NEW ORLEANS — The loup garou , feu follet and cauchemar --fearsome or malicious spirits that followed French settlers to Louisiana hundreds of years ago--still haunt the bayou darkness, folklorists say.
At least they have found that the spirits still exist in some folks' minds.
"Lately, there was a student who left school because he said there was a cauchemar in the dorm. And he wasn't staying where there was a cauchemar ," said Dr. Patricia Rickles of the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
The cauchemar --pronounced koosh-mahr--is a nightmare spirit that chokes and suffocates people in their beds, said Rickles, a folklore specialist in the university's English department.
She said she has interviewed hundreds of people over the last 30 years and some still believe in the cauchemar and feu follet (fur-fo-lay)--a malicious spirit known in English-speaking countries as the will o' the wisp.
"This is a little demon or spirit which takes the form of a light," Rickles said. "It's mischievous and makes people get lost. They think they see a house or camp, go toward it, and they get lost or drown.
"It seems to happen most when someone has had a few drinks."
Around Bayou Lafourche, a few people still believe in the loup garou or rougarou --a human who has been turned into an animal, said Patricia Perrin of Nicholls State University.
"People have very serious arguments about whether it's ' rougarou (roo-guh-roo)' or 'loup garou (loo-guh-roo),' " Perrin said.
And there is a third variant: warou , pronounced "wah-roo."
Whatever you call them, it's not easy to find people willing to admit that they believe in the spirits.
"It's kind of hard to walk up and say, 'Do you believe in the rougarou ?' and have them say, 'Oh, absolutely,' " Perrin said. "But they always tell you about people who have had an experience with one. And they seem to be affected, themselves, by the tales."
Sometimes a White Pig
The loup garou is most often a wolf, she said. Even though loup is French for "wolf," the spirit is sometimes a white pig, Perrin said, and loup garou dogs and chickens have been described. Most often they are white, but other colors occur.
Although some loup garous are out for blood, she said, most are people who just want to be released from the spell that changes them into animals and forces them to wander aimlessly by night.
"The only way he can be released from the spell is to provoke someone to draw blood," Perrin said.