NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — New Orleans does Halloween like no other! In fact, we do life like no other. In celebration of a month of frights, WGNO News has the story of one of Louisiana’s most legendary inhabitants. The Rougarou is brought to life in the video above with the help of special effects makeup artist, New Orleans-based, Crystal Fudge, Fudge The MUA, LLC.
Nicholas R. Spitzer is a Tulane University folklorist professor and also the producer and host of American Routes, distributed by PRX and reaches about a million listeners each week on over 268 stations online. Spitzer is well-versed in the legends of Louisiana and certainly with the Rougarou.
If dogs represent companionship in the grand story of human evolution, the wolf represents something completely different. The wolf metaphorically represents the dangerous, mysterious, untamed nature in mankind A werewolf is at the intersection of both and is the embodiment of a struggle between a civilized being and a wild ravenous monstrosity. To some, the werewolf is a mirror that reflects our capacity to do both good and evil.
“They’re not popular in stories but we are drawn to them because they have power and we have seen more of them in modern culture. I’m a believer that the human condition is as much an art as it is a science, so I’m intrigued by things that you can’t always see but that you hear about,” says Spitzer.
The Rougarou or “Loop Garou” comes from the French word, “loup,” which means wolf, and “garou.” which is an animal shapeshifter. Written accounts of the French werewolf in the New World, dating back to the 1700s but there are older oral tradition stories of changelings in many Native American cultures, including the Houmas of South Louisiana.
“There are elders especially in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish that believe in the werewolf and may caution children with it. I worked for years in rural southeast french Louisiana and I really only encountered three people who knew the Rougarou from their own experience. One was an elder man that had made a little sculpture to show me who the Rougarou in the woods were,” says Spitzer as he unveiled a beautifully intricate wooden carving.
However, as well-known as the Rougarou is, it is a story that was once traditionally dangerous to speak about. Spitzer says, that many believe that if you reveal the name of someone whom you suspected was a werewolf, you could become one. Some people place objects on the doors of believed werewolves as a message to leave others alone. However, there could be serious confrontations between accusers and the accused.
“In Terrebonne parish that was a serious charge. It would be like saying there is this wild spirit among us. Certain things happen when there’s a suspicion that somebody is a werewolf or when something that looks like a dog might actually be a human,” says Spitzer.
Today, the Rougarou lives on in Louisiana, largely through a yearly Rougarou festival that takes place every October in Houma, Louisiana.
The Rougarou not only represents the wild side of man, but also the wild side of nature. Just like hurricanes, or pandemics, the Rougarou is a constant reminder that civilization is eternally under the ultimate power of nature, no matter how far removed civilization seems to be.