Common Name: Werewolf, Lycanthrope
Werewolves are said to be humans that have contracted a curse called “lycanthropy”, usually through being bitten or scratched by another werewolf. When the moon is full, a werewolf will transform from a human into a beast. This beast is sometimes depicted as a wolf, and in more modern representations is usually a large human/wolf hybrid.
The most prevalent idea of the werewolf myth originated in Europe during the Middle Ages. However, legends of men turning into wolves appeared even earlier in history. The earliest recorded story of a man transforming into a wolf comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem believed to be over 4,000 years old.
Ancient Greek mythology relates tales of humans turning into wolves, including King Lycaeon.
In the Middle Ages, there were two separate types of European werewolf myth, the “Germanic werewolf” which would take hold in western Europe, and the “Slavic werewolf” or “vlkolak” which would become popular in eastern Europe. The Germanic werewolf was associated more with witchcraft or sorcery, while the Slavic werewolf was more like a vampire or zombie that had returned from the dead.
Men were often falsely accused of being werewolves in the 1500s and 1600s, much as women were accused of being witches.
While the common modern method of becoming a werewolf involves being scratched or bitten by another werewolf, there are many other legends of how to become a werewolf, including the donning of a wolf skin, or drinking rain water from a wolf’s footprint, or drinking a specially made potion.
The myth of the European werewolf has also persisted in many cultures in the Americas, with the “Rougarou” of Cajun folklore, the “Soucouyant” of Caribbean folklore, the “Loup-garou” and “Wendigo” of Canada, and the “Nagual” of Mexico, just to name a few.
The idea that werewolves are vulnerable to silver and can only be killed by a silver bullet is a relatively modern invention, first appearing in the 1800s.
Today, werewolves remain popular subjects of horror films and literature, and are common sightings in Halloween decorations.