a series of articles concerning the various mythological and myth-based creatures I use in my two series: Seraphym Wars for YA and Stardust Warriors for MG. Today I’m discussing a monster new to me. I was watching one of my favorite shows the other morning, Supernatural, and the boys had to confront something called a Rugaroo. I immediately jumped onto Google to investigate this scary, intriguing creature. Here's what I found out.
The term Roogaroo, Rugaroo, Ruggaroo, Roux-Ga-Roux (among other spellings) probably stems from the French word "loup garou" for werewolf. According to Barry Jean Ancelet, an academic expert on Cajun folklore and professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the tale of the rougarou is a common legend across French Louisiana. Both words are used interchangeably in southern Louisiana. Some people call the monster rougarou; others refer to it as the loup garou. However, the Rugaroo is NOT just a werewolf. It has similar but different characteristics. For one, it can shape-shift at will (not just full moons) and not into a wolf form. It can take on the shape of any animal--even human.
The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations, either directly from French settlers to Louisiana (New France) or via the French Canadian immigrants centuries ago.
In the Cajun legend, the creature supposedly prowls the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, and possibly the fields or forests of the regions. The rougarou is usually described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to the werewolf legends. As with fairytales, it is believed that often the story-telling was used to instill fear. Supposedly, elders used the stories to persuade Cajun children to behave. Another example relates that the wolf-like beast will hunt down and kill Catholics who do not follow the rules of Lent. This coincides with the French Catholic loup garou stories, where the method for turning into a werewolf was to break Lent seven years in a row.
A common blood sucking legend speculated that the rougarou was under the spell for 101 days. After that time, the curse was transferred from person to person when the rougarou drew another human’s blood. During the day the creature returned to human form. Although feeling sickly, the person refused to tell others for fear of being killed.

Other stories range from the rougarou as a headless horseman to the rougarou derived from witchcraft. In the latter claim, only a witch could make a rougarou - either by turning themselves into wolves or cursing others with lycanthropy. As with legends passed by oral tradition, stories often contradict one another. The stories of the wendigo vary by tribe and region, but the most common cause of the change is typically related to cannibalism.
A modified example, not in the original wendigo legends, is that if a person saw a rugaru, they would be transformed into one. Thereafter, they would be doomed to wander as a rugaru. That story bears some resemblance to a Native American version of the wendigo legend related in a short story by Algernon Blackwood. In Blackwood's fictional adaptation of the legend, seeing a wendigo caused one to turn into a wendigo.
According to The American Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 134, No. 10. published in October 1977:  "Lycanthropy, a psychosis in which the patient has delusions of being a wild animal (usually a wolf), has been recorded since antiquity. The Book of Daniel describes King Nebuchadnezzar as suffering from depression that deteriorated over a seven-year period into a frank psychosis at which time he imagined himself a wolf. Among the first medical descriptions were those of Paulus Aegineta during the later days of the Roman Empire. In his description of the symptom complex, Aegineta made reference to Greek mythology in which Zeus turned King Lycaon of Arcadia into a raging wolf.
Folk-etymology links the word to Lycaon, a king of Arcadia who, according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, was turned into a ravenous wolf in retribution for attempting to serve human flesh (his own son) to visiting Zeus in an attempt to disprove the god's divinity.
There is also a mental illness called lycanthropy in which a patient believes he or she is, or has transformed into, an animal and behaves accordingly. This is sometimes referred to as clinical lycanthropy to distinguish it from its use in legends.
While the wolf is the most common form of were-animal, in the north the bear is common in legends. In ancient Greece the dog was associated with the belief and today the were-boar variant is known through Greece and Turkey. 
Even if when the term lycanthropy is limited to the wolf-metamorphosis of living human beings, the beliefs classed together under this head are far from uniform. The transformation may be temporary or permanent; the were-animal may be a metamorphosed person, or maybe a double whose activity leaves the real person unchanged. It could be a soul seeking to devour while leaving its body in a state of trance. Or perchance a messenger of a human being, a real animal or familiar spirit, whose connection with its owner is demonstrated through injury, by a phenomenon known as repercussion, to cause a corresponding injury to the human being.

Lycanthropy is often confused with transmigration; but the essential feature of the were-animal is that it is the double of a living human being, while the soul-animal is the vehicle, temporary or permanent, of the spirit of a dead human being. Nevertheless, instances in legend of humans reincarnated as wolves are often classed with lycanthropy, as well as these instances being labeled werewolves in local folklore.
Many Native cultures feature skin-walkers or a similar concept, wherein a shaman or warrior may, according to cultural tradition, take on an animal form. Animal forms can vary according to cultures and local species (including bears and wolves or coyotes). Skinwalkers tend to be totemic.
Author Peter Matthiessen determined that rugaru is a separate legend from that of the cannibal-like giant wendigo. While the wendigo was feared, he noted that the rugaru was seen as sacred and in tune with Mother Earth, in the same character of the bigfoot legends of today.
The Rugaroo can vary from a mild Big-foot-type creature to cannibalistic Native American Wendigos. While the lore of the cannibalistic Wendigos is prevalent throughout the Algonquian-speaking tribes in the northern US and Canada, the Rugaroo legend comes mostly from the Ojibwe and Chippewa tribes where is it considered sacred and in touch with Mother Earth, much like the Big-Foot is considered today.

1 comment:

  1. The 'Rugaroo' legend (in the Turtle Mt Band of Chippewa Indian Reservation of North Dakota) is associated with Christianity. As Christianity took over Reservation life, so did this 'Rugaroo' legend become more popular. Add to the mix Native people not handling drinking alcohol very well & this 'Rugaroo' legend became even more dangerous and more demonized. This 'monster' was brought to life to help curb or discourage drinking alcohol in the Native community. Tales began to spread of actual sitings, especially by drunks & especially during Lenten season.
    But to say or even suggest that anyone who lays eyes on the 'Rugaroo' will also become one is a stupid & laughable suggestion - very far-fetched. Never heard that part of the 'Rugaroo' story. & I came from the Turtle Mt. Reservation and heard all the "Rugaroo" tales.