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Werewolf Vs. Lycanthrope

Updated on March 4, 2012

The werewolf, a classic creature in horror that roams the night on a full moon, killing anyone and anything that crosses its path. What makes a werewolf? What are the defining qualities and what makes them different from a...

Lycanthrope. A creature of tradition, powerful and deadly. A curse... or a blessing? What compels a person to willingly accept this into their veins? Acceptance into the pack or is it something more primal?
Read on to find out what the difference is between these ferociously dangerous figures and to discover the history that brought about their birth.

Using simple etymology and derivations we can carve the clearest picture that distinguishes between these two fascinating creatures. A lot of people are under the impression that a "werewolf" and a "lycanthrope" are the same thing. I've even discovered that quite a few individuals I've spoken to personally were not even aware of them being two separate things, and hadn't heard of the term "lycanthrope," or rather "lycan," until the popular Underworld movies came out.

"Werewolf" comes from Old English wer or were- meaning man and the ancestor of modern English wulf- which I'm quite sure you can figure out. This basically translates to man-wolf.

"Lycanthrope" comes from a different background, deriving in Ancient Greek. Lykos- meaning wolf and anthropos- meaning human, lykanthropos or lycanthrope. These two pieces can be put together to form wolf-human, easier understood as wolf-man.

Why so technical? I believe these two creatures should be understood as separate entities. Both have similarities but it would be as simple as saying a Polar Bear and a Grizzly Bear are the same, which they are not. So notwithstanding the likenesses, I'm going to go into detail about what makes these two beasts, two separate beings.

Face of the "Wolfman." The original 1941 movie did a good job defining this iconic creature
Face of the "Wolfman." The original 1941 movie did a good job defining this iconic creature | Source

Traits of a Werewolf

  • Is forced to transform by light of the full moon
  • Has no control or memory of the actions committed during said transformations
  • Is considered to be a man whose body is hideously mutated to that of a wolf
  • Is contracted through bite or scratch and is incurable and uncontrollable

Werewolf- the Howl on a Full Moon

Common knowledge exists about werewolves, you've heard of them. They're normal people that upon the light of a full moon is horrifically transformed into a big scary animal that will tear your throat out the first chance it gets. The werewolf is an urban legend that has been said to originate in Europe and many of these beliefs are tied with the history of Roman Catholicism. Along with witches, werewolves were believed to be aligned with the Devil and that there were ways to discover if one was a werewolf, even in human form. History and scientific method would prove the outlandish claims of these "facts" now but from an unbiased view, that was all that anyone could do to calm the fears and worries of God-loving/fearing people.

Werewolf-ism has been attributed to magical means, ritualistic means or even viral. Nowadays, pop culture loves to leave it up to whomever can come up with the most original and tasteful version, which I have no issue with if it has some grounding at all with the folklore it came from. I can point out several instances where the lines of werewolf and lycanthrope were blend together creating an anthropomorphic wolf-like creature.

Werewolves are indeed a frequent subject of modern fiction, although fictional werewolves have traits connected distinctly to those of original folklore. For example, the ideas that werewolves are only vulnerable to silver bullets or that they can cause others to become werewolves by biting or wounding them derive from works of modern fiction. Werewolves continue to endure in modern culture and fiction, with books, films and television shows permanently leaving the werewolf's stance as a dominant figure in horror.

A very accurate depiction of what I consider a lycanthrope, tail and all.
A very accurate depiction of what I consider a lycanthrope, tail and all. | Source

Traits of a Lycanthrope

  • Willingly accepts the blood of the wolf into their veins
  • Can shape-shift at will, any time, into their wolf forms
  • Is generally more like a wolf standing upright like a man than a man disfigured into a wolf-like body
  • Is part of a group or pack of other people who have willingly accepted the blood

Lycanthrope- More than a Man

So what makes a lycanthrope different from a werewolf? The word lycanthrope comes from lycanthropy- referring both to the ability to transform oneself into a wolf and to the act of doing so. It's become such a popular subject that it is sometimes referred to as clinical lycanthropy to distinguish it from its use in legends. Despite its origin as a term for man-wolf transformations only, lycanthropy is used in this sense for animals of any type. This is because a patient may believe he or she is, or has transformed into, an animal and behaves accordingly.

The first mentioning of a lycanthrope is actually in Greek mythology and dates back to king Lycaon of Arcadia. King Lycaon, in the most popular version of the myth, killed one of his sons and, to test and see if Zeus was really omniscient, fed him to the king of the gods. This of course turned out horribly wrong for Lycaon and for his insolence was turned into a wolf, he then bore witness as Zeus slaughtered the rest of his family. (Zeus really can't take a joke) There are actually many different tellings of the myth but that's the coolest one in my opinion as well!

Now that only covers a bit of it, as far as modern interpretations go. Lycanthropes aren't unwilling thralls to the curse that binds them each month. It is usually spiritual or ritual and becoming one is the acceptance of your usefulness and loyalty to a particular group. It's sometimes clan or family based, a very good example most would be aware of is in Twilight, the clan that Jacob belongs to are not considered werewolves by the standards in folklore. They would, by all intents and purposes, be considered lycanthropes. However in the movie, it shows them becoming entirely wolf, if a little large, this would be considered a shape-shifter or anthropomorphic trait.

Lycanthropes are more manlike in form than werewolves, this can also be based on opinion but then you are getting into anthropomorphic creatures or shape-shifters (as mentioned above). A werewolf is a man turning into a feral, instinctive and violent monster that has no control, it has no sentience to prevent itself from committing harm. It is usually an ugly, half-man half-wolf creation. That is a werewolf. A lycanthrope is a man who transforms with the traits of a wolf. Having sentience, even sometimes speech, its body becomes entirely covered in fur and its features become distinctly wolf. It is a wolf-man.

A werewolf from, "An American Werewolf in London." A very good depiction of a werewolf, if a little more wolflike.
A werewolf from, "An American Werewolf in London." A very good depiction of a werewolf, if a little more wolflike. | Source
A "werewolf" in the popular movie Van Helsing. To me, the traits were more like a werewolf but the figure was that of a lycanthrope.
A "werewolf" in the popular movie Van Helsing. To me, the traits were more like a werewolf but the figure was that of a lycanthrope. | Source
A "lycan" from the popular movies of Underworld. The reverse could be said of this picture. I would say it's more werewolf like than lycanthrope.
A "lycan" from the popular movies of Underworld. The reverse could be said of this picture. I would say it's more werewolf like than lycanthrope. | Source

What do you think?

Which picture is a werewolf to you and which is a lycanthrope?

See results

Learn Anything?

This is probably the most simple description that you'll most likely find anywhere on the internet. I've done a lot of research and it was a big hassle because I wanted to be very clear and distinct. I was surprised to have found that there is hardly anything out there about lycanthropes, they are thrown into the lot with werewolves. If you find anything worthwhile It would be awesome if you could leave a brief description of the information and a link as a comment. Wikipedia is awesome and all but it doesn't define very well the differences between both creatures.

Also regardless of the possibility of them even existing, they have historical grounds that can be explained and if you are interested, can give better insight into developing a variation of wolf to suit your needs. They are present in history and are a fascinating example of the "things that go bump in the night," to explain away things that were unexplainable hundreds of years ago. I hope now you have a better understanding of werewolves and lycanthropes. I didn't touch on a lot of the finer details as I just gave a brief description of what I've found to tell the difference between the two, hope it helps.

*The poll only allows for one selection, but you are more than welcome to leave a comment as to what you think is a werewolf or a lycanthrope*


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  • Jo Alex SG profile image

    Jo Alex SG 11 months ago

    Thank you so much for this most interesting article! I´ve added this link to a posting I´ve made about a related topic on my edublogs. You´re a gifted writer, by the way, congrats!

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    Lusber 5 years ago from London

    Im very interested in this article, cos I have been affected by this kind of spell. I wish someone can contact me and help me to clear my mind about this. My email is, and I'm suffering from this kind of magic or spell or disease. Which started few years ago, and has costed me, to lose some friends and loved ones. And according with this article, I feel that I got a lycanthropy spell rather than a werewolf stay. All started when I moved from my country (Caribbean area) to Dublin, Ireland in 2005... Since then, I can't sleep at night, I don't get old, I have attacked already few good people, some of them, friend of mine and loved ones!!! I really need help, but I'm scared to know the real true behind my dark side..!

  • nighthag profile image

    K.A.E Grove 5 years ago from Australia

    insightful read full of some great facts that kept me reading right to the end. thanks

  • poetvix profile image

    poetvix 5 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

    I find this subject very interesting having loved mythology and horror for some time. Further, this is one of the best written articles on the subject I have ever read online. Kudos!