Werewolves- Movie fiction or paranormal fact?
For as long as records have existed, there have been tales of Werewolves, Lycanthropes, humans with shapeshifting abilities capable of turning into a wolf either at will, using magic, a cursed soul, or the result of a bite infection from another carrier, fated to turn into a Wolf by the light of the full moon, we delve into the history of the Werewolf.
Where did the idea come from?
The full moon has long been credited with strange behaviour, in fact, the word lunatic takes it’s origin from ‘Luna’ meaning moon, and psychiatric hospitals mark a changed increase in patient activity during the full moon, with many more reports of strange unsettled behaviour at that time. But this might be more scientifically explained than paranormally. We must consider for a moment, the moon’s effect on the tides, since scientists are able to detect the tide in a teacup, and with our bodies being composed of up to 60% water there is a strong possibility of some sort of bodily changes in response to that lunar pull. Nevertheless, the moon has long been linked to strange behaviour and tales of ‘changes’ under the moonlight. A study by Calvary Mater Newcastle hospital in Australia found that out of 91 acute incidents of behaviour such as biting, spitting, scratching between Aug 08 and July 09 23% of those happened during the full moon, and many more were violent at this time.
For centuries people have been afraid of the Werewolf, a mythical creature steeped in folklore. Tales of half-man, half-beast creatures exist in almost every country of the world, but lots of Werewolf mythology centres around Eastern Europe. The eradication of Wolves in the UK by the 16th century may have lessened the fear of Wolves in the British isles, and as we know, fear of real things often creates the basis for folklore tales which get embellished over the years, becoming more frightening and more dramatic with every telling of the story.
Werewolf references in early mythology.
It is not clear exactly when and how the legend of the werewolf started. Some people attribute the legend of Gilgamesh, considered to be the oldest written piece of prose (in the West) wherein the story details how Gilgamesh gets rid of a hopeful lover because she has apparently turned her previous companion into a wolf. Another more probable possibility for its origin is the story of Lycaon (hence the derived word from the Greek) where Zeus is served a meal by Lycaon supposedly made from a sacrificed boy, Zeus is so angry that he transforms Lycaon and his family into wolves as a punishment.
The legend of the Werewolf doesn’t stop at central Europe, there are multiple mentions in Nordic folk history. There is a story of the Volsung family who owned magic wolf skins that had the ability to turn people into wolves for a number of days. The father and son go on a killing spree in the forest, stopping only when the father injures the boy. In good traditional Nordic style, he is saved by a generous magic Raven.
Types of Werewolf.
There are two different accepted types of Werewolf, involuntary (made that way beyond their own control) and Voluntary ( The afflicted has made themselves that way out of choice, either by magic or demonic assistance).
The Involuntary variety has usually been bitten by a Werewolf and is so cursed to roam the forests every full moon transformed into this wolflike beast. We often see this version in our movies, much-maligned and seeking justice. Some movies give us a cure or management of the disease whilst some are all out for eradication.
The other variety, the voluntary kind enjoys eating the flesh of humans and will have acquired magical skills to achieve the ability to transform. We see these portrayed as great mysterious Sorcerers, Witches and Wizards, or in consort with the Devil himself, great movie characters as they are unpredictable, and the notion that they have chosen to do this to themselves allows great scope for madness related shenanigans.
Good Werewolf movies are in fairly short supply, some say this is because a CGI Werewolf simply doesn’t cut it, so the need for expensive costume props and traditional prosthetics puts a lot of filmmakers off. Others consider the genre less desirable than a zombie or vampire film, but for whatever reason, the genre has gotten a little sidelined over the years. But one thing is certain, it takes a skilled actor to make a transformation believable, with the likes of Lon Chaney jnr and David Naughton setting a high bar. Some of the most iconic portrayals are considered that of Werewolf of London, An American Werewolf, The Howling, Bad Moon, Underworld Rise of the Lycans and Wolfman to name but a few. And even though werewolf movies are considered progressively more of a niche genre, our fascination with them continues to stay strong almost a hundred years after the first on-screen portrayals.
First we visit Germany in the 15th century, where we find reference to a man named Peter Stubbe. He was a wealthy farmer from the Bedburg area of Germany and is generally considered to be the most notorious of all werewolves. His antics were blamed for many deaths of men women, children and animals in the area, and it is reported that he boasted of owning a magic enchanted belt that turned him into a wolf. He was eventually arrested after being cornered by local hunters who claimed to have seen him transform from wolf to human form after a rampage. The belt was unsurprisingly never found, but Stubbe confessed under torture to the crimes. Peter’s case was highly controversial at the time, and many people believed it was more about politics, than the paranormal, and lots thought that he had been framed for the crimes. Nonetheless, werewolf fear spread across europe.
In 16th century Europe there were a number of gruesome tales, In France in the 1500’s two men Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun were burned at the stake for murdering children whilst dressed as wolves and covered in ‘magic’ transformation ointment. Burning was considered one of the only reliable ways to defeat a werewolf. Another Frenchman a century later Giles Garnier suffered the same fate, he was also burned at the stake for reportedly murdering and eating children whilst transformed into a wolf with a similar ointment.
Could werewolves be real?
The werewolf could have a rational medical explanation. in 1725 a boy Peter called ‘Peter the wildboy’ was found wandering around naked in a forest in Germany. The notion of how he had survived was that he was thought to either be a werewolf or have been raised by wolves. He was mute and ate only with his hands. Little was done to help him, as nobody really understood his condition. After a while Peter was taken in by the court of George 1st and 2nd of England and kept at the courts almost as a ‘pet’ wolf-boy.
It has since been suggested that Peter may have been afflicted by the condition discovered in 1978 called Pitt-Hopkins syndrome which causes comparable symptoms. There is also a medical condition which although very rare causes extreme hair growth on the body and face. The condition is nicknamed ‘werewolf’ syndrome and is called Hypertrichosis. It can affect either women or men, but it is very rare. The abnormal hair growth can cover any part of the patient’s body and/or face and can start at birth or develop over time. Because of its rarity, not much is known about the condition, scientists are researching treatments as with the invention of the internet it is now easier to connect with remote groups of society and they have discovered that there are a number of sufferers around the world.
So fact or fiction, this notion of Werewolves remains strong after all these centuries, the pull of folklore stays with us and while that is reinforced by what we see in movies, our fascination with wolves and the possibility for lycanthropic transformation endures. Are Werewolves actually as easily explained as a medical condition, are they a myth or indeed real?…
Article:Emma Murfin for Movie-Reliquary