A Look At Lycanthropy, Shape Shifters, and the Werewolf Phenomenon:
By: Anthony Milhorn
"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."
--- "Beyond Good and Evil." By Friedrich Nietzsche, Chapter IV: Apophthegms and Interludes
"A werewolf (also lycanthrope or wolf man) in folklore and mythology is a person who shape shifts into a wolf, either purposely, by using magic, or after being placed under a curse", according to Wikipedia. However, the werewolf is more than any simple monster, or imaginary friend. Every culture has a word for a werewolf. Below are some of them:
Spanish: hombre lobo
Bulgarian: varkolak, vulkodlak
Irish: faoladh, conriocht
It would seem that the werewolf is a worldwide mono-myth. While the world is full of shape shifters, this article will deal with the most familiar. The werewolf.
One of the oldest tales of a werewolf comes to us from ancient Greece, starting with a man named Lycaon. King Lycaon, in Greek mythology, was the son of Pelasgus and Meliboea, father of Oenotrus and the mythical first king of Arcadia. He was the father of Callisto and, according to some, he raised her son Arcas. Lycaon had thrown a banquet one evening with his 50 impious sons. When one of the guests coming to the banquet arrived, someone mentioned to Lycaon that the guest was in fact, Zeus, king of the Gods. Lycaon, ever cynical, decided to test the guest's divinity by serving him a special meal.
A meal of human flesh. Some say that Lycaon slew and dished up one of his own sons, Nyctimus.
Setting the meal before the guest, Lycaon watched the reaction, and he did not have to wait long, for the guest was indeed Zeus. Pushing the plate away in disgust, Zeus unleashed his fury at the deception upon the sons of Lycaon, and killed them with blasts of lightning. Turning on the king, Zeus had a special punishment for the deceitful ruler.
Zeus commanded that Lycaon would spend the rest of his eternity as a wolf, but could regain his human form, if Lycaon abstained from human flesh for ten years.
Screaming, Lycaon was transformed and ran from his palace and into the darkness of the woods beyond.
Thus, we have the oldest, and perhaps best-known origin story for a werewolf, and something more.
The word " lycanthropy" comes, in fact, from King Lycaon.
This is by no means the only origin story for the werewolf. In fact, there are as many origins and beginnings in every culture as there are names for this creature. Many authors have put forward the idea that stories of werewolves (and vampires) may have been used to explain serial killings in less enlightened ages.
This theory is given credence by the tendency of some modern serial killers to indulge in practices (such as cannibalism, mutilation and cyclic attacks) commonly associated with the attack of a werewolf. The idea (although not the terminology) is well explored in Sabine Baring-Gould's seminal work The Book of Werewolves.
A recent theory has been proposed to explain werewolf episodes in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ergot, which causes a form of food borne illness, is a fungus that grows in place of rye grains in wet growing seasons after very cold winters. Ergot poisoning usually affects whole towns or at least poor areas of towns and results in hallucinations, mass hysteria and paranoia, as well as convulsions and sometimes death. (LSD can be derived from ergot.) Ergot poisoning has been proposed as both a cause of an individual believing that he or she is a werewolf and of a whole town believing that they had seen a werewolf.
However, this theory is controversial and not well accepted.
Some modern researchers have tried to use conditions such as rabies, hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth over the entire body) or porphyria (an enzyme disorder with symptoms including hallucinations and paranoia) as an explanation for werewolf beliefs. Congenital erythropoietic porphyria has clinical features, which include photosensitivity (so sufferers only go out at night), hairy hands and face, poorly healing skin, pink urine, and reddish color to the teeth.
There is also a rare mental disorder called clinical lycanthropy, in which an affected person has a delusional belief that he or she is transforming into another animal, although not always a wolf or werewolf. Others believe werewolf legends arose as a part of shamanism and totem animals in primitive and nature-based cultures. The term therianthropy has been adopted to describe a spiritual concept in which the individual believes he or she has the spirit or soul, in whole or in part, of a non-human animal.
Now that we know what a werewolf is, a man who turns into a wolf and back, we shall examine some of the finer points to this rich folklore, which runs so much deeper than films and cheap scare flicks portray.
First, there are many "facts" about werewolves. Such as a full moon brings about a transformation and that a silver bullet will kill a werewolf.
However, is there any legendary basis for these ideals?
The Full Moon: Real or Not?
We see it so much. The full moon makes a werewolf transform. But is it true?
In fact, werewolf transformations have been known to happen at all times of the year, full moon or no. However, the full moon has much symbolic meaning. The moon is called Luna. Full moons are traditionally associated with temporal insomnia and insanity (hence the terms lunacy and lunatic). Psychologists have found that there is no strong evidence for effects on behavior around full moon.
They find that studies are not consistent, with some showing a positive effect, while others will show a negative effect. In one instance, the December 23, 2000 issue of the British Medical Journal published two studies on dog bite admission to hospitals in England and Australia. The study of the Bradford Royal Infirmary found that dog bites were twice as common at Full Moon, while the study of public hospitals in Australia found they were less likely at Full Moon.
Psychologists point out that there is a difference between correlation and causation. The mere fact that two events happen at the same time does not mean that there is a cause and effect relationship between the two.
In history, as stated before, werewolf transformations were reported occurring at all times of the year, and not necessarily on the full moon.
The Silver Bullet: Death Of A Werewolf:
The general belief that silver can be used to defend yourself against a werewolf comes from the story The Beast of Gévaudan from 1764 to 1767. A magician named Joan Chastel blessed a silver bullet (throughout mythology silver is the only metal to "share" its magical property as a whole, in short bless one you bless them all) and seriously wounded the werewolf. Even though it did not die it had been shown that silver had become a powerful tool to aid the humans. The beast was never captured and the story will dealt with below in detail later. But silver, as the moon metal, has long been said to be able to cure or kill werewolves.
This is another untruth, as many werewolves in folklore and personal stories seem to be as mortal when changed as when in human form, and just as easily injured.
There is a story of a knight who was in love with a beautiful woman. On the way to her house, he was attacked by a large wolf. He used his sword and cut off the wolf's right front paw.
Thanking God for his survival, he continued to his love's house, a ways down the road.
When he arrived, he found his love being tended to by a physician.
She was missing her right hand.
Knowing the truth about the woman, the knight proceeded to kill her and end the threat of a werewolf.
Or so says the story, found in the book " Werewolves" by Daniel Cohen.
Therefore, it seems that werewolves are not as invincible as movies like Dog Soldiers lead us to think.
Common sense will tell you that any change of the magnitude of a physical shift from one species into a completely different one in the span of a few minutes would be excruciatingly painful. Having your bones, organs, tissues and body parts shrink, change, grow, vanish all together and move around seems to be a rather unappetizing spectacle, and medically speaking, it is. The facial structure change alone would be enough to drive a person into shock from sheer agony.
But, do these transformations actually occur? Do people actually turn into wolves?
The short answer is actually very surprising, as most shape shifters and werewolves seem to claim that a physical, or P shift, is among the rarest and most difficult of all.
That means that if they do not transform, then how can they be werewolves?
Astoundingly, there are many ways to accomplish the transformation according to lore, but first we will deal with the most popular.
The physical change. What brought it about? How did people become werewolves?
Historical legends describe a wide variety of methods for becoming a werewolf. One of the simplest was the removal of clothing and putting on a belt made of wolf skin, probably a substitute for the assumption of an entire animal skin, which also is frequently described.
In other cases the body is rubbed with a magic salve. To drink water out of the footprint of the animal in question or to drink from certain enchanted streams were also considered effectual modes of accomplishing metamorphosis. Olaus Magnus says that the Livonian werewolves were initiated by draining a cup of specially prepared beer and repeating a set formula.
Ralston in his Songs of the Russian People gives the form of incantation still familiar in Russia. It is also said that the seventh son of the seventh son will become werewolf. Another is to be directly bitten by a werewolf, where the saliva enters the blood stream.
According to Christian belief, to become a werewolf is only possible through a curse, or through a pact made with the Lucifer, and voluntarily submitted to, and that for the most loathsome ends, in particular for the gratification of a craving for human flesh. "The werewolves," writes Richard Verstegan (Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, 1628), "are certayne sorcerers, who having annoynted their bodies with an ointment which they make by the instinct of the devil, and putting on a certayne inchaunted girdle, does not only unto the view of others seem as wolves, but to their own thinking have both the shape and nature of wolves, so long as they wear the said girdle. And they do dispose themselves as very wolves, in worrying and killing, and most of humane creatures."
Such were the views about lycanthropy current throughout the continent of Europe when Verstegan wrote. The ointments and salves in question may have contained hallucinogenic agents.
In Galician, Portuguese and Brazilian folklore, it is the seventh of the sons (but sometimes the seventh child, a boy, after a line of six daughters) who becomes a werewolf. In Portugal, the seventh daughter is supposed to become a witch and the seventh son a werewolf; the seventh son often gets the Christian name "Bento" (Portuguese form of "Benedict", meaning "blessed") as this is believed to prevent him from becoming a werewolf later in life.
The belief in the curse of the seventh son was so extended in Northern Argentina (where the werewolf is called the "lobizón"), that seventh sons were abandoned, ceded in adoption or killed. A law from 1920 decreed that the President of Argentina is the godfather of every seventh son. Thus, the State gives him a gold medal in his baptism and a scholarship until his 21st year. This ended the abandonments, but it is still traditional that the President godfathers seventh sons.
Being bitten by a werewolf is also a historical way to become one, and not just a creation of the films. However it is reported to be a very rare method, as the victim rarely survives the encounter. The methods for reverting the transformation were as varied as the ways to initiate it, often involving taking off the belt of skin, or washing off the salve. When brought about by a curse, the change back to human form was only possibly when a certain criteria of the curse had been met, such as in the case of King Lycaon.
Several Christian saints are known for having placed curses on people and turning them into werewolves. Omnes angeli, boni et mali, ex virtute naturali habent potestatem transmutandi corpora nostra ("All angels, good and bad have the power of transmutating our bodies") was the dictum of St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Patrick transformed Vereticus, a king in Wales, into a wolf; and St. Natalis cursed an illustrious Irish family with the result that each member of it was doomed to be a wolf for seven years.
In other tales the divine agency is still more direct, while in Russia, again, men are supposed to become werewolves through incurring the wrath of the devil.
So if physical transformations are the most violent and rare, what about all these other werewolves? How do they change?
The answer is many ways. Below is a list and and a description of each:
*Lucid Dream Shifting
1.) Sense Shifting:
This type of shift is simply when one or more of the normal five senses shifts into a lupine state, resulting in an increased ability in the changed sense.
2.) Wild Shifting:
Wild shifts occur when a shifter lets go and a more wild, primal instinct takes over. A lot of what happens while in this state usually happens involuntarily and the shifter may have trouble holding back a growl or any other animal like urges. It can grow so intense at times that the shifter may even feel might have to hold back a real physical transformation. Any shift where there is an amount of control given up or lost to the "wild" instinct within is considered a wild shift.
3.) Dream Shifting:
A Dream Shift occurs when a lycanthrope becomes a wolf or werewolf in their dreams. The change is often involuntary, which means "it just happens". Lycanthropes usually have less control over what they do in this form of shifting because, unlike Lucid Dream Shifting, they are unaware that they are dreaming. A Dream Shift still happens in a normal dream, the only exception is that the dreamer can shape shift.
4.) Lucid Dream Shifting:
The difference between Lucid Dream Shifting and Dream Shifting is that with Lucid Dream Shifting the lycanthrope is aware that they are dreaming and therefore the change is usually voluntary. They know that they are dreaming and shape shift by true will and desire. As with regular lucid dreams, Lucid Dream Shifting experiences are just as vivid, sensual, and very realistic, the closest thing you can get to a Physical Shift.
5.) Astral Shifting:
An Astral Shift occurs when a lycanthrope enters a spiritual trance, travels out of body to the astral plane, and shifts there. Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference between Lucid Dream Shifts and Astral Shifts, lucid dreams being just as real, but Astral Shifts are sometimes associated with "psychic" experiences as well, such as : dream sharing, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis. Astral Shifts are also said to be more spiritual in nature. This is what shamans and medicine men do in native tribes.
6.) Mental Shifting:
Mental Shifting, as the name implies, deals with the mentality of a lycanthrope. This, of course, varies from person to person, but there seems to be a common thread. The most common is an ability that I too have experienced. It is the ability to shut out all human sapience, that constant dialogue playing in our heads, human thought. Then, the senses become acutely heightened. It is a lot like what the Army calls "Condition Orange", only our instincts and reactions are more lupine. Mental Shifting deals also with any shift that is felt but does not physically happen. A Phantom Shift (Described below) is one such shift.
7.) Phantom Shift:
This form of shifting is usually associated with Mental Shifting, but is more specific as it deals only with the sensation of shifting or the feeling of being their phenotype. For example, the shifter may feel like they have fur and the feeling is so real, so intense that they have to check just to be sure they not P-Shifting! However, there will of course be no fur. This is where the term "Phantom Tail" or "Phantom Muzzle" comes from. It is a Mental Shift in which the feeling is there, but the transformation and/or the attributes of the phenotype cannot be physically seen.
8.) Auric Shifting:
Aura shifting consists of shaping one's aura. It is mainly done by instinct, but it can be shaped by will. It often happens when the shifter finds themselves in a dangerous environment. They will shift, looking very much the same but their soul has changed shape, for added protection. Much like how auras have different colors, it can be shaped into an anthropomorphic shape as well.
9.) Physical Shifting:
The rarest and possibly impossible method for the change to occur. It involves the body changing, physically, into the wolf. The sheer amount of energy to mass conversion alone makes it highly, very highly, unlikely for this to occur. This is the type of change most promoted in film and literature, both ancient and modern and often the most sought after by those who feel they are lycanthropes or therianthropes.
The Werewolf Trials:
Sightings and werewolf attacks obviously became so bad that people began to be arrested and tried, and in some cases, tortured and executed for the crime of being a werewolf. Similar in period and methods to the Salem Witch Trials, the Werewolf Trials were a virtual bloodbath as people were captured, brought to trial, tortured for confessions and publicly executed. It was as if people believed that werewolves were everywhere. The trial records for the crime of lycanthrope increased at an epidemic rate. In France alone between 1520 and 1630 some 30,000 individuals were labeled as werewolves, many of them underwent traumatic interrogation and torture.
Confessed or not, most of them suffered vile death at the stake. Methods of telling whether one was a werewolf or not were often brutal and completely useless, including the horrible belief that a werewolf held his fur on the inside of his human skin while in human form. A case from the later 1500's shows that a man was brought to trial for werewolfism and refused to confess. To ascertain the "truth", court officials tortured the man, and systematically cut off his arms and legs, and dissected them to see if he had fur growing on the inside of his skin.
It was found that he did not, of course, but the poor man died of shock and blood loss but was given an innocent verdict.
This went on and into the late 1600s, when the practice eventually, thankfully, died out. Nevertheless, many innocent people were sent to their graves.
True Werewolves: The Dark Side Of Lycanthropy:
The Dark Man Cometh:
One of the most gruesome true accounts of werewolfism comes from France in 1521, being the case of Pierre Burgot and Michael Verdun.
Nineteen years prior, in 1502, while Burgot was desperately trying to gather his flock of sheep, badly frightened by a storm, he came across three men on horseback. Each man wore black clothing, and each horse was as black as sackcloth. One of them assured him the future protection of his sheep and gave him some money. In return, the stranger asked Burgot to obey him as The Lord. Burgot accepted the offer and agreed to meet them again. In the second meeting the so-called Lord announced the full conditions of the deal; Burgot must denounce God, the Holy Virgin, the Company of Heaven and baptism.
Burgot forswore everything he believed in, and gave allegiance to the man known only as The Lord. For years, he served, doing The Lord's bidding, until at one meeting, The Lord gave him his reward; a magic ointment that would change him into the shape of a wolf at will. Instructing Burgot to strip naked and rub the cream on his body, The Lord left, leaving Burgot and his new confidant, Verdun, with the substance. Eager to see if what they were told is true, the two men did as told and were instantly transformed into ravaging monster wolves.
They committed their last act and were caught in the process of mauling a small boy. The boy survived but he was the only victim to do so, albeit scarred.
During the trial, they confessed their crimes adamantly, proudly, and told everything to the judge. Appalled, the men were summarily executed, ending their reign of terror. A drawing of the men was put up in local churches to remind the townspeople that Satan's influence is everywhere…
The Wolf Boy:
There is a record of a child werewolf as well. He was Jean Grenier of Aquitaire. His story was more or less like that of Burgot. When his father had beaten him, he ran away from home and wandered around the countryside. One evening another boy named Pierre La Tihaire took him to the depths of the woods. According to them, the Lord of the Jungle was there. He was a tall black dressed dark man upon a dark horse. The Lord got off his horse and kissed Grenier with icy lips.
In the second meeting both of the boys submitted themselves to the acclaimed Lord who scratched tattoos on their thighs as brands. He brought out a wine bag and gave them a drink. He also presented them wolf skins and an ointment. The Lord taught them how to rub their bodies with the ointment before putting on the fur.
During their reign of terror fifteen children including one from Grenier's cradle disappeared. When finally Grenier was caught in 1603, he confessed of eating them all. At that time he was fourteen, physically and mentally retarded.
Taking into account of his age and limited mental capacity, the Judge ordered Grenier to be confined in a cloister for life. There he refused to eat any regular food and devoured offal instead. Seven years later when a man called Pierre de Lancre visited him, he had grown gaunt and lean. His deep-set black eyes were like fireballs, hands were like claws with bent nails and teeth were like canines. Apparently he enjoyed hearing about wolves and readily imitated them. After one more year he died, to be remembered forever in the anal of werewolves as the "boy lycanthrope".
The Beast Of Gévaudan
The Beast of Gévaudan was a creature that terrorized the general area of the former province of Gévaudan, in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France, from about 1764 to 1767, with its victims totaling well over 100, possibly as high as 300 slaughtered people. The Beast of Gévaudan was described as being a wolf like creature the size of a cow with a wide chest, a long sinuous tail with a lion-like tuft of fur on the end, and a greyhound-like head with large, protruding fangs. It was also noted making huge leaps approaching thirty feet in length (estimated from tracks).
The first attack that provided a description of the creature took place in May/June of 1764. A girl from Langogne was working a farm in the Forêt de Mercoire when she saw a large, wolf like animal charge from the trees in a straight line toward her but was driven away by the bulls from the farm's herd of cattle. More attacks followed over the next three years.
The victims were almost entirely children (of both sexes) and women. The widely (historically) accepted figures are fifteen women, sixty-eight children, and six men (figures of those dead, another 30 wounded or mauled). Some sources place the number of victims higher, and the numbers are hotly disputed. The Beast's preference towards women and children is thought to be since women and children worked the countryside farms in small pairs or alone making themselves easier targets. Men, however, tended to have objects that could be used as weapons, sickles, etc, and often worked the fields in large groups.
On January 12, 1765, Jacques Portefaix and six friends, were attacked by the Beast, drive it away by staying grouped together. Their fight reportedly caught the attention of King Louis XV, who gave 300 livres to Jacques and his six friends. The King then sent professional wolf-hunters Jean-Charles-Marc-Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval and the huntsman's son Jean-François, to kill the beast.
Following two more hunts and a very large grey wolf being brought down, people thought the attacks were over. But on December 2nd, 1765, the Beast attacked again in la Besseyre Saint Mary, severely injuring two children. Dozens more deaths are reported to have followed, all brutally mauled with a peculiar feature: the hearts had been eaten out of the victims. The creature had a strange method of killing, often ignoring the usual areas targeted by predators, including the legs and throat and instead concentrating on the head, cutting it off and sometimes crushing it.
It also seemed to have a particular taste for humans, as even when cattle and other farm animals were more easily attainable it often ignored them completely to attack the person tending them. A standing statement is that during many accounts, the creature seemed to have a fear of cattle.
The killing of the creature that eventually marked the end of the attacks is credited to a local hunter, Jean Chastel, at the Sogne d'Auvers. Nevertheless, some say that this is not the true beast and still believe the creature to roam the hills.
Various explanations were offered at the time of the attacks. They ranged from exaggerated accounts of wolf attacks, to a loup-garou (werewolf), all the way to the beast being a punishment from God, to being an unholy creature summoned by a sorcerer. Current opinions offer up the interesting theory that the attacks were actually a serial killer, or group of serial killers, using wolf attacks to cover their own murders.
Also sometimes mentioned are the theories that the beast may have been a Dire Wolf, a marginally larger, extinct relative of modern wolves; as well as the theory that the animal may have simply been an escaped captive exotic animal such as a hyena or lion. Certain cryptozoologists believe that it may have been a mesonychid, while other individuals may think it is a creodont.
To this day, a statue remains in the town to remember the dead and the young lives cut short and to remember the shot that killed the beast, fired by Jean Chastel, who’s decedents still live in the area.
Modern Day Beliefs On Werewolves:
Clinical lycanthropy is a rare psychiatric syndrome that involves a delusional belief that the affected person is, or has, transformed into an animal. It is named after the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which people are said to physically shape shift into werewolves. The word zoanthropy is also sometimes used for the delusion that one has turned into an animal in general and not specifically a wolf. Clinical lycanthropy is a rare condition and is largely considered to be the idiosyncratic expression of a psychotic-episode caused by another condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or clinical depression.
The Spiritual Therianthropy Subculture
A widespread misperception is that people stopped claiming to be werewolves at the end of the Middle Ages. Not only did it not stop, but also there is an entire subculture of people in existence today who claim to be werewolves (or weretigers, or werefoxes, or even stranger things).
"Claim to be werewolves" is a statement that needs to be qualified, however. Most of these claims seem to involve a different variety of werewolf than the kind that probably pops into your mind when you think "werewolf". In fact, very few of these people claim to transform in a physical way, though most of them do claim to have characteristics that would not seem out of place in the average werewolf novel, such as extra-keen senses and a mystical affinity with the wilderness, while less than 5% claim to be able to physically shift.
The spiritual therianthropy subculture did not really get going until the Internet made it much easier for spiritual therianthropes to find each other. Then the lone individual and tiny groups of spiritual therianthropes (who had always thought they were the only ones in the world who felt this way) began gathering at the newsgroup alt.horror.werewolves and other similar websites, including the modern day sites, such as the Werewolf Cafe'.
This was what was going on in the early 1990's. During this time, alt.horror.werewolves was a kind of support group for spiritual therianthropes. There was an attitude of optimism, and it was a gathering place for sober adults to come and talk about feelings and experiences, which they had always thought, were taboo. It was a time of great acceptance, learning, and an unusual level of maturity. The terminology and slang of the spiritual therianthropy subculture began to develop for the first time, and people began to classify and study all the reports.
Most people in these groups are sincere, honest kind people who believe they have the ability to shift (remember that shifting is not always physical) into an animal form, and they have formed a way of life around this. However, some, like role-playing gamers, and immature teenagers and nasty minded people, have began to flood the places these people use to discuss their experiences with useless and often insulting spam. Regardless, the werewolf/shifter is not dead, but merely in another form, alive and well, even in the 21st century.
So, while the movie monster of the werewolf may not exist, werewolves as a creature were at one time heavily believed in, and still are in some places. What are we to make of the stories of transformations, dream walks, and shamanistic voyages to the netherworld where the lines between human and animal become blurred? We may very well never know. But as with ghosts, demons and the other unseen denizens of this world, the werewolf still sparks something primal within each of us, as we realize, that we, as organisms, are not so far apart from our animal neighbors after all, and in that realization, we have the chance to understand the mysterious ways in which Nature works.
Are werewolves real?
There are many interesting things in the world, Personally I think they are real, just not the monsters or movie dramatized versions that some people see them as.
Last edited by Udrasul (2011-05-29 17:09:29)
Very nice. This pretty much summarizes all the research I've been doing these past few months for my book. ^^ Thanks for posting!
i believe that they are only hybrids. they exist but they are being called the wrong name.
A very well-written report on the mythology and reality of the lycanthrope. Well done.