It was not the kind of announcement that one normally expects from a British university.
“Following its earlier vampire theme,” the missive began, “the University of Hertfordshire will turn its attention to creatures not strictly undead but which haunt the peripheries of the vampire – werewolves and shapeshifters – when it hosts the UK’s only werewolf conference.”
This was no product of a feverish university press officer’s imagination. The groundbreaking three-day conference “The Company of Wolves – Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Feral Humans” is expected to attract up to 100 academics and more than 50 speakers.
According to the conference programme, it will begin on 3 September, with “coffee and mini-pastries”. Not moonlight and slaughtered lamb.
However, the organisers are keen to stress that they “do not believe in werewolves, zombies or vampires nor do [they] consider [themselves] to be werewolves, zombies or vampires”.
The timing of the conference, five days after Saturday’s full moon, must thus be considered a coincidence, rather than a means to ensure no one is busy at night and everyone has had time to recover.
Instead, academics will gather in Hatfield to hear about such matters as “Rabid Bitches and Fanged Whores: Misogynistic Discourses in 19th-century Tales of the Female Werewolf”; ‘‘I’m Hairy on the Inside: Defining the Werewolf in Contemporary Fiction”; and “The Female Werewolf and the New Woman”.
The conference’s lead convener is Dr Sam George, a senior lecturer in literature at the University of Hertfordshire. She once wrote a cultural history of the tulip. But since then she has “been moving to the dark side”.
“It began when I was teaching students early 18th-century and Renaissance literature. They didn’t seem terribly interested, so I asked them: ‘What do you actually read?’ They said ‘vampire fiction’.
“I thought bringing that into the curriculum might engage students with literature. I have also always been fascinated by what the vampire represents in fiction.”
The result was a “Reading the Vampire” MA module in 2010, and the Open Graves, Open Minds research group led by Dr George. The group staged the “Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture” conference in 2010, and now, said Dr George, they were at last turning their attention to werewolves.
“Werewolves,” said Dr George, “are not being given enough attention and are under-researched compared to vampires.
“We will publish a book, The Company of Wolves, drawn from research showcased at the conference by these top werewolf scholars.”
Such scholarship, she added, was valuable because “it helps us learn about our fears, about what it means to be human, and what is lost if we transform into animals. And we want to move away from the clichés.”
‘‘Hollywood, for example, has robbed us of an understanding of the rich and varied ways to become half-human, half-beast. You don’t just have to be bitten on a rainswept moor,’’ said Dr George. Folklore and medieval trials of suspected werewolves suggest you could also drink water from the footprints of a wolf.
Or, added Kaja Franck, a PhD student who helped organised the conference, you could “apply an ointment made from rendered human fat, or wear a girdle made from human flesh...”
Most haunted castles around the world
Most haunted castles around the world
1/10 Castle Bran, Romania
Looming deep in the heart of Transylvania, it’s here you’ll find a treasure trove of morbid history – with the ultimate vampire twist. Thought to be the inspiration for Dracula’s playground of horror in the classic Bram Stoker novel, it’s said that Castle Bran has seen its own fair share of gore. Although there’s no historic proof that the castle’s namesake and Dracula’s inspiration – Vlad the Impaler – ever lived inside, the castle has come to be associated with the ruthless ruler and his brutal acts, ensuring a haunting experience for all who dare visit.
2/10 Moosham Castle, Austria
Known locally as the Witches Castle, Moosham gains its nickname from the merciless witch trials held within its walls throughout the 17th century. No one can be sure just how many young women were accused, tortured and killed in the dungeons of the castle, but it’s alleged to be well into the thousands – with a whole crew of beheaded witches haunting the grounds forever more. Moosham Castle is also home to its very own werewolf ghost. During the 1800s when mutilated animal corpses started showing up, Moosham residents were tried and imprisoned in the castle as werewolves. The only logical answer, of course.
3/10 Dragsholm Castle, Denmark
Claiming the title of the most haunted castle in the world, Dragsholm lays claim to over 100 resident ghosts – but there’s three in particular that really own the place. Forever tied to her working duties in the castle, the grey lady appears nightly to make sure everything is in order. The white lady was once the castle owner’s son who paid the ultimate price for loving a lowly worker boy. Punished by her father, she was sealed alive behind a brick wall never to be seen again. Until the modern day that is, when builders found her skeleton still dressed in white. The third is the ghost of the Earl of Bothwell, who rides his horse through the grounds of the castle at night; the clatter of hooves heard by all who dare to stay there.
4/10 Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
This Scottish fortress stands high on Castle rock, looking down over the city below. Sitting deep into the ground where no one could hear the screams, the castle dungeons acted for centuries as the city’s torture chambers. It’s here that plague victims were quarantined and entombed, their restless spirits never finding peace. In 2001, 240 volunteers spent ten days in the castle, with all reporting spookily similar experiences: burning sensations, shadowy figures and strangely enough, the ghost of a man in a leather apron.
5/10 Chillingham Castle, England
If you decide to name your home “Chillingham Castle”, you can’t really expect any less than frightful occurrences inside. The resident ghost here is the blue boy, with guests reporting flashes of blue light and a blue halo above their bed accompanied by a chilling wail. If a blue boy doesn’t get your spine tingling in fear, then the ghosts of eight headless men might just do the trick. Eight criminals whose heads were displayed on the city gates as a warning to others are said to roam the castle, looking for their revenge.
6/10 Houska Castle, Czech Republic
The history of Houska Castle is a deeply disturbing one, bottomless in fact. Built over the top of a never-ending pit thought to be the gateway to hell, it hoped to put an end to the regularly reported demonic activity, sightings of winged creatures and the existence of ‘non-human remains’. The sinister activity continued into the 1930s when Nazis took an interest in the castle’s history and used the grounds to conduct experiments of the occult. What happened next is shrouded in mystery, but several Nazi soldier skeletons were found in the castle’s cellars, many years later.
7/10 Castle of Bardi, Italy
The Castle of Bardi is perhaps home to the most cursed of star-crossed lovers, Moroello and Soleste. The original love-story-turned-nightmare, the tale tells that one night, Soleste sat at her balcony eagerly awaiting the return of Moroello from battle. After mistakenly believing him dead, she threw herself from the castle, just as Moroello returned unharmed. Devastated, Moroello promptly killed himself. The two lovers were never reunited in the afterlife and these days, Moroello is said to wander the castle by night, searching for Soleste’s soul in attempt to find peace.
8/10 Brissac Castle, France
The tallest castle in the Loire Valley, this French château boasts over 200 rooms, some of which are haunted by something a little more unusual than your standard ghoul. The story goes that French nobleman Jacques de Breze lived in the castle with his wife Charlotte, who was not afraid to flaunt her extra-marital activity by enjoying loud sex with her many lovers. When she and one lover mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again, it was rumoured to be Jacques behind the plot. Punishing him forever, the moans did not stop and instead grew louder. In fact, they can still be heard today.
9/10 Leap Castle, Ireland
Ireland’s Leap castle is the setting of a family feud turned fatal. Inside of the castle chapel, two brothers – one a priest and the other a warrior – fought each other to the death. The priest brother was slain across the alter, his blood dripping menacingly down. Suffice to say, the chapel has been known as the Bloody Chapel ever since. If priest ghosts aren’t enough to give you goosebumps, the castle is also haunted by a mythical being: the Elemental. This demon-esque creature wanders the castle with its human face, dark pools for eyes and a smell of rotting flesh.
10/10 Belcourt Castle, USA
Built by Oliver Belmont, the heir to the Belmont family empire, Belcourt Castle certainly has some tales to tell. Once the castle was built, Belmont decided to travel the world collecting quirky artefacts for his new home – and it’s these artefacts that are allegedly haunted. A 15th century suit of armour is said to be possessed by its medieval owner, crying out in a blood-curdling scream each March at the exact time that he perished. The Gothic ballroom houses haunted chairs, said to torment any guest who sits upon them. Time to redecorate?
Nor does the well-informed werewolf hunter need to rely on a silver bullet. Ms Franck, 29, who has used literary texts to create a table of the various ways of becoming, living and dying as a werewolf, said that pre-Hollywood, the beast was often considered vulnerable to “any method that would kill a human”.
Just as attitudes to wolves have softened, she said, so are more sympathetic views of werewolves emerging, for example, in works such as the Twilight series, “although technically the werewolves in those novels were actually shapeshifters”.
“I am all for more complex representations of monsters which suggest they are not purely evil,” said Ms Franck. “Yay for sparkly monsters!”Reuse content