We all know the monster that is the werewolf, but what do we really know about the creature itself and its origin?
Don’t worry, Gothic Bite Magazine has you covered! I have done the research and I am positively spooked to let you know that I’ll deliver articles more often than once in a full moon…
Older than you think!
Lycanthropy has made its way in Ancient Greece BC and even Roman mythology. Popular tales are found and speak of werewolves or “wolf people” as part of the stories themselves. It is not rare to encounter a tale with a shape-shifting being as popular as the wolf, symbolism of strength, courage and masculinity.
Herodotus and his Histories are one example of a werewolf tale where an entire village is turned into wolves each year for many days and then, would simply go back to their original form. And it is only one out of many tales.
The words werewolf, wolfman or lycanthrope refer to someone who has the ability of shape-shifting into the form of a wolf. Lycanthrope, lycanthropy or lycan come from the Greek language and means “wolf person”. So it is right to say that the folklore of the werewolf is ancient and for a reason.
Most of us know that the curse of the werewolf is given by either a bite or a scratch from a werewolf. And once afflicted by the werewolf curse, one can either change at will or every full moon depending on the folklore’s origin.
The legend was born in the early Dark Ages, with the writings of the aristocratic canon layer and writer, Gervase of Tilbuly (1150 to 1228). It was mostly developed by the interpretation of Christianity spreading over Europe. Wolves were often seen as evil by the believers of the time. It then made werewolves being seen as demons by association.
“I dream that I am the wolf [that] Bramond is looking for. I can see him shooting at me to kill me, and I can’t speak to him and tell him that I am not a wolf. Oh, it is awful when you want to talk and can’t!” – Translated excerpt from Bisclavret, Marie de France
In the Viking era, “werewolves”‘ tales were already known as early as the 11th century. Part of the Norse mythology and many other tales associated with known people such as Odin was already written. The translation being “wolf coated men” named, Úlfhednar from the Vatnsdœla saga spoke of some kind of werewolf already.
Pagan Germanic has records of the word werewolf written by, Burchard von Worms. However, Christianization eliminated such beliefs and of course, took control of what would be taught and said. Therefore, the word only made its way back in the 13th century and was most likely kept in literature outside of the religion that was being taught at the time.
It was in the 13th century, in the country of France that Marie de France wrote Bisclavret, a poem as part of her Twelve Lais. It told a story about a man cursed by the werewolf affliction. Because of the betrayal of his wife, the man was trapped in its lupine form. The transformation was not explained, but the man had to change into a wolf each week of his life. When he escaped the King’s wolf hunt, he begged for the King to let him live.
The werewolf became part of the royal court at the King’s side. When he attacked his wife who held his clothes needed to become a man again, he killed not only her but the new husband as well. His actions being justified, he was permitted to tell what happened to him and remained by the king’s side.
Back with a vengeance
It was not until 14th century Europe, that the popularity of the werewolf came back to everyone’s lips and spread over many countries all over the continent. The popularity of the werewolf became so popular, that it crossed over the ocean and spread through North America’s colonies.
It was only in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance that it truly took a turn for the worse as people were slowly being victim of false allegations such as being a werewolf, a wolf charmer or witchcraft. The infamous witch-hunts were gaining in popularity and the werewolves were no exception.
Despite being fewer in numbers, the rumor of the werewolf still spread. It attracted people like moth to a flame, they were hypnotized by the possibility of such a creature walking around their villages.
Many cases were reported of “werewolfery” and were taken very seriously as back then, knowledge of human body was not as developed as it is today. Hunted down, werewolves had no chance to survive the ancient times.
People back then might have been trying to protect their lands. No television, literacy not accessible to all, beside ale and sexual relations, not many attractions were around to keep the people of the Middle Ages and Renaissance entertained.
That’s when the wolf hunt started and those folklores were born again with a more twisted and dark past. Their intentions might have been good, while many were bad as people were being falsely accused and then then morbidly tortured to death.
Entertainment used to be obscure in those days and folklores were born from the darkest times and still haunts the mind of authors to this day…
Until next time!
The OCD Vampire