Eugenics theory promised hope, delivered racism

By Stephen Springer - Staff Reporter



Before science came along, humans conjured up explanations for things. 

Thus, came tall tales of witches and werewolves.

"Werewolves may not be real, but they are universal," Rachael Bledsaw, a Highline history professor, said to last week's History Seminar audience.

Werewolves are universal because all cultures generally believed that certain people could shapeshift into the apex predator of the area. 

Unlike in Hollywood films, in early-modern Europe, werewolves were people who possessed a special gift. People didn't turn to wolves during a full moon and silver bullets didn't kill them.

"The way that you got [the power] was that it was a gift from the devil…in exchange for your soul, the devil would give you a pelt or something like that," Bledsaw said.

You could use this gift to change into a werewolf at will.

At the time, witch trials were big and werewolf trials were occurring in Western Europe.

Through these trials came the first acknowledgement of mental health in 1603 in southern France.

It was the trial of Jean Grenier, a boy arrested at age 13 for trying to attack a girl he was guarding sheep with.

After admitting to killing several people, which correlated with unsolved murders in the area, Grenier was found guilty and sentenced.

In earlier trials, people convicted of killing as a werewolf were brutally put to death involving the breaking of limbs, skinning and beheading.

  Grenier was treated differently.

The judge in Grenier's case realized that "something was wrong," Bledsaw said.

Upon this realization, the boy was sentenced to a life of confinement to a monastery.

After Grenier's trial, people were no longer put to death if they were convicted of this crime. Instead, they were seen as crazy people who needed pity.

In Eastern Europe, however, werewolves were much more accepted.

There, werewolves were only born and never made. 

Babies born with teeth or born with a caul, in which the amniotic sack is attached to their head at birth were considered to be born as werewolves. 

Werewolves were seen as protectors of their communities. They were defenders of the living.

In the East, people also thought that when a werewolf died, they became a vampire, which were thought to feed on the living.

The opposing duties of these beasts are what fueled the idea that the two fight each other.

"The root of the myth varies between regions and cultures," Bledsaw said. 

"Finally there's the link to historical serial killers, any historical serial killer at some point ,been accused of being a werewolf or a vampire," she said.

The next History Seminar column will be Easter Island presented by Lonnie Somer and Mindfulness Buddhism by Tanna Tan on Nov. 8. 

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