Myths and Legends of Limousin: Werewolves, Witches and Vampires

The two ruined towers of a chateau, Creuse. This wild countryside was the haunt of wolves as recently as 1926. Photo by Gilles Joyeux
The two ruined towers of a chateau, Creuse. This wild countryside was the haunt of wolves as recently as 1926. Photo by Gilles Joyeux

Limousin: the Land of Wolves and Witches

Limousin has been called The lake District of France, because the Limousin region has so many lakes, rivers and streams. Every town has its own lake and beach.

Limousin is also called Hidden France, because it is so little known. It is the farming heart land of France, sparsely populated with small cottages, farms and tiny villages, it was perfect for the growth of stories and legends. The legends of Limousin frequently feature wolves, werewolves and witches, however the Limousin region, you'll be pleased to hear, seems to be relatively vampire free!

Limousin is wild! Large areas of Limousin has been designated as natural parks because of the natural beauty, unspoilt woodlands and meadows and rich wildlife. The Parc naturel régional Périgord-Limousin and the Parc Naturel Régional de Millevaches en Limousin are just two areas dedicated to preserving this wilderness and enhancing the natural heritage of the area.

Perhaps it's the very wildness of the area that has ensured there's still a strong tie to the past here, to nature and to the wolf in particular. The last wolf in Limousin was killed within living memory. We still have witches in Limousin, or ' guérisseurs ' (healers in French), who practice the arts of healing still today, and the Wolf Sanctuary in the Creuse, Les Loups de Chabrieres, keeps the spirit of the wolf alive in Limousin today.

Vampires in France

Saint Matin at Abbaye Saint-Martin du Canigou, France, features in The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Saint Matin at Abbaye Saint-Martin du Canigou, France, features in The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova | Source

My favourite vampire book - The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

“But what comes to my mind are mountains of savage beauty, ancient castles, werewolves and witches – a land of magical obscurity”.

This is a quotation from the best-selling book ‘The Historian’ by Elizabeth Kostova and she is describing Transylvania, but if you replace the word ‘mountains’ with 'hills', then this description goes a long way to summing up both the magnificence and mystical qualities of Limousin, this hidden region of France.

The Historian is about Vampires and part of the story centres around a monastery perched on the top of a mountain in the south west France.

This breath-taking building is just north of Perpignanand if you're inspired to visit it, you might well choose to break your journey in Limousin and learn more about our folklore and legends in this hidden part of France.

Stay with us at our homely farm and rest a while and conserve your strength for the climb to that miraculous monastery, perched high above the mountain town of Vernet-les-Bains Abbaye Saint-Martin du Canigou.

Where is Limousin?

show route and directions
A markerGueret -
Wolf sancturary
[get directions]

C markerRochechouart -
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Wolves on the streets of Rochechouart
Wolves on the streets of Rochechouart

Vampires and the wolf in France

If you are lucky with your dates, or have had the foresight to plan accordingly, you could make sure that you stay in Rochechouart for the Medieval Festival, normally held mid August. The festival includes, music, dancing, jousting, costumes, animals, including wolves on the streets, and finishes with a medieval feast. The main dish of this meal is pork from the whole pigs roasted on the roadsides during the afternoon. The whole festival takes place in the shadow of the massive and imposing chateau de Rochechouart. It sits on the rocky promontory overlooking the confluence of the rivers Vayres and Granine.

The wolves bear witness to the central place the wolf still has in the memory and imagination of Limousin people. The Limousin region, you’ll be relieved to know, is relatively free from Vampires, you can see the distribution of the Vampires on this handy map, but there has always been a strong correlation between the wolf and the vampir. In the original Dracula by Bram Stoker (P 15), he explains, “’Vrolok’ or ‘Vlkoslak’, both of which mean the same thing. One being Slovak and the other Serbian for something that is either were-wolf or vampire. Later in the same book (P 29), Stoker writes,

“Listen to them – the children of the nights. What music they make!”.

The cry of the wolf is, indeed blood-curdling, and you can get a good idea of the fear that the wolves would have incurred from this video recording of the howling wolves.

Les Loups de Chabrieres - Listen to the howling of the wolves

Books about wolves and werewolves

The wolves of Chabrieres

Les Loups de Chabrieres, or The Wolves of Chabrieres is an animal park dedicated to the wolf in the highlands near the the town of Gueret in the Creuse department of Limousin. This wolf sancturary is a tribute to the memory of the wolf in Limousin.

You might think that the wolves are part of the distant medieval history or the fanciful legends of Rochechouart; but here you would be wrong. Wolves roamed Limousin at the start of the 20th Century – in living memory. The last of the wolves was killed in Chateauneuf-la-Forêt (just 30 kilometers from our Bed and Breakfast) in 1926.

The local library has a great number of children’s books about wolves – it was this that first alerted me to the fact that the wolf was of great local interest. Conservationists would like to bring back the wolf, but the farmers are, understandably, not too keen on this. As a compromise a park was established in 2001 for the wolf at Chabrieres, just outside the town of Gueret. The park is devoted to the history and legend surrounding these mythic creatures. You can also visit the planetarium, which takes advantage of the dark night sky of the Creuse. In the summer you can attend the nocturnal story-telling sessions, 'Spells of the Full Moon' which keep alive the legends and mysteries of times past.

La Pierre du Loup, Creuse

This stone, in the heart of the Forest of Chabrieres near La Cabane à Parrain Rocher, bears witness to times when villages lived in fear of wolves; this is the place where they reputedly slaughtered the young cubs.

Chateau de Rochechouart
Chateau de Rochechouart

The Story of the Werewolf of Rochechouart

This story is recounted by monsieur Pierre Louty, ‘Limousin Ensorcelé’

The Werewolves, or Loups-garous in French (though in the local patois, the languages of the grandmothers of this region, they are known as lous leberous), are thought to be in league with the devil himself.

The loups-garous run through the countryside in the night at full moon in the skin of a wolf, tormenting those souls who have the misfortune to be about so late. It was thought, in the Limousin that the curse is passed from parent to child when a gift is made of the skin upon the death of the were-wolf.

They were wolf, according to these Limousin legends, has develish talents. They can cause hail to fall from the sky, destroy a neighbours crops or to steal the fat from the cow. The Abbé Duléry, in a book consecrated at Rochechouart, wrote:

Once upon a time, a century or so ago, the commune of Rochechouart contained a village called Roumagnat. In this village there was a family who suffered from this curse. The father, in the skin of the wolf, tormented his neighbours, especially those at Biennat, until, one day he fell ill. He looked around for someone to continue this mischief, and chose a nephew whom he called to his bedside. “Here,” he whispered, “take this as a symbol of my affection for you, for I am about to die. Take this present and don’t show it to anyone". The boy, thinking it to be a great treasure was full of joy. He opened the pack at nightfall and immediately the skin jumped upon his back. Suffocating, the boy arrived at La Crois de Blancharaux where, that very night, they celebrated the sabbat.

The Limousin was not only infected with werewolves, but was also plagued with Sorcieres, or witches and superstitions, beliefs and stories abound.

Witches and witchcraft in Limousin

On the 24th April 1630 the last person to be executed for witchcraft in Limousin, was killed on the site of the gardens d’Orsey, just outside the city walls of Limoges. The story comes originally from Pierre Robert (1599 – 1658) Lieutenant-General of Dorat. He tells of an explosion of witchcraft in the commune of Sereilhac, near Aix-sur-Vienne. Three old men were accused of having bewitched a young woman and a boy and numerous other people complained of “Malheurs”. The men were taken to Royal prisons of Limoges. Eventually these men were sentenced to be strangled, then hung. Their bodies were then burnt and their ashes were thrown onto the fire. When the third man was strangled, it was said that a demon in the form of a giant hornet sat on his shoulder, near his ear. When it flew of it buzzed horribly and left a trail of smoke from its tail. The woman and child, who attended the execution, declared that they had seen six small devils taking away the soul of the man, and this was backed up by many notable witnesses.

And accusations of witchcraft and black magic was not restricted to the poor and weak, but touched the highest in the land. Françoise de Rochechouart, the Marquise de Montespan, an astonishing beauty and a favourite of king Louis XIV was accused of taking part in black masses.

Again Pierre Louty is the main source for this material. You can find the stories in the book Sur les Sentiers de L’Histoire Limousine.

The Fountain of Notre Dame de La Paix, one of the many healing springs of Limousin
The Fountain of Notre Dame de La Paix, one of the many healing springs of Limousin

Health and the healers of Limousin

Health and healing were at the very centre of life in Limousin. Many of the fountains were thought to have waters that could heal various ailments and other ancient sources required that certain rituals were practiced and that they were linked to a particular saint. These were called Bonnes-Fontaines a Devotions. The picture is of the fountain de Notre Dame de La Paix in Saint Auvent. The notice behind says "On the 25 February 1853 the 9th apparition of the Virgin Mary commanded Bernadette to 'Go and drink of the fountain, and wash in it'. It was an invitation for internal purification".

There were many other recourses to magic and superstition in order to cure the sick. At the beginning of the 20th Century every village would have had its own healer. The sick would first consult the doctors, and, should that fail, they would go to their local 'gueriseur'. This is especially true of the 'herds' of people who pass by the surgeries of these modern-day witches. They were generally from the country, farming people first and foremost and the secrets of healing were passed down from one generation to another. They gave this service freely and didn't accept payment.

This is a story about a Limousin healer, Amelie the witch

Or how about some not too scary books to read to kids at Halloween?

Best Halloween Stories for Kids


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Your thoughts on Limousin healers and werewolves or the Vampires of France? 6 comments

Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 3 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France Author

Blond?


jack diggerz 3 years ago

There are rumours of a sorceress in haute vienne.. Try blond


Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 6 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France Author

Many thanks for the kind words, iskra1916. Thanks also for reminding me that it is nearly time for Halloween. Must get going with those seasonal hubs.


iskra1916 profile image

iskra1916 6 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

Great hub for this time of year!

Top marks!


Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 6 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France Author

James, I used to love going to Whitby when young: great landscape, exciting coast line, best fish and chips and still love Whitby jet jewellery. Is so much more than the Dracular story.


James Mark profile image

James Mark 6 years ago from York, England

Another fascinating description. Having lived in Whitby, North Yorkshire for 12 years, the reference to Bram Stoker is interesting, though I find it irritating that the richness of Whitby's Christian and maritime heritage is often overshadowed by the Dracula story.

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