Werewolves, men who transform into wolves, originated out of European folklore. However, stories of people shape-shifting into dangerous animals are common folklore and horror in other cultures around the world as well. Understandably, in countries where there were no wolves, they had variations of other carnivorous animals such as a were-tiger in India, for example. Yet none have gained as much popularity as the werewolf, thanks to Hollywood.

If you find yourself researching werewolves, the term lycanthropy turns up a lot.

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Is Lycanthropy a medical condition?

Interestingly, there is a psychiatric condition known as Zoanthropy where the afflicted individual believes they can transform into an animal. Lycanthropy, derived from the Greek word ‘lykas’ meaning wolf and ‘anthropos’ meaning man, is a condition where the individual believes they can transform into a wolf.

There are a lot of interesting scientific articles documenting the many different presentations of this condition. A deeper dive into the subject revealed that this is not the only known condition linked to werewolves.

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What is the ‘werewolf syndrome’?

Hypertrichosis, historically known as the werewolf syndrome, is a rare genetic condition that results in excessive body hair (including all over the face) and is said to have been the inspiration for Disney’s Beast. A quick google images search will show you exactly why.

Werewolf in a dark forest

Werewolf FAQ’s: Your questions answered.

*Disclaimer: the remainder of the article will look at frequently asked questions about werewolves from folklore and does not apply to any clinical conditions known or otherwise.

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How does a person become a werewolf?

Different folklore have different accounts of how one can turn into a werewolf. Here is a list from various sources:

  • Sleeping outdoors on a summer night under a full moon
  • Drinking water out of a paw print
  • Wearing only wolfskin
  • Rubbing a magical salve on your skin
  • A curse
  • Being bitten by a werewolf
Woman-Wolf

Can a girl be a werewolf?

Yes. There certainly are accounts of female werewolves in literature and not just from modern times. Of the few recent ones, you might recall Leah Clearwater from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. Female werewolves or she-wolves date as far back as the 1400’s and are linked with the religious paranoia and misogyny associated with witches and vampires.

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Medieval armoury

Who was the first werewolf?

King Lycaon from ancient Greek mythology is the first ever tale of a man who was turned into a wolf by none other than Zeus himself. Another early account of a wolf transformation is from The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving texts from ancient Mesopotamia.

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Where can werewolves be found?

In a forest on a night when there is a full moon. Some werewolves have the ability to shape-shift at will and can do so even on a moonless night. So, if you want to avoid running into one, don’t go walking about in a forest in the middle of the night. You probably should avoid walking in the dark out in the wilderness anyway. Who knows what you’ll run into – wolves, bears, snakes, or whatever wild animals that live in your part of the world.

Wolf silhouette against a full moon backdrop

Werewolf weaknesses and cures

  • Silver – Legend has it that a silver bullet or a silver knife can harm a werewolf while they are resistant to other forms of injury and would likely heal quickly from them if its anything short of decapitation.
  • Wolfsbane – a poisonous plant used in medieval medicine, thought to help cure the victim although it likely killed them.
  • Exorcism or conversion to Christianity were also used to cure a person from the curse/ailment.
  • Addressing the werewolf by its human name or scolding it were also thought to cure the affliction.
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Final thoughts

Werewolves differ from story to story where some humans take the form of a wolf while others, and perhaps even more scary, take the form of a half-wolf-half-human being. In any case, people all over the world have enjoyed telling chilling stories of such creatures throughout history.

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