Lincoln Memorial University

Helton Studies Werewolf Mythology in Cajun Culture

heltonwerewolfHARROGATE, Tennessee, August 6, 2019— Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) senior English and psychology double major Alisha Helton, of Harlan, Kentucky, traveled to Louisiana to learn more about the mythology of werewolves in Cajun/Acadian art, literature and even childrearing.


Helton interviewed Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet, a folklorist, musician and poet, in Lafayette, Louisiana in July. Ancelet is the French-language Poet Laureate of Louisiana and has written many scholarly works, as well as award-winning poetry, under the pseudonym Jean Arceneaux.


Ancelet gave an in-depth interview about the centuries-old folklore of werewolves and its relationship to identity in French-speaking Louisiana. As French settlers driven from Canada by the British in the 1700s, the Cajuns struggled to maintain their own identity and traditions while establishing new homes in an English- and Spanish-speaking territory. They use the “loup-garou” or werewolf as a symbol of change and fear in art and poetry. Cajun children were (and still are) taught to fear the werewolf could harm them if they wander astray in the wild swamp or from the safety of the church. 


“Human nature paradoxically consists of both the desire to be morally benevolent and the desire to participate in damaging levels of self-serving behavior, which is exactly what the werewolf represents,” Helton said. “This is why some of the earliest recorded literature right up to present-day pop culture grapples with these myths. It's a perpetual human conflict."


Mentored by Dr. Sandra Weems, LMU assistant professor of English, Helton began her research after discussions in a course about narrative and medicine.

“I shared a medical journal article about clinical lycanthropy (werewolf-ism) with her,” Weems said. “It is a rare, but very real mental disorder that physicians are currently studying – a literal identity crisis, in which the patient actually believes he or she is transforming into an animal.”


Helton will present her interdisciplinary research at the Appalachian College Association (ACA) Summit in September. 


Helton received the Colonel B. Ledford Scholarship, which provided funding and support for her research. The Ledford Scholarship, named for Colonel Lee B. Ledford, offers financial assistance for summer research projects to undergraduate students enrolled at Appalachian College Association (ACA) member institutions. Undergraduate students from any disciplines are eligible, and a variety of fields of study have been supported in the past in the natural and health sciences, the social sciences, the humanities and so forth, applying various methodologies.


Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies.  The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423.869.6280 or e-mail at [email protected].




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