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Werewolves, Lycanthropes, Shape-Shifters…. Therianthropy? Oh my!

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posted on Jun, 5 2011 @ 10:23 PM

Werewolves, Lycanthropes, Shape-Shifters….


Oh my!

Since the dawn of human memory, we have been aware that a strange phenomenon accompanies our existence in this troubling and beautiful world. Today, we often entertain ourselves with the notion, barely recognizing how deeply it is still ingrained in our collective psyche. Commonly, we call it Lycanthropy. But its roots run deeper and farther back than many realize. Anthropologists claim hints of the belief are present in ancient cave art; which means this myth of transformation into a wild beast has been a global and timeless phenomenon.

Once we began writing books and sharing ideas freely it became clear to scholars that shape shifting is not a run-of-the-mill local myth; (in fact, it is still believed to happen to this day.) This phenomenon spanned continents.

Science classifies the phenomenon, “clinical lycanthropy”, from the perspective of the sufferer, considering it a delusion, and usually designating any corroborative witness testimony as flawed in some way. Psychological academia seems to accept that sufferers are expressing a complication of some underlying psychosis or condition, such as schizophrenia.

Witnesses claim seeing feats of inexplicable strength and bestial dexterity undertaken by the werewolf. Historical accounts also speak of a single werewolf engaging and defeating a dozen men. The animal rage and cruelty displayed by werewolves was so astonishing to some, they created graphic illustrations to lend credence to their stories.

Werewolf-ism, or Lycanthropy, is actually considered a ‘type’ of an illness to medical science. In June 1954 the 26th volume of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine was published including a scholarly work entitled; “Encyclopedia of Aberrations.” In it, the scientist author describes something more all-encompassing in its scope: Therianthropy.

Therianthropy describes the belief in which the human undergoes a metamorphosis into animal form. The myth merits study, considering that this archetype of phenomenon seems permanently connected to our common history. But in no way does any form of shape shifting compare with the current prominence or popularity of the werewolf, which specifically calls attention to itself on nearly every continent, in nearly every period of human history.

It is important to distinguish between a “theriomorph” – a person who chooses to surrender themselves to an animal form, and a "lycanthrope", who seems incapable of arresting the change. While lycanthropes have been said to appear differently, sometimes as anthropomorphic men or women, with wolf-like features; theriomorphs appears as normal animals, generally indistinguishable from the real thing.


Starting with the foundation, as all enduring ideas are; let’s begin with some considered conjecture.

Among the first things to consider is the lengthy history that humans have with canines. Wolves are the largest among canines and they appear to be untamable. Their distinctive howl can be heard from miles away. I envision primitive hunters admiring their cunning, and their cooperative manners. Humans must have seen that the success of wolves in the wild had something to do with their coordinated behavior and demonstrable respect for rank within the group.

As hunters though, wolves compete with us for food, and are known to turn to us as prey given the right circumstances. Unlike our friends the dogs, wolves keep their tails low for the most part, the dominance of the male pack leader is supreme and his mate clearly shares the role. In pre-history, wolves ran across the entire northern hemisphere, North America, Asia, Europe.

Imagine if you will, the mind of the early human, trying to understand why this one kind of ‘super’ dog refuses to conform to the human pack. Why do they dare to challenge us, even kill us, if we should confront them? It’s as if they would not be enslaved to our will, they were more free, and to be feared and respected, unlike their smaller subservient cousins. Even wolf pups raised by humans consistently retain their wild heritage and often return to the wild never to be seen again.

(In the southern hemisphere, lacking wolves, the inhabitants instead see were-tigers, were-hyenas, and were-jaguars. Their mythology tracks that of their northern counterparts without missing a beat. As most claims of theriantropic phenomena seem to center on shape-shifting into some predator, or beastly killer of men.)

As mankind migrated and established new centers of life, he brought with him thousands of years of collected folklore and legend regarding shape-shifting, and for the most part, the uncontrollable wolf. Shamans and witch-doctors sought the power of this independent and resilient creature. Hunters wore their skins, but perhaps for more than warmth, maybe even to affect the taking of the wolves’ perceived power to intimidate by strength and disposition.
As humans began to exercise what they believed to be the sympathetic spiritual magic of the wild, the blessing of the wolf’s attributes given to some, proved to be the curse of the wolf to their victims. Perspective engenders the conceptualization of good and evil, and all things being equal, for those said not to be in control of their lives, the ‘curse’ of the werewolf is born.

Amassing knowledge of the beast.

Eventually, the world of humans became increasingly intelligible. People began to rely on more than verbally-transmitted folklore and writing and illustrating became a way to disseminate ideas and knowledge.

We look back at the history we have managed to save this way, and we see Lycanthropes everywhere, and every ‘when’…. Always on the periphery of acceptance; but never lost from sight.

An early scholarly book about werewolves is “The Book of Were-Wolves,” by Sabine Baring-Gould, [1865]. It represents an early, serious effort to accumulate the folklore and legend of the werewolf, although it has typical gaps corresponding to the general lack of global knowledge prevalent at the time in western writing. Nevertheless the book points out some interesting ancient references.

Marcellus Sidetes, a Roman citizen of what is now Turkey, wrote in the early to mid-first century BCE that there had been encounters with hyena-men, and similarly Virgil wrote that certain sorcerers could transform themselves into wolf-men. Ovid, in his "Metamorphoses," of Lycaon, spoke of when the king of Arcadia, was entertaining the god Jupiter one day, and upon presenting him a portion of human flesh, Jupiter proved his godliness by transforming him into a wolf.

The ancient Greek domain of Arcadia was apparently considered the center of all Lycanthropy, which was further evidenced by an account of Pliny, who tells that during the festival of Jupiter Lycæus, one of the families of Antæus was randomly chosen, and taken to the shore of the Arcadian lake. He then stripped and jumped into the water; “whereupon he was transformed into a wolf. Nine years after, if he had not tasted human flesh, he was at liberty to swim back and resume his former shape…

But werewolves were not particular to the south of Europe, and it appears that long before, the people of the North were said to be plagued by the werewolf problem. The Norse knew lycanthropy as pertaining to the "skin-changing men", and there were several ways they changed form, mostly it was accomplished by ritual. For all the benefits of taking on the form of the wolf, the salient fact was that the beast form would rule the person's mind; which of course, led to bloody ends.

Viking “berserkers” were possibly lycanthropes, as they used the transformation to overwhelm their enemies and prey despite the rage, suffering, and sometimes even death they brought their own people.

In France, the werewolf story acquires new aspects. Unlike earlier accounts, it was now said to be possible to become “infected” with lycanthropy by suffering a wound from a werewolf, or drinking rain water collected from the imprint of a wolf's paw. It is there that the idea of werewolves not having a ‘choice’ in their affliction became first propagated, where all other cultures and background indicates that to be a shape-shifter one must undergo a specific ritual or trial; and that such a thing is more or less an aspiration of the person; not some accidental ‘disease.’

In North America, the wolf along with his generally less honorable cousin the coyote, are both subjects of Therianthropy. In the majority of cases, the action of transforming oneself was considered evil magic, contrary to the natural beauty of life. Thus all “skin walkers” are considered evil witches and sorcerers; whereas true men of medicine do not engage in such things.

Asia had its share of theriantropic phenomenon as well, aside from were-wolves, which were closely associated with the Mongol hordes, there were dragon men, and any number of other forms, all considered monstrous. Russian folklore speaks of a recipe for becoming an “oborot”, a werewolf.

Observations of the changing mythos

Many are no longer – generally speaking - afraid of werewolves. We don’t see them as automatically evil and wildly bestial creatures that hunt and eat whatever they can, with no hesitation if the prey should happen to be human.
In the past, such creatures were hunted and destroyed. The allegation of being a werewolf was a death sentence.

Europe had a great deal of werewolf cases; some 30,000 were reported between 1520 and 1630. Oddly, many recorded cases in official hearings talk of "eating children," and most people destined for a horrible death would confess their regret for having rubbed the magical salve on their skin, which made them change shape, or they would deny remembering anything, but not that they were guilty.

As time passed, we begin to see stories of the association with the moon, the restraint of the affliction to nighttime only, and the idea that certain metals can repel, kill, or even cure a lycanthrope. Many of the changes in the myth began their appearances once the infamous inquisition had begun to spread across Christendom. It was at that moment in time it seems, that brigands and thieves, using wolves pelts as scary disguises realized the risk was too high to persist in the practice. Perhaps then too, other ne’er-do-wells realized that the pretense of being a lycanthrope was ill-advised.

We remain with a lengthy list of what causes lycanthropy, aside from a delusion of the mind; magical spells, salves, or rituals might make you 'turn'; deals with demons and the demonic; evil deeds endlessly repeated by an unrepentant person were often cited as the means to this terrible end. To this, we add that being bitten by a lycanthrope might leave you cursed with the disease.

Was it, or could it be a choice, or an affliction? Medicine opts for a mental affliction (although there is at least one modern study which shows strange brain patterns expressed in the scans of those believing themselves to be undergoing the change.)

Some romantically think that the werewolf ‘people’ went into hiding, which contradicts the idea that their affliction leaves them incapable of resisting their animal impulses. If this is so lycanthropes, or some lycanthropes, are actuality the aforementioned theriantropic individuals, in which case, one might surmise, there could be another kind of hidden community among the nations of the world.

The recently turned werewolf must contend with a new reality that must be both frightening and terrible in its depth. Imagine the sudden realization that you are not 'you' at certain times. That whatever you become is beyond your ability to comprehend, let alone control. At first, the lycanthrope has to piece together the missing time, and may have to accept the real possibility that the thing he or she becomes may kill cruelly and without cause. The intense anxiety of an oncoming transformation may hasten the change, and the power to recall what has happened may be slow and painful.

If lycanthropes can then learn to not only to recall what happened, but to assert their will over the new creature they have become, then perhaps there is hope that they can live along side humans with little difficulty. But how long does such a journey take? Do lycanthropes mentor each other through the process, or do they, like humans, use each other to their own advantage? How does the concept of dominance play into relationships, and can there be a 'good' werewolf out there? This kind of scenario seems to challenge the desperation of powerlessness.

But are they victims? Or are they truly another species? We have seen countless entertainment efforts using the werewolf as a central theme. Most of them are not really about werewolves, but instead about their victims. Perhaps a new look will prove interesting, because should lycanthropes walk among us – there is one thing that is certain – we still really have a lot to learn about them.

Often, a well-researched and produced show can make us consider these questions and engage our imaginations in a way that can lead us to some possible answers. I am looking forward to the efforts of producers Jeff Davis and Russel Mulcahy, (who also directs,) with their new show "Teen Wolf" (which is a serious effort, unlike the well-received tongue-in-cheek comedy featuring Michael J. Fox.)

This show (I believe it debuts on MTV on June 5th and 6th) explores a young man's world-shattering discovery that he has become a werewolf. His trials and life-lessons will be very interesting to watch unfold.

edit on 6-6-2011 by SkepticOverlord because: (no reason given)

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posted on Jun, 5 2011 @ 11:41 PM
Let me see, this thread was made little over an hour ago, has zero replies, and has...24 flags? Is this what it means to be a Gold Contributor -- to have people flag your thread without even reading it?

It's a shame that this is probably what is going on, since the content presented is fascinating and well-written. I just wish more people would take the time to read it instead of flagging it simply due to the user/moderator who posted it.

edit on 6/6/2011 by yeahright because: Post deleted in error. Apologies to member.

+19 more 
posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 06:45 AM

Originally posted by SonicInfinity
Let me see, this thread was made little over an hour ago, has zero replies, and has...24 flags? Is this what it means to be a Gold Contributor -- to have people flag your thread without even reading it?

It's a shame that this is probably what is going on, since the content presented is fascinating and well-written. I just wish more people would take the time to read it instead of flagging it simply due to the user/moderator who posted it.

There are a lot of times I flag a thread without replying to it. It simply means I think its a good thread, but I don't really have anything to say or reply about. Except for, "wow that is a neat post" which we all know posting with only a couple of words is a no no. People are allowed to like threads without having to reply.


posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 06:46 AM
reply to post by SonicInfinity

Dearest Sonic Infinity...

Please forgive me... I meant to message you and accidentally clicked the manners and decorum skittle.... I will remedy this and restore your post immediately...

I apologize for the error....

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 06:50 AM
this is a good thread indeed, so good theres not much one can add to or really comment on.

but ill try, id say this obsession with wolves is as prevalent as the one with reptiles in human cultures.

and interestingly enough the only place one can relate and make some sense of both topics are the infamous terra papers.

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 06:50 AM
there is a lot of information here thank you for bringing this to light my friend. Shape-shifters have always been an interesting subject matter to me. To me the most interesting shape-shifter mythology resides in Japanese culture where it is widely believed that some cats, dogs, tanooki (raccoon dogs) and foxes are able to transform into human forms and cause mischief in the human world. They don't sound as scary as werewolves though

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 07:00 AM
enjoy ur threads Max.
just thought I would add
a lil from a recent publication

Scientists have discovered a genetic mutation responsible for a disorder that causes people to sprout thick hair on their faces and bodies.

Hypertrichosis, sometimes called "werewolf syndrome " is a very rare condition, with fewer than 100 cases documented worldwide. But researchers knew the disorder runs in families, and in 1995 they traced the approximate location of the mutation to a section of the X chromosome (one of the two sex chromosomes) in a Mexican family affected by hypertrichosis.

image is posted at link

edit on 6/6/2011 by boondock-saint because: added image

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 07:20 AM
excellent thread and something i love reading about. iv always found the story of lycans fascinating to say the least

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 07:46 AM
The first picture looks like a deer on its hind legs.
Interesting post though.

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 08:05 AM
could the transformations be metaphoric and more to do with the psychology of the individual devolving to a more primitive level of consciousness?

either way excellent thread.

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 08:13 AM

Originally posted by SonicInfinity
Let me see, this thread was made little over an hour ago, has zero replies, and has...24 flags? Is this what it means to be a Gold Contributor -- to have people flag your thread without even reading it?

It's a shame that this is probably what is going on, since the content presented is fascinating and well-written. I just wish more people would take the time to read it instead of flagging it simply due to the user/moderator who posted it.

edit on 6/6/2011 by yeahright because: Post deleted in error. Apologies to member.

I think it is because it is important for later reading, time could be the factor
Just my opinion

I'm flagging for a later read also

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 08:25 AM
Well, in that case, that makes the Vampires to be classified as Therianthropes, since they are reputed to change wholly into many different form of species. ( rats, WOLVES, bats and even myst, but that is something else... )

It could have a basis in biology, explaining why it is a worldwide phenomenon that was lessened with the near extinction of metamorphosing species, hence their rarity today, or it has a basis into an ancient religious ritual where you had to devolve into a lesser specie before becoming a "divine" human... Like in some ancient rituals you had to "die" for three days before being reborn into something of an higher order.

But the last one would need to have some form of ancient worldwide communication, or that humans were all settling in ONE place with the metamorphosing idea based on something that was so deeply culturally rooted in the human psyche that you have to wonder about the reality of the first to have made such an enduring imprint on humans...

Very interesting. I didn't know about therianthropy, thanks!

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 08:32 AM
Maybe lycans were child eating thieves dressed in wolf clothing.

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 10:44 AM
reply to post by Maxmars

You have to wonder..who makes up these things?And if it was myths and legends then..where did the myths and legends come from?

Werewolf and vampire movies didn't exist back then so it's not like they watched too much TV or anything lol.

I think there is something to this werewolves and vampire talk though I don't believe it was made up!But what do i know?

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 10:54 AM
As a kid I used to go camping in Wisconsin,It is great camping and hunting...but very remote. Amongst the local residents there, there are numerous sightings of the Werewolf as well as in Northern Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan where it's called Michigan Dogman.

The local Native Americans described these creatures in their lore.
The original settlers from Germany first reported seeing these things back in the early 1800's.
It's not a Bigfoot, though it stands upright, it has a canine muzzle and pointed ears....AND a long furry tail like a Wolf.

Numerous people have seen the thing , even in broad daylight and there are tons of accounts around Wisconsin. People even voluntarily took lie detector tests they were so shaken by what they saw.

There was a MonsterQuest episode about it...I'll see if I can dig it up as well...these witnesses are not fabricating this...there are too many similar accounts.

Here's FOX News Hannity's coverage of the phenom of the Wisconsin Werewolf...sorry about the ad...not my doing....skip to 10 seconds in to avoid it.

edit on 6-6-2011 by nh_ee because: Added video

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 10:58 AM
reply to post by boondock-saint

I remember learning that early cultures tended to 'do away with' any children or infants who look so radically different that they were considered 'evil' (and I bet the mothers weren't free of stigma after that either.) I don't recall that many instances of people with this genetic trait, but I imagine that we as a people only recently (relatively speaking) started allowing them to live full lives.

Thanks for the input.

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 11:11 AM

Originally posted by Viking9019
The first picture looks like a deer on its hind legs.
Interesting post though.

There's an interesting story behind this image. The drawing was made b y an archeologist priest who some scientists at the time thought had embellished the drawing. They had argued that the antlers were a misinterpretation of the cracks in the cave wall. The scholars' thought process was that the drawing was a record of shamanic ritual, and not about the 'natural' transformation of a person into a 'part' beast.

Apparently the reason they referred to the drawing as "The sorcerer" was the early meme that this was the way it was 'done.' Also, the recurrent 'testimony' about people using salves and other methods to make the change happen, was also part of the 'common understanding' scholars of the period wanted to convey. Since the church at the time was very much interested in the continuance of fear of all things 'magic' it would appear may have been so.
edit on 6-6-2011 by Maxmars because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 11:15 AM

Originally posted by GodIsPissed
reply to post by Maxmars

You have to wonder..who makes up these things?And if it was myths and legends then..where did the myths and legends come from?

That's the part that really interests me.

These legends and accounts go back many centuries, and were part of dozens of different disconnected cultures. It begs the question 'Who makes this up?' After all, they would have been everywhere and in every time....

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 11:24 AM
Is this part of the advertising for Teen Wolf?

Many shamans in the modern era have told me that shape shifting is still very prevalent among Native Americans.

The Navajo (DIneh) and Hopi both believe that a man has the ability to transform their physical selves into their spirit animal.

Not all spirit animals are wolves, or coyotes, but some are.

Since we are discussing cultures that have been around for thousands of years, I am reluctant to dismiss it as folklore.

In fact, I have seen with my own eyes things that Western Society has no ability to cope with, so who knows...

Nice thread

posted on Jun, 6 2011 @ 11:30 AM
Here's the Monster Quest Werewolf episode:

edit on 6-6-2011 by nh_ee because: Added Videos

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