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  • Werewhales! September 3, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback


    Different countries, of course, have different shape-shifters. Northern Europe and France have a strong werewolf tradition. Amerindian peoples have a lot of changing into birds. In northern Scandinavia shaman became deer. Early modern Britons did not change into bears, but they often met headless bears that changed into other things: confusing I know. Vampires are supposed to change into bats. Witches become cats or hares or owls, depending where in Europe you are. There are also a handful of Viking references to hard-ass warriors becoming dragons. But what about the werewhale?

    Welcome to the northern fringes of Europe where the Sami live, a people often associated with magic in western tradition, not least by their Norse neighbours. In a recently article on northern shapeshifting (by Lyonel D. Perabo)* the author asserts that there are some ten accounts ‘[w]ithin the Norse-Icelandic corpus’ of men turning into whales. Six of these accounts can be linked with the Sami, something that shows a strong connection between werewhales and the Arctic. The descriptions are humbling for those of us who don’t have these rare abilities.

    In Ketils Saga, the hero meets, in Finnmark a Sami and a troll who can change themselves into whales. There are a number of other accounts where magicians become whales but keep their human eyes. However, the most fascinating story is that from the twelfth- or thirteenth-century Historia Norwegiae. Two Sami magicians carry out a spell to rescue the soul of a Norwegian woman. One lies in a trance (?) under a sheet and sends out his spirit to become a whale. The trance goes wrong, however, as the werewhale meets another magician travelling in whale spirit form and they have a battle in the ocean.

    Other unusual were-animals: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    *Perabo, Lyonel Do. Shapeshifting in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature in revistarodadafortuna.com: Note Lyonel uses the expression ‘were-whalery’ that inspired this post.