The Gaulish word for werewolf is uirocû, from uirocû meaning “man” and cû meaning “hound or wolf”. The Gauls did not leave us with any stories of their own regarding this creature either. I have used the similarities found across other cultures to see what may have influenced them so that I can attempt to recreate it. In order to do this I have explored werewolf lore and wolf cults from Greece, Rome, Germania, Ireland and other areas across Europe around the time of the Gauls. The uirocû of today will not be the same as they may have been back then because of this but hopefully it will be close enough.
When this curse, because it is a curse as will be explained later on, was taken on voluntarily by warriors in the war-band, it was an extremely dangerous undertaking as the bloodlust was overwhelming. We see this warrior rage in the Germanic berserkers and Greek lyssa, where practitioners become more animalistic in their fighting. Even the Irish warrior Cú chulainn was known to enter into intense episodes of wild fury that would warp his body. As such in the war-band, murder and rape were excused because it wasn’t done against members of one’s own tribe and the warrior wasn’t exactly human at the time. If they did commit these crimes against their own however, they would be hunted like animals for they have revoked their humanity. This would be a temporary transformation and the afflicted would be allowed to return to their tribe after a certain period of time. There are stories of wolf cults in Arcadia of a person being cast out of the village as a wolf and if they did not consume human flesh for 9 years, they would become human again.
The uirocû are often warriors but they are always outlaws that have gone against their tribe and the Dêuoi. The line between warrior and outlaw is quite blurred at times however, as in the case of the Sigmund the Volsung, who had to live as an outlaw in foreign lands when his family was slaughtered while he plotted his revenge. He and his son (or nephew depending on the telling) came across sleeping outlaws with cursed wolf pelts, which the pair stole. They used these pelts to conquer their enemies but became lost in the wolf and no longer recognized each other, which ended in Sigmund nearly killing his son and only then could they take the pelts off. People who live outside of society, whether by choice or exile, run the risk of becoming one through their actions if they commit crimes that offend the Dêuoi. Serious crimes such as murder and rape of members of one’s tribe would result in the offender being punished severely. They are shunned from their tribe and cursed by the Dêuoi into becoming a uirocû permanently. Vile acts such as cannibalism, when lines between man and animal are blurred beyond recognition, will also cause the offenders to be transformed into these monstrous creatures as punishment for their crimes. This was the fate of Lykaon, a king in Ancient Greece who feed an infant to Zeus and was changed into a wolf because of it.
As wolves also have chthonic ties, which I will discuss in a future article about wolf Gods, I think it is safe to assume that the uirocû have ties to the darkness of the night as well. There are references to hunting and fighting being done at night by the war-bands in various tales about many of these warriors and their groups. While the transformation under the full moon did not appear until much later, I do believe that uirocû would be more active as the daylight hours fade. Like wolves, they would most likely stalk their prey, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike with vicious fury. Since wolves also have ties to the Underworld, I believe that the uirocû would reside in Dumnos during the day and prowl the forest of Bitus during the night. This is not a creature that you want to become, as much as popular culture would have you believe that it would be cool to be a werewolf. Uirocû are savage beasts, unable to tell friend from foe as they are all prey to be devoured. This is not a beast that can be reasoned with as all it knows is the hunt, should you encounter one, please be cautious and avoid it if you can. Do not seek out this creature, it will smell you before you even know it is there, and it is always hungry.
- Richardson, Emeline. “The Wolf in the West.” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 36, The Walters Art Museum, 1977, pp. 91–101, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20168951.
- Ralph Häussler (2016) Wolf & Mythology: Celtic, retrieved from https://ralphhaussler.weebly.com/wolf-mythology-celtic.html
Thank you to Ṷailogenos and Suturcos for their help with the Gaulish. The word for werewolf has been changed from doniouailoi to uirocû as I have been informed that uirocû is an attested word in Gaulish.