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Werewolves – History and Legends of Folklore Creatures

Werewolves History Legends and Origins of Folklore Creatures

Werewolves are probably one of the most famous Creatures from Folklore, with a lot of legends and appearances throughout History. There are hundreds of films, books, and comics that have explored these Monsters, exploring their history, their origin and their relationship with the world around them.

In this article, we will trace the history of these creatures, from their first appearances to the evolution of their legend through Middle Ages.

What is a werewolf? 

A werewolf is a mythological/folklore creature and represents a person who transforms himself into a vicious and powerful wolf. The exact way the transformation occurs and how much control of his feral self a werewolf has depends on the legend and the story.

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General Traits: How can you identify a Werewolf?

My dear travelers, be careful when you go out on a full moon night, for you can make very scary encounters.

There are a lot of creatures lurking in the dark, but, even if most of them are dangerous, some are just looking for food (that doesn’t mean that you can’t be their meal, be careful) The worst beast of the night is definitely the werewolf.

Werewolves present themselves as feral beasts, covered in coarse fur, with yellow eyes and very sharp teeth, made for ripping and tearing the flesh off very easily. When in human form, they show no sign of mutations, except for falling ill as the full moon approaches. 

These creatures are not very common and, as a consequence of their nature, they can be really dangerous alone.

These creatures are not very common and, as a consequence of their nature, they can be really dangerous alone. 

Sometimes they gather themselves in small groups of individuals, called packs, to hunt. This is a trait that they have in common with real wolves. In these rare cases, they assemble themselves also when in human form, as entire villages of werewolves can be found on the outskirts of cities.

They are more likely to make the visitors go away, to hide the dark secret of the inhabitants unless the pack decides that they won’t be missed at home, then they will never be seen again. In certain cases, it is unlikely to even find the bones.

This beast has the worst traits of both species, human and animal, the bloodlust and the wildness of the wolf, and the cruelty and intelligence of the man.

Lycanthropy (the curse that is responsible for the transformation from man to werewolf) can be the result of a spell made by a witch, but it is also said that it can also be transmitted with a bite or a scratch by a mutated creature. There is no known cure or antidote for it.

The creature can be killed by silver, but also fire has proven effective against them, even if sometimes it can be used only to slow them down enough to get a chance to effectively hurt them.

Werewolves are very fast creatures, their attacks are swift and almost always deadly, and their razor-sharp claws can inflict serious wounds, in addition to the curse. They rarely flee from an opponent, as almost no one can match their speed and strength.

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What is the history of Werewolves?

The exact origin of the Legend of the Werewolf is unclear.

Some historian traces the debut of the Werewolf in the Epic of Gilgamesh, in a passage, where the Hero, Gilgamesh, rejects a woman after he discovers that she has transformed her previous lover into a wolf.

Another appearance of werewolves is in Greek Mythology.

An old Greek Myth, as a matter of fact, tells the story of the Arcadian King Lycaon, son of Pelagius. The King organized a twisted joke toward the god Zeus: he served him his son to the, dismembered and butchered, to see if he was so omniscient.

The god, once he discovered the cheat of the human, became furious and cursed him and his remaining sons to be transformed into wolves.

These creatures appeared also in the Nordic Folklore. The saga of Vulsungs, for example, tells the legend of a father and his son that one day, while exploring the forest nearby their home, discovered Wolf Pelts. Once they wear these pelts, they discovered that they have the ability to transform them into wolves for 10 days.

However, during their first transformation, they completely lose control and went on a killing rampage through the forest. This rampage ended only when the father focused his attention on the son: he attacked him and gave him a lethal wound. Luckily a kind Raven, moved by pity toward the couple, gave the father a leaf with healing abilities.

Werewolves in the Middle Ages

Werewolves were often considered servants of the Devil, who had made a deal with him in exchange for wealth and fame but were still forced to transform into this evil creature without control who craves only a human flash.

Legends say that they were more common in German and french lands, but the reason for this distribution is not clear. It is said that there were two main types of Werewolf in Europe: the “Germanic type”, which was considered a type of sorcerer, and the “Slavic” werewolf or Vlkodlak. 

There were also tales of black-hearted Scandinavian men-wolf (Úlfhednar).

Úlfhednar were referred also to as Odin’s Fearless Warriors. They were considered like “Vikings Special Forces”: they used to wear Wolf Pelts (unlike the Berserkirr who used to wear Bear Pelts) which contains the spirit of a Wolf.

According to folklore, they have numerous abilities: they are shapeshifters (“hamrammir”), with incredible strength and immunity to iron and fire. Their fame as ruthless and cruel warriors fueled the werewolf legends of the late Middle Ages.

For this reason during the period of the hunt for the witches, people who supposedly had this curse had to face cruel trials.

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The Real-life Werewolves

Those who have been called werewolves, which stories probably are the foundation of the current folklore that surrounds this creature, were in fact probably “only” brutal serial killers, whose ferocity was considered close to a monster or a devil than a person.

Two of these infamous serial Killers were two men from France: Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun. They allegedly swore allegiance to the Devil itself and claimed to have developed the power to transform themselves into wolves. With this evil power, they committed many homicides. Once they were captured, they confessed to having slaughtered many children. For this reason, they were burned to death (as in the case of many other evil creatures, burning was believed one of the many ways to kill a Werewolf)

Also, the “Werewolf of Dole”, whose real name was Giles Garnier, has a similar story: this killer, who lived in the late 16th century, claimed to have wolf-morphing abilities and to have viciously killed and eaten some children.

In the end, Burgot and Verdun were burned at the stake for their crimes. 

The most (in)famous real-life werewolf

However, the most famous (or, actually infamous) werewolf is Peter Stubbe. He was a wealthy farmer who lived in the town of Bedburg in the fifteenth century.

According to folklore legends, he is believed to turn into a wolf-like creature at night and devoured many citizens of his town.

Eventually, he was captured by the authorities, after being cornered by some hunters who told him to be the eyewitness of its transformation into the gruesome monster. During the trial, he was tortured and proclaimed to have savagely killed animals, men, women, and children, and to have eaten their remains.

Similar to the legend present inside the Saga of Vulgsungs, he claimed to possess a belt that gives him the ability to transform into a monster at will. That belt, however, was never found.

In all these cases, it is not very clear if they were mentally ill, acted under the influence of some substance with hallucinogenic effects, or were simply bloodthirsty killers. Some historians also believed the case of Peter Stubbe to be simply the result of a political witch hunt. However, we should consider the ladder: all of this does likely not matter, since for the superstitious Europeans of the time such gruesome crimes must have been committed only by evil and horrific beasts. Like the werewolf.

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So, are werewolves actually real?

According to some medicians, the werewolf phenomenon might have a medical explanation: the Pitt-Hopkins syndrome. There is a historical record of a boy, who was found wandering naked through a German Forest. The boy, who was called Peter the Wild Boy, was initially believed to have been raised by wolves, or werewolves himself. Surely it is not clear how he was able to survive so many years alone in the forest.

In all fairness, this belief was understandable: he used to eat with his hands, behaves like a wild animal, and was not able to speak. In the end, after some tries to educate him, he was ultimately treated as a strange animal: he was adopted in the courts of Kind George I and King George II of England and lived there as a “pet”.

As mentioned before, there is a high chance that Peter had the Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, which causes the following symptoms: lack of speech, seizures, distinct facial features, difficulty breathing, and intellectual challenges.

Other than that, there are also many other medical conditions that, in the past, might have been the cause of the werewolf-mania thought history. These conditions are the following:

  • Lycanthropy: as the name suggests, this rare psychological condition causes people to believe they are changing into a wolf or into another animal.
  • Hypertrichosis. It is a rare genetic disorder that causes excessive hair growth, could have led the people affected by this disorder to be confused with weird beasts.
  • Rabies: an illness caused by a virus (the rabies virus) that infects the central nervous system of mammals and led them to uncontrolled outbursts of violence, develop hydrophobia, loss of consciousness, and much more.
  • Food Poisoning or hallucinatory herbs: these substances might have caused a state of mental distress that could have ended with the victims believing to be animals or behaving as such.
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Werewolves in modern times: a timeless story archetype.

Through the centuries, the wolf has been considered an animal to be feared and has often been associated with evil powers. As such, the werewolves, like many other mythic beasts, became a way to explain the unexplainable.

However, in modern times, werewolves have become nothing more than Pop Culture icons. Horror protagonists of many films, games, and movies like Hollywood’s 1941 “The Wolf Man”, or the more recent “Underworld” franchise.

Their tale is a tale of conflict between men and nature, between rationality and irrationality. Often portrayed as conflicting figures, they are the representation of the relationship between men and the nature that surrounds them. For this reason, I believe these creatures are some of the most fascinating monsters in Folklore and a symbol of the mystery themselves.

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