Werewolves: Understanding Them All In Their Complexity
A creature that has been drooled over in the human world, but despised in the magical world. Over the past couple of decades, werewolves have made many grand appearances in shows and movies such as Wolfman (2010), the Howling (1981), Stephen King’s Silver Bullet (1985) and the teenage drama Twilight. Within Western culture, werewolves are depicted as mysterious and eerie humans by day who then transform into dark and deadly creatures during the night. According to Oxford Dictionary.com, a werewolf is described, (in myth or fiction), as a “person who changes for periods of time into a wolf, typically when there is a full moon”. Thus, leading many to get the impression that all werewolves act and look pretty much the same when it comes around to a full moon. However, according to a surplus of legends, all werewolves do not come from the same region nor do the same thing. The History of the Werewolf Legend, states that the “‘eastern’ werewolf-vampire is found in the folklore of Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary, Romania and the Balkans, while the ‘western’ werewolf-sorcerer is found in France, German-speaking Europe and in the Baltic’’ (History.com). Also, all werewolves don’t react to shapeshifting in the same way. Werewolves can be broken down into 3 main categories: The Wolf, Wolf-man and Mind/Spirit wolves. Each particular group of werewolves then have their own particular types of animal that associate with the werewolf family with some of the most common wolves being Skinwalkers, wolf-men being Were-animals, and Mind/Spirit wolves being Berserkers. While each animal associates with one another, their history and characteristics also vary far from one another as well.
The most popular type of werewolf is the wolf, hence the name. Lycanthropy, the said medical definition of becoming a werewolf, is made up of two Greek words: lykos (meaning wolf) and Anthropos (meaning man). (Encyclopedia Britannica). Humans that fit themselves with the “wolf” category, have the ability to “turn themselves into the wolf that is native to where they come from, thus allowing them to be very in touch with nature whether in human or wolf form. They are also able to keep their human intelligence while in wolf form and are generally able to transform at will though strong negative emotions like anger could cause one to shift” (Supernatural Archive: Types of Werewolves). Two types of animals, both skinwalkers and shapeshifters share similar characteristics to that of the wolf. A skinwalker, is similar to an Animagi, in the sense that it is a person with the ability to turn into any animal at will. According to Skinwalkers Fandom, the legend of the skinwalkers originates from the Navajo tribe, a “southwestern Native American tribe wherein the Navajo language, the word “skinwalker” translates to “he who walks on all fours” (Skinwalker Fandom). The most popular forms that a skinwalker takes are coyotes, wolves, foxes, eagles, owls and/or crows.
However, while they can take many forms, their current appearance seems to resemble that of a “hollow” dog-like animal. Not only do skinwalkers have the ability to transform into multiple animals, but skinwalkers also have a tendency to “hang around graveyards, digging up graves allowing some to also “steal” the faces of different people and appear as someone you know. This can be extremely dangerous, especially if you accidentally lock eyes with a skinwalker since they can “absorb” themselves into you and take control of your body” (Skinwalkers Fandom). If their other powers weren’t terrifying enough, skinwalkers are also said to be able to run over 200 miles in a day and that the only way to kill one is if you call it by its human name. The other type of animal within the wolf category are the shapeshifters. However, a shapeshifter differs from a skinwalker in the sense that it is a human-like creature that has the ability to shapeshift into any “person” that it wants. Some develop this ability as infants, were as others develop later into their young adolescent years. Some shapeshifters are “known to change their shape in a matter of seconds while others are known to take up to several hours. When a shapeshifter takes the shape of a person, they not only take on the person’s physical appearance but they are also able to access the thoughts of the person they are copying. They can also take the forms of fictional characters or inhuman characteristics, such as vampires and wolves” (Shapeshifter Fandom). Some of the other strengths include being able to regenerate (wounded body parts), have super strength (even at a young age) and have super agility (have very quick reflexes).
The second category of werewolves are the were-animals. A Were-animal is a fictional character that is able to transform into an animal that is not a wolf. Were-animals are less popular than werewolves, which allows most of their shifting abilities to be unknown. However, were-animals have been known to transform into an animal publicly or in secret. Other times, a were-animal transformation requires for it to be bitten by a different animal in order to mirror its image. Were-animals usually have control over their transformations, but simple things as being under a full moon or having unbalanced emotions can trigger a transformation. Were-animals are very limited in variety since not being a “pure” were-animal restricts certain humans from being able to shift into something else or shift at all. Any animal outside of being a werewolf is considered a lesser species by werewolves themselves, even if they are similar in nature. A pure werewolf, meaning both parents are werewolves, can shift whenever they want, but still are susceptible to shifting when in the presence of a full moon.
However, were-animals don’t get to have the same luxury. Were-animals are not considered pure-bloods since to make a were, one parent must be a werewolf and during their animal form, they are not completely animal. They can “recognize people and places and have some control over their actions. In human form, they have heightened senses – a keen sense of smell, taste, and hearing, essentially holding on to some of their animal instincts while in human form. They can also find themselves strongly attracted to other weres and shifters” (Were-animal Fanlore). As animals, their powers include Super strength, Super Agility, General Deadliness (The ability to rip – apart bodies) & Bite (some including venom). However, some of their weaknesses include: Extreme Physical Harm (Ripping the heart out and breaking their neck), Tranquilizers and Magic (Were-animals are susceptible to magic.) Now modern werewolves are tamer than their counterpart. As stated prior, the belief in Lycanthropy is what allowed the belief in werewolves to take off, despite there being no real medical evidence that humans could even turn into werewolves. However, this misbelief around the truth behind the existence of werewolves started to diminish after psychologist and medical professionals were getting calls to work on cases that dealt with clinical lycanthropy. According to Penn State University, there have been 13 cases of people who have reportedly transformed into a werewolf. Thus allowing some to believe that modern werewolves exist. One psychiatrist, Dr. Jan Dirk Blom, has been one of those doctors who look into Clinical Lycanthropy. According to Blom’s research, “there have been 52 cases of lycanthropy reported, but only 13 met the requirements of clinical lycanthropy since it is generally the result of a more prominent mental disorder such as severe depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder” (Penn State University). Blom’s studies on his patients “reported extreme changes in physical appearances, such as changes in mouth/teeth, broadened chest, shrinking bodies, sensations of burning in thighs and stomach region” (Penn State University). So, there are no actual people turning into werewolves today, however, depending on someone’s mental stability, their brain can lead them to think otherwise.
The third category of werewolves are the mind/spirit wolves. A Mental/Spirit type of wolf are people who don’t physically change into a werewolf but instead change mentally. For them, their brain and spirit literally change. This plays into “‘Clinical Lycanthropy’ which is the belief that you are shifting or have shifted into that of a wolf or other creature when you haven’t. All of their senses began to become alert with their eyesight becoming sharper, their sense of smell and hearing is heightened and their reflexes are quickened” (Supernatural Archive). Despite the fact, that these types of wolves are rare, there are still a few different types of mental/spirit wolves such as the Norse berserkers who took on the spirit of a wolf before battle and the Therians who are able to mentally shift their minds into that of a wolf or other creature. Berserkers are known to be a special group of elite Viking warriors who, according to Urban Dictionary, “fought in a wild frenzy and acquired their power through ritualistic practice.” Berserkers are known to take part in rituals that, before a battle, would create a state of a “berserk gang” where whoever participated was considered a shapeshifter. These rituals would cause the berserk gangs to begin “ with shivering, the chattering of the teeth, and chills in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its color. With this was connected a great hot-headedness, which at last gave over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met without discriminating between friend or foe. In this state, berserkers lost all human ability to reason and were known to scream and howl constantly while ripping enemies to shreds. ” (Wikipedia: Berserkers).
However, Berserkers also transformed themselves mentally by taking on the mental identity of the animals they wanted to mirror. These practices included spending periods in extreme isolation, fasting and exposing oneself to extreme heat or coldness, just to copy the mannerisms of said animal. For example, “the goal of the berserker in battle was to assume the identity and characteristics of a bear or a wolf. In fact, becoming a wolf or bear was the ultimate goal of all the drugs, drinking, and ritual in which the berserkers partook. Living in the woods, emulating these animals served as preparation for the transformation, as did entering a frenzied state” (Supernatural Fandom: Berserkers). Then there are the Therians. Therianthropy is the mythological belief that describes the process of a human practicing shapeshifting. A therian is someone who identifies as a nonhuman either spiritually or psychologically. Despite not all therians being able to shift, all therians understand that they cannot physically shift into an animal. However, the most well-known form of therianthropy is found in stories concerning werewolves, due to the fact that Therianthropy encourages one to embody and find peace with the animal within. Now Therians do not associate themselves with Clinical Lycanthropy, due to the fact that Therianthropes have the ability to control their actions during shifts. The majority of Therians “chose to remain private about their ‘animal instincts’, since they can’t necessarily point out what causes them to identify as non-human. It is also said by the community that a Therian cannot pick and choose a theriotype, the animal which is an individual’s identity. The majority within the community agrees that Therianthropy is not a choice. It is subconscious or unconscious. Some individuals enjoy the experiences associated with Therianthropy, some do not, and others are indifferent to being a Therianthrope” (Therianthropy Fandom).
Western culture has and continues to allow the depiction of werewolves to be mysterious, eerie, dark and deadly, sadly allowing many to get the impression that all werewolves are similar when it comes to their looks and behaviors. However, our inner child’s desire to know about werewolves will be fulfilled once we take the time and get to know the rich history behind werewolves. Once we start to learn that each werewolf and animal that associates with it, do not come from the same background, we also learn to appreciate the complexity of the misunderstood creature.