Rougarou. Louisiana's Own Monster.
A Louisiana Werewolf
The season is deep into the fall. Trees and foliage still thick and green. The musty smell of moss ever present, the climate still warm with barely a chill in the air as dusk hangs for a brief time before giving way to darkness. Is it ever quiet? Thick undergrowth and leaves fallen from the canopy produce a constant crushing white noise as you push through the thin trees and bushes of the swampy woods near the bayou. A multitude of life constantly announces its’ presence from all around, unseen but known. You push through as the bugs and leaves and sticks brush and tickle and scratch across face and hands until finally emerging at the trail. It’s a thin trail but it’s the one to follow home. Walking the trail is much easier but as the light is limited to soft dimness before it will soon give way totally to the natural shade in the woods the inhabitants seem to turn up the volume. Screeching and singing and scratching and snacking. Many preparing to sleep as more begin to rise.
Walking at a normal pace, engulfed in the noise; they must come from just behind every tree and under every leaf. You should already be back, you should never be in these woods alone at night. Of course, that’s silly. What could happen with all this noise around? Are you really alone with this much wildlife, so busy and loud? Uneasy, you look side to side and realize the shadows are now too dense to see beyond the trail, save green and black, and red flickers as the failing light catches unseen things in the brush. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, best to keep walking, no rush. Deep breath, why is your heart beating so much? Anxiety creeps up as sudden guilt creeps across your heart. What if my family is worried, am I lost? The only light is the pale glow of the fresh moon allowed to pass through the growth above. Suddenly aware that a quiet has fallen around you, the absence of sound makes you uneasy. Why did I stop going to church, you wonder for no reason. Feeling unsettled without knowing why a chill creeps up your spine, each segment touched until cold panic slides into the base of your skull. Keep walking. Why am I breathing so quickly? It’s so quiet. Heartbeats are hard and wild. Don’t run. Deep breaths, no need to turn around, too dark to see.
Feeling a rising panic you can’t explain, you tell yourself a small prayer. Hearing a loud crack off the trail and the shuffle of undergrowth, crunching of leaves, large loud movement; near and approaching. You break into a full run, so fast you leave all thoughts behind.
Rougarou, Rougaroo. Loup-garou. A rose by any other name is still a werewolf. Maybe shapeshifter would be more appropriate. Though the origin of the name seems to be from the French term for a werewolf, the stories attributed to the name are not limited to wolfmen. The name itself seems to lead to a few very different versions of lore so, for my purposes, I want to concentrate on the Louisiana Rougarou.
The Rougarou was the first Cryptid I heard of that was from the same place as me. Does anyone else feel immediately connected to anything that shares any aspect of your own life or background? I do. Bobby Hebert. I’ve never liked football or team sports in general but when I was young Bobby Hebert was the quarterback for the Saints. The New Orleans Saints. Louisiana’s New Orleans Saints. I was born, raised, and lived in south Louisiana, my name is Bobby and on the other side of the island I lived on was a place called Hebert’s Landing. I’ve never watched a full football game but I still feel I like the Saints and Bobby Hebert was the best player they ever had. I think a little of that mentality is at play for me with the Rougarou; I don’t know much about them but still feel intimately connected.
Frankly, I always had a vague idea of the rougarou as a swamp version of the chupacabra. An oversized coyote with mange kind of mental picture. When looking for some lore on the rougarou in preparation for this, I didn’t find much of that at all. What I did find was kind of a mess of a cryptid. I’m not even sure this thing is real now. It’s at least one name associated with several different creatures. I was honestly a little disappointed by the lack of consistency. Was not expecting that. The twist on werewolf lore is cool though.
Somewhere between cautionary tale and cursed man exists the Louisiana Rougarou. Sometimes he’s what’s gonna get you in the dark when you’re a misbehaving kid, other times he’s what happens if you’re a Catholic not observing Lent. The boogeyman in the dark is nothing special but the religious angle of a shapeshifting cannibal monster is pretty interesting. The lore around the curse isn’t always rooted in Catholicism. There is also some talk of how to pass it on or cure yourself that has nothing to do with Lent.
Considering the name is thought to be a cajun adaptation of the French word for werewolf it seems most likely the curse was brought over by a French settler or traveler as far back as the late sixteen hundreds. If the Catholic faith is somehow related to the power of the curse, it would have been quite comfortable in the often Catholic area of south Louisiana. Plenty of potential victims to help propagate a curse of that nature.
As long as there have been people in the area there have been stories of monstrous and supernatural encounters. Many of those have been attributed to the Rougarou. The lore is inconsistent so it wouldn’t be surprising to learn some activities thought to be the work of a cursed cajun catholic were, in fact, perpetrated by one of the many other dark inhabitants of the swampland.
Who’s to say why a loved one disappears in the swamp? There is no shortage of reasons out there in the swampland. If the victim is known to be a lapsed Catholic, it could be the Rougarou has taken them, or they themselves have been cursed and out looking for the next to carry their dark covenant. It could also be some other beast, shifted or mundane. Just as likely, a will o the wisp has led them deep in woods until hopelessly lost. There is no shortage of sad history to drag one down in Louisiana.