Dark Secrets of Werewolf Trials: Curse, Madness, or Murder?

You might be familiar with Salem’s Witch Trials, but have you ever heard of the French Werewolf Trials? Join us as we explore the depths of hallucinations, clinical lycanthropy, and, quite possibly, a serial killer on the loose.



SpotifyApple PodcastsAmazon MusicGoogle PodcastsOvercastCastBoxPocketCastsRadio PublicStitcher


Like Sheep to the Slaughter

It seemed they finally had bitten off more than he could chew. Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun, two local French farmers, had found themselves facing trial for their carnal sins. But it wasn’t always this way… There was a time that their behavior was just doing the best they could for their line of work. It wasn’t their fault that the storm spooked his sheep. I mean, how was he to save his flock without THEIR help? 

It was 19 years prior when Pierre was running headlong into the worst storm he had seen in years. His sheep, obviously spooked, had scattered – and as their shepherd, it was Pierre’s job to see to their safety. But things weren’t fairing too well. Soaked to the bone, he desperately sought to enlist help from the local villagers but to his dismay, few offered a hand, and those that did fared no better at finding the lost sheep. 

Begging God in prayer, reminded of the parable in Matthew, he pleaded that he finds his lost flock before they ventured too far off, lest they be picked off by wolves. Pierre was already hard on cash, and these sheep were his livelihood.  But just then, it seemed his prayers had been answered; only it wasn’t God who came to his beck and call.

The sound of Hooves echoed across the dark, soaked hillside. Pierre turned to see three cloaked riders crest the hill, approaching him. He flagged down the mounties begging for just a moment of help. He would do anything with his might to repay them if they could just lend him a hand in finding his flock. One black-cloaked individual trotted his midnight steed forward and extended a hand down to Pierre. Sympathizing with his struggle, he offered up not a search party but rather a promise: Pierre, I heard your prayer, but I am not a man of faith. Renounce your God and your baptism, swear to never enter a holy service again, and pledge your fealty to me, and I promise you three things you desperately need: 

  1. Every sheep you own will find their way back safely on this very night. 
  2. Should you keep this pact between us a secret, I will protect you all the days of your life.
  3. I will give you more money than you should ever need. 

Pierre thought back to his prayers, closed his eyes for a moment to consider the offer, then reached up and took the shrouded man’s hand, drew it to his lips, and kissed the back of his icy fingers, pledging his life to the dark rider. Pierre was then given instruction to meet the man, who identified himself as Moyset, in the neighboring forest in five days should he wish to complete the ritual. The hooded riders then rode off into the stormy night. 

Shaken and baffled, Pierre made his way back to the farm to regroup and consider his choices. But as he approached the outer stables, he noticed something baffling: All of his sheep were rounding the hillside, marching in unison as they walked back to their safe place, almost as if being guided by an invisible force. 

The following day, Pierre met up with his fellow shepherd, Michel Verdun, to regroup after the previous night’s storm. But something about each man seemed off to the other. Before long, they were both recounting tales from the previous night about being approached by a “Dark Horseman.” And while the details of the committee remained a secret between the men, lest they violate the terms of their servitude, they both shared a similar experience. Both men were approached by a cloaked figure, offered a deal, and told to convene in the forest in five days’ time. 

Into the Woods

The next few days were a blur of excitement, anticipation, and nerves, but when the fifth day finally came, Pierre and Michel made their way to the forest. I’ll share the next leg of this story straight from Pierre’s supposed confession: 

In a wood near Chastel Charnon, we met with many others whom I did not recognize; we danced, and each had in his or her hand a green taper with a blue flame. Still under the delusion that I should obtain money, Michel persuaded me to move with the greatest celerity, and in order to do this, after I had stripped myself, he smeared me with a salve, and I believed myself then to be transformed into a wolf. I was at first somewhat horrified at my four wolf’s feet and the fur with which I was covered all at once, but I found that I could now travel with the speed of the wind.

This could not have taken place without the help of our powerful master, who was present during our excursion, though I did not perceive him till I had recovered my human form. Michel did the same as myself. When we had been one or two hours in this condition of metamorphosis, Michel smeared us again, and quick as thought, we resumed our human forms. The salve was given us by our masters; to me, it was given by Moyset, to Michel by his own master Guillemin.

Pierre Burgot’s Firsthand Account of Lycanthropy.

Pierre walked away, satisfied. After all, now, he could protect his heart, albeit a bit ironic that a wolf would do so. But that newfound ability, like many who find themselves in positions of power, began to go to his head. And the more salve he applied, the more those carnal instincts fought not to be ignored. Before long, Pierre transmuted into his wolf-like form and scoured the town looking for fresh meat. But when a long stretch of hunting wild forest creatures left the wolf-man hungry, he soon turned his eyes on… easier targets. 

His first victim was a 7-year-old boy who was out playing near the woods. After pouncing on the boy, Pierre drug the child into the woodbine, where he confessed to gorging on the Child’s flesh. 

For years thereafter, Pierre would slather himself in this ointment, transform into a wolf, and hunt down children, infants, and even full-grown adults, all in an attempt to satisfy his blood lust. He even went on record declaring his late night, um, “romances” with other local she-wolves. But sooner or later, his greed and power made him grow sloppy, ultimately causing his capture in 1521. 

On that final hunt, Pierre (In his wolf form, of course) happened upon a woman out picking peas and tending to her garden. His thirst for blood quickly overtook him, and he struck the woman down, brutally tearing into her neck before devouring her whole. Well, all except for a single arm that got missed in the slaughter. It didn’t take long for locals to find the woman’s arm lying behind a tree, and after following a blood trail, there they found Pierre, naked in his human form, covered in a swath of… well, let’s just call it evidence. 

The Newfound Power of Lycanthropy and the Curse of Being a Werewolf

The trial was held by maitre Jean Bodin prior at a Dominican convent at Poligny in France-Comté. A rather large crowd, anxious to put an end to Pierre’s murderous streak, gathered to witness his prosecution, and after a swift verdict, Pierre, along with Michel and a handful of other self-proclaimed werewolves, were sentenced to death by burning. The town rejoiced, and local priests posted accounts of the trial in the local church, reminding fellow believers of the dangers of making deals with the devil. 

But this was just the first in many werewolf trials that would take place. For the next 30 or so years, people caught in the act of heinous crimes and innocent folks in the wrong place at the wrong time alike were put on trial for deals with the devil and shape-shifting. Much like the also active Witch trials, these werewolf trials were the result of crimes, yes, but more so of people trying to pass the buck on their fears. But you know what they say. We often manifest the things we fear the most. 


Werewolf Trials of France

Depending on which account you read, Pierre Burgot’s trials vary from false accusations to downright serial killers. Some accounts claim this was a rebranded witch trial, while others claim Pierre straight up confessed to the crimes, like the account we covered just moments ago. But beyond the historical fact of fiction, what could have really been going on with Pierre Burgot, Michel Verdun, and the rest of those folks caught up by these dark riders? Well, there are a couple of possibilities I think you’d enjoy learning about with me here today. 

First, let’s circle back to that salve. There are a few different versions of this story circulated through history, but one thing they all seem to share in common is the application of some form of tincture or ointment that induced this lycanthropic state. But what is this salve? Well, given the time period, there’s a good chance this Lycanthropy Paste would have also gone by a different name: Flying Ointment. 

Flying Ointment was a concoction supposedly created by witches to give them the ability to, well, fly. Or, in some stories, it was more a form of astral projection. The cream had just a few main ingredients: First, we would need a base to contain the active ingredients. Fat-like lard would work okay for this, but according to lore, the best fat came from deceased infants exhumed from their graves. Next, we would need to extract the juices from a beautiful purple flower known as Monkshood, along with a herbaceous perennial known as Atropa belladonna. Oh, and throw in some wheat flower for texture. 

After mixing the paste, you would strip down to your birthday suit and slather yourself up with this concoction, and supposedly, witches would gain the power of flight, and men would take on their wolfish form. But as they say, the devil is in the details – or in this case, the ingredients. Never mind the baby thing, which serves no real purpose other than being dark and morbid; The other two main ingredients have interesting interactions when applied or consumed. 

See, monkshood, Also knowns as Wolfsbane or the Devil’s Helmet, contains extreme amounts of an alkaloid known as aconitine. Aconitine is a potent neurotoxin and cardiotoxin. As little as a single dram of this plant contains enough aconitine to cause respiratory failure. But when applied in small quantities to the skin, it has another interesting side effect, Paralysis. 

Couple that with Atropa belladonna, more commonly known as Deadly Nightshade – which is known to cause extreme hallucinations – and you get a winning combination in driving someone absolutely insane (should they live). 

Werewolves: Possible Explanations

So it probably goes without saying, but if Pierre and Michel were slathering up with this sinful salve, there’s a good chance they really were running around on all fours consuming children and farm workers. Though, I don’t know if their wolfish delusion cared over their victims as well. It’s a fair bet to say that such a mix of deadly ingredients could, in fact, induce what the DSM 5 calls “Clinical Lycanthropy.” 

Clinical Lycanthropy, a condition in which someone believes they have had moments of being a wolf, are currently a wolf, or can actively transform into a wolf, is a rare psychological phenomenon that has been documented for centuries. And interestingly enough, there are strong connections to Clinical Lycanthropy and the use of psychotropic drugs, not all that dissimilar to this so-called flying ointment. So did Pierre and Michel caught up in some twisted drug ring that sent them deep into psychosis? Were they serial killers who blamed their behaviors on dark forces to try and escape a more severe punishment? Was this all another witch trial case, and they just so happened to confess after hours of torture to crimes they didn’t commit? Or, were there, in fact, darker forces at play? 

Either way, I think we can all agree that, like many of our folklorish roots, the werewolf stories are tales worth chasing. 

If you love cryptids and want to learn even more about the creatures we just talked about, find us on Tiktok or Instagram. By the way, the episode you just witnessed is both a podcast and YouTube video, so whichever format you prefer, we have you covered. Also, check out our interactive cryptid map to browse the globe and learn about cryptids from your favorite areas. Every episode we make adds another pin to our map! You can find our social channels, the map, and more at thecryptidatlas.com. And when you find us, be sure to tap that follow button and get in on the action by dropping a comment on our recent videos. 

If you enjoy this show, consider sharing it on with a friend. Sharing the spooky love with someone else is the best compliment you could ever give us. And if you listen on Apple or Spotify, consider leaving an honest review to help other listeners know what to expect. 

Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *