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A True Discourse on Werewolves and Witches

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On Werewolves

The title of today’s featured work is one of those gems that tells you just about everything you could want to know about it right up front: A true discourse. Declaring the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most wicked sorcerer who in the likenes of a woolfe, committed many murders, continuing this diuelish practise 25. yeeres, killing and deuouring men, woomen, and children–except that this “most wicked sorcerer” was executed on October 31, 1589, making this perhaps the most fitting of all our tracts on witchcraft and sorcery to be highlighted this Halloween.

This work, a pamphlet translated into English from German, opens with a woodcut illustrating the life and death of Peter Stubbe, from his transformation into a wolf (upper left) to the disturbing image of his headless corpse burning at the stake, between his daughter and his consort (lower right), who (according to the text) were both executed along with him.

Woodcut from "A true discourse. Declaring the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter"

According to the text, when the Devil offered to Peter Stubbe whatever his heart desired,

this vilde wretch neither desired riches nor promotion, nor was his fancy satisfied with any externall or outward pleasure, but hauing a tiramous hart, and a most cruell bloody minde, he only requested that at his plesure he might woork his mallice on men, Women, and children, in the shape of some beast, wherby he might liue without dread or danger of life, and vnknowen to be the executor of any bloody enterprise, which he meant to commit.

The devil duly provided him with a girdle that transformed the wearer into

the likenes of a gréedy deuouring Woolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkeled like vnto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes

And thus began his rein of terror over the German cities of “Collin, Bedbur, and Cperadt,” (Cologne, Bedburg, and Epprath) where for nearly 25 years, Peter Stubbe was said to steal, ravish, and murder women and children, including

two goodly yong women bigge with Child, tearing the Children out of their wombes, in most bloody and sauedge sorte, and after eate their hartes panting hotte and rawe, which he accounted dainty morsells & best agreeing to his Appetite.

Chillingly, the text describes that Stubbe, in his human form, would greet and talk with the families of those whom he had butchered as a wolf–but as the story goes, not even his own family was safe:

so farre his delight in murder excéeded the ioye he took in his only Sonne, that thirsting after his blood, on a time he inticed him into the feeldes, and from thence into a Forrest hard by, where making excuse to stay about the necessaries of nature, while the yong man went on forward, incontinent in the shape and likenes of a Walfe he encountred his owne Sonne, and there most cruelly slewe him, which doon, he presently eat the brains out of his head as a most sauerie and dain∣ty delycious meane to staunch his greedye apetite

The people of these three cities were plagued for nearly a quarter of a century by the sight of

Armes & legges of dead Men, Women, and Children, scattered vp and down the feelds

until, at last, they captured the wolf and witnessed his transformation back into Peter Stubbe, who was tried, confessed under threat of torture, and executed.

The pamphlet describes the torture and execution of Peter Stubbe with just as much colorful detail as it does his crimes:

Stubbe Peeter as principall mallefactor, was iudged first to haue his body laide on a wheele, and with red hotte burning pincers in ten seue∣ral places to haue the flesh puld off from the bones, after that, his legges and Armes to be broken with a woodden Are or Hatchet, afterward to haue his head strook from his body, then to haue his carkasse burnde to Ashes.

While the first part of the pamphlet makes for a thrilling and vivid horror story, the “happy ending” is perhaps the most disturbing part for a present-day reader, as one suspects it might be the most likely part of the text to be based on fact.

On Witches

While you’re haunting the Web this Halloween weekend, we encourage you to visit Witches of Early Modern England, an award-winning digital humanities project that aims to “demystify early modern English witchcraft tracts by allowing researchers to navigate through a plethora of documents, organizing them by author and title, and exploring their contents through date, author, ESTC number, keyword searches, and paratextual inclusions.” Kirsten Uszkalo of Simon Fraser University is editor of the project, which makes use of a number of  TCP texts (along with many other data sources).

According to Uszkalo, the site’s “sources, referents, and ideas make up an editable and evolving data set: approximately 2177 people (451 of which are witches) and 395 preternatural beings in 2830 events across approximately 150 years of accounts of English witchcraft between 1550-1700 in 422 geo-referenced locations.”

All of this information is presented through “unique graphic interfaces, object modeling, and cluster diagram information,” to help users visualize and make sense of networks of witches and witchcraft in early modern England.

Congratulations to Kirsten and her colleagues for completing their first phase of work on this project, and for being honored by the University of Nebraska’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities!

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