Dr. Yrigoyen: Or How Argentineans Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Their Werewolves

In the last couple of years, a large number of Boyfriend’s friends from school and college have had a rash of babies. Boyfriend, while always very happy for them, sometimes reacts to news of this nature by slumping into the couch and exclaiming, “Wow. We’ve reached the age where all our school friends have kids!” Of course, if you know Boyfriend, this reaction is unsurprising. He has trouble dealing with the aging process (entering his mid-thirties, in case you were wondering – SO old, right?). And to my amusement, one of the ways in which his struggle manifests itself is in his reaction to the events of our friends’ lives. Five years ago he gazed into the distance and said, “Wow. We’ve reached the age where all our friends are married.” Three years ago he wistfully commented, “Wow. We’ve reached the age where our friends are getting divorced.”  Last year he noted with a sigh, “Wow. We’ve reached the age where our friends are having extramarital affairs.” (What? Relationships are tough, ok? Stop judging my friends.) Last week when an old friend – the latest to have pushed a soft, squishy, and mostly bald human being into the world – called to say that she would like Boyfriend to be the baby’s godparent, it once again triggered mixed reactions from him. On the one hand, Boyfriend way terribly pleased at having been chosen for the responsibility. On the other hand, he had another dang-I’m-getting-old pang and said, “Wow. We’ve reached the age where we have godkids!”

But it turned out that in this particular instance Boyfriend’s fascination with the idea of being godparent was greater than his unwillingness to confront the oh-so-dreaded mid-thirties. After he heard the news he tinkered around the house for a bit, deep in thought, and then looked up and said this:

“Did you know that in Argentina since 1920, the President is the official godparent of every seventh son born to a couple?”

Oh. Right. So the reason why you’re excited about your newfound position of godparent is because you now have something in common with the President of Argentina. Swell.

There’s a pretty cool story behind this, though. Cool and weird and awesome (but don’t tell Boyfriend I said any of those things).

In 1920 Juan Hipolito Yrigoyen, then President of Argentina, put a very strange new custom into the place: effective immediately, the nation’s President would be the official godfather of a few select newborn boys, to whom he would present a medal at baptism, and a scholarship for education until the age of 21. Who were these select newborns, you may ask, the chosen ones? They were seventh sons, specifically seventh sons born in an unbroken row of boys to the same two people. Why seventh sons? Because Argentineans believed that every seventh son born in an unbroken row of sons to the same couple turns into a werewolf. For realz.

Originating in Guarani mythology, the legend of the werewolf, or Lobison, found its way to Argentina through Brazil. In the early 1900s the idea caught on like fire that if a couple had seven sons in a row – unbroken by the birth of a daughter – the seventh son would turn into a lobison on a Friday night during the first lent after he turns thirteen. (Yes, they’re sure it wasn’t just puberty.)

According to legend (and presumably after the customary running into the forest, stripping clothes off, having painful spinal transformations aided by spectacularly bad CG, and howling at the moon, as seen in the next video) these seventh sons-turned-lobisons roamed the forests and survived on carrion. Pretty harmless, right? Wrong. They also attacked human beings on sight, and as is clearly scientifically established, humans attacked by werewolves turn into werewolves themselves. (Public Health Notification: This is also known to occur with zombies and some tribes of vampires.) At its extreme, this is the worst kind of contagion, the stuff the CDC’s most horrific nightmares are made of. And so the people involved dealt with it just the way you’d expect a species with rare higher intelligence to deal with a legend such as this: they started killing seventh sons. Well, ok, maybe they didn’t all kill them – the best among them merely abandoned these future-werewolves at birth. But the worst murdered them. And there were plenty in this latter category.

In came Dr. Yrigoyen, with a huge crisis to solve, and little more than religion and a handful of money at his disposal. Lucky for him, these two things hold the kind of sway over our species like few other things do. Yrigoyen decided that every seventh son (born in an unbroken… you know this) would be declared the godson of the Argentinean President, would be presented with a gold medal at baptism (Gold. Not Silver. Dr. Yrigoyen had done his homework.), and would be given a scholarship to cover costs of education until he reaches the age of 21. The gesture made these boys symbolically fall under the state’s protection, and the abandonment and murder of seventh sons dropped dramatically over the next few decades. In 1973 the practice was officially passed into law, and Argentina continues the tradition to this day.

Of course, no century-old tradition can pass without a wrinkle, especially in a country that has seen more than its share of authoritarian leaders and dictators. In 2010, during the trial of former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, one of his godsons pleaded in court to have his relationship with the ex-President formally annulled. Under Videla’s bloody and horrific rule a great number of Argentines disappeared overnight. One such man’s wife was pregnant with their seventh son at the time he was taken away, and four months later, when the boy was born, Videla showed up at the baptism, medal and all, and pledged himself as the godfather. The seventh son in question was 33 years old at the time of the trial, but I understand – if the choice was between turning into a werewolf and having your father’s murderer as your godfather, I would totally go with werewolf. (And then I would use my human contacts to set up a lobby demanding better CG effects during transformation, but that’s for later.)

Funny thing is, the Guarani legend applies to seventh daughters too, but no one bothered with them because they don’t turn into werewolves, merely witches. I guess on the scale of creatures-that-don’t-actually-exist-but-the-world-would-be-so-much-cooler-if-they-did, werewolves are probably scarier than witches. Or maybe it’s just easier to tie witches to a stake and burn them, rather than finding some silver to make bullets out of, in a land that the metal was named after. Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that humanity has valued its sons far more than its daughters, and matters pertaining to the latter have always been less urgent. Whatever the reason, at least something turned out well for girls.

Want to know more? Go here. And here. And read here about how this year, Cristina Kirchner became the first Argentinean President to be the godparent of the child of a lesbian couple. It’s a daughter, not a son. And it’s the first, not the seventh. But in a conservative catholic country with little support for gay rights, I guess a child in this situation is considered condemned to a fate worse than being a werewolf. Ergo, this is a huge step in the right direction. And for all of Kirchner’s faults, I really do respect her push for progressive social values in the country.

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