A system error occurred. We apologize for the inconvenience.

A system error occurred. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Werewolves - Ghost Source Paranormal Field Guide

Ghost Source

Find Ghost Stories

Werewolves

They've been the subject of legends for thousands of years, but how much do you really know about werewolves? Take a closer look at the origins of this mysterious beast.

By Tom Crawford

Legends of Shapeshifting

Werewolves

What exactly is a werewolf? In modern film and literature, they have been portrayed as creatures summoned by the moon and stoppable only by the silver bullet. But that is just one aspect of a larger collection of rich legends.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the werewolf legend is that it exists in almost every culture. That is, the idea of a man turning into a feared beast is common throughout the world. But the beast is not always a wolf. Instead, it is usually whatever animals are feared in that particular region. For example, there are legends in India that involve men who turn into tigers and in Africa the legends tell of men transforming into ferocious hyenas. In Europe, where wolves are the predominant predatory animal, the legends are of men transforming into wolves.

The Devil Made Me Do It

While there are hundreds of variations to the European legends of men turning into wolves, all of these legends share some common elements. Among the most prominent, is the belief that a werewolf is a servant of the Devil. In Medieval Europe, it was believed that a man became a werewolf by making an unholy pact with Satan himself. The Devil would grant a man the power to transform into a wolf in exchange for doing the Devil's bidding and terrorizing churchgoing villagers. Additional powers would be granted if he recruited others to become werewolves.

Because of the werewolf's believed association with the Devil, the Medieval Catholic Church condemned these creatures. Anyone suspected of being a werewolf was promptly burnt at the stake. This belief led to the unfortunate deaths of countless innocents who, much like in the Salem witch trials, were executed for being something they were not.

My, What Big Teeth You Have

A common element of the traditional legends that differ a bit from our modern understanding is the physical appearance of the werewolf. In modern folklore, a werewolf generally transforms into a half-man, half-wolf beast during a full moon. This creature is usually extremely monstrous looking and is very distinguishable from a common wolf. But, in traditional legends, werewolves looked like other wolves. In fact, the only trait that distinguished them from real wolves were their human eyes.

More Than Meets the Eye

The transformation of a man into a wolf is probably one of the most interesting aspects of the legends. In films such as "An American Werewolf in London" or "Silver Bullet", the full moon is a key factor in this change. That's no surprise since there are very few Hollywood movies today that don't portray the full moon as the trigger for a man's metamorphosis into a wolf.

Surprisingly though, the full moon is rarely mentioned in traditional tales. In the majority of legends, to turn into a werewolf a man had to strip naked and put on a belt made of human skin given to him by the Devil. He would then rub wolf bane and deadly nightshade all over his body and stand in a magic circle while chanting a spell. This series of events would result in one mean and vicious werewolf.

Man against Werewolf

Now, most of you are probably asking yourself, “What do I do if I happen across one of these werewolves?” In most movies, a silver bullet would do the trick. However, many of the legends predate guns, thus resulting in a variety of solutions. According to legend, the easiest way to stop a werewolf is to break the buckle on their belt (if he is wearing one). Doing so would immediately change him back. Chances are, though, you won't be that lucky.

Fortunately, the legends have additional recommendations for stopping a werewolf. First, you should make a crucifix. Because the werewolf is a servant to the Devil, the sight of the crucifix should immediately transform him back into a man. If that doesn't work and you know who the werewolf is, saying his baptismal name three times might also cause him to transform. A final option would be to wound the werewolf; this usually causes him to return to his human form.

If, after trying all of these methods, the werewolf still has not transformed back into a man, your best bet is to run for your life!

After looking closely at some of the more predominant elements of the traditional werewolf legends, it is easy to deduce that our modern werewolf myth is a unique and distinct blending of the vast regional stories and folklore surrounding these beasts.

Although many of these legends vary and are seemingly contradictory, one thing they all have in common is their unique influence on a fascinating and frightening folklore. They compose an intriguing collection of stories, legends, and tradition that have existed for hundreds of years and will continue to exist for hundreds more. While werewolves, in a physical sense, may not exist, their tales are likely to exist for as long as man does.