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Da Witch
October 19th, 2001, 08:30 PM
Lycanthropy is a word which means, among other things, the transformation of a man into a wolf. Due the ubiquity of its stories, and the fear these often produce, the Werewolf stands high among all supernatural creatures mentioned in fantasy, fiction and folklore.

Stories of werewolves are present in many countries' folklore. Germany has its werewolf (after which the half-man/half-wolf creature is named nowadays); Portugal its lob omen, Italy its lupo manaro, Mexico its nahual, and France its loup garoux, which set a change in this country's middle age history.

Werewolves have relatives in countries where wolves themselves are not present: In India tales of weretigers are told, and there are african legends of wereleopards, werehyenas and werejackals. Even in nations where wolves are fairly unknown stories of weredogs, werecats, werefoxes and even weretoads do exist.

The degree of terror and obsession the werewolf tends to inspire in the human mind may be caused by several fundamental reasons that relate with the real wolf:
The wolf frightens the humans because of its howling, its glow-in-the-dark yellow eyes, its hunting ability, its silent walking, and its nocturnal activity. These characteristics are easily related and explained through supernatural and/or demonic phaenomena.


Ever since prehistorical times man and wolf have been hunting rivals. Because of technological advancements, the man has managed to surpass the wolf's hunting prowess; nevertheless, this rivalry unconsciously persists in the man's mind.


The man has sought the wolf's extermination because of superstition, and justified it with the purpose of saving other animal species from the wolf's predation. The truth is the wolf is an integral part of its environment, since the animals it hunts are, in general, the weak, old or sick.


Due to the man's devastation of the natural ecosystems, the wolf must look after a new way of providing itself food and shelter. If the native species are substituted with farm animals, the wolf will hunt them instead. The deaths of farm animals by wolves are, almost in their entirety, caused by urbanization.


The vast literature -much of it proofless- about wolves has given them a bad reputation since ancestral times. The wolf's got many human-like social ways to behave (hierarchy, monogamy, pack protection, etc.) which are always obscured by the image of the ruthless, blood-thirsty beast.

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During the Middle Age, lycanthropy was thought to be practiced by witches. The witches were believed to morph themselves into wolves that roamed throughout the european countryside frightening people, killing and devouring the travelers, according to the wishes of their satanic master, their goal to do evil onto humanity. Lycanthropes were even believed to be minor demons.

A few werewolves whose killer instincts were exceptionally strong were thought to be the Devil himself. Even if the werewolf was not a morphed witch, it was still related to witchcraft: tales were told about witches who arrived their wicked reunions mounting these creatures. To many sixteenth and seventeenth century experts, a witch could become a werewolf only by the means of dealing with the Devil. These "witches" were usually believed to have no other supernatural ability. Many contemporary werewolf legends are originated in that obscure era.

The nightly activities of a werewolf were believed to be, of course, to hunt, murder, and eat their victims. Some werewolf stories tell that their purpose was to kill and devour entire herds of sheep or similar animals. Nevertheless, lycanthropy is closely related to cannibalism. (The original version of Little Red Riding Hood is a good example to understand the relation between cannibalism and lycanthropy.)

Even though these beasts did not possess a particular diet, they were believed to prefer tender flesh, as of children. Lycanthropy was also associated to phaenomena and activities in which man was a victim of circumstances, or of third parties.

It is possible to find many ways to become a werewolf that do not require to deal with the Devil. In Italy, the common belief is that anybody who is born on a full moon friday, or who sleeps outdoors during one of those days, is prone to become a werewolf. In the Balcanic Peninsula -where the famous Transylvania is located- grows a flower that, people say, if eaten, causes the eater to aquire Lycanthropy. To drink from the water filling a wolf track or from where a wolf pack has drunk, or to eat the brains of a real wolf are other popular ways still believed in Europe to become -accidentally or intentionally- a werewolf.

The evil and wicked aquired -according to Paracelsus, a 16th century alchemist- the shape of a wolf upon death, or could become such creatures if they were cursed by a priest, remaining morphed for seven years.
As many ways to become a werewolf there are ways to stop being one, or at least to keep these fearsome creatures away. In England, rye, cinder, mistletoe, and silver trees are good means of protection. Another popular means of protection is water. This can be based upon the relation of lycanthropy and hydrophobia, since a real canid who is affected by this disease fears water.

According to french writer Claude Seignolle, this folklore is based upon stories of criminals cursed by priests, causing them to become werewolves. Other writers assure that the werewolf stories are originated in cases dealing with demonic possession. All these popular beliefs are so rooted into our culture that it is difficult to tell where the boundary between myth and reality is.

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The british writer Robert Eisler created an intrincate anthropoligical theory about sadomasochism and lycanthropy. It presents proof that before the last Ice Age (25000 years ago), the human being was vegetarian and not violent. During this glacial time he had to adapt himself to survive in the new environment, and this included eating meat, hunting in groups and covering himself with animal skins to cope with the intense cold. The result of these gradual changes left "deep marks within the human collective unconscious mind" (using Jungian terms, quoted by Eisler), producing several sadistic and masochistic emotions, the guilt and myth of the werewolf.

Eisler's theories offer interesting explanations of many of the werewolf's characteristics. For instance, emphasizing the sexual connotations: primitive men wearing wolfskin outfits often had the initiative of fighting their leaders to obtain the desired woman, or of kidnapping her out of a more peaceful tribe. Because of this, werewolves are also believed to be kidnappers. Regarding cannibalism, the ancestral tribes ate whatever they could find when the ice destroyed their northern huts and were forced to emigrate south where they found still fruit-eating, pacific people. If you inhabited one of these southern communities, and suddenly the village was pillaged and burned down, your wives raped by men in wolfskins, and the next day what was left of it was attacked by a real wolf pack, wouldn't you think there was similarity between man and wolf?

The doctor and psychoanalist Nandor Fador explains:"The old and savage beliefs about lycanthropy have been banished to our dream life, where there still are active conditions that are exploited by the presentation of criminal motivations, while the transformation is used only sybolically as a self denunciation of our secrets, fantasies and repressed desires".

Some lycanthropes (according to tales from the 17th century) assured people that they really were wolves, but that their fur grew inside their body. If we remember the drugs used by witches as "metamorphosing ointments" and self-suggestion, it is very possible that this induced, in the ones who took them, hallucinations of being werewolves, without really being affected by lycanthropy, only by the effects of such drugs combined with suggestion.


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July 28, 1131 in France, one Hugues de Camp d'A Vesnes (Compt de Saint Pil was his full title) attacked and burned to the ground the Abbey of Saint Riguier in order to get at two of his enimies (the Compt d'Auxi and the Compte de Beaurain-sur-Canche) who had taken refuge their. In the fire three thousand people died and it was said that after his own death Hugues was seen nightly prowling near the abbey St Riguier as a wolf "howling most piteously" and sometimes he went into the streets of Abbeville. It was assumed that he was punished by Louis-le-Gros, who was a war lord.


October 19, 1216, King John Lackland died and was said to have been poisoned by a monk and that he had became Lycanthropod. When people heard "shrieks, howling, and othernocturnal disturbances" from his grave they disinterred the body and flung it on to unsacred ground to rot. The King was seen later as a Werewolf.



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Information courtesy of:
Lyceus (http://www.acatlan.unam.mx/Person/Lobo/index.html)