Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Rougarou

Swamps have always inspired fear and awe in the hearts of men. These lush, waterlogged forests and wetlands are as beautiful as they are dangerous, and with good reason. The murky waters are notorious for concealing deadly animals like alligators, venomous snakes, dangerous fish, and disease-bearing insects. But people fear the swamps for other reasons, too. They are said to be home to monsters, ghosts, evil spirits, and the undead. The swamps and the bayous of Louisiana are no exception, and this waterlogged land seems to be haunted by some particularly vicious creatures. One of the most feared of these swamp monsters is the Rougarou, a shapeshifting man-beast that feeds on the flesh and the blood of sinners.

According to local folklore, the Rougarou (also spelled rugarou, rugaru, roux-ga-roux, or rugaroo) is a Cajun variety of werewolf that is said to stalk the swamps surrounding Acadiana and Greater New Orleans, but there is little to no doubt that the beast prowls the forests, fields, and bayous of these regions as well. To the local Cajuns, the name Rougarou is interchangeable with the French name for the monster, Loup-Garou. Over the years, the word eventually became rougarou. According to Cajun folklorist Jonathan Foret (who has appeared on Monsters & Mysteries in America on Destination America), this may have been what the English-speaking people thought that they had heard, and in the end, that word became more popular and stuck. But regardless of what the monster is called or where it chooses to dwell, the Rougarou is feared by both Native Americans and white men alike. The word rougarou itself is actually a corruption of the French loup-garou, with the word loup being French for “wolf,” while garou originates from the Frankish word garulf, meaning a man who transforms into an animal. However, behind all of this is a horrible monster that is terrifying to behold. Legend says that the beast is bipedal and has a human-looking body that is covered with shaggy brown or black fur and has taloned fingers and toes (some say that the creature only has three toes on each foot). Standing seven to eight feet in height, the monster most commonly has the head of a wolf or a dog, with an elongated snout filled with razor-sharp teeth and eyes that glow an eerie red or yellow in the darkness. In other words, the Rougarou isn’t something that a man would want to run into in the middle of the night.

According to Native American folklore, the Rougarou is thought to be a sacred being that is in perpetual harmony with the energies and the powers of the Earth itself. In these traditions, the beast is seen as being akin to the timid Sasquatch and the man-eating Wendigo. However, it can be argued that there are enough differences between the Rougarou and the Wendigo to warrant classifying the Cajun Werewolf as a different type of monster altogether, even though they were both once human and share a taste for human flesh. In any case, it has been said that if a person gazes upon the Rougarou or looks into the beast’s eyes, he takes the curse upon himself. Such a man is doomed to live out a short portion of his life as a werewolf. This curse can last up to one hundred and one days (about three months and eleven days), provided that the afflicted person refrains from consuming human flesh and avoids telling anyone that he is a rougarou for the duration of the curse. Other legends say that the curse lasts for the rest of the person’s life, or at least until the beast is either cured or killed. Either way, living as a monster and avoiding human contact is a very lonely and deeply depressing experience, one that a man is forced to endure as he walks the earth in the form of a vicious, predatory beast.

In Cajun folklore, the Rougarou is thought to be a type of bogeyman. Those parents who know the legend will oftentimes tell their misbehaving children, “If you don’t behave, the Rougarou is going to get you!” According to the Catholic version of the legend, a rougarou is created when a man doesn’t observe Lent for seven years in a row. As punishment, God supposedly curses the perpetrator to become a werewolf every Lenten season for the remainder of their lives. However, it is unclear as to whether the afflicted one only becomes a monster every night for the forty days of the Lenten season or if it is a year-around curse. The beast may also come into being in much the same way as the Native American version of the creature, but there is a much more sinister side to the story. Because of its own sins, the Rougarou feels compelled to hunt down and kill any Catholics who don’t abide by their own Lenten vows (which usually involves giving up alcohol, sweets, or red meat for the forty days of the Lenten season). Those who haven’t adhered to their vows are inevitably ripped limb from limb by the Rougarou, and what remains of the victims are found half-eaten and torn into pieces for their transgressions.

According to the legend, someone who is cursed to become a rougarou is said to develop an insatiable thirst for human blood, although not every version of the legend shares this notion. Most legends and tales surrounding the Rougarou maintain that the beast has an overwhelming hunger for raw flesh, and that isn’t limited only to humans. Animals such as goats, cows, horses, nutria (a large swamp rat), and even alligators are fair game for the monster. As mentioned previously, folklore says that the victim of this curse becomes a ravenously hungry man-beast every night for one hundred and one days. At the break of dawn, the Rougarou reverts to its human form. He then spends the day bedridden, feeling sick and frail as though he is slowly dying from an incurable wasting disease. For fairly obvious reasons, the afflicted person must refrain from telling others of his predicament, for he fears being killed (or at the very least, a trip to the local psychiatric ward). After the original one hundred and one days are over with, the original victim may transfer his curse to another person by drawing blood from another individual. This can happen by accident, but it is almost always done intentionally. The original victim is freed of his curse, but the suffering of the newly-afflicted has just begun. In this way, it seems that one can never truly be rid of the Rougarou’s curse. Other stories say that witchcraft or practicing the dark arts is the cause, either by the witch transforming herself into a wolf or by cursing other people with lycanthropy.

Avoiding the Lenten season for seven years straight isn’t the only way to become a monstrous wolf. In some versions of the legend, the curse is said to be hereditary, in which case it is passed on from one generation to the next. The curse itself is usually inherited by the third child. In other cases, a rougarou is created when a man is rejected by society, especially for his religious beliefs. But one of the most common ways to become a rougarou is through sorcery, and this happens most often by accidentally angering a powerful sorcerer. According to legend, Native American shamans will curse people who abuse the swamplands, squander its resources, or attempt to use the swamp for their own personal gain. One such story, as related by folklorist Alyne Pustanio, tells of a white trapper that would don the skins of wolves and other animals that he had caught and would wander the swamps and the forests at night, taking great delight in terrifying both friends and neighbors alike by pretending to be the dreaded Loup-Garou. This was eventually brought to the attention of a native Louisiana medicine man, who knew of the perfect punishment. The medicine man decided that if the disrespectful fur trader loved playing the part of a monster so much, then he should stop pretending. Stricken by the shaman’s curse, the trapper sang a sadder song from that point on as a ferocious werewolf, forever condemned to hunt and kill under the swampland moon’s eerie yellow glow for both his abuse of nature’s resources and his wicked sense of humor.

But hope isn’t completely lost for someone so afflicted. Most traditions in Southern Louisiana hold that the curse of the Rougarou can be lifted or broken by a gypsy witch, a Hoodoo conjurer, a Voodoo priest, or another shaman whose powers are equal to or greater than those of the sorcerer that cursed the afflicted individual to begin with. Any of these conjurers could, if willing (or for the right price), remove the curse and quite possibly turn it back on the medicine man who cast the spell to begin with. This could have debilitating or even fatal results for the angry shaman who cursed the person. Of course, there is never any guarantee that the curse can in fact be broken. Curses are fickle by nature, and are seldom so easily dispelled. This is especially true in the case of curses that create monsters, and it is possible that some can never be broken.

According to legend, there is another way to cure this bayou variety of werewolf, although it is by no means pleasant. In some of the stories, a person who is attacked by the beast draws a knife to defend himself and manages to cut the monster. At the first drop of blood, it is said that the Rougarou will revert to its human form. The drawing of blood has somehow freed the individual from the werewolf’s curse, which has its origins in European werewolf traditions. The now-human monster will then tell his savior who he is and that, if the other person tells anyone else of the encounter before a year and one day have passed, then the would-be victim of the cured creature is doomed to become a werewolf as well. But more often than not, the man runs home and proceeds to tell his family all about his encounter with the dreaded beast. At that point, he has cursed himself to become a monster every night.

In one such case, a young boy was on his way home from being with friends. As he was walking, a strange white dog of unusual size began to follow him, biting at his heels and practically begging the boy to attack it. Tired of the dog’s antics, the boy managed to save himself by cutting the dog’s right foot with a pocket knife. The white dog then turned back into a man, who was a doctor by trade. The man explained that he had made a pact with Satan in return for prosperity, but was tricked by the Devil and transformed into a beast instead. The man then warned the boy not to tell anyone what he had seen for a year and one day. But the boy foolishly told several of his friends and ran home and told his family what had happened. The next day, a respected doctor appeared in town with his right arm in a sling. At this point, the boy started disappearing at night, with nobody knowing where he had gone. He would then reappear in his bedroom the next morning, with no explanation of what had happened the previous night. Shortly thereafter, the doctor shot himself. And then, a year later, the boy was found lying dead in the streets. The police deemed it to be a suicide, but his family knew the truth. Secrecy seems to be essential to the Rougarou’s existence, as exposing the afflicted person’s cursed nature to other people may turn the other person into a werewolf…or worse.

While most legends speak of the Rougarou as being a werewolf, there are others who say that the beast’s shape isn’t limited to that of a wolf. Because wolves are somewhat uncommon (although by no means unheard of) in the Louisiana swamps, regional tales of the monster usually incorporate other animals into the legend. Such animals include dogs, pigs, alligators, cows, and even chickens. Furthermore, it is said that these animals are usually white in color, like the large white dog mentioned earlier. Other legends say that the Rougarou is capable of shapeshifting into any of these animals completely, and other than some unusual coloring and strange behavior on that animal’s part, most people would never know that it was a monster in disguise. But make no mistake, because the Rougarou is a ferocious monster regardless of the form it takes. And no matter what that shape may be, the beast still hungers for the flesh of sinners.

According to legend, the Rougarou’s bestial form and its ravenous hunger for human flesh (or blood, according to some versions of the legend) gives the beast a supernatural degree of strength, allowing the Rougarou to rip apart livestock like goats, cows, and even horses with ease. The Cajun Werewolf can break down household doors with little effort. The monster’s unnatural strength is one of a number of reasons why most animals (including the alligator) give the beast a wide berth. Because most animals are sensitive to any supernatural presence (whether corporeal or otherwise), most animals (including trained pets) will instinctively flee from that presence immediately. However, they may not be able to escape for long. Once the werewolf has chosen its prey, the beast’s sheer speed, agility, and endurance (exceeding that of any animal) allow the Rougarou to outrun and outlast any potential prey in a chase, whether the victim is human or an animal. Even if its potential meal tries to hide, the creature’s heightened senses of sight, smell, and hearing ensure that the victim doesn’t remain hidden for very long at all. The Rougarou can see clearly in the dark, can hear the heartbeats of its victim, and is able to smell the sweat dripping from their faces. Even in the deepest, darkest swamps, one is not safe from this horrifying man-beast. And once the werewolf has caught its prey, it will rend and tear the flesh from its screaming victim’s body. At that point, the Rougarou will feast on the victim’s flesh and blood until the monster’s hunger has been satisfied. But no matter how much the beast feeds, the hunger will eventually return, and the Rougarou will be forced to hunt once again.

With all of the folklore and legends that surround the beast, one feels compelled to ask: where did the Rougarou come from? Some people say that the beast is nothing more than a werewolf that traveled to America from France, gradually adapting to living and hunting in the dark swamps and eventually becoming a different breed of werewolf altogether. In the process, the monster took on some different qualities that aren’t typical of the European Werewolf. But there are some, like author and folklorist Alyne Pustanio, who argue that the Rougarou (which she spells Rugarou) has darker, more obscure origins. The Native American traditions found in Southwest Louisiana are particularly rich in tales of werewolves and other shapeshifting creatures. In the traditions of the Chitimacha, the Opelousas, and especially the Attakapas, there is an ancient and perhaps even primordial ancestral memory of savage, powerful shapeshifters that the Opelousas and the Chitimacha knew as the “Wolf-Walkers”. These legends are predominantly associated with the Attakapas, and the name of the tribe itself is derived from the Choctaw word for “man-eater”. At one time, the people of this tribe were fierce warriors who made a habit of consuming the flesh of their fallen enemies. Today, there are very few members of this once-proud tribe remaining in the Louisiana swamps. But what happened? What events took place that dealt such devastating consequences to the Attakapas?

In the early 1700s, the Opelousas and the Chitimacha waged an all-out war against the Attakapas. There was one battle in particular, however, that absolutely devastated the tribe. This battle (which has no name to speak of) took place in a stretch of low country just six miles outside of what is now the small city of St. Martinville in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. In what was undoubtedly a bloody hand-to-hand conflict, the Chitimacha and the Opelousas virtually wiped out the Attakapas. It has been reported that only six individuals (perhaps more) escaped with their lives and fled into the surrounding swamps. Where they went is debatable: some took refuge with a tribe up in Calcasieu, while others ran away to the area around Indian Bend. Some legends, however, say that they fled into the deep, dark swamps to eke out a living, relying on their knowledge of the swamps and their primitive living skills to survive. Some appeared in the settlements, driven to begging for food by their desperation. They were eventually discovered, and those that weren’t killed were driven back into the swamps.

In the winter that followed the fateful battle, things reached a turning point. According to one account from Spanish settlers, impending starvation drove the surviving Attakapas to kill and devour their own people. But cannibalism was linked with these people long before the Europeans made contact with the tribe. Sick and tired of being hated and feared by others, the Attakapas appealed to their shamans for guidance in their time of need. In their desperation, the medicine men turned away from their places as servants to the Great Spirit and sought help from the evil that dwelled within the swamps. When they cried out, something dark in the forests answered. Legends say that evil spirits came up from the depths of the swamp and entered the bodies of the Attakapas, possessing them. Possession by these dark spirits gave what was left of the Attakapas something unique: the power of shapeshifting. Now able to become vicious beasts at will, these people gave themselves over to their feral natures entirely. In other words, they overcame their starving bodies by supernatural means, giving up their humanity in exchange for something else: animal instinct. These people had become vicious werewolves, seeing other people as their food. Over time, the Attakapas came to be known as the Rugarou, the Wolf-Walkers. And to make matters worse, their numbers were slowly starting to grow once again.

During the spring and summer months, the Attakapas seemed to be happy to live like any other people by hunting, fishing, and farming for food. Only the most savage and feral among them chose to live as monsters all year-round. But when winter came and an icy chill could be felt on the wind, it was then that the Wolf-Walkers were feared the most. When in the form of a beast, the Rugarou appeared as manlike wolf-creatures, much like the Werewolf is portrayed in Hollywood cinema today. Possessed of unnatural strength, endurance, and speed while bearing ripping claws and teeth, these creatures were not something that a man all alone in the swamp could encounter and hope to survive.

During the winter, it is said that the Attakapas lived in the forms of animals at all times, whether they were men, women, or children. And during those long, freezing winter nights, some say that the heart-wrenching memories of starvation would cause insanity in the beasts. This drove them out of the swamp and into the lowlands, where they prowled about in search of human prey. But the Opelousas and the Chitimacha have more to fear than other people, for madness and hunger aren’t the only forces that drive the Rugarou. The Attakapas haven’t forgotten how the other tribes so brutally slaughtered their own families and friends, and their desire for revenge still burns fiercely in their hearts. And one day, they firmly believe that vengeance shall at long last be theirs.

Today, the Chitimacha continue to live in the Louisiana swamps, while the Opelousas endure in smaller numbers. But when winter comes, fears of the Rugarou and its depredations come back with it. As for the Attakapas, they’re still around. On October 28th, 2006, hope for the future was restored as the Attakapa-Ishak Nation met for the first time in over one hundred years as “one nation.” There was a total of four hundred and fifty people gathered together that day, all representing Louisiana and Texas. Rachel Mouton, the mistress of ceremony and the newly-appointed Director of Publications and Communications introduced Billy LaChapelle, who opened the afternoon with a traditional prayer in both English and Attakapa.

As recently as 2010 (and possibly much more recently), there have been reports of mutilated livestock and strange figures seen close to the roads around the Chitimacha reservation near Charenton, Louisiana. People have begun to whisper that the Rugarou is once again on the hunt for human prey. The Chitimacha elders believe that it is because the Hurricanes Rita, Katrina, and Gustav have devastated the ecosystem of the Louisiana swamps, effectively destroying the many foods and resources that the Attakapas have depended upon for so long. Some say that this is the Rugarou’s revenge, a vendetta that stretches back from at least three hundred years ago, if not longer. It is only a matter of time until the Rugarou strikes again, and there can be little to no doubt that blood will be spilled on that day.

The legend of the Rougarou is well-known among the Cajuns and the Native American tribes of Louisiana, but they aren’t the only people in the region plagued by the beast’s depredations. The Cajun Werewolf is also an old enemy of the Romani Gypsies, who inhabit Louisiana’s Atchafalaya region. The Gypsies know this horrible monster as “stragoi jostumal,” also known as “the unclean”, “the enemy”, “the evil one”, and “the accursed”. According to Roma legend, the Stragoi (which may be related to the Romanian Strigoi, a species of vampire) is a sort of revenant that feeds on human blood and is capable of assuming the forms of a variety of animals at will. The enmity between the Gypsies and the Werewolf is deep-rooted, and goes back hundreds of years.

The Gypsies, as a people, have long been persecuted wherever they go. And although the attitudes of the people towards the Roma have changed considerably in the twenty-first century, things were very different in the late 1600s. In Germany, it was actually legal to hunt and kill Gypsies like animals. They were persecuted and burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition, and English laws announced that trading or otherwise making purchases from the Gypsies was illegal. But it was in France that things were the worst. Initially, the French enjoyed a very friendly relationship with the Gypsy caravans, and they were welcomed in many of the great cities throughout France. But eventually, laws were passed against the Roma, and the French authorities reinforced those laws brutally. Even the innocent act of stopping to reprovision themselves with food and supplies was punishable by death. It is thought by some that these restrictions may be one of the reasons why Gypsies lead a nomadic existence. What were they to do?

Eventually, some of the Gypsies were placed on ships by the French and deported to the Americas. By this time, the Gypsies had taken a French name, calling themselves the Manouche. They ended up settling in exotic locales like the Canary Islands and Brazil, but some of them wound up in the French colony of Louisiana. Over time, the Manouche abandoned their nomadic ways and began to settle down in the area. They began to intermarry with the local Native American tribes, and also with the Acadiens, those people exiled from the French colony of Nova Scotia in Canada. The intermingling of blood between such diverse cultures created the unique Cajun flavor of what is known today as the great state of Louisiana.

The people of the Atchafalaya region hold some peculiar beliefs about the Manouche Gypsies. For example, they have long believed that the old witches among the Gypsies could transform themselves, at will, into crows. Seeing one of these birds or being followed by a flock of crows isn’t necessarily a bad thing in Gypsy traditions at all. In fact, it is actually considered to be a good omen. The very presence of these birds is believed to be sure protection against the Stragoi, and despite the fact that it is illegal to this day to do so, crows are kept by many Romani as pets. According to legend, one harsh croak is all that is necessary to frighten the Stragoi away. The same could be said for the Rougarou.

Before the Gypsies had arrived, however, legends of deadly shapeshifting beasts had already been known to the native peoples of the region for many generations. The French settlers had inadvertently brought their legends with them of a beast that they called the Loup-Garou, a particularly vicious werewolf that had terrorized France for centuries. The Gypsies themselves were (and still are) very superstitious, and their culture abounds with legends of the walking dead, curses, witchcraft, and werewolves. The Stragoi, as mentioned earlier, is one such creature that is able to shapeshift. When the Manouche encountered these horrible man-beasts from the Native American and French cultures, they knew exactly what they were dealing with. The caravan’s resident sorceress (or drabarni in Romani) and the elders knew that they had to do something, or people would begin to die

In the event that the Rougarou (Stragoi) is found to be one of their own people, no time is lost in attempting to drive the beast out of hiding and to rid the afflicted of the curse. The caravan’s wise men and women (puridanos) use their powers of divination to single out the individual who carries the werewolf’s curse, after which the tribe’s men will then capture that person (the Rougarou can be male or female, although males are the most common). Once this has been done, the puridanos will attempt to use every kind of magical cure that they can possibly think of to save their kinfolk from the curse. Most Romani accounts say that this painstaking process very rarely fails, but it has happened. And when the process does fail, they all know that the beast must be destroyed. If this isn’t done, then the entire tribe’s lives are at risk.

When a monster must be destroyed, that task falls to the leader of the tribe, the most powerful and prominent man among them. He is known as the Rom Baro, the “Big Man.” Only he has the authority and the power to kill the Stragoi. According to eyewitness testimony, there is a very strict ritual that must be followed to the letter. This is an ancient tradition that is used to put the afflicted person out of their misery. Thus, it is an act of mercy, not malice. As such, the only person in a gypsy tribe who may have a sword in his possession is the Rom Baro himself. This sword is usually made by the caravan’s blacksmith to exacting standards. It can be assumed that the Big Man uses this weapon to dispatch the werewolf, which is done by beheading the individual, and then burning the body until only ashes remain. And while the Gypsies of the Atchafalaya region have been plagued by the Rougarou or Stragoi for hundreds of years, the Romani themselves say that only three times in the American chapter of their history have they resorted to killing a person suffering from the werewolf’s curse. The Gypsies remain dead silent about those particular incidents.

Today, the curse of the Rougarou is so widespread and feared that the native Cajuns still seek out Gypsy help when they feel that they have been “jinxed” by the werewolf’s curse. There are still many remote gypsy encampments scattered throughout the swamps of Southern Louisiana. Here, the gypsy wise women (or puridai) are sought out. There are quite a few people who are willing to brave the dangers of the swamps just to receive her advice and wisdom. Their magic is believed by some to be the only sure defense and the only promise of salvation from the Rougarou’s curse. And they are usually willing to give their help to those in need…for a price.

As terrifying and dangerous as the Rougarou is, it does have several weaknesses. A bright, roaring fire will cause the beast to seek prey elsewhere, as fire is said to be one of the few things that the Cajun Werewolf fears. According to Alyne Pustanio, there are several herbs that have protective properties which can be used against the beast. These herbs include wolfsbane, angelica root, rue, sage, bay leaves, and laurel. However, these herbs must be gathered when the moon is in its waxing phase, or else they won’t work. Alyne also says that salt, holy water, consecrated Eucharist wafers, and the ashes of blessed palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration will also protect a person from the depredations of a werewolf. Brick dust, a contribution from New Orleans hoodoo conjurers, is said to work as well.

One unusual method of keeping the Rougarou at bay, according to Claudia Reynolds, is to place thirteen small objects along the doorways and the windowsills of one’s home. According to some versions of the legend, the Rougarou can only count up to the number twelve. And thus each time the beast counts out twelve of those objects, it will be forced to start all over again. It is said that the monster will become so occupied with this task that it will fail to take notice of the rising sun until it’s too late, and the beast will be forced to run back into the swamp. In the same vein, some say that hanging a colander on one’s front door will achieve the same effect. The Rougarou will just stand there counting all of the holes and, once it gets to twelve, the monster has to start all over again. When the sun comes up, the Rougarou will be forced to retreat. This may have more to do with legends of the Vampire in Eastern and Central Europe than anything else, and little to do with the Rougarou. Still, it might be worth trying.

There are a number of other ways to deter the Rougarou from attacking as well. If one takes the Gypsy legends of the Stragoi into account, the harsh cries of a crow may frighten the monster away. Some say that by rolling up a certain leaf (which might be wolfsbane or one of the herbs mentioned above) and placing it inside one’s wallet will keep the creature away. There are others who say that there are elderly women who paint protective hexagons in the middle of their floors and say certain prayers to keep the beast at a safe distance. Mojo bags and other charms from the Voodoo and the Hoodoo religions may also work.

Despite the beast’s sheer strength and ferocious appetite for human flesh, the Rougarou can be killed. However, the sheer danger and the risk to life and limb are beyond measure and thus should only be done when there is no other choice. Like the Werewolf seen in film and literature, silver is said to be a most effective means of destroying the Rougarou. Brad Steiger recounts in The Werewolf Book (Second Edition, 2012) that silver, in alchemical traditions, symbolizes “the moon, the Divine Virgin, purity, and chastity” (Steiger 252). In her book, The Encyclopedia of Vampires & Werewolves (Second Edition, 2011), Rosemary Ellen Guiley writes that silver is a “precious metal with protective powers against negative influences and everything evil” (Guiley 313). It is interesting to note that the use of silver as a means of killing werewolves comes from France in the mid-to-late 1760s. During the years of 1764 to 1767, a monstrous wolflike creature terrorized the Gévaudan region of France, where it killed and devoured anywhere from sixty to over one hundred people, if not more. But in the end, on June 19th, 1767, a reclusive hunter by the name of Jean Chastel shot and killed the Beast with two bullets forged from a blessed silver Communion chalice that he had melted down and cast into three bullets. The monster has since become known as the Beast of Gévaudan, and the case still remains unsolved, even after over two hundred years of searching for answers. It is from this case that Hollywood gained the idea that a werewolf can be slain with a silver bullet.

There are two distinctive ways of killing the Rougarou. The first is the classic Hollywood approach, and that is to pierce the monster’s heart with a silver bullet or a blade. The silver must be fairly pure, but alloys like sterling silver or coin silver (both of which contain copper as an alloying element, making the resulting alloy harder and more resistant to wear) will also work because of their high silver content. A steel blade can be plated with pure silver as an alternative to an expensive blade forged entirely from silver or a silver alloy, although pure silver is considered to be more effective. However, be cautious not to remove the blade until after the beast has been permanently dealt with (which shall be discussed shortly), or else one risks the werewolf regenerating and returning to life.

The second and the most effective means of killing the Rougarou is decapitation. This involves taking a long, very sharp blade of iron or steel and separating the head from the rest of the body. This can be done with a sword, an axe, or a long knife (having at least twelve to fifteen inches of cutting edge), but such a weapon demands getting very close to the monster in order to deliver a beheading blow. That also puts the hunter within striking distance of the Rougarou’s claws and fangs, so it is recommended that the Rougarou be taken down from a distance before decapitating the beast. The Gypsies, according to Alyne Pustanio, preferred forged iron for this purpose, usually in the form of a sword. It can be reasonably assumed (but it could be wrong) that this means wrought iron, but it should be known that wrought iron is a fairly soft metal that doesn’t take or otherwise keep a very sharp edge. However, it should be noted that that the Gypsies performed their mercy-killings while the werewolf was in human form. In all likelihood, the modern-day monster hunter will not have this option, as he is far more likely to encounter the Rougarou after the cursed person has transformed into a monster.

There is one final step in permanently destroying the Rougarou, and that is to salt and burn the beast’s body and scatter the ashes. This step in the process is crucial, as it will prevent the monster from regenerating and thus returning to life to seek revenge on its would-be killer. But keep in mind that burning a human body requires extremely high temperatures of at least sixteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit or higher and several hours of burning time to reduce a corpse to ashes, not to mention the fuel needed for such an undertaking. A modern-day crematorium would be far more efficient, but good luck finding one that doesn’t ask questions. A good old-fashioned bonfire that is constantly watched and tended to by multiple people is probably a safer alternative than a crematorium. But if done correctly, the threat of the Rougarou will be gone, but only for the time being. There is always the possibility that the Rougarou’s curse will come forth from the darkness once again.

The idea of having to resort to killing a human being cursed to prowl the swamps at night as a monster brings up some issues regarding the morality of such a situation. Is it immoral to kill something evil? Generally speaking, no. But is it immoral to do the same to an innocent human being? Yes, it is. It is crucial to remember that the Rougarou is still human underneath the fur and the fangs, and that person may just be the innocent victim of a sorcerer or a shaman’s curse (although some of these people may have done something to deserve it). Either that, or they may have been infected with the affliction by another werewolf. It could even be hereditary, and thus the victim’s condition may not necessarily be their fault. But killing the beast should only be done as a last resort, and every possible effort should be made to cure the afflicted person before it’s too late. Louisiana is filled with Gypsies, Hoodoo conjurers, Voodoo practitioners, and Native American medicine men, so a cure could very well be found for this particular type of lycanthropy. It should be noted that the author of this blog neither encourages nor condones murder of any kind, because it is wrong on both legal and moral grounds and will likely result in imprisonment for the rest of one’s life…or worse.

It would seem that there are two varieties of the Rougarou prowling the swamps of Louisiana. One is the Loup-Garou, the werewolf that immigrated to Louisiana from France with the settlers. The other is the Attakapa Wolf-Walker, a member of a near-extinct tribe of vicious shapeshifters. While both may look similar when fully transformed, there may be something different about each one that distinguishes one from the other. On one hand, the French Loup-Garou is believed to physically transform into a monster. On the other hand, the Attakapa Wolf-Walker could be transforming on an etheric level by utilizing a magical animal body of transformation (see this blog’s entry on Phantom Werewolves for more information). But regardless of those differences, both of these varieties of the Rougarou are extremely dangerous, and encounters with either one should be avoided at all costs.

The legend of the Rougarou may very well be changing. As people’s perceptions of the world around them change, so do their beliefs. There are a few people in Louisiana who believe that the Rougarou might be something metaphysical, an entity that isn’t entirely a physical, flesh-and-blood monster. Some paranormal investigators and cryptozoologists are intrigued by this notion and theorize that this creature may be interdimensional or perhaps even spiritual in nature. However, there are a great deal of people who believe that the Rougarou is a flesh-and-blood monster that, at the same time, is supernatural in origin. “These tales twist and turn throughout history,” says Cajun folklorist Jonathan Foret, “and this may be one of those twists.” Who’s to say that Jonathan isn’t right?

Today, the Rougarou is most often thought of as a kind of bogeyman, a scary story to frighten children into behaving themselves. But the legend itself is becoming increasingly popular and more widely-known to people outside of Louisiana due to the beast’s portrayal in popular culture and especially television. The monster has appeared in the enormously popular television series Supernatural in a very different form in the fourth season’s fourth episode, “Metamorphosis” (originally aired on October 9th, 2008). The monster has also appeared in the short-lived series Cryptid: The Swamp Beast (2013), the four-episode reality series Swamp Monsters (2014), and has gained widespread notoriety in the ongoing series Monsters & Mysteries in America (2013). But there are many credible eyewitnesses who have come forward with their stories, and they are adamant that they have seen something truly horrifying in the swamps of Louisiana, something that they cannot explain. And the sightings just keep coming in. Does a werewolf truly prowl the forests and bayous when darkness falls and the moon is full? The people of Louisiana seem to believe so. And maybe, just maybe, they have a good reason for their beliefs. But regardless of what some people may say, the legend of the Rougarou continues to endure. And the beast itself still hungers for the taste of warm, raw human flesh…


The legend of the Rougarou has fascinated me for a few years now, and this is the culmination of that fascination. But I wouldn’t have been able to do this without some serious help. I am deeply indebted to my good friends Jonathan Foret, Alyne Pustanio, and Brad Steiger. I would like to sincerely thank Jonathan and Alyne for allowing me to use their expertise and for putting up with and answering my seemingly endless barrage of questions. As for the history behind the legends as told by the Opelousas, the Chitimacha, and the Gypsies, that is Alyne’s original work and research, which I have retold here with her gracious permission. I would also like to thank Brad for allowing me to use his excellent books in my research. In fact, it was from Brad’s work that I first learned of the Rougarou. Jonathan, Alyne, and Brad, I am so very thankful for your kindness, your understanding, your willingness to help, and your friendship especially. I owe each one of you a debt of gratitude, and I hope to repay each one of you someday. Thank You for all of your help!!!

Works Cited

Brown, Nathan Robert. The Complete Idiot’s Guide® to Werewolves. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009.

Brown, Nathan Robert. The Mythology of Supernatural: The Signs and Symbols Behind the Popular TV Show. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2011.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Vampires & Werewolves. Second Edition. New York: Checkmark Books, 2011, 2005.

Pustanio, Alyne. “The Rugarou, Werebeast of the Swamp Indians.” Steiger, Brad. Real Zombies, the Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse. Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2010. Pages 181-184.

Steiger, Brad. The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-Shifting Beings. Second Edition. Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2012.

Burns, Phyllis Doyle. “Louisiana Werewolf – Rougarou of the Bayou.” HubPages. 15 August 2014. 10 October 2014. <>

Duby, D.S. “The Rougarou – Southern Louisiana.” HubPages. 5 November 2012. 10 October 2014. <>

Folse, Brandon. “Rougarou remains strong figure in Cajun folklore.” The Nicholls Worth. 26 October 2006. 10 October 2014. <>

Lamb, Robert. “Monster of the Week: Rougarou the Lenten Werewolf.” 20 February 2013. 10 October 2014.>

Lugibihl, Jamie. “He creeps, he crawls, he conquers: The Rougarou – A Louisiana folklore legend.” The Nicholls Worth. 26 April 2001. 10 October 2014. <>

McKnight, Laura. “Tales of the Rougarou still haunt local memories.” 22 October 2006. 16 December 2014. <>

Pustanio, Alyne. “The Loup Garou (Cajun Werewolf).” Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations. 14 May 2007. 10 October 2014. <>

Reynolds, Claudia. “The Rougarou: Louisiana’s Cajun Werewolf.” Lifepaths 360. 3 April 2012. 12 October 2014. <>

“What is a Rougarou, Exactly?” CryptoVille. 1 April 2014. 10 October 2014. <>

“The Rougarou is Watching You!” Cajun French Blog. February 2009. 15 September 2014. <> (now defunct)