As the moon rests over our heads in its fullest form, something mystical is happening elsewhere. Under this lunar cycle, magic is changing man to beast and setting loose a deadly creature known as a werewolf. When one thinks “werewolf,” they likely think of things like The Wolf Man or The Howling; but there is a world of belief out there, and among it, werewolves and lycanthropy are as real as this YouTube channel. We’re going to honor these beliefs by looking at the top 10 facts about lycanthropy and werewolves.
The Werewolf Trials of France
Salem, Massachusetts has its witch trials and 16th century France has its werewolf trials. During the period of 1520 and 1630, records show upwards of 30,000 individuals as being interrogated and tortured for being werewolves. Like the Salem witch trials, nobody was safe from being labeled a werewolf. Amongst the convicted were two French peasants, Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun, a young boy, and a tailor. In many instances, the accused were said to have been caught in wolf form, covered in blood from their latest victim and fur from head to toe. Was it a craze of paranoia brought on by too many fictional tales, or was there really a werewolf epidemic in the streets of France?
The Hounds of God
Werewolves are portrayed as ruthless, bloodthirsty beasts – but that may not always be the case. In 1692 Jurgenburg, Livonia, a man by the name of Thiess of Kaltenbrun made an incredulous claim while standing trial, stating that werewolves were, in fact, the “Hounds of God.” Thiess explained that he and fellow lycans transformed into their wolf forms on the nights of St. Lucia’s Day, Pentecost, and St. John’s Day each year to venture into hell to rescue the grain and livestock stolen by the Devil and his cohorts. He had no clear indication as to how the transformation took place, not even mentioning God’s will, a fact that angered the judges. Thiess was flogged and banished for life for attempting to turn people away from Christianity with his godless claims.
The Beast of Gevaudan
Nevadan France doesn’t have too much history to it, but there is one tale from the 1760’s that shadows the historic area of the Lozere department. They called it the Beast of Nevadan, a monstrosity responsible for at least 60 deaths. This was believed to be no ordinary beast. Locals believed that behind these deaths was a sorcerer that would transform into a werewolf. According to witness reports, the beast was roughly the size of a horse and resembles a hybrid of a panther, hyena, bear and wolf. Researchers believe, thanks to conflicting testimonials, that there may have been multiple animals responsible for the deaths, but locals were adamant that the terror was a lycan and there is no clarity that any one claim matches the full description of a known animal.
Mercury May Work Better Than Silver
It’s pretty common knowledge that the only way to kill a werewolf, at least via Hollywood’s methods, is pure silver. If we ignore Hollywood and look back at lycanthrope lore, we’re given a few more options to fend off these metamorphic beasts. It is believed that if a werewolf’s heart or brain is removed and destroyed, it will keep the beast from regenerating, killing it indefinitely. A more natural method includes wolfsbane, a poisonous plant said to also repel lycans. It is also believed that mercury, more-so than silver, is the best means of killing a werewolf. During the time when werewolf legends were written, mercury was known as quicksilver, which could have led to some translation issues as the legends were passed down.
The First Film about Lycanthropy
Universal Studio’s “The Wolf Man” may have been the pinnacle of werewolf movies, but it was far from the first. Six years prior in 1935, Henry Hill portrayed a botanist that was bitten and turned into a werewolf in Universal’s “Werewolf of London”. Even before the bloodfest through London, though, there was another film centered around lycanthropy. In this 1913 film, an American Indian woman transforms into a wolf to exact revenge over her lover’s death. Viewing the film these days is quite is impossible, as it has disappeared completely.
The Werewolf of Bedburg
In 1573 Bedburg, the term werewolf was being tossed around quite a bit. Throughout the German town, townsfolk and livestock were being murdered in the most gruesome and heinous of ways. Their bodies mauled, parts of their flesh eaten and signs of rape present, it was believed that a madman had been set loose on the town – and that madman was Peter Stumpp. Stumpp was a well known resident in the town, but it quickly came to light that he was responsible for the deaths of 13 children and two pregnant women. According to accounts of the trial and investigation, Stumpp believed himself to be imbued with the power to transform into a wolf through a magic belt. During his trial, and under the pain of torture, Stumpp confessed to sorcery and consorting with the devil, claiming truth to his werewolf form. Whether or not Stumpp was really a werewolf is a topic of debate, but the hunter’s that sought out Bedburg’s killers claim to have been hunting a wolf the night they caught Stumpp.
The Earliest Account of Werewolves
These feral beasts have been around for quite some time, but few may know the earliest account of lycanthropy. According to Greek mythology, Lycaon, the king of Arcadia and son of Pelasgus and Meliboea, was one of the first accounts of a werewolf. The story of Lycaon changes from source to source, but general consensus is that the king went up against Zeus, only to feel the great god’s wrath after. The most popular version states that Lycaon tried to test Zeus omniscience by feeding him human flesh of a guest from Epirus. When Zeus realized what Lycaon had done, he transformed the king into a wolf and slaughtered Lycaon’s fifty sons. Another version, told by Pausanias, states that Lycaon had sacrificed a child on the alter of Zeus, leading to his transformation into wolf.
Medical Conditions Linked to Lycanthropy
For those that don’t believe man can turn into beast, there are some medically sound reasoning’s behind the existence of lycanthropy. The physical appearance of looking like a “wolf” can be attributed to hypertrichosis, a condition during which long hair grows on a person’s face and body. Couple this condition with porphyria, which is an extreme sensitivity to light, and you have yourself a wolfman-like creature roaming the streets at night. Lycanthropy is also designated as a mental condition in which a person believes themselves to transform into a wolf. While their physical form remains the same, their mental state becomes animalistic.
Becoming a Werewolf
The popular science behind becoming a werewolf has always been that the individual must be bitten by another werewolf, but that is far from the only means. Folklorist Carol Rose wrote in her book “Giants, Monsters, and Dragons,” that a person can be irreversibly transformed by eating a mixture of wolf and human meat. Other means of becoming cursed include being conceived under a new moon, drinking water that has been touched by a wolf, and even sleeping under a full moon that falls on a Friday. Regardless of the method, it is more widely believed that being a werewolf is more of a curse that can be passed rather than a virus.
A Lycan Can Be More Than a Wolf
When it was first conceptualized, Lycanthropy referred directly to man turning into wolf. Over time, like many things, the meaning has changed a bit, mostly referring to the transformation of man into any animal. So, when someone in Asia is talking about lycanthrope, they are likely discussing a man turning into a weretiger. In Russia, lycanthropes will transformer into bears, or werebears, and, in Africa, the animal of choice is leopards.