ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What you always wanted to know about werewolves: Werewolf legends and myths beyond the movies

Updated on August 31, 2012
Woodcut illustration of a werewolf, c. 1512
Woodcut illustration of a werewolf, c. 1512

Shape shifter. Lycanthrope. Loup-garou. It goes by many names, but they all mean the same thing – werewolf.

Stories of people changing into animals exist in almost every culture going back thousands of years, but for westerners, the wolf seems to be the most common legend by far. It's certainly the one that has had the biggest effect on modern pop culture.

The werewolf legend is so old that even the origin of the name is impossible to pinpoint, other than it seems to come from a combination of the words for 'man' and 'wolf.' The word for man is almost identical in many of the old languages – wer in Old English and High German, wair in Gothic, veir in Old Norse. Since the word wolf or wulf also appears across these languages, it would probably be more surprising if the name werewolf didn't seem almost universal.

Of course, far more important than what to call one of these creatures is how to recognize one. Luckily, there are a number of tell-tale signs to help identify werewolves.

Werewolves are fond of eating extremely rare or raw meat, even when in human form. Several werewolf signs can be found by looking at the hands. Suspect a werewolf when the index and middle fingers are the same length, if the fingernails are curved like claws or if there is hair on the palms.

There are other physical signs that point to a werewolf. For instance, it is said that if a werewolf is cut, its fur will be visible within the open wound. According to Russian tradition, bristly fur can be seen under the werewolf's tongue. Unfortunately, identifying a werewolf in this manner might require closer contact than is really desirable.

Modern books and movies are poor sources of information about werewolves. At the very least, popular fiction tends to take liberties with tradition, and often invents its werewolf lore out of whole cloth. Many of our modern notions about werewolves trace back not to ancient traditions, but to the series of Wolfman movies in the 1940s starring Lon Chaney Jr.

In the movies, Chaney plays hapless Larry Talbot, who is bitten by a werewolf, and so turned into a werewolf himself. But involuntary werewolves are rare. Traditionally, a suspicious eye was cast on anyone born during a full moon, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Someone might become a werewolf as a result of being cursed by a saint, or as a consequence of excommunication, but the 'curse of the werewolf' cannot be passed on with a bite.

German werewolf woodcut, c. 1722
German werewolf woodcut, c. 1722

Putting aside the movie notion of the full moon, most werewolves have control over the transformation. The change is not caused by a full moon, but usually comes about if the person removes his or her clothing and dons a belt made of wolfskin or the pelt itself. The transformation may also be brought about through the use of magic salves or incantations, or drinking from an enchanted stream or a wolf's footprint.

Werewolves don't possess supernatural powers. They don't have super speed or strength, and they aren't affected by religious artifacts, although some legends say that mistletoe, mountain ash or wolfsbane can act as deterrents. In fact, werewolves are no more difficult to kill than any other animal. The much-loved notion of the silver bullet is a modern invention. It was unheard of until the 19th century, and popularized by the movies.

While werewolves can easily be killed, it's debatable whether they can be cured of their affliction. Some stories hold that a werewolf can be cured by hitting it on the forehead with a knife. In medieval Europe, a form of exorcism or de-enchantment was sometimes recommended. The Church, not surprisingly, suggested conversion to Christianity. But in general, it is believed that since werewolves are in complete control of their transformation, they cannot be cured by others.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      Great research and very interesting information. Thank you. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these details.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)