Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

216 × 138 × 20 mm
224 pages
60 illustrations
01 Sep 2013
  • £20.00

  • This edition is currently unavailable

The White Devil The Werewolf in European Culture Matthew Beresford

The werewolf – a human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf – is a creature with a firm hold on the modern imagination. It prowls our countryside and cinema screens alike on the eve of a full moon. Yet the birth of the werewolf myth can be traced back thousands of years into prehistory. The White Devil tracks the development of the myth of the terrifying lycanthrope as it progresses through history to the present day.

How do Iron Age bog bodies, Roman gods, Joan of Arc, Adolf Hitler, and Sigmund Freud all feature in the story of the werewolf myth? Matthew Beresford answers these questions and more in considering early death and burial rites, mythology, folklore, archaeological evidence and local superstitions through to medieval literary offerings, werewolf trials, medical explanations, alleged sightings and cinema.

The White Devil draws on a wide variety of sources in order to understand why the werewolf has been part of cultural beliefs and mythology across Europe, tracing mankind’s fascination with the beast over time. From the early wolf cults to the Anglo-Saxon criminal punishments, medieval werewolf executions and folkloric tales of noble werewolves, as well as psychological and medical explanations, it offers a new understanding of how the werewolf has survived within European culture for thousands of years.

The White Devil is informative and entertaining, filled with grisly anecdotes and case histories, religious, social, and medical interpretations, both credible and laughable. It leaves us wanting to know more. This is serious scholarship expressed in an easy, readable prose that examines the phenomenon from its beginnings with the tribal shaman all the way through to the legends popularization in film and television.’ — New York Journal of Books

The White Devil reintroduces us to an old fiend we thought we knew, and shows us theres a lot more to the werewolf than a full moon and a lust for human flesh . . . Beresford writes with a wolfish enthusiasm . . . Those interested in a new take on the lycanthropes backstory will find a lot to chew on in Berefords discussion’ — Chronicle of Higher Education

‘[traces] the career of the werewolf from its roots in the shamanistic cults of prehistory, through its demonisation in Christian Europe, to the reclassification of lycanthropy as a mental illness . . . The stories told in this book are arresting and often bloody: the crimes of Gilles Garnier and other self-confessedwerewolves of the 16th century open a window on to changing perceptions of human barbarity in the pre-modern world . . . this excursion into a fascinating but largely unvisited area of the past is welcome.’ — BBC History Magazine

The White Devil is a fascinating read, drawing on many different sources to present a succinct and Twilight-free understanding of the folklore that surrounds the werewolf. Unlike those susceptible to lycanthropic turns, it keeps the reader firmly within the realms of reality and reason.’ — The Spokesman

‘Matthew Beresford lends historical depth to the stuff of nightmares in this fascinating portrayal of werewolves in society and culture . . . Its a sign of the quality of the historical account that it triggers genuinely scary images in the minds eye at times its thrilling narrative reads more like an intense horror fiction that a historical text. However, what brings this book to life is the research, and its difficult to imagine a more focused book on the social position of the lycanthrope. A must for anyone seeking an alternative history on a subject that has long captured the imagination.’ — All About History

‘Beresfords The White Devil brings to life the legacy of the werewolf by exploring the myth of this human beast . . . As a whole, it is riveting . . . [the book] may cause Twihards to re-examine their love of werewolves, but for the cultural historian in us all, it is a significant work on the religious and socio-cultural development of an idea that sheds light on the basic psychology of humankind. Beresford shows us that sometimes our fear of monsters is actually a fear of the world that we made.’ — Popmatters

‘What links Joan of Arc, Adolf Hitler, Sigmund Freud, Harry Potter and the Twilight series? The werewolf, says Matthew Beresford, in this intriguing study (he's previously given the vampire the same treatment), which continues to haunt European culture despite our best efforts to disprove its existence. Indeed, post-Darwin it might not even appear in a lupine state Robert Louis Stevensons Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, for example.’ — CultureCritic

Show all

Matthew Beresford is a consultant archaeologist specializing in community archaeology, education and research based in Nottinghamshire. He is author of From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth (Reaktion, 2008).


Part One: The Cult of the Wolf
1              Of Man and Beast: The Prehistoric Cults of Europe
2              The Wolves of Rome: Classical Accounts of the Werewolf Myth
3              Fits of Fury: The Wolves of Germania

Part Two: Magic and Mayhem
4              The Medieval Wolf
5              A Cruel and Savage Beast: The Werewolf in Folklore
6              Of Wolf and Man: Werewolf Cases from Europe

Part Three: Darkness Visible
7              Methods to the Madness: Medical Explanations of the Werewolf Myth
8              Evolution Creates Dissolution: The End of the Myth?

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements