This Frenchman Was Convicted of Being a Werewolf After Eating Children, Now Kids Sing About It
It is a cold January evening, and a group of tired, dirty men is walking into Dole, France, from a neighboring town. Dole is just under 200 miles from the Swiss border for some geographic perspective, but back to our group of exhausted laborers. They’ve just finished a hard day’s work and are looking forward to a hot meal and sleep before they get up and do it all over again the following day. They plunge their hands in their pockets to keep warm while their breath creates an icy cloud around their heads as they exchange jokes and stories about their day.
One man points to the sky and says the moon is full, and the men quicken their pace. Anyone knows that werewolves could come out under that glistening moon, and even these men with their calloused hands and puffed up chests are afraid of the four-legged beast that lurks in the dark. Werewolves, they say to one another, could be afoot. But before they can entertain their fears, a low growl and a rustling nearby stops the men dead in their tracks, raising the hairs on the backs of their necks and stuttering their breaths to quick snaps of icy gasps.
In a vineyard that brushes the side of the long road, illuminated by the bright moon in the frozen air, the Werewolf of Dole is ripping into a small animal. The men become afraid but determined to run the werewolf off. They gulp the frigid air and look each other in the eyes before they brave stepping off the road and into the shadows of the vineyard. Strength in numbers, they think to themselves. With rising voices and fists, the men grow bold and run toward danger, but what they find will stunt their courage and leave them horrified.
The men abruptly find themselves face to face with a gruesome discovery. But, it was not a werewolf the men hear snarling and growling. It is a local hermit, a man called Gilles Garnier. Worse, that was not a small animal the men thought they had seen Garnier shredding with his teeth and claw-like hands. It was the body of a young child with blood dripping and flesh hanging in hunks.
Garnier looks up at the men, startled, but his eyes are psychotic and frightening to behold.
This quasi-fictional retelling of the scene is how I imagine it went down 448 years ago when a group of men unwittingly interrupted the serial killer moments after brutally murdering a child and cannibalizing its raw flesh. Later, authorities would charge Garnier with lycanthropy and witchcraft before his execution. For those not in the know, lycanthropy is a fancy word for someone who believes themselves to possess the ability to turn into a fur-covered creature — commonly, a werewolf.
Who was Gilles Garnier?
Gilles Garnier was a local recluse embroiled in troublesome marriage problems. Not many details about Garnier’s marriage and life are well-preserved in history, but what is known is that he married a local woman and moved her to his house in the woods soon after their nuptials. But a problem quickly arose; while Garnier could provide food for himself, he wasn’t sure how to keep his wife fed. According to stories about Garnier, he was desperate to scrounge up dinner one night when he met a ghostly figure in the woods that gave him magical oil to anoint himself. The specter said this oil would turn him into a wolf to make hunting quicker and more efficient. Later, some would say that Garnier sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to kill. But whatever happened that night, it unleashed a horrifying terror.
And that is when he began hunting local children.
Astonishingly, Garnier was narrowly discovered on multiple occasions, which helped fuel speculation in Dole that they had a growing werewolf problem. France was no stranger to werewolves, and many villages legitimately feared the dark beast. By the time Garnier’s reign of terror was over, he had confessed to murdering and cannibalizing at least four children, although the real number may never be known.
It wouldn’t take long from the moment the tired group of workers found Garnier in that vineyard to the moment of his execution on January 18th, 1573. Garnier was convicted of being a werewolf, practicing witchcraft, and was sentenced to die by being burned at the stake.
The annual hunt of the ‘loups garou’ continues to this day.
France’s werewolf problem did not end with Garnier. His story may be gruesome and terrifying, but France would see even more significant and far bloodier examples of werewolves. Between the years 1764 and 1767, Gévaudan, in southern France, experienced more than 100 women and children’s grisly killings. Eyewitnesses said that it was a shape-shifting red and black beast, so naturally, everyone believed it was a werewolf. All of Europe began talking about France’s werewolf problem once newspapers picked up the story and sent it ricocheting around the continent.
But eventually, all the stories and legends of the werewolf known as the loups garou would make their way across the Atlantic as settlers moved into the Canadian Maritimes. French Canadian immigrants wound their way south through the US into Maine and the rest of New England and then into the deep south in Louisiana, founding the Cajun area. And along with their traditions and language, foods, and music, the legend of the werewolf followed them.
Every year, to this day, there is an annual loups garou hunt.
And now children sing about it.
Parents still warn their children that if they step out of line that the werewolf will gobble them up. French-speaking parents in France, Canada, and the United States might even sing this little tune:
“Par les chemins creux de la lande
Les noirs lutins les loups-garous
La nuit venue en sarabande
Se poursuivent comme des fous
J’entends du bruit près de la porte
Ferme les yeux mon petit gars
Le méchant loup garou emporte
Les enfants qui ne dorment pas”
Which translates in English to:
“In the hollow paths of the moor,
The black goblins, the werewolves,
In the night, in a saraband*
Chase one another like mad.
I hear a noise near the door,
Close your eyes, my little boy
The nasty werewolf takes away
The children who don’t sleep.”
— Mama Lisa’s World, international Music and Culture
And there you have it; the creepy but fascinating story of how a Frenchman was convicted of being a werewolf after eating children more than 400 years ago. And now, children have a song about it to remind them to behave.