Werewolves vs. Witches (Repression vs. Liberation)

Eddie Ejjbair
10 min readJul 24, 2022

In a previous post, I spoke about how the werewolf represents unleashed ‘repression and restraint’ — which are the defining characteristics of civilization:

If civilization requires repression, the natural concomitant to this is intermittent outbursts of what Christopher Hitchens calls ‘orgasmically violent action’ (he says this in connection to ultra-repressed Islamic extremists). The werewolf is thus a product of civilization (i.e. renunciation, restraint, self-control). Hitchens also mentions, in relation to the title of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, that the term ‘discontents’ carries the ‘important implication of a human restlessness with the very idea of being civilized’. It is this malaise that constitutes the werewolf bite. Bestial aggression never disappeared; it turned inward: ‘There it is taken over by a portion of the ego that sets itself up as the super-ego, in opposition to the rest, and is now prepared, as ‘conscience’, to exercise the same severe aggression against the ego that the latter would have liked to direct towards other individuals’ (Freud)

Nowhere is this more evident than in Wilheim Reich’s assessment of the standard fascist male. Reich — who is perhaps best known for his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism — believed that repression, specifically sexual repression, intensified fascistic brutality. According to Reich, the strict asceticism of the far-right fascist inhibits the release of ‘orgiastic’ energy, and without this outlet, the individual becomes psychologically and physically rigid — creating a ‘character armor’ that he associates with all neurotics.

In his psychoanalytic practice, he reported that:

Patients complain of “being tense to the point of bursting,” “filled to the point of exploding.” They feel themselves to be “blown up.” They fear any attack upon their armoring because it makes them feel as if they were being “pricked open.” Some patients said that they were afraid of “dissolving,” of “melting,” of losing their “grip on themselves” or their “contour.” They clung to the rigid armorings of their movements and attitudes like a drowning man to a ship’s plank (Reich)

For Reich, this neurotic tension is indistinguishable from ‘the “military attitude,” especially as it is prescribed and carried out by the fascists’:

The “rigid military attitude” is the exact opposite of the natural, loose, agile attitude. The neck has to be rigid, the head stretched forward; the eyes have to stare rigidly straight ahead; the chin and mouth have to have a “manly” expression; the chest has to be thrust out; the arms have to be held closely and rigidly against the body; the hands have to be stretched along the crease of the pants. Doubtlessly, the most important indication of the sexually suppressive intent of this military technique is the proverbial command: stomach in, chest out. The legs are stiff and rigid. Picture, if you will, the position of patients who are struggling with and are making every effort to control affective impulses. Their shoulders are hard, their necks tense, their abdomens sucked in, their pelvises retracted, arms held rigidly against their bodies, their legs rigidly stretched. Indeed, the identity goes further: the stretching of the ankles is a typical clinical indication of the artificial control of affects. It is also a strict requirement of the Prussian goose step. People who are brought up in such a way, and are forced to retain this physical attitude, are incapable of natural vegetative impulses. They become machines, blindly carrying out mechanized manual exercises; obediently snapping out, “Yes, sir, Captain”; mechanically shooting their own brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters (Reich)

Klaus Theweleit, who was heavily influenced by Wilheim Reich, expands on Reich’s analysis in his two-volume study Male Fantasies. As a part of his research, Theweleit examined the novels and memoirs of several Nazi members (particularly those belonging to the pre-Nazi Freikorps). What Theweleit found was that Reich was right: the ‘fascist sensibility springs from a mortal fear of orgasms’ — or, perhaps more specifically, a mortal fear of ‘dissolution’. For Reich, these are one and the same thing. ‘Psychic health’, he writes, ‘depends upon orgastic potency, i.e., upon the degree to which one can surrender to and experience the climax of excitation in the natural sexual act’. Surrender is the operative word. It ‘presupposes complete immersion in the streaming sensation of pleasure’. Correspondingly, ‘[m]en who feel that surrender is “feminine” are always orgastically disturbed’ (Reich); i.e. neurotic.

In Male Fantasies, Theweleit identifies two ways in which this fear manifests itself; gynophobia (fear of women) and enochlophobia (fear of the masses). In both phobias, the operative metaphor is ‘feminine’ fluidity, which brings with it the ‘mortal fear of dissolution’:

Over and over again: the women-in-the-water; woman as water, as a stormy, cavorting, cooling ocean, a raging stream, a waterfall; as a limitless body of water that ships pass through, with tributaries, pools, surfs, and deltas; woman as the enticing (or perilous) deep, as a cup of bubbling body fluids; the vagina as wave, as foam, as a dark place ringed with Pacific ridges; love as the foam from the collision of two waves, as a sea voyage, a slow ebbing, a fish-catch, a storm; love as a process that washes people up as flotsam, smoothing the sea again; where we swim in the divine song of the sea knowing no laws, one fish, two fish; where we are part of every ocean, which is part of every vagina (Theweleit)

The writers that Theweleit examines repeatedly refer to women and the masses (Communism = the Red Flood) as ‘a kind of ocean that surges onward in waves, inundating and engulfing’. The fascist response: phallic rigidity:

The threat of the “flood” may be combated with “erections”: towering cities, mountains, troops, stalwart men, weapons. Ideally, the “Red flood” should appear as identical with the Red Army; implicitly, it is always this. The flood is an armed, rebellious mass containing everything that will dissolve a man. The best deterrent? The weapon. The best way of keeping one’s own camp under control? The ritual of the mass parade (Theweleit)

But what does any of this have to do with the concept of the werewolf?

As discussed in my previous post, the werewolf represents pent-up aggression. It is retrogressive; an assault on civilization’s core principles: repression and restraint. As Mark Rowlands writes in The Philosopher and the Wolf, the wolf is ‘the traditional […] representative of the dark side of humanity’ (Rowlands). The fascists that Reich and Theweleit describe are like werewolves in that they spend most of their time repressing but with intermittent bouts of indiscriminate rage:

In the attacks, there is a sense that a long pent-up rage is finally being loosed on its target: at last! A sigh of relief seems to run through the text. Part of the instinctual energy we’ve seen bottled up until now is finally discharged. At long last, the libido can seize upon an object — these women with their sanctimonious faith in the soldiers’ obligation to spare them. The ability to attack and destroy them — this is a bursting of bounds, a liberation. At last these men can penetrate to the truth behind the joke that “women are always innocent” and can carry out the appropriate sentence (Theweleit)

But the werewolf metaphor is not just a retroactive comparison. The Nazis actively cultivated the image of themselves as werewolves. As Eric Kurlander writes in his book Hitler’s Monsters, alongside an interest in ‘folklore, mythology, and an alternative religion there emerged a renewed fascination with werewolves and witches — except these monsters in Christian liturgy now came to be viewed increasingly as positive figures’. One Nazi Special Forces unit — which was ‘designed to carry out vicious guerrilla attacks on Allied occupiers and collaborators’ — was known as ‘Operation Werewolf’. Joseph Goebbels, the ‘Propaganda Minister’, ‘embraced the Werewolf as a central feature in his end of times propaganda’. He ‘even created his own ‘Radio Werewolf’ station. Many Werewolf broadcasts began with the sound of a wolf howling and a song, sung by a woman named Lily, which included the lyrics, “I am so savage. I am filled with rage”’. Hitler also ‘referred to his headquarters in the Ukraine between 1942 and 1943 as his ‘Werewolf’ compound and christened his better-known headquarters near Rastenburg in East Prussia the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ (Wolfschanze)’.

Just a couple of years after the Second World War, the historian Robert Eisler gave a lecture entitled ‘Man into Wolf: An Anthropological Interpretation of Sadism, Masochism, and Lycanthropy’, to the Royal Society of Medicine in London. A belief in lycanthropy, Eisler began, was prevalent across ancient and medieval Germany. Many Germans believed that a magical change from man into wolf could be brought about ‘by donning a wolf’s pelt just as the ‘Isawiyya and the Bacchic maenads wrap themselves in animals’ skins by taking to the woods’. […] This belief in lycanthropy, Eisler argued, had been resuscitated in Nazi Germany. He noted that the Third Reich employed the ‘uncanny word’ werewolf to designate the secret terrorist and para-military ‘Organisation Werewolf’. The term was employed again in ‘Himmler’s rabid speech on the new Volkssturm [people’s militia] of 1945’, whom the Reichsführer encouraged to ‘harass “like were-wolves” the allied lines of communication in occupied Germany’. Hitler himself hoped that wartime necessity might eradicate ‘thousands of years of human domestication’. Nothing could be more thrilling, the Führer suggested, than ‘to see once more in the eyes of a pitiless youth the gleam of pride and independence of the beast of prey’, who, organized in ‘wolf packs’, might hunt down and murder Germany’s enemies in the dead of night (Kurlander)

For their propaganda, the Nazis drew on pre-Christian folklore, in which the werewolf is not necessarily an evil monster. As it turns out, belief in the ‘good werewolf’ continued even after the introduction of Christianity — as indicated by the appellation ‘Hounds of God’. According to this tradition, werewolves were the sworn enemies of witches, with whom they would do battle with in the night. A well-known example of this is found in the court case of ‘Old Thiess’ — the only man to openly admit to being a werewolf:

In October 1691, an elderly Latvian peasant sat patiently as he waited to testify at the trial of a fellow villager accused of stealing from the local church. Before he could do so, however, another witness laughed at the idea of this man swearing a solemn oath, since he was commonly known to be a werewolf. And when the man, known to everyone as “Old Thiess” (a nickname for Mātiss, the Latvian equivalent of Matthew), confirmed it was so, the court turned its attention to him.

Hours of questions and answers followed in a high-stakes struggle between decidedly unequal forces. For their part, the judges, and then the village pastor, pressed Thiess to acknowledge that as a werewolf he had given himself to the devil. This he staunchly denied, while admitting that he could change himself into a wolf and that he had, along with fellow werewolves, stolen livestock in that form. Most surprisingly, he described how his werewolf band entered hell at certain times of the year, not to serve Satan — as the judges insisted — but to fight him, with the well-being of people, herds, and crops dependent on the outcome.

Thiess sought not to deny the specific charge but to correct his accusers’ prejudices and instruct them on the true, benevolent, distinctly non-Satanic nature of werewolves, a group he understood far better than they (Lincoln)

The Austrian philologist Otto Höfler — who was also a committed Nazi — used the account of Old Thiess to advance his theory of the Männerbünde (the all-male ‘warrior-band’), who would dress in wolf-pelts and engage in orgiastic raids (as in the memorable scene in the recently released film The Northman (2022) — pictured below).

Höfler’s ‘National Socialist commitments led him to see the wild violence attributed to werewolves not as a slander to be rebutted but as the manifestation of admirable energies he associated with a primordial past’. In his own words:

The specific vocation of the Nordic race, its creativity in bringing states into being, found its proper fulfillment in the male societies (Männerbünde), giving them the possibility of flourishing in the richest manner possible. In the fullness of their power they constitute both a productive element and an aggressive force: fighting, educating, and dominating, they entered the history of the world (Höfler)

It is not a coincidence that the enemies of the werewolf Männerbünde would be the ‘highly sexed’ ‘consorts of the Devil’ — i.e. witches (see my post on this here). In these opposing archetypes, ‘God’s Hounds’ and ‘Devil’s Consorts’, there is man vs woman, repression vs liberation, abstinence vs promiscuity. The battle continues today with the incel shooter Elliot Rodger being an extreme example of the sort of misogynistic bloodlust suppression can create.

Which is not to say that liberation is a panacea. As the author Michael Walsh puts it in his criticism of Wilheim Reich:

What, after all, did “sexual liberation” accomplish? What positive good did it achieve? Other than providing men with greater, easier access to women, how did it improve anyone’s life? It promised us liberation from “sexual repression” (what teenaged boys used to call, sniggeringly, DSB), freedom from an old and tired sexual morality […] The more sex, it seems, the more heartbreak; the less “repression,” the less romance (Walsh)



Eddie Ejjbair

‘Gradually it’s become clear to me what every great philosophy has been: a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’