Livonian Werewolves: Assessing Their Historical Significance Through the Case of Old Thiess

  •  Liu Jiaxin    


This paper seeks to investigate the phenomenon of Livonian werewolves from the early modern era (1500-1700s). Noting their uniqueness in comparison to contemporaneous werewolves hailing from other geographic areas, the paper suggests that the Livonian werewolf is a metaphor for Livonian society at that time, one which was characterized by social turmoil and strict class hierarchy. This metaphor was utilized by different classes to establish their own interests in society, and thus the paper concludes that the werewolf is a mutable artifact whose value is contingent on its social context. This is demonstrated with the particular case of Old Thiess—a poor, elderly Livonian peasant who gave an unorthodox and anomalous testimony when accused of being a werewolf. In his court statement, it is shown how Thiess was in fact alluding to social tensions by lambasting the rich German elite and establishing the righteousness of the peasantry, of which he was a member of. A close reading method was utilized on the trial transcript of Old Thiess, translated from Hermann von Bruningk’s Der Werwolf in Livland. Through a contextual reading of Livonia’s social atmosphere, the paper draws connections between the content of the trial to wider societal disturbances happening at the time.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1918-7173
  • ISSN(Online): 1918-7181
  • Started: 2009
  • Frequency: quarterly

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