Wed
Feb 20 2013 6:00pm

Monster of the Week: Rougarou the Lenten Werewolf

It smells your beer. (Hemera/ThinkStock)

So we’re in the midst of the Lent. It’s 40 days of Christian fasting that stretches from the Ash Wednesday to Easter—which is why folks tend to blow it out during the Carnival/Mardi Gras season.

Generally it’s all an act of devotion. You decide to give up something like booze or chocolate for Lent and you stick to it in order to prove something to yourself or God. Aside from the personal shame or God’s displeasure, there’s generally nothing at stake.

Unless you live near the Bayou.

Because according to Cajun folk traditions, the monstrous Rougarou haunts the dark just HOPING to catch the unmistakable stink of someone breaking lent. Described as a a humanoid with the head of a dog or wolf, this liturgical lycanthrope murders stray Catholics during Lent and generally terrifies children into behaving. After all, compared to the fires of Hell; the gut-munching jaws of Rougarou offer a much more immediate threat.

And should you break Lent seven years in a row? Well, then you magically turn INTO Rougarou—or at least transmit the curious form of lycanthropy responsible for the curse. It makes sense from a psychological standpoint: The bestial other-self represents the uncontrollable, base aspects of human nature. It’s why we have bigfoots and werewolves to begin with.

FOR MY PART: This year I find myself giving up fried foods for lent—and since my wife is of Cajun descent, I know I likely fall under the Rougarou’s jurisdiction. There’s a sack of potato chips in my backseat right now and I know I’m toying with disaster by leaving it there.

There’s not much in the way of science to discuss here, but it does cause one to ruminate on negative reinforcement somewhat. What motivation do we need to better ourselves? Health and personal betterment or devotion to a deity? The favors of a loving god or the wrath of a vengeful one? The jaws of Hell or the jaws of a Cajun beastman?

I leave you to decide. Draw blood.

Monster of the Week is a—you guessed it—regular look at the denizens of our monster-haunted world. In some of these, we’ll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Other times, we’ll just wax philosophic about the monster’s underlying meaning. After all, the word “monstrosity” originates from the Latin monstrare, which meant to show or illustrate a point.

Originally published at HSW: Monster of the Week: Rougarou the Lenten Werewolf


Robert Lamb is a senior writer at HowStuffWorks.com and co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast and blog. He is also a regular contributor to Discovery News. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. If you’re into that sort of thing.

5 comments
Bridget Smith
1. BridgetSmith
This is also a fascinating example of the creolization of a dialect: the French term for a werewolf is "loup garou" (the p is silent).
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
2. Lisamarie
As a Catholic who finds Lent one of her favorite times of year (no, really) - I am really not sure if the idea of this Lenten werewolf is hilarious or offensive. Maybe both :) On one hand, it kind of cracks me up, on the other hand, my nitpicky self wants to get all up in arms about the (very common) mischaracterization of Lent, sacrifice, etc.

Then again, I hate what Mardi Gras has done to the ideas of Lent and Fat Tuesdy too (and I know Mardi Gras itself is based on similar festivals in Europe so I'm not just blaming Louisiana).

Also, fyi, when you give up something for Lent (which is not required - the only requirements are mild fasting on Ash Wednesday/Good Friday, and abstaining from meat on Fridays), it is not considered sin if you don't keep it perfectly. It is strictly a matter of personal devotion.
Matt from Poland
3. Matt from Poland
I'm a Catholic from Poland who fasts reguralry during Lent. I find my attitude towards it almost identical to Mr. Lamb and Lisamarie above - love the challenge of it. This article made my Lenten period this year. I will observe it much more rigorously, knowing that there's an evil monster preying on my failures to abstain from alcohol, coffee, sweets, fast food, tobacco and pointless web surfing.... OH SH*T, blew that last one.
S Cooper
4. SPC
I think you're supposed to keep a sieve around to get away from loup garou - if they pass one, they have to count all the holes. My (Cajun) dad has talked about loup garou before (pronounced exactly as you wrote it) but I'd never heard about the Lent connection before.
Lani Gallimore
5. evilminion
As a born and bred Cajun I am so pleased to see the infamous Rougarou as a monster of the week. When I was little girl my grandfather used to sit us on his lap and whisper stories in our ear about the Rougarou. It had nothing to do with Lent so that link is surprising to me. It was just a monster who lived in the swamp. Every story ended with us soundly defeating the Rougarou and chasing him back into the swamp.

I think I'll go visit my grandfather this weekend. Thanks for bringing up an old memory.

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