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What is a Werewolf?
According to Wikipedia, a werewolf or occasionally lycanthrope is a mythological or folkloric human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf (or, especially in modern film, a therianthropic hybrid wolflike creature), either purposely or after being placed under a curse or affliction (often a bite or scratch from another werewolf). (Wikipedia)
No one really knows the exact place the werewolf legend came from. It is popular in many different areas and has appeared at different times in history.
Some think that the first mention of a werewolf was in The Epic of Gilgamesh. In the story, a woman interested in Gilgamesh had turned her previous partner into a wolf. (History) This story was written in 2700 BC. (University of Idaho) When I think of older stories having to do with beasts, I think of Beowulf, which was written in 1000 AD. (CSIS) The stories of these monsters have been around for centuries.
Another early appearance of werewolves was also in Greek mythology. This was the story of Lycaon. Lycaon was the son of Pelasgus. Lycaon made a meal for the god Zeus. This angered Zeus afterwards because he found out that he had been served the remains of a sacrificed boy. Zeus punished him by turning him, and his sons into wolves.
There was also an early story from Nordic folklore. This story was called The Saga of the Volsungs. In this story, a father and son found wolf pelts that contained magical power. These pelts had the power to turn anyone into a wolf for ten days. The father and son put on these pelts. After transforming into wolves, they ran into the forest and killed many things. This all ended when the father attacked his son. His sons injuries were lethal but he survived after they received help from a healer. (History)
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There are many different versions of the story of the werewolf. This includes different versions on how people turn into werewolves. The most well known today, is by the bite. The bite is a curse and acts as a disease. If a werewolf bites a human then that person will turn into a werewolf on the next full moon and continue to for the rest of their life. I’ve also heard versions where it’s hereditary.
The folklorist Carol Rose wrote a book called Giants, Monsters, and Dragons. In this book she wrote that in ancient Greece, it was believed that people could transform into wolves by eating the meat of a wolf that was also mixed with a human’s. She wrote that it was believed to be an irreversible process. This reminds me of the Wendigo. She also wrote that after centuries, more methods appeared that people believed would turn them into a werewolf. One method was being cursed. Another was being conceived during an actual full moon. There are tons more including eating certain herbs, drinking water that has been touched by a wolf, or even sleeping under the full moon on a Friday.
There are many versions of the story that claim there is a way to stop the curse of the werewolf. Some say it can be reversed and some say the only way is to kill the animal. Ian Woodward wrote in The Werewolf Delusion (a book about lycanthropy as a disease), “he may be cured medicinally and surgically; he may be exorcised; and, the most drastic, he may be shot with a special bullet,” (meaning most likely, a silver bullet). (Live Science) In other versions, the werewolf who turned them can be the cure. If the main werewolf is killed, then supposedly all of the werewolves they turned will go back to normal.
During the witch trials, werewolves were also a belief among people. Some people were accused of being werewolves. Some accused people of being witches who turned people into werewolves. During that time, it was heavily believed that witches were the main cause of the werewolves creation. (Wikipedia) This isn’t really surprising though, considering there was a major witch hunt going on at the time.
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Truth in the Curse?
This isn’t just a story. There have been people who have claimed to be werewolves. There are people who have claimed they’ve seen them.
There is a few medical conditions that could be the cause of this, meaning that maybe there is some truth to this story after all. These have been lycanthropy, food poisoning, hypertrichosis, rabies, and the process of hallucinations caused by most likely some kind of psychdelic drug. (History) The form of clinical Lycanthropy is a medical condition. It causes people to believe they are actually an animal. In certain cases they believe they are werewolves. (Live Science)
Hypertrichosis could explain some of these beliefs. Hypertrichosis is a condition where a person’s body produces unusually long hair. Some with the condition are fully covered in body hair. (Live Science)
Real Life Situations
There was a German man by the name of Peter Stubbe who claimd he was a werewolf. He was believed to have clinical lycanthropy. He claimed to have a wolf skin that could turn him into an actual wolf. He said it caused his body to morph and caused him to crave human blood. This man claimed to have killed at least 12 people over the span of 25 years. In 1589, he was sentenced to death after a forced confession. He was executed. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this because the only evidence of his crimes was his forced confession. Also that he was believed to be mentally ill. (Live Science)
It is believed that many “cases of werewolves” are actually “cases of serial killers.” France was one of the most notorious for these kinds of cases. One of them involves two men by the name of Peirre Burgot and Michel Verdun. Supposedly, they had sworn allegiance to the devil. They claimed they had some kind of ointment that would turn them into werewolves. They confessed to killing multiple children. They were executed by being burned at the stake. (In 1521, burning was thought to have been a way to kill a werewolf.)
There was another case in 1725 involving a boy named Peter. He was found in a German forest. He was naked and wandering on all fours like a wolf. Many believed that he was a werewolf or that he had been raised by wolves. He ate with his hands and wouldn’t speak. (History)
“Research has shown Peter likely had Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a condition discovered in 1978 that causes lack of speech, seizures, distinct facial features, difficulty breathing and intellectual challenges.” – History
The story of the werewolf has been around for a long time. There are so many different versions of it. It is one of the most popular legends in the world inspiring millions of different things– movies, television series, book, comics, etc. It is a pretty strange legend but it definitely has to be one of the most interesting. I’d say it’s one of my favorites. I’m not going to say I believe in the werewolf curse but I will say there is probably some truth to it. I’m saying this while considering all of the possibilities, including medical ones. But what do you believe? Do you believe in the curse of lycanthropy?
Photo from The Horror Dome
By the way, if your interested in the legend, check out some of the things it has inspired: