This month’s creature feature is dedicated to the shapeshifter of the Louisiana bayou: The Rougarou. Sometimes spelled Roux-ga-rou, Rugaru, or Rugaroo, legends of this creature typically originate in french-speaking Cajun communities in Louisiana and Laurentian Canada. The name is a variant pronunciation and spelling of the original French loup garou — the European werewolf. Both are used interchangeably in southern Louisiana, where the monster is said to occupy the swamps.
Creature Feature: Rougarou
Loup is French for wolf, and garou (from Frankish garulf) is a man who transforms into an animal. (I haven’t found any stories referencing female Rougarou, so forgive me if I settle into one gender-specific pronoun to reduce confusion. There are no suggestions that the creatures mate, in any case. Its origins are related to curses and biting.)
We assume that the legend spread from French-speaking settlers to Acadia, but for my part — living in Montreal — I’ve never heard reference to it in these parts. Geographically we’re closer to Pigman and the Cardiff Giant, if you were to consult the map:
Then again, they say that Vampires are the biggest deal to come out of Louisiana since jazz and go-cups, and I’d put money on it that we can attribute that claim to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Thanks, Lestat.
I began researching the legend of the Rougarou after coming across this image, captured by a hunter at a reserve in Berkwick, Louisiana near Morgan City, from a deer stand camera. Something wandering through the woods at night, which he subsequently reported to the media because — well, hell — wouldn’t you? Just freaking look at it! I passed the image around on tumblr a bit after I could stand to look at it without giving myself nightmares, and after chatting with a couple of people trying to convince myself that it was probably a racoon, the conclusion was drawn that: “There’s a lot of weird stuff in the swamp. Anything is possible.”
As the Rougarou is often considered to have a lupine body and the head of a man, legend suggests that the monsters inhabits the swamps and woodland areas surrounding Acadiana and greater New Orleans. It’s proposed that the story is a cautionary tale: a means of persuading children to behave. Other variations relate to a handful of origin stories.
Becoming the Beast
Most origin stories relate to a curse resulting from bad behaviour or transmission of bodily fluid. To become a Rougarou, any of the following are possible:
Breaking Lent, if you’re a French Catholic:
A person becomes a Rougarou after breaking Lent seven years in a row, and as a monster, it would hunt down and kill Catholics for their transgressions.
Blood Exchange & Biting
The Rougarou carried the affliction for a hundred and one days. After that period, the curse could be transferred to another person by a bite or by drawing blood. In daylight hours, the creature returned to human form, only returning to the swamp at night to prevent transferring the sickness onto anyone who might cross their path.
Curses & Witchcraft
Only a witch was capable of creating a rougarou — either by turning themselves into wolves voluntarily, or cursing others with lycanthropy.
Not Keeping Your Fool Mouth Shut
The person possessing the Rougarou strain would appear afflicted with something to other people, but for fear of lengthening their affliction and making the curse permanent, would maintain their silence. Otherwise, after a year and a day, they would be cured. It’s been suggested that those who’d become a Rougarou permanently by telling someone of the curse would often take their own lives.
Just Looking at the Damn Thing
Another variant of the legend indicates that simply laying eyes on a Rougarou would ensure that you were turned into one. Another great way to ensure your kids are tucked in safely at night with their eyes squeezed shut.
Feel like gazing into those eyes again?