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Affected individuals report a delusional belief that they are in the process of transforming into an animal or have already transformed into an animal. It has been linked with the altered states of mind that accompany psychosis (the reality-bending mental state that typically involves delusions and hallucinations) with the transformation only seeming to happen in the mind and behavior of the affected person
A study on lycanthropy from the McLean Hospital reported on a series of cases and proposed some diagnostic criteria by which lycanthropy could be recognized: A patient reports in a moment of lucidity or looking back that he sometimes feels as an animal or has felt like one. A patient behaves in a manner that resembles animal behavior, for example crying, grumbling, or creeping. According to these criteria, either a delusional belief in current or past transformation or behavior that suggests a person thinks of themselves as transformed is considered evidence of clinical lycanthropy. The authors go on to note that, although the condition seems to be an expression of psychosis, there is no specific diagnosis of mental or neurological illness associated with its behavioral consequences.
In the sixteenth century town of Dole, a proclamation was publicly read in the town square. Its contents gave permission for the people to track down and kill a werewolf that had been terrorizing the village. While walking through the forest, a group of peasants heard the screams of a small child accompanied by the howling of a wolf. When they arrived they saw a wounded child fighting off a monstrous creature whom they later identified as Gilles Garnier. When a ten year-old boy disappeared in the vicinity of Garnier’s home, he was arrested and confessed to being a werewolf. He was then burned at the stake.
According to old records, c. 1640, the German city of Greifswald became overrun with werewolves. The population of these beasts grew so large that any human who ventured out after dark was in danger of being accosted by one of them.
In earlier times there were extensive forests rich with game in the vicinity of Klein-Krams, near Ludwigslust, Germany. Great hunts were held in the area by sportsmen who came from all over Germany to test their prowess at bringing down their choice of game. For years, however, the hunters had been stymied by the appearance of a great wolf that seemed impervious to any bullet. Sometimes the beast would taunt them by approaching within easy shooting distance, on occasion even adding to the mockery by snatching a piece of their kill, then dash away without a bullet seeming to come anywhere near it.
In 1541, Pavia, Italy, a farmer… as a wolf, fell upon many men in the open country and tore them to pieces. After much trouble the maniac was caught, and he then assured his captors that the only difference which existed between himself and a natural wolf, was that in a true wolf the hair grew outward, whilst in him it struck inward. In order to put this assertion to the proof, the magistrates, themselves most certainly cruel and bloodthirsty wolves, cut off his arms and legs. The wretch died of the mutilation.
One of the worst-ever lycanthropes was the Werewolf of Chalons, otherwise known as the Demon Tailor. He was arraigned in Paris on 14 December 1598 on murder charges which were so appalling that the court ordered all documents of the hearing to be destroyed. Even his real name has become lost in history.
Burnt to death for his crimes, he was believed to decoy children of both sexes into his shop, and having abused them he would slice their throats and then powder and dress their bodies, jointing them as a butcher cuts up meat. In the twilight, under the shape of a wolf, he roamed the woods to leap out on stray passers-by and tear their throats to shreds. Barrels of bleached bones were found concealed in his cellars as well as other foul and hideous things. He died (it was said) unrepentant and blaspheming.
Claudia Gaillard was one of the hundreds of unfortunate souls brought to trial by the witch-finder Henry Boguet. According to witnesses, she was seen behind a bush assuming the form of a wolf without a tail. For this great sin, she was set to the torture. Regarding the tortures, the judge commented, “Common report was against her. No one ever saw her shed a single tear, whatever effort might be made to cause her to shed tears.” Claudia was then burned to death at the stake.
In 1521, Jean Boin, Inquisitor of Besancon, tried Philibert Montot, Pierre Bourgot, and Michel Verdun for having made a pact with the devil and for lycanthropy. These men became known as the werewolves of Poligny.