Werewolves - Lycanthropy
Lycanthropy comes from the Greek lykoi, "wolf" and anthropos, "man"
The legend of the werewolf is one of the most ancient and wide spread. Stories of werewolves can be found as far back as history has been written. These shape-shifter myths can be found all over the word from China to Iceland and Brazil to Haiti.
Some of the earliest accounts of werewolves come from Romania and Greek sources. Ovid, in the Metamorphoses, told of King Lycaeon, who was visited by passing gods. Not believing them to be true gods he decided to test them by serving human flesh in one of the many dishes served at a banquet in their honor. Cannibalism being very frowned upon in that part of the world was a major slight indeed. Upon discovering the tainted dish, the gods changed King Lycaeon into a werewolf -- since he obviously liked human flesh, the wolf form would be a more acceptable form to take part in such a vile activity.
The most widely know story of the werewolf would be "Little Red Riding Hood". There are many ancient were tales to worn the fragile, small and easiest of targets -- children. "Little Red Riding Hood" features a wolf who talks to Little Red Riding Hood and then dresses in grandmas clothing to fool the innocent little girl. Not something any 'ol wolf could do.
The full moon has been linked to werewolves. Conversely, unlike movie werewolves, 'real' werewolves change shape voluntarily. In many myths they are witches who take animal form to travel unnoticed using either a potion made from magic ingredients - the fat of dead children, herbs, human blood - or an animal-skin. A 'real' werewolf changes completely, becoming the animal rather than a hairy human. The full moon business seems to be dramatic license. However it is an interesting notion since the full moon has been associated with creating madness in humans and to be a time during which man and beast have a magical connection.
Source : Henry Boguet (1550-1619). Author of the French witch-finder's bible, Discours des Sorciers, and Supreme Judge of Burgundy's St. Claude district, Boguet was France's most cruel inquisitor. Hundreds found themselves at the mercy of his torturers.
In the mountains of Auvergne, a story dating back to 1588 was told of a royal female werewolf. In the story, a nobleman was gazing out of his window and upon seeing a hunter he knew he told him to check back with details of the hunt. While in the forest, despite still being in sight of his master's chateau, the hunter stumbled upon a wolf. In the ensuing struggle, he severed one of the wolf's paws and placed the it in a pouch.
Upon returning to the chateau with his gruesome prize, he opened the pouch to show the nobleman evidence of his encounter. What they discovered was not paw at all, in fact, it the pouch now contained what looked to be a feminine hand bearing an elegant gold ring. The gentleman recognized the ring, sent the huntsman away, and sought for his wife. When he went came upon her in the kitchen, he found her nursing a wounded arm in the kitchen he removed the bandage only to find that her hand had been cut off.
Upon questioning her she finally admitted to being the wolf with whom the hunter encountered, and by her confession, she marked herself for certain execution -- in a matter of days she was burned at the stake.
In the Folklore of Norseman, there are many legends of warriors called Berserkers. They are band of ancient Norse warriors that are legendary for their savagery and reckless frenzy in battle. Fearing no one, feeling no pain, having superhuman strength and never surrendering are common characteristics.
Preparing for battle these warriors would attire themselves in skins from bears or wolfs. The term Berserker translates from old Norse to be "bear skin". There were also warriors who donned the wolf skins known as "ulfheobar" or "ulfhedinn" (wolf-coats) but they were eventually lumped together to be known as Berserkers.
The feeling was that once dressed with the skins of an animal, the warrior would take on the characteristics of that animal. Ynglingasaga records this tradition, saying of the warriors of Óðinn that "they went without coats of mail, and acted like mad dogs and wolves". A Byzantine emperor described the Berserkers in battle as being possessed by a ferocity and madness seen only in wild beasts. The term "berserk" was derived from the Beserkers.
How to Spot a Werewolf
As with witches, finding a werewolf largely seems to be a matter of looking hard enough. Some of the warning signs, according to the world's myths, are:
Born on the 25th of December
Eyebrows join in the middle
- Index and middle fingers are of the same length
Love of rare or raw meat
Hairs on the palms of the hands
Hair on the inside of the skin (that seems like a tough one to check!)
Will change back to a human if you throw a piece of iron or steel over its head when in animal form.
Listing of Were-Creatures/Shape-Shifters from around the world:
American Indians: limikkin or skin walkers.
Argentina: A fox-like werewolf lobizón or lobisón as well as werejaguars know as runa-uturungu
Brazil: lobisomem. There are also boto, a river dolphin that transforms into a boy, and a uirapuru - a small brown bird that transforms into a boy.
Canada: bearwalker (thanks to Seth!)
Chili: The chonchon shapeshifter is a witch that transforms into a vulture.
China: Lang Ren
Ethiopia, Morocco and Tanzania: The boudas is a sorcerer/blacksmith that changes into a werehyena. It often wears an ornament from its human form by which it may be recognized.
France: loup-garou is prevalent in France with the Beast of Gevaudan being the most famous documented case. Then there is the bisclavret which is a werewolf that cannot return to human form unless it can put its clothing back on.
Greece: vrykolaka is a catchall word for werewolf, vampire or sorcerer. The word lycanthropy, from the ancient werewolf-king Lycaeon, originated here.
Haiti: loup-garou can change into anything, both plant and animal.
Iceland: A hamrammr (from old Icelandic literature) is a werecreature that shifts into the form of the animal it has most recently eaten. Its strength increases with each animal that it consumes. The current (and more correct) word for werewolf is varulfur.
India: rakshasa or raghosh is a shifter who can change into any animal it wants and is characterized by its large size and color of hair (red or blond).
Indonesia (Bali): layak is a spirit that shapeshifts into humans, animals or objects and will cause mishaps, illnesses or even death.
Ireland & Scotland: The selkies are seals that take off their skins to become human. Dark-haired Celts may have their geneology explained via the selkies. Selkies are helpful creatures who watch over fishermen.
Italy: lupo mannero or licantropo s an Italian werewolf. The "Benandanti' were werewolves that left their physical bodies behind to become wolves at which point they would go to the underworld to fight witches.
Japan: The most popular werecreatures in Japanese folklore is the kitsune (fox) and the tanuki or mijina (raccoon dog or badger). The kitsune is usually a female, and the tanuki, a male. Collectively, shapeshifters are called henge.
Kenya, Africa: The ilimu is a man- eating shapeshifter that starts out as an animal, but can shift into the form of a man.
Latvia: vilkacis, meaning "wolf eyes" or "werewolf," is a shapeshifter that is usually evil, but occasionally offers treasures.
Lithuania: vilkatas is the Lithuanian version of the werewolf.
Mexico: nahaul is a werecreature that can turn into a wolf, large cat, eagle or bull.
Native Americans: Many different types of "skin walkers such as the Navajo Indians' skinwalkers, the Mai-Coh and the. Mohawk Indians limikkin.
Normandy, France: lubins or lupins look like wolves, but can speak and are very shy.
Norway and Sweden: eigi einhamir (not of one skin) has the ability to change into a wolf by wearing a wolfskin.
Panama: Tula Vieja has been and continues to be sighted in Panama on a regular basis. The creature takes the form of a very, very old woman or witch (bruja) with a crow's foot for a right hand. This child-eating shifter haunts all places dark and dismal, waiting to take anyone back to Hell with her that she can get her claw/hand on.
Persia: The Persians have a creature similar to the Indian rakshasa that pretends to be a harmless animal. It often attacks travelers.
Philippines: The aswang is a vampire-werewolf who transforms from a human to a canine form at night, and eats human flesh. The aswang also manifests itself as a decaying corpse that has been severed at the waist (in other words...it has nothing from the waist down)... with batwings. They are very closely related to the Berbalang ghouls of legend.
Portugal: The bruxsa or cucubuth is a vampire-werewolf that consumes both flesh and blood. The lobh omen would be your everyday werewolf.
Russia: The wawkalak is a werewolf who has been transformed as a punishment of the Devil. Not considered frightening by friends and neighbors.
Russia, Central: The bodark is a Russian name for the werewolf.
Scandinavia: The varulv much prefers beer to human flesh. Scandinavia is also home to the berserker (bearskin). There is also the ulfheobar (wolfskin), which is usually lumped in with berserker.
Serbia: The wurdalak is a werewolf that died and became a vampire.
Slovakia: The vlkodlak is transformed into a werewolf by the sorcery of another. It usually shies away from people.
South America: Kanima, a jaguar-shaped spirit that seeks and kills murderers.
Spain: The Spanish werewolf, or lob hombre, prefers pretty gemstones to human flesh.
United States: Native Americans have many different types of "skin walkers" (see above). There are wererats that are particularly rampant around Pennsylvania. The wererat skulks around at night, and prefers carrots with ranch dressing to human flesh.
Back to: Mythical Creatures | Races of Myth | Gods & People of Legend
or use the menu above