Werewolves are entities that can shapeshift from human to wolf. The transformation may be done at will, although it usually happens beyond one’s control — trigged by aggression or more commonly a full moon. They may also be depicted as hybrids who are half-wolf and half-human. Just like vampires, werewolves are contagious: anyone they bite will also become a werewolf.
The history of werewolves traces back to Greek mythology. The Greek god Zeus was angered by Lycaon for serving him the meal of a sacrificed boy. As punishment, Zeus turned the man and his sons into wolves.
We are all familiar with the classic fairytale Little Red Riding Hood, which tells the story of a wolf who disguises himself as a young girl’s grandma who tries to eat her. This was first recorded by a Belgium poet in the 11th century, however it is argued that the story is even older than that, and was passed on orally for many years prior.
As with all fairytales, the original version of Little Red Riding Hood is much more gruesome and gory compared to today’s — not only does the wolf end up eating the child, it also murders the grandma beforehand and tricks the child into eating her!
There are scarce records of werewolf-sightings during the Middle Ages. However, early modern history is full of werewolf paranoia.
- Starting in the 15th century, there were many reports of werewolves eating children.
- The European witch trials often included accusations of someone being a werewolf.
- There are French treaties written between the 16th and 17th centuries that mention “werewolves.”
- People were sent to jail during the 17th century for being a werewolf.
In 1653, a Vaud pastor released a treatise stating that werewolves are not real, and belief in werewolves (lycanthropy) is an illusion. From then on, there are no longer any official reports of werewolf attacks or sightings. Post-1650s, attitudes were suddenly shifted so that werewolves were seen as mythical and no longer feared or taken seriously.
So, could werewolves exist? Are there any truths to these early modern records? Could they simply be confusing werewolves for wolves? If so, then why not any other animal? Hmmm…