Cryptid Corner, Episode One

The Rougarou

Welcome to Cryptid Corner, an interview series with world-renowned cryptozoologist Dr. Veronica L. Raptor of the infamous Innsmouth Institute—who will offer you an up-close look at monsters from around the world. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Raptor has tracked the migration of jackalopes across the Sonoran Desert, made first contact with yetis displaced by climate change, and co-authored Silent & Deadly, a ground-breaking dictionary of Siren Sign Language.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Mangy-looking rougarou standing among the skulls of people it eats.
A rougarou in the New Orleans zoo.
photo: XxxJohnDoExxxx / Wikimedia Commons

EMILY C. SKAFTUN: Today Dr. Raptor is here to talk about an American monster, the Rougarou. Take it away, won’t you?

VERONICA L. RAPTOR: First of all, Emily, you know how I feel about the word monster. That term is grossly overused, and carries serious negative connotations that not all cryptids deserve. Though in the case of the creature lurking in the marshes of Louisiana, I’ll allow it.

Yes, the Rougarou is an American monster, though it’s actually descended from a European one. Like many things in and around New Orleans, you can blame or credit the French for this. The loup-garou, which loosely translates as “werewolf,” was the bogeyman of choice in medieval France. Parents would threaten misbehaving children by reminding them how much the loup-garou loved the taste of disobedience. It was also known that anyone who ignored Lent’s rules for seven years was in danger of becoming a loup-garou, a helpful fact for the Catholic church.

History does not record exactly when the first loup-garou arrived in the New World. They thrived in the swamps, growing larger and stronger than their Old World kin, and over time these were recognized as a separate species. The name loup-garou was Cajunified into Rougarou.

In addition to the Louisiana swamps, Rougarou can be found in the Canadian prairies, again, brought over by French colonists. The northern Rougarou cross-bred with the creatures Algonquins call Wendigo or Witiko, making them particularly hardy.

Some have hypothesized that the loup-garou in Louisiana cross-bred with alligators, though there’s little evidence to support this. Most cryptozoologists—myself included—believe that the increased size and strength of the Rougarou was a simple product of Darwinian evolution.

ECS: So is the Rougarou basically a werewolf?

VLR: Good question. Unlike the common werewolf, which changes predictably from human to wolf on full moon nights, a Rougarou can change at will. Its quote-unquote monstrous form is a mix of human and wolf: a tall, shaggy biped with a wolf’s head and glowing, red eyes. One huge difference from common werewolves is that merely looking into those eyes is enough to turn a person into a Rougarou.

ECS: Yikes! Is that the only way to become one?

VLR: Not even close. A person can also be turned Rougarou by being bitten by one, or by being hexed with lycanthropy by a witch or voodoo priestess. Or, as mentioned above, by being a lazy Catholic. According to the Cree and Metis peoples, a person can become a Rougarou through extreme greed or by engaging in cannibalism. But my favorite way to become a Rougarou is by simply talking about them.

ECS: Oh no! Are we in danger?

VLR: Only if we were speaking from direct experience. For example, if I’d killed a Rougarou or otherwise encountered one, the curse would transfer to me if I told you about it.

ECS: So you’ve never encountered one?

VLR: I’m gonna take the Fifth on that, for everyone’s safety.

So yeah, the bad news is that there are a lot of ways to become a Rougarou. But the good news is that in many cases, the Rougarou’s curse is temporary, lasting only 101 days. According to some, it only becomes permanent if the Rougarou kills a human within those first three-ish months. Others say the curse only wears off after 101 days if the Rougarou has drawn human blood.

ECS: So how do you kill a Rougarou? I’m guessing silver bullets?

VLR: More good news! Silver bullets are not required to kill a Rougarou; they’re as mortal as any human or animal. But I’d caution anyone reading this to only kill a Rougarou as an absolute last resort. Often a person will kill a Rougarou, only to watch the dying beast transform back into a close friend or family member. It’s really best to trap them and wait out the 101 days. If you’ve still got a Rougarou at the end of that time, consult an expert for advice.

ECS: That sounds like an invitation to me! Readers, you know who to contact when your 102-day-old Rougarou won’t stop chewing the bars of its cage. Dr. Raptor, where would you suggest readers go if they want to see a Rougarou?

VLR: Well first of all, I’d ask your readers why they want to do something so stupid. Remember, by the time you see its eyes, you might already be infected with lycanthropy! For a safer alternative, check out the annual Rougarou Festival in Houma, Louisiana. I’m not sure if it’s ever been attended by real Rougarou—perhaps only in human form—but it’s got a costume party, parades, music, carnival rides, pumpkin lighting, and a Narrative Stage for sharing folklore. You can also see a stuffed Rougarou any time of year at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

ECS: For the legal record: Rougarou are dangerous creatures and Cryptid Corner does not recommend you seek them out. That being the case, what can our readers do to protect themselves from these monsters?

VLR: The most dangerous part of a Rougarou is not its brain. One way to protect yourself in Rougarou territory is to leave 13 small objects, like coins, by your door or window. The Rougarou will attempt to count them, but they can only count to 12. So it will start over and over, and its frustration will trap it there until sunrise, when it becomes human again.

ECS: Really? Why does it care how many coins are there?

VLR: That’s just one of the many things we still don’t know about these elusive creatures. ECS: There you have it, folks. Join us next month when I’m told Dr. Raptor will introduce us to a very special Nordic cryptid.

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