The idea of a man transforming into an animal or a mystical creature that is part man and part animal has been around since the dawn of mankind. The earliest deities of primary civilizations were generally a mix between human and animal physical appearances. However, wolves have always been a preferable animal when a hybrid creature was formed. Stories of men that change into wolves are as old as time itself and span cultures and geography to show up over and over again. The name and even basic behavior of these creatures could vary, but the constant of it being a human who transforms into a wolf does not waiver. Numerous theories exist as to why so many cultures have legends about men who become wolves, including the close relation of early peoples to the natural world around them. Some scholars even believe that the idea of men turning into wolf-like creatures is actually a legitimate disease like congenital erythropoietic porphyria (a condition characterized by a sensitivity to the light of day, excess hair growth, poorly healing skin, and a reddish color to the teeth). Whether real or not though, the act of a man turning into a wolf is a legend that enthralls all people.
Werewolves are one of the most known of the man-wolf stories as the much populated English-speakers spread their legends across the globe with the growth of the British Empire. However, the number of individual stories and episodes involving werewolves are limited since wolves were hunted to extinction during the Anglo-Saxon period of occupation in the British Isles. During the reign of James I in England, the king and his administration went out of their way to prosecute witches while stating that werewolves were merely people who suffered from delusions. The settlers in the British colonies though stirred up werewolf myths when the location of these new settlements put them in close contact with a decent population of wolves. This can be seen particularly in the British colonies of North America when the settlers would bring their werewolf folklore and then be exposed to the werewolf lore of the Native Americans. Werewolves during these early times were always considered evil beings, possibly working for Satan.
The French were obsessed with stories involving men turning into wolves since France had huge numbers of wolves during most of its history. Their “werewolves” were called loup garou. The loup garou was always considered to be a viscous and aggressive form of a man, strictly a male human, turning into a wolf. They were always agents of the Devil, turning into werewolves after missing Easter ceremonies several years in a row or not regularly going to church or giving confession. These stories were brought by French settlers to the French colonies of North America. The loup garou is still a strong legend in remote areas of modern Quebec with people claiming that werewolves still roam the land during the full moon. Loup garous tend to act out their violence on farm animals—sheep in particular—but they also will attack humans who wander alone on nights of the full moon. Several documented loup garou attacks can be seen in French records such as the Beast of Gevaudan that terrorized an area of south-central France by killing almost eighty people between the years of 1764 and 1767. However, the French also felt that there were another breed of humans turning into wolves that were considered to be benevolent or at least nonviolent. These wolves were called lubins or lupins. They were generally assumed to be females most of the time who had been inadvertently turned into a wolf and shied away from humans during their transformations.
One of the oldest stories of a man turning into a wolf in Europe is most definitely the Greek myth of Lycaon. Lycaon was a very cruel king who reigned over the Arcadia region of the Greek Peloponnesus. He is known for his tests of Zeus's immortality. Wanting to make sure the god was truly immortal, Lycaon served Zeus a meal of a murdered and dismembered child. Then, Lycaon attempted to kill Zeus as he slept just to be completely sure of the god's inability to die. To punish Lycaon for these heinous acts, Zeus transforms him into a wolf and kills all of his sons. Even though Lycaon is changed into a wolf, he supposedly keeps some vestiges of his original human form—such as his glittering eyes and savage face. After this incident, Lycaon goes on killing rampages, but he does not spread his wolf curse to others. However, his name is where many others derive their word for werewolves and even the modern term of “lycan.”
Berserkers were Norse warriors who were featured in numerous poems and sagas as furious warriors. They would put on a type of shirt or cloak made from the pelt of a wolf that would put them in an animal-like trance so that they would have uncontrollable rage and a ravenous appetite for killing anyone and everyone in their path. These men were thought to transform their spirits to that of the wolf they wore around their bodies. Yet, realistically speaking, these were probably just drunk, wild warriors who wanted to scare people to death so that they wouldn't get in their way of plundering and looting towns. The animalistic spirit of the wolf was key to these acts though as only wild men would act as vicious and reckless as the Berserkers.
The lobison, or lobizon, is a legend from Argentina which states that the seventh son of a family (seventh of seven straight boys with no girls in between) would automatically transform into a werewolf. This wolf will then roam the mountains and hills, awaiting interaction with another human. If the human survives the attack, he or she will become a lobison as well. Yet, most people die during these attacks because of the fact they tend to be extremely savage. Just the saliva of the lobison can be potent enough to transform another human into one. This belief in Argentina was so prevalent in the early 1900s that seventh sons were being killed or abandoned without a second thought. To stop this from happening, a law was put into action that the seventh son of a family would automatically be a godson to the Argentinian president and receive a scholarship. This type of man-wolf is seen in Brazil as well—linking it back to old Portuguese folklore.
Spain does not have a lot of werewolf lore as wolves are not very dominant in that area. However, wolves were rampant in Mexico. To make up for these differences, the Spanish settlers adopted the werewolf traditions of the local legends—particularly those of the Aztecs. The word “nahual” comes from “nuahualli” which means warlock. These wolves were thought to be warlocks who could freely shift their shape to a large, black coyote. In several Mexican states, these can be female witches as well. They are all ferocious breeds though as they loved to attack sleeping children at night, even infants and toddlers. Some nahuals are believed to have the power to damage unborn children in their mother's womb. The legends speak specifically about ways to kill a nahual that include fire and hanging them.
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