Every so often he would go into the woods and take off his clothes, carefully choosing a location to hide them. He transformed into a wolf and ran through the trees and over the hills, coming back sometimes days or weeks later. His wife begged to know where he had gone but for a long time he refused to tell her. Finally he relented and horrified after he demonstrates his transformation she steals the clothes and hides them so he cannot return to his human form. This is the story of Bisclavret, betrayed by his intimacy, and unable to leave the state that he enters after the betrayal.
In other tales of the werewolf it is a skin that is put on. A suit that allows the wearer to perform horrible crimes undetected, sometimes a gift from a god or a demon as a reward for the bearer’s devotion. Putting on the new skin—to transform one’s inner being one need only alter the exterior.
Bisclavret had no choice in the matter. His wife took up with another man and he was trapped in his animal form. Eventually he is rescued by the king, who discovers he is a rational being. In time the wife and her new lover are punished—unfortunately and brutally the wife’s nose is torn off by the werewolf Bisclavret. (He is otherwise noted for his gentleness.) From then on, we learn in the postscript, all of her descendants are similarly noseless. The exterior becomes a representation of the interior, and the interior is altered in turn. Of course this not how genetics work, and perhaps that is something even Marie de France knew herself, though she was writing only in the twelfth century.
One werewolf is courteous, the other violent, depraved. One takes something off and the other puts something on. Both lose and gain by this process. Both are reduced and magnified. Often like Actaeon (who of course transforms into a deer) they are torn to shreds by dogs. Often they become symbols for their hungers—their mouths elongated, their snouts, ravenous and forced to hunt and prowl.
I would like to take off this skin or this clothing that I have been wearing for too long. Last night I laid on the couch and listened to a reading that had been done for me November of last year. I hadn’t known then that it would be for the last few months of 2020, 2021, and even beyond that. Some of what was predicted has come to pass—much still remains for the future.
It was heartening to listen to this little message, to hear my hesitant voice which I did not realize was so hesitant then and to understand that already so much has changed. I would like to live according to the other voice and the life that it laid out for me, to live in something alive to the promise of the future. For that certain things need to be left behind, for they harm both onlooker and bearer.
Now it is spring and the trees are in bloom. In Toronto everywhere there are flowers. This is an exterior that is working in me, that feels part of this change.