Amulets and Charms: Wolfssegen (also Wolfsegen and Wolf-Segen) (European folklore)


In Bavarian folklore of the Early Modern period, a Wolfssegen (also Wolfsegen, Wolf-Segen) was an apotropaic charm against wolves; conversely, a Wolfbann (Wolf-Bann) was a malevolent spell causing a wolf attack.

The Wolfssegen is just one specific example of various distinct kinds of Segen (“blessing; charm, incantation”) in the folklore of German-speaking Europe.

While early examples of Wolfssegen survive from the Late Middle Ages, use of these charms seems to have peaked during the 17th century, when they were offered by professional “wolf charmers” (Wolfssegner or Wolfbanner). This corresponds to the cold period known as the Little Ice Age, for which there is ample historical evidence of wolves infesting much of the Bavarian Alps. There is no extant text of a Wolfbann, the malevolent opposite of the Wolfsegen; however, there is the text of a spell reversing a Wolfbann recorded in 1635 (in effect again a Wolfsegen, but against a specific wolf earlier conjured by a Wolfbann)

The Wolfssegner, or more generally Segner were mostly destitute elderly men who made a living by selling charms or incantations. They were mostly tolerated in the 16th century, but from the 1590s they began to be persecuted as witches. During the early 1600s (decade), a number of Wolfssegner were tried and executed as werewolves. Apparently, the Wolfssegner often used fraudulent scams in order to convince the peasants of their magical power.

These trials persisted into the 1650s (albeit without the werewolf accusation). A typical example is the trial of one Thomas Heiser, aged 84. According to the protocol, Heiser underwent the first stage of torture before confessing to know how to perform the Wolf-Segen, which he had learned from a friend some fifty years earlier, in Innsbruck, and had made his living by performing it for the peasantry. He claimed to be able to call the wolves to attack a specific head of cattle, and to have done this a total number of ten times over a period of 40 years. He confessed that he had to promise his soul to the devil in order to learn the charm.

In Vienna, there was also a custom known in which the text of the Liber generationis Jesu Christi (Matthew 1, viz. the beginning of the gospel) was known as Wolfssegen, chanted in a particular way after mass on Christmas night. This was supposed to commemorate the banning of wolves by singing the gospel in former centuries, before the city was fortified.

This artifact is a part of SwordTemple Library

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