Weird Wednesday: Ode to the Werewolf

Source: www.fromoldbooks.org
Source: www.fromoldbooks.org

For the inaugural launch of Weird Wednesdays, I thought I’d use this paper on werewolves which I wrote for the website, but which has gotten lost along the way. It seems suitable to start with werewolves, since hey, I like them.  🙂 And no, I doubt most of Wednesdays posts will be this long, or this detailed, but I’ll try occasionally.

Vamps may be having all the fun these days, but I prefer werewolves. A lot less blood involved, for my werewolves anyway. There are some, of course, who believe being a werewolf necessitates (or is the result of) the consumption of human flesh. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

What is a werewolf? We all know this bit, or think we do. In the most basic sense, a werewolf is a person who turns into a wolf (there are lots of others were’s, certainly, but the wolf gets preference today). This is mistakenly confused with lycanthropy, which is when someone has the belief they can turn into a wolf and is a medical term for a psychological affliction (Coleman 642). What I’m talking about here are the real human-to-wolf situations.

How is it accomplished? If myth and the prevalence of the werewolf legend the world over is believed, you can become a werewolf in a lot of different ways. It could be your double self, that is, your spiritual double leaving your physical and human form behind and running as an animal (Lecouteux). Perhaps you applied some kind of lotion, drank from the wine jug and took another werewolf’s curse (Lecouteux 120), or, as the most common of myths go, you were bitten by a werewolf. The causes can be very obscure, from physical contact to a spell (Ingpen 226-227). Of course, you could have just been born a werewolf.

If you weren’t, you also stand a chance of becoming a werewolf if you do something wrong and are cursed or punished as a consequence. In North American lore, there’s the windigo, a dangerous, cannibalistic ghoul-being who was rumoured to be a hunter who became lost and ate human flesh (Guiley 324) and as punishment became the windigo, hunted, feared, and despised by others. The Inuit believe in the adlet, a race of dogmen created by the union of a large red dog and an Inuit woman who, once born, disgust their mother who puts them on a boat and sends them to Europe where they marry white women and turn into flesh-eating monsters (Guiley 2). Again, like the windigo, because the union between dog and woman is forbidden, what is created is likewise evil (one won’t consider if marrying European women is what turns them into monsters). The gods and saints could also turn you into a werewolf. Such is what happened to Veretius, King of Wales, who St. Patrick turned into a wolf (Ingpen 226-227). Zeus likewise turned King Lycaon of Acadia into a werewolf as punishment for serving human flesh (Steiger x).

Are werewolves evil? In movies, werewolves often end up the villains, controlled by the animal within. Myth too often places them in this position. In Nordic and Icelandic lore and the pagan cult of were-animals, the eigi einhamr, have the ability to take on the form or powers and characteristics of their animal (Guiley 117). Once transformed, the animals with human intellect devour others and do evil things.

Of course, there is the other side too. Shetland lore provides the wulver, a man with wolf’s head and a man’s body covered in brown hair. This creature fishes, is generous, and generally benevolent (Guiley 327). The 1691 Trial of the Werewolf reveals some werewolves were protectors of society (Lecouteux 168).

How can you spot a werewolf? My werewolves are all devastatingly handsome, lusty, active, and have a marked preference for meat over vegetables. Mine do fit the sources because yes, they do have animal tendencies and occasionally the desire to assault or kill others (really, can most of us claim to never have felt this way?). Most sources would suggest all werewolves should spend most of their time hanging out in graveyards (the better to find human flesh to consume), are excessively hairy even as men (which may make a lot of men candidates for werewolfism), act like animals all the time, or may be marked by the pentagram. Now, would you rather meet a werewolf in a graveyard, or one of mine?

I hope I’ve provided further information on werewolves, and convinced you werewolves really are more fun than vamps. Either way, there is a lot written about them, and with the numerous myths across all cultures, one does wonder if this is a case of where there’s smoke there’s fire.

What do you think? Are you pro-werewolf yet? 😉 What are some of you favorite werewolves? Or if you don’t like werewolves, why not? What bugs you about them?

Happy reading!

 

Bibliography

Coleman, J.A. The Dictionary of Mythology: An A-Z of Themes, Legends and Heroes. Toronto: Arcturus Publishing Ltd., 2007.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Encylopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.

Ingpen, Michael Page & Robert. Encylopedia of Things That Never Were. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1998.

Lecouteux, Claude. Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 2003.

Steiger, Brad. The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-shifting Beings. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1999.

Summers. The Werewolf in Lore and Legend. New York: Dover Publications, 2003.