Werewolves - Myth or Reality?
Human with the Ability to Shapeshift into a Wolf

Werewolves - Myth or Reality?
Human with the Ability to Shapeshift into a Wolf

A werewolf or werwolf, also known as a lycanthrope, is a mythological or folkloric human with the ability to shapeshift  into a wolf or an anthropomorphic wolf-like creature, either purposely, by being bitten or scratched by another werewolf, or after being placed under a curse.

This transformation is often associated with the appearance of the full moon, as popularly noted by the medieval chronicler Gervase of Tilbury, and perhaps in earlier times among the ancient Greeks through the writings of Petronius.

Werewolves are often attributed super-human strength and senses, far beyond those of both wolves or men.

In European folklore, a man who changes into a wolf at night and devours animals, people, or corpses, returning to human form by day.

Some werewolves are thought to change shape at will; others, who inherited the condition or acquired it by being bitten by a werewolf, are transformed involuntarily under the influence of a full moon.

The werewolf is generally held as a European character, although its lore spread through the world in later times.

Shape-shifters, similar to werewolves, are common in tales
from all over the world, most notably amongst the Native Americans, though most of them involve animal forms other than wolves.

Werewolves are a frequent subject of modern fictional books, although fictional werewolves have been attributed traits distinct from those of original folklore, most notably vulnerability to silver bullets.

Werewolves continue to endure in modern culture and fiction, with books, films and television shows cementing the werewolf's stance as a dominant figure in horror.

Werewolves were said in European folklore to bear tell-tale physical traits even in their human form.

These included the meeting of both eyebrows at the bridge of the nose, curved fingernails, low set ears and a swinging stride.

One method of identifying a werewolf in its human form was to cut the flesh of the accused, under the pretense that fur would be seen within the wound.
A Russian superstition recalls a werewolf can be recognized by bristles under the tongue.
A werewolf is a human being who has changed into a wolf, or is capable of assuming the form of a wolf, while retaining human intelligence.

One method of identifying a werewolf in its human form was to cut the flesh of the accused, under the pretense that fur would be seen within the wound.

Belief in Werewolves

Belief in werewolves is found throughout the world and was especially common in 16th-century France.

Humans who believe they are wolves suffer from a mental disorder called lycanthropy. Lycanthropy is the ability or power of a human being to undergo transformation into a wolf, or to gain wolf-like characteristics.

The word werewolf is thought to derive from Old English. The first part, wer, translates as "man" (in the specific sense of male human, not the race of humanity generally).

The second half, wulf, is the ancestor of modern English "wolf"; in some cases it also had the general meaning "beast." A few references to men changing into wolves are found in Ancient Greek literature and mythology.

Herodotus, in his Histories, wrote that the Neuri, a tribe he places to the north-east of Scythia, were all transformed into wolves once every year for several days, and then changed back to their human shape. In the second century BC, the Greek geographer Pausanius relates the story of Lycaon, who was transformed into a wolf because he had ritually murdered a child.

The appearance of a werewolf in its animal form varies from culture to culture, though they are most commonly portrayed as being indistinguishable from ordinary wolves save for the fact that they have no tail (a trait thought characteristic of witches in animal form), are often larger, and retain human eyes and voice.

After returning to their human forms, werewolves are usually documented as becoming weak, debilitated and undergoing painful nervous depression.

Many historical werewolves were written to have suffered severe melancholia and manic depression, being bitterly conscious of their crimes.

One universally reviled trait in medieval Europe was the werewolf's habit of devouring recently buried corpses, a trait that is documented extensively, particularly in the Annales Medico-psychologiques in the 19th century.

Fennoscandian werewolves were usually old women who possessed poison coated claws and had the ability to paralyse cattle and children with their gaze.

Serbian vulkodlaks traditionally had the habit of congregating annually in the winter months, where they would strip off their wolf skins and hang them from trees. They would then get a hold of another vulkodlaks skin and burn it, releasing the vulkodlak from whom the skin came from its curse.

The Haitian jé-rouges typically try to trick mothers into giving away their children voluntarily by waking them at night and asking their permission to take their child, to which the disoriented mother may either reply yes or no.

Werewolves and Serial Killers


Transformation of a man into a werewolf is thought to behave in the similar manner shown in the movie 'The Howling'.

Many authors have speculated that werewolf and vampire legends may have been used to explain serial killings in less rational ages.

This theory is given credence by the tendency of some modern serial killers to indulge in practices commonly associated with werewolves, such as cannibalism, mutilation, and cyclic attacks.

The idea is well explored in Sabine Baring-Gould's work The Book of Werewolves. Until the 20th century, wolf attacks on humans were an occasional, but widespread feature of life in Europe.

Some scholars have suggested that it was inevitable that wolves, being the most feared predators in Europe, were projected into the folklore of evil shapeshifters.

This is said to be corroborated by the fact that areas devoid of wolves typically use different kinds of predator to fill the niche; were hyenas in Africa, were tigers in India, as well as were pumas and were jaguars of southern South America.

Various methods for becoming a werewolf have been reported, one of the simplest being the removal of clothing and putting on a belt made of wolfskin, probably as 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 rainwater out of the footprint of the animal in question or to drink from certain enchanted streams were also considered effectual modes of accomplishing metamorphosis.

The 16th century Swedish writer 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.

In Italy, France and Germany, it was said that a man or woman could turn into a werewolf if he or she, on a certain Wednesday or Friday, slept outside on a summer night with the full moon shining directly on his face.

Most modern fiction describes werewolves as vulnerable to silver weapons and highly resistant to other injuries. This feature does not appear in stories about werewolves before the 19th century.

Unlike vampires, they are not generally thought to be harmed by religious artifacts such as crucifixes and holy water. In many countries, rye and mistletoe were considered effective safeguards against werewolf attacks.

Mountain ash is also considered effective, with one Belgian superstition stating that no house was safe unless under the shade of a mountain ash. In some legends, werewolves have an aversion to wolfsbane.

Various methods have existed for removing the werewolf form. In antiquity, the Ancient Greeks and Romans believed in the power of exhaustion in curing people of lycanthropy.

The victim would be subjected to long periods of physical activity in the hope of being purged of the malady. This practice stemmed from the fact that many alleged werewolves would be left feeling weak and debilitated after committing depredations.

In medieval Europe, traditionally, there are three methods one can use to cure a victim of werewolfism; medicinally (usually via the use of wolfsbane), surgically or by exorcism. However, many of the cures advocated by medieval medical practitioners proved fatal to the patients.

A Sicilian belief of Arabic origin holds that a werewolf can be cured of its ailment by striking it on the forehead or scalp with a knife. Another belief from the same culture involves the piercing of the werewolf's hands with nails. Sometimes, less extreme methods were used.

In the German lowland of Schleswig-Holstein, a werewolf could be cured if one were to simply address it three times by its Christian name, while one Danish belief holds that simply scolding a werewolf will cure it. Conversion to Christianity is also a common method of removing werewolfism in the medieval period. A devotion to St. Hubert has also been cited as both cure for and protection from lycanthropes.