Were, Wolf ? There, Wolf, there castle, why are we talking this way ? ( a line from Mel Brooks, “Young Frankenstein”)Well it’s because Werewolfs have been a part of our modern culture from birth, books, and movies have taken what could have been a simple fear of a natural predator and turned it into a monster! And over the years our culture has added many things to the original myth, silver bullets, being turned into a werewolf thru a bite etc. We will explore this fascinating myth and its possible origins.
“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”
Many authors have speculated that werewolf legends may have been used to explain serial killings. This theory is given credence by the tendency of some modern serial killers to indulge in practices commonly associated with werewolves, such as cannibalism, mutilation, and cyclic attacks. The idea is well explored in a book called, The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould.
Until the 20th century, wolf attacks on humans were an occasional, but widespread reality of life in Europe. It has been suggested that it was logical that wolves, being the most feared predators in Europe, were projected into the folklore of these shape-shifters. This theory is sound especially when you consider the fact that areas devoid of wolves typically use different kinds of predator to fill the niche; were-hyenas in Africa, were-tigers in India,as well as were-pumas and werejaguars of southern South America.
Still other theories like anthropologist Robert Eisler’s drew attention to the fact that many Indo-European tribal names and some modern European surnames mean “wolf” or “wolf-men”. This is argued by Eisler to indicate that the European transition from fruit gathering to predatory hunting was a conscious process, simultaneously accompanied by an emotional upheaval still remembered in humanity’s subconscious, which in turn became reflected in the later medieval superstition of werewolves.
Most modern researchers have tried to explain the reports of werewolf behaviour with recognised medical conditions. Dr Lee Illis of Guy’s Hospital in London wrote a paper in 1963 entitled On Porphyria and the Aetiology of Werewolves, in which he argues that historical accounts on werewolves could have in fact been referring to victims of congenital porphyria, stating how the symptoms of photosensitivity, reddish teeth and psychosis could have been grounds for accusing a sufferer of being a werewolf. This theory was opposed by Woodward, who points out how mythological werewolves were almost invariably portrayed as resembling true wolves, and that their human forms were rarely physically conspicuous as porphyria victims. Others have pointed out the possibility of historical werewolves having been sufferers of hypertrichosis, a hereditary condition manifesting itself in excessive hair growth. However, Woodward dismissed the possibility, as the rarity of the disease ruled it out from happening on a large scale, as werewolf cases were in medieval Europe. People suffering from Down’s Syndrome have been suggested by some scholars to have been possible originators of werewolf myths. Woodward suggested rabies as the origin of werewolf beliefs, claiming remarkable similarities between the symptoms of that disease and some of the legends. Woodward focused on the idea that being bitten by a werewolf could result in the victim turning into one, which suggested the idea of a transmittable disease like rabies. However, the idea that lycanthropy could be transmitted in this way is not part of the original myths and legends and only appears in relatively recent beliefs.
Werewolves are often depicted as immune to damage by ordinary weapons, being vulnerable only to silver objects, such as a silver-tipped cane, bullet or blade; this attribute was first adopted Cinematically in The Wolf Man. This negative reaction to silver is sometimes so strong that the mere touch of the metal on a werewolf’s skin will cause burns.
Modern-day werewolf fiction almost exclusively involves lycanthropy being either a hereditary condition or being transmitted like an infectious disease by the bite of another werewolf. In some fiction, the power of the werewolf extends to human form, such as invulnerability, super-human speed and strength and falling on their feet from high falls. Also aggressiveness and animalistic urges may be harder to control. Usually in these cases the abilities are diminished in human form. In other fictions, it can even be cured by medicine men or even antidotes.