Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Werewolves - A Month In Review

Wow - March is coming to a close.  I can't even believe it.  It's been a wild ride.  The weather has been insane and the time has flown by.  We had a wonderful time at Just Another Paranormal Monday sharing some of our favorite Werewolves and discuss alot of interesting facts and features.  There was a ton of information that shared and learned.  If you missed it here is a quick catch-up:


Lycanthropy is the professed ability or power of a human being to transform into a wolf, or to gain wolf-like characteristics. The term comes from Greek Lykànthropos, lykos ("wolf"), ànthrōpos ("human"). The word lycanthropy is sometimes used generically for any transformation of a human into animal form, though the precise term for that is technically "therianthropy". Sometimes, "zoanthropy" is used instead of "therianthropy".

The word has also been linked to Lycaon, a king of Arcadia who, according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, was turned into a ravenous wolf in retribution for attempting to serve human flesh (his own son) to visiting Zeus in an attempt to disprove the god's divinity.

A more modern use of the word is in reference to a mental illness called lycanthropy in which a patient believes he or she is, or has transformed into, an animal and behaves accordingly. This is sometimes referred to as clinical lycanthropy to distinguish it from its use in legends.


In the original myths and legends, lycanthropy is not given any specific cause other than being generally attributed to magic, which may be voluntary (a supernatural power) or involuntary (a curse). The notion of werewolves and other lycanthropes infecting humans through bites is a feature of modern fiction.

Clinical lycanthropy, where one believes that he or she is an animal or can turn into an animal, is a mental disorder with psychological causes, as contrasted to legendary lycanthropy.

Mechanisms of transformation:

Even if the denotation of lycanthropy is limited to the wolf-metamorphosis of living human beings, the beliefs classed together under this head are far from uniform, and the term is somewhat capriciously applied. The transformation may be temporary or permanent; the were-animal may be the man himself metamorphosed; may be his double whose activity leaves the real man to all appearance unchanged; may be his soul, which goes forth seeking whom it may devour, leaving its body in a state of trance; or it may be no more than the messenger of the human being, a real animal or a familiar spirit, whose intimate connection with its owner is shown by the fact that any injury to it is believed, by a phenomenon known as repercussion, to cause a corresponding injury to the human being.

Origin of the Wolf:

It's hard to pin down the world's first reference to werewolves. One of the oldest known written works on the planet, "The Epic of Gilgamesh," is a likely candidate. In it, Gilgamesh refuses to become the lover of the goddess Ishtar because of her cruel treatment of her previous suitors. Ishtar turned one man, a shepherd, into a wolf, making him the enemy of his friends, his sheep and even his own dogs.

Ishtar isn't the only ancient god to change a mortal into a wolf. In Ovid's "The Metamorphoses," a traveler visits the home of King Lycaon of Acadia. Lycaon suspects that the visitor is immortal, so he devises a test. He serves human meat to his guest, who unfortunately turns out to be the god Jupiter. Jupiter immediately recognizes the meat's origin, and he transforms Lycaon into a wolf. Lycaon's name and the word lycanthropy both come from the same root -- the Greek word lykos, meaning wolf.

Both of these works are ancient, and they suggest that the idea of men turning into wolves has been around for about as long as human civilization has. On top of being old, the idea is widespread. For the most part, if wolves live or have lived in a particular region, that region's folk tales include werewolves. In regions where there are no wolves, stories describe people turning into other carnivorous animals. Stories from parts of Africa describe people turning into hyenas or crocodiles. In Chinese folk tales, people become tigers, and in Japanese stories, they become foxes. Some Russian stories describe people who turn into bears.

In all of these stories, shape-shifters tend to inspire fear. That fear comes from three basic sources:

1. The animal that the person becomes is a large, powerful carnivore -- it's frightening even without supernatural intervention.

2. In undergoing the transformation, the person becomes something he fears, and he has no way of escaping himself.

3. If lycanthropy is transmitted by a bite, a victim faces the threat of ongoing, perpetually terrifying transformations should he survive the encounter.

Being bitten isn't the only way to become a werewolf, though. Next, we'll take a look at other methods used to transform from a human into a wolf.

In modern depictions, lycanthropy is often transmitted by the bite of a werewolf, but there are exceptions. In Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels, for example, werewolves are a race, much like dwarves or trolls. Pratchett's werewolves can change from human to wolf at any time. Some choose to spend most of their time in wolf form, while others, like Angua, an officer in Ankh-Morpork's Watch, change form whenever it suits them.

The transformation itself is generally more important in film than in written works. Next, we'll look at how people physically change into werewolves.

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