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Origins Of The Werewolf

Updated on June 28, 2011

A Lycanthrope

Werewolves’ origins have been traced back to the beginnings of mankind. Today’s’ concept of a werewolf, or lycanthrope, is someone who turns into a wolf during a full moon. But are there any facts to substantiate such a bizarre notion?

No doubt, modern day culture gets its perception of what a werewolf looks like from the many popular motion pictures and books concerning the subject. However, we assume these are fictional accounts. Are there any solid facts or are they just myths and fabrications? This question has perplexed civilization for over five centuries.

A werewolf is a person with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf-like creature on purpose, by being bitten by another werewolf or by a curse. The transformation usually coincided with the appearance of a full moon.

Jaws And Claws

Werewolves are often depicted as beings possessing incredible strength and senses, far superior to that of wolves or men. They have jaws and claws like a wolf, but far stronger and sharper. Fictional werewolves, however, have traits different from folklore. Such as, they can be killed by a silver bullet.

Shape shifters, similar to werewolves, are told in tales from around the world. They are especially common among Native Americans, although most of them entail animal forms besides wolves.

Controversy and debates still continue as werewolf sightings are still reported today. During the 15th to 17th century, Europe was under the influence of ignorance and superstition. However, their fear of wolves was not unfounded as wolf attacks were frequent and people feared to travel. Partially devoured human remains were not an uncommon find.

The First Recorded Sighting

It was in 1591 the first recorded werewolf sighting was reported. An ancient document describes the horrifying account in detail. A large wolf or what they believed to be one had been cornered and the townspeople set their dogs upon it. They pierced it with sharp sticks and other implements. To their dismay the wolf didn’t run away or attack. Instead, the beast stood up and discarded his wolf disguise, revealing a middle-aged man. He was Peter Stubbe, someone they all knew who lived in their village.

His fate was sealed after he confessed to killing 16 people, of which 2 were pregnant women, and 13 children. Stubbe’s had started practicing sorcery at the age of 12 and even tried to make a pact with the Devil. He began to believe he was a wolf and began attacking and eating people, one of which was his own son.

No punishment could fit the enormity of Stubbe’s crime. The villagers pulled his flesh off with red-hot pincers, broke his arms and legs and decapitated him. His dead body was then burned to ashes.

As time passed there came a point when stories told for entertainment were replaced by true incidents. Then accounts such as Stubbe’s started to emerge. People imagined werewolves were around every corner. In France alone about 30,000 people were accused of being werewolves. Many suffered harrowing interrogation and extreme torture. Whether they confessed or not many died at the stake.

There have been many attempts to scientifically explain away sightings of werewolves. One such explanation was a person may have had a disease called Hypertrichosis, or in laymen’s’ terms, “wolfitis”. It’s a condition of excessive body hair growth.

Another theory was attributed to a psychosis known as clinical lycanthropy, a defect in the part of the brain involved with body image distortion. A study of two people diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy revealed unusually high activity in this portion of their brains, suggesting people may be truly feeling their bodies are actually changing.

Greek mythology is not blameless in perpetuating the belief in werewolves either. The Greek god, Zeus, disguised himself and visited the vicious Arcadian King Lycaon. However, the King recognized him and tried to destroy the god by serving him human flesh. But, Zeus was on to the deception and refused to eat. Zeus destroyed the palace and sentenced Lycaon to spend rest of his life in the form of a wolf.

Even today there are people who believe they’re werewolves. Some of the lycanthropes, (people who believe they have changed into some type of animal) have been studied and treated by psychologists and psychiatrists.

In one study, a 20 year old man thought he was a werewolf. But his story was not totally convincing since he was a drug user who had used LSD. The drug affected the young man, who claimed to have grown hair on his hands and face. He was reportedly overcome by an overwhelming urge to chase and devour live rabbits. He stayed in this delusional state for several days.

Another werewolf patient, a 37 year old, was admitted to a hospital after numerous public displays of odd behavior, such as howling at the moon, sleeping in cemeteries, growing long hair and a beard or lying in the center of a busy highway.  Unlike the former patient, he had no history of substance abuse. This individual was later discovered to be suffering from dementia.

In terms of popularity, werewolves are second only to vampires. Some psychologists say belief in such things is only an appeal to our more basic animal instincts.  Whatever happened to things people could really believe in…like the tooth fairy?

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      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      I understand the belief in werecreatures are common in many older cultures. The idea of a man becoming a beast varied according to what native animal was feared. In indea it was weretigers, in africa werelions, in japan werefoxes.

    • JY3502 profile image
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      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      You are welcome Uriel. I had fun with this one.

    • Uriel profile image

      Uriel 6 years ago from Lebanon

      JY3502 this is really an interesting hub, i really apreciate your reference to mythology and case studies !

    • JY3502 profile image
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      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Well Martie,

      I have you to thank for the idea to write this. I took a look at your profile picture and.... LOL. Just kidding cutie.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 6 years ago from South Africa

      Very-very interesting Thank you for taking the time to do research and write this hub. I believe combined ignorance, imagination and superstition is and was the perfect fertile soil for the cultivation of great tales.

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      Amie Warren 6 years ago

      Werewolves are cool. I like them better than vampires. Nice hub.