When the moon grows full, the man transforms into a beast. This is mostly what the legends about werewolves go down to. A werewolf is a man who transforms into a giant wolf-like beast at midnight if the moon is full; he grows hair all over his body, claws, and acquires immense super-human powers. In most legends, he is no longer a man, so he won’t be able to recognize his beloved ones and could even hurt them. Usually, werewolves and vampires are part of the same tale. In most of them, they’re mortal enemies. While vampires are portrayed as higher, intelligent creatures, werewolves are always the low beasts who see no reason. So, where did all of these tales come from? Is any of it real?
Are werewolves real?
Werewolves are not real; at least not like the ones you see in movies. However, genetics might have played a few tricks on us and started this whole werewolf saga. A dangerous and bloody saga it was. Much like the witch hunts of the 16th century, there were also werewolf hunts that were as gruesome as you could imagine and even more than that. A few notable events took place during these werewolf hunts. In 1573, a supposed werewolf named Gilles Garnier was burned at the stake for lycanthropy. A few years later, Peter Stubbe allegedly roamed Germany, murdered, and ate his victims. He claimed he had a belt that granted him super-human powers, turning him into a werewolf. He was sentenced to death and the belt was never found, for obvious reasons.
There is also another account of a young man called Jean Grenier who, in 1603, admitted to committing a series of murders and said in court that he had a special skin that he would put on and thus become a wolf. So, as you can see, people not only believed there was some evil, beast-like creatures roaming outside, in the woods and killing anyone who would come in their path. Some of them even believed themselves to be those beasts. It became a sort of werewolf syndrome. Between 1520 and 1630, France recorded more than 30,000 cases of people who claimed or appeared to be werewolves.
In 1725, an adolescent named Peter the Wild Boy was found in a German forest. He was walking on all fours, would eat with his hands and couldn’t utter a word. Many thought he was a werewolf raised by the wolves in the forest. He was later adopted by King George I and lived the rest of his life at the English court. Later research showed that he suffered from the Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, which causes intellectual challenges, lack of speech, seizures, and distinct facial features that might make a man look like a wolf or a werewolf.
Actually, there are several conditions and diseases that might make a man look like a werewolf and which might have spurred these stories in the first place:
- Lycanthropy: This is a rare psychological condition that actually makes people believe they’re changing into an animal, wolf, or otherwise.
- Hypertrichosis: This is a rare genetic disorder that causes excessive hair growth. Basically, people who have this condition can really look like werewolves.
- Rabies: This is a disease that can be transmitted through biting. It can prove fatal if it is not treated right from the beginning. In its advanced stages, rabies can cause heavy hallucinations. Usually, the rabies epidemic was caused by dog or wolf bites. Then the humans would start acting strangely and people would think they exhibited werewolf-like symptoms and would turn into a werewolf because they had been bitten by one. This is one way to explain the tales of werewolves.
- Hallucinations caused by ergot poisoning which was one of the causes that went to the vile trials in Salem
Where do werewolves live?
Well, if by werewolves you mean people suffering from the hypertrichosis lanuginosa or clinical lycanthropy, then they live among us. The “werewolf syndrome” is quite a rare condition, though; and very difficult, too. Imagine having to live with thick hair covering all your body, including your face. Moreover, the sufferers of this condition might also encounter some other skeletal abnormalities. Much remains to be learned about this disease, a treatment also. People suffering from the “werewolf syndrome” can’t really do much about it. They can just undergo temporary removal of the hair through laser therapies and electrolysis.
The clinical lycanthropy has been declared a brain disease. Recent studies have shown that lycanthropy affects the area of our brain that creates our sense of physical identity, similar to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other severe types of depression.
Werewolf origin: A Brief History
We don’t know for sure where and how it all started. In the oldest Western prose currently known to man, The Epic of Gilgamesh we learn that Gilgamesh’s potential lover had turned her previous lover into a wolf. Then we have the Greek mythology with its Lycaon legend. Lycaon served Zeus a meal made of the remains of a sacrificed body and Zeus got angry and turned him and his sons into wolves.
In the Nordic Saga of the Volsungs, a father and his son discover some wolf pelts that would turn them into wolves for ten days. They put these pelts on and started to kill everything they could get their paws on in the area until the father accidentally attacked his own son.
Many stories and legends emerged and in the 16th century, serial killers would think of themselves as werewolves and go on killing sprees around the European continent, especially in France. For example, there is the story of the Frenchmen Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun. They claimed they had sworn allegiance to the devil and that gave them a special ointment that would turn them into werewolves. They murdered several children and were burnt to death at the stake to make sure they would “properly” die. It was around the year 1521 and people actually believed they were werewolves. However, they might have suffered from serious mental disorders or they might have just consumed serious hallucinogenic substances which would make them believe they were actually werewolves; hence “the ointments”.
While in some stories, normal people would become werewolves after they had been bitten by a werewolf and from thence could shape-shift at their own will, there are also the classic ones where normal folk would transform into werewolves at the full moon. Some believe that the full moon might actually have an influence on all of us. According to a study conducted by researchers at a Newcastle hospital, 23 percent of the violent incidents that happened at the hospital between July 2009 and August 2008 was during a full moon. Now, this is a far cry statement, but worth mentioning.
Werewolves are a myth. Such are vampires. They were a means to explain some unexplainable phenomena during the dark ages of our history. In modern times, they have become pop culture horror icons and make millions at Hollywood. There are still people who believe werewolves are real and organize werewolf sightings and so on. One thing is for sure, werewolves tales are here to stay and haunt our dreams for decades to come.