Regular readers will remember geologist Robert Schoch, who has spent more than two decades advocating for the existence of a lost civilization that carved the Great Sphinx of Giza at the end of the last Ice Age. Since then, Schoch has grown increasingly fringe in his views, arguing at various times for a global pyramid-building culture, the catastrophic destruction of said culture by solar bombardment, and that the Easter Island moai are remnants of an Ice Age civilization. He also started a nonprofit, Oracul, to help fund his flights of fancy, and like many fringe figures, he now runs for-profit “ancient mysteries” tours of ancient sites. Anyway, he apparently now believes humans have psychic powers.
In a new article published in Dark Lore 9 from Daily Grail Publishing and made available online, Schoch explores the concept of lycanthropy, though with no particular depth. He collects a number of werewolf stories, ranging from ancient Greece to nineteenth century Africa. He does not seem to have much by way of training in anthropology, ethnography, or the Classics, so he offers little more than summary and speculation. He starts by discussing the story of Lykaon, the ancient Greek mythic king who was turned into a wolf for feeding a disguised Zeus human flesh. He attributes the story to Hesiod, though he doesn’t seem to know the primary sources, or the differences among the ancient writers, or the views of Classicists. The story, and the lycanthropic belief attached to it, is found in Hyginus (Fabula 176), Apollodorus (Library 3.8), Pausanias, (Description 8.2.6), Plato (Republic 565d), and, in a different context, Pliny (Natural History 8.34). Nicolaus of Damascus has a brief mention, preserved in later sources (Frag. 43, ed. Müller), and Plutarch (Moralia 2.1.300) discusses it, too. Allusions appear in poetry, as well.
Christian authors condemned the pagans through reference to the Lykaon myth, including Clement (Protrepticus 18.104.22.168), Arnobius (Adversus Nationes 4.24), etc. Several medieval and Byzantine authors give versions of the story as well, though their views aren’t important here.
You’ll notice that Hesiod isn’t on the list. That’s because Hesiod doesn’t tell the story in the surviving texts. He is mentioned in Pseudo-Eratosthenes’ Catasterismi 8 in connection with the Lykaon myth, and Strabo (Geography 5.2.4) says that Euphorus used Hesiod as the source for his discussion of Lykaon. A scholiast on Germanicus’ Latin version of Aratus’ Phaenomena agrees. Schoch, in working from secondary sources, thinks we have Hesiod’s version, but we don’t know what it would have contained in its details, only in general outline.
Because Schoch is apparently working from secondary research, he similarly doesn’t know that Classicists have poured over this material for centuries and have determined, as Walter Burkert famously argued in Homo Necans, that the myth of Lykaon and the ritual of wolf transformation given by Pliny, represent a mythic expression of an old ritual of hunting magic, whereby young men were initiated into the ranks of warriors or hunters as symbolic “wolves,” before returning to civilization to marry several years later. Over time, the original ritual decayed into a superstitious belief that men literally became wolves.
Regardless of whether you buy the argument, it would have benefited Schoch greatly to know that such arguments exist rather to simply dismiss the story as “traditional folklore” of animal transformations that “cannot be taken literally.” His hope, though, is that we will see the story as confirmation that we can explore lycanthropy as more than mere delusion. To that end, he introduces stories of werewolves in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for which no sources are given. (Perhaps the print edition lists sources not published for the online version?) I wasn’t able to trace them all. One story, that of Capt. H. H. Shott, who claimed to see hyena tracks give way to those of humans in Nigeria, implying that the hyenas became men, can be found in Charles Fort’s 1932 book Wild Talents, and Schoch must have gone back to Fort’s source, Cornhill Magazine of October 1918, for the quoted text, which does not appear in Fort. I don’t need to remind you that articles from popular magazines aren’t really a reliable source for proof of were-beasts.
Schoch wants to have it both ways, however, arguing that the “scientific” explanation (?) that the hyenas were really men dressed in hyena suits (!) would be impossible since Capt. Shott could not have mistaken a man for an animal, but also that the alternative—a belief in were-beasts—is “difficult” to believe.
Therefore, Schoch argues that people who believe that they have become werewolves are on drugs. Specifically, hallucinogens. But this doesn’t mean they’re crazy. Instead, he argues that taking drugs, particularly ayahuasca (yes, Graham Hancock’s favorite mind-altering substance—the one he thinks puts him in contact with divine beings), allows people to form psychic connections with animals and/or the future. Here he writes of ayahuasca under its name of yagé:
As we noted previously, there have been instances wherein users of yagé exhibit lycanthropic behavior. Could it be that this is due, at least in part, to a true telepathic rapport established with genuine wild beasts? Or might a person simply receive information telepathically from others (or from one’s future self, which is one explanation of precognition as there is evidence that the future can influence the past and present to some extent), but perceive in their own mind (or rationalize) that they are “seeing” and receiving information through the eyes of an animal?
He bases this on secondhand tales of psychic premonitions recorded by Rafael Zerda Bayón in the first two decades of the twentieth century, when Zerda Bayón studied the drug and alleged that during experiments in a remote location, one subject reported that his father died and his sister was ill. This “fact” could not be confirmed until a letter arrived announcing the death and his sister’s cure. Reading between the lines, we note that the subject said his sister was sick when in fact she was healed, meaning that he knew of her illness when she got sick, earlier. We can similarly infer that he knew his father was terminally ill, and there is no indication that his supposed premonition happened at the exact time of his father’s death. Therefore, this is no evidence for psychic power, as Schoch thinks.
Schoch quotes an anthropologist, J. H. Hutton, to the effect that a villager in British India claimed that he could tell where his pet leopard left its half-eaten kills during the night, and they were always there. Hutton never saw the villagers retrieve the animals, but took the village chief’s word for it. He also didn’t check to see whether the villager was killing the animals himself to stage his psychic show. Schoch, however, doesn’t care about whether reasonable explanations might exist.
Schoch says that to doubt such stories is “the close-minded view of the arch-skeptic and debunker,” and he therefore concludes from a few more similar accounts that “lycanthropy” is really what happens when someone takes hallucinogens and psychically projects himself into the body of an animal. It gives me great pause to see a “scientist” refuse to attempt to falsify his own claim. It makes me doubt his ability to find a lost Ice Age civilization for similar reasons.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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