As a child, I loved being scared by Lon Chaney when he played his wolfman character in the movies. Of course, when I’d go to bed, it seemed the eerie shadows cast against my bedroom wall by the moon’s rays were the werewolf coming to bite me. Like any frightened child, I hide under the covers—afraid to shut my eyes.
I suppose there’s a penchant in all of us that like being frightened. And perhaps this is why we’ve seen a revival in the popularity of werewolves and vampires in novels and on the big screen. (Don’t we all wish we’d written “Twilight?”)
The link between the werewolf of myth as been reshaped by Hollywood, with a medical condition known as lycanthropy, in which the patient develops a taste for raw meat and shows a tendency to howl and run around naked. At the time when the moon was full, anyone being bitten by the werewolf was eternally doomed to sprout a hairy pelt, howl at the moon, and run around scaring the bejeebers out of people.
But, where did the idea of werewolves and vampires originate? Let’s go all the way back to the wolf. Of all animals the wolf is perhaps the most feared in terms of superstition, being a favorite disguise of the Devil, and linked with evil. In times gone by, the mere sight of a wolf was supposed to be enough to render a man dumb, assuming that the wolf saw the man first. Even saying the world “wolf” risked an imminent encounter with one. According to Welsh legend the wolf was created not by God buy by the Devil and the creature has retained its association with evil ever since, being blamed for attacking livestock and humans alike.
This brings us to the werewolf. In pan-European superstition a man, who in certain circumstances, would change into a wolf and then hunt down and feed on human prey. Fear of werewolves is very ancient. People likely to become werewolves are said to include those who were born out of wedlock or had birthdays on Christmas Eve, and anyone who had unusually hair hands and flat fingers or eyebrows that met over the bridge of the nose. In legend some people could control their transformation, becoming wolves by donning wolfskin coats or belts.
Like the vampire, the werewolf was invulnerable to many forms of attack and could only be killed by a silver bullet, which should ideally have been blessed by a priest. Rather more simply, the infected victim may be cursed by calling out three times the Christian name of the person who had been transformed.
So, here’s a question for you. What actually is a werewolf or lycanthropy? Is it fact based on concrete evidences? Is it myth, fabrication of feeble minds? Is it an exaggeration of the wildly superstitious? If you have no answers to these questions—neither do I. All these questions have been puzzling mankind for the last 5 centuries.
Nonetheless, the werewolf phenomenon hasn’t perished yet; recent werewolf sightings are still being reported. You know, I just had a thought—I don’t recall ever reading about women who had become werewolves—only men. Hmmm?