Where do the werewolf myths end and the truth begin? Werewolf fiction is dominated by portrayals of men cursed to become wolves or wolfmen during the full moon. The process of transmogrification is well documented in many films and works of literature. Werewolves' history, both in cinema and reality, is indelibly intertwined.
Werewolf, skin walker, shape shifter or man dog, throughout the years these terms have been used to describe a number of sightings of an unidentified figure. Believed to be half man and half wolf, werewolves (also known as lycanthropes) have shown up in tales and legends throughout history. Werewolves and human/beast hybrids have also been depicted in cave painting and later Petronius of ancient Greece wrote stories about men who could turn into wolves at will. These shape-shifter myths can be found all over the word from China to Iceland and Brazil to Haiti.
During the medieval times wolves were known to attack man, as wolves during those times had no reason to fear man; guns were unheard of. Wolf attacks helped to flues the fear or werewolves included wolfmen or berserkers (who wore wolves' skin and killed innocent victims).
Werewolves were believed to aid and abet witches in their evil deeds. Many women were accused of 'riding a wolf,' the implication being that they were on their way to a witch's Sabbath.
Werewolves in later European traditions were often innocent and God-fearing folk suffering from the witchcraft of others, or simply from an unhappy fate, and who as wolves behaved in a truly touching fashion, adoring and protecting their human benefactors.
However, werewolves are usually considered to be folkloric humans with an ability to shape shift into wolf like creatures. Most believe that these werewolves would be in human form during the day and transform into the wolf like creature during the night time when there is a full moon. The Werewolf of London establishes a huge part of this modern werewolf mythology.
Werewolf stories have been scaring us for centuries, but do these stories derive from a time when men kept close to fires at night for protection? Humans have always feared the mysterious, deep dark forests and the creatures that live there, such as wolves that sometimes stalk and attack human prey. But the concept of shape shifting finds resonance in a lot of cultures across the world. However, it is not just a wolf that a man can shape shift into. Depending upon the animal that was feared in a particular region, a man was believed to have turned into that beast under the curse. For example, the concepts of werehyenas are prevalent in South Africa. As in the warning in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, is the werewolf simply a warning to be watchful of wild predators?
© S. Roberts