In 1598 a man named Jacques Raollet was tried as a werewolf in Angers, Touraine. In the 15th to 17th centuries there were numerous werewolf trials in France ~ it was the masculine counterpart to the witch hysteria of the time. The Catholic Church and Protestant Churches continually fought tooth and nail to eradicate paganist beliefs across Europe but, in both rural and urban settings, people stubbornly held on to their old traditions and, in the period mentioned above, people of all classes believed in the existence of werewolves.
In werewolf trials, men were accused of shape-shifting, killing and devouring children, as well as of incest and other acts. As you will see the children’s story, Little Red Riding Hood, was originally a much more sinister rural French tale of a young girl who goes to visit her grandmother and meets not a wolf but a werewolf (in French a bzou). The story is facinating for both its goriness and for being full of both pagan and female symbolism. Here it is, read it if you dare!A woman had finished her baking, so she asked her daughter to take a fresh galette and a pot of cream to her grandmother who lived in a forest cottage. The girl set off, and on her way she met a bzou. The bzou stopped the girl and asked, “Where are you going? What do you carry?”
“I’m going my grandmother’s house,” said the girl, “and I’m bringing her bread and cream.”
“Which path will you take?” the bzou asked. “The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?”
“I’ll take the Path of Pins,” said the girl.
“Why then, I’ll take the Path of Needles, and we’ll see who gets there first.” The girl set off, the bzou set off, and the bzou reached Grandmother’s cottage first. He quickly killed the old woman and gobbled her up, flesh, blood, and bone – except for a bit of flesh that he put in a little dish on the pantry shelf, and except for a bit of blood that he drained into a little bottle. Then the bzou dressed in Grandmother’s cap and shawl and climbed into bed. When the girl arrived, the bzou called out, “Pull the peg and come in, my child.”
“Grandmother,” said the girl, “Mother sent me here with a galette and a cream.”
“Put them in the pantry, child. Are you hungry?
“Yes, I am, Grandmother.”
“Then cook the meat that you’ll find on the shelf. Are you thirsty?”
“Yes, I am, Grandmother.”
“Then drink the bottle of wine you’ll find on the shelf beside it, child.”
As the young girl cooked and ate the meat, a little cat piped up and cried, “You are eating the flesh are your grandmother!”
“Throw your shoe at that noisy cat,” said the bzou, and so she did.
As she drank the wine, a small bird cried, “You are drinking the blood of your grandmother!”
“Throw your other shoe at that noisy bird,” said the bzou, and so she did.
When she finished her meal, the bzou said, “Are you tired from your journey, child? Then take off your clothes, come to bed, and I shall warm you up.”
“Where shall I put my apron, Grandmother?” “Throw it on the fire, child, for you won’t need it anymore.”
“Where shall I put my bodice, Grandmother?”
“Throw it on the fire, for you won’t need it anymore.”
The girl repeats this question for her skirt, her petticoat, and her stockings. The bzou gives the same answer, and she throws each item on the fire. As she comes to bed, she says to him, “Grandmother, how hairy you are!”
“Grandmother, what big arms you have!”
“The better to hold you close, my child.”
“Grandmother, what big ears you have!”
“The better to hear you with, my child.”
“Grandmother, what sharp teeth you have!”
“The better to eat you with, my child. Now come and lie beside me.”
“But first I must go and relieve myself.”
“Do it in the bed, my child.”
“I cannot. I must go outside,” the girl says cleverly, for now she knows that it’s the bzou who is lying in Grandmother’s bed. “Then go outside,” the bzou agrees, “but mind that you come back again quick. I’ll tie your ankle with a woolen thread so I’ll know just where you are.” He ties her ankle with a sturdy thread, but as soon as the girl has gone outside she cuts the thread with her sewing scissors and ties it to a plum tree. The bzou, growing impatient, calls out, “What, have you finished yet, my child?” When no one answers, he calls again. “Are you watering the grass or feeding the trees?” No answer. He leaps from bed, follows the thread, and finds her gone. The bzou gives chase, and soon the girl can hear him on the path just behind her. She runs and runs until she reaches a river that’s swift and deep. Some laundresses work on the river bank. “Please help me cross,” she says to them. They spread a sheet over the water, holding tightly to its ends. She crosses the bridge of cloth and soon she’s safe on the other side. Now the bzou reaches the river, and he bids the women help him cross. They spread a sheet over the water — but as soon as he is halfway across, the laundresses let go. The bzou falls into the water and drowns.
For a truly fascinating essay on the history, symbolism and development of the Red Riding Hood story do click here.