The History of Werewolves

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright

We’ve all seen them in the movies and on television but are they real? The Beast of Bray Road and the Michigan Dogman[1] are described as werewolf-like creatures. Eyewitnesses describe them as bipedal, shaggy creatures with wolf-like heads. A werewolf is any person who can turn into a wolf or wolf-man hybrid, willingly or unwillingly, in an actual physical (not illusionary) transformation.

It didn’t just start with the first Werewolf movie, “The Werewolf”, which appeared in 1913 and involved a Navajo woman who turned into a wolf in order to attack white
settlers. References to men changing into wolves are found in Ancient Greek literature and mythology.

In 1550 BC, King Lycaon of Arcadia serves human flesh to the god Zeus and is transformed into a wolf as punishment. The term “Lycanthrope”[2] is derived from this story. Lycanthropy in folklore is the magical ability, or delusion, to assume the form and characteristics of a wolf.

440 BC, in “Histories of Herodotus“, the traveler Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484 BC – 425 BC) writes of the Neuri people, who transform into wolves once a year. 400 BC – A victorious Olympic boxer by the name of Damarchus, an Arcadian of Parrhasia, is said to have transformed into a wolf at the sacrifice of Lycaean (Wolf) Zeus, and nine years after he became a man again.

In 1020 AD the first use of the word “werewulf” was recorded in English. In 1521 AD the werewolves of Poligny, a tortured man Michel Verdun admitted he was a shapeshifter and accused two others, Pierre Bourget and Philibert Montot, were convicted and burned in France.

Between 1764 and 1767 there were more than 100 victims credited to the Beast of Gévaudan in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France. “Little Red Riding Hood” was written by the Grimm Brothers in 1812. Antoine Leger was tried for werewolf crimes and sentenced to a lunatic asylum in 1824.

“The Book of Were-Wolves” was written by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865. It is still considered one of the leading books on werewolf history. In 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. would play a werewolf for the first time in the Universal movie, “The Wolf Man”. This would help introduce the modern era to the werewolf phenomena. Becoming a werewolf is usually considered an innate ability, thanks to birth, a curse, a blessing, a ritual, or in many modern works often some kind of disease or infection.

Dr. Lee Illis of Guy’s Hospital in London wrote a paper in 1963 entitled “On Porphyria and the Aetiology of Werewolves”, in which he argues that historical accounts on werewolves could have in fact been referring to victims of congenital porphyria, stating how the symptoms of photosensitivity, reddish teeth and psychosis could have been grounds for accusing a sufferer of being a werewolf.

Others have suggested that they may have been sufferers of hypertrichosis, a hereditary condition manifesting itself in excessive hair growth. Some have noted that being bitten and turning into a werewolf could be attributed to rabies.

Lycanthropy can also be met with as the main content of a delusion, for example, the case of a woman has been reported who during episodes of acute psychosis complained of becoming four different species of animals.

  1. The Beast of Bray Road is a purported humanoid wolf-like creature allegedly witnessed in or near the rural community of Elkhorn, Walworth County, Wisconsin. Named for the farm road in which it was first allegedly sighted, reports of the creature in the 1980s and 1990s prompted a local newspaper, the Walworth County Week, to assign reporter Linda Godfrey to cover the story. Godfrey was initially skeptical, but later became convinced of the sincerity of the witnesses. Reports of a similar creature in the neighboring state of Michigan also tell of an alleged wolf-like humanoid, the Michigan Dogman that was witnessed in 1887 in Wexford County, Michigan. The creature is described as a seven-foot-tall, blue-eyed, or amber-eyed bipedal canine-like animal with the torso of a man and a fearsome howl that sounds like a human scream. According to legends, the Michigan Dogman appears in a ten-year cycle that falls on years ending in 7.
  2. ly·can·thrope is defined as:
    • a person suffering from lycanthropy.
    • a werewolf or alien spirit in the form of a bloodthirsty wolf.
    • a person reputed to be able to change himself or another person into a wolf.


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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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