The Truth About Werewolves
October 18, 2023 15 min read

The Truth About Werewolves

By Lady Saoirse

 TL;DR- For centuries, stories of humans who have transformed into monstrous wolf hybrids have terrified us. In the past, people went to great lengths to avoid being caught by one, and other people have gone out of their way to become them. Pacts of evil, curses, or simple misfortune are ways people have believed werewolves could be created, and the fear of being attacked by one was not any stronger than the fear of becoming one. What is it about werewolves that are so terrible, and what are ways to avoid them? What are some real werewolf cases, and what is the reality about werewolves? This article will explore werewolf beliefs, lore, and if werewolves are real. 

 

 

What is a Werewolf?

The Truth About Werewolves

A werewolf, most simply stated, is a human being who has either partially, or completely transformed into a wolf. A werewolf is different from an ordinary wolf, however, in that it takes a special interest in attacking human beings. It has the ferocity of a wolf and the intelligence of a human, but it possesses superhuman strength that little can protect against. Old stories from the ancient world speak of these creatures. The heroic Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh transformed a woman’s old lover into a wolf. In ancient Greece, Lycaon and his sons were turned into wolves as a punishment from the god Zeus. The historian Herodotus reported that a Baltic tribe of people called the Neuri changed into wolves for a few days each year before changing back into humans.

It was stories in the Middle Ages in Europe, however, that took stories of humans being transformed into animals to new levels of horror. Werewolves ate living human beings and dug up corpses in graveyards to feed upon them. Werewolves went on rampages, terrorizing the countryside until somebody found a way to slay the monsters. Some people confessed and repented to the church, and others were accused and executed. A werewolf was believed to be an evil creature whose insatiable appetite for destruction, human flesh, and violence was a grave problem that individuals and towns had to combat with the help of supernatural miracles.

The appearance of a werewolf was terrifying and unbelievable. They often took on a superhuman size and were covered with thick animal hair. Their teeth turned to long, sharp fangs, and their nails turned to long, knifelike claws and both their teeth and claws were sometimes said to be permanently red. Their facial features shifted from being human to having a long snout, like a wolf’s, and their eyes became more piercing, and their vision was sharper at night. Their sense of hearing increased, and they were often described as having the long, pointy ears that a wolf would have. They could walk on hind legs if they wanted to, but sometimes ran around on all fours like a wolf. On the hunt, they were unstoppable, and when they ran toward prey, there was often no hope for escape, so great was their speed. Their power, size, and hunger seemed unsurpassed, and they were quite possibly the ultimate predator. Perhaps more frightening was the fact they were only active at night, and difficult to see until they were already upon you.

 

 

How to Become a Werewolf

The Truth About Werewolves

Being a werewolf might have been considered quite evil, but becoming one was another matter. There were different ways somebody might become a werewolf, and some people believed that could be done deliberately. Others did not see becoming a werewolf as something desirable, and one could be cursed to be a werewolf. Others believed some form of sacrilege such as sin could make somebody a werewolf, and still others believed you became a werewolf when one attacked you – if you survived to tell the tale.

Pacts

A 16 page pamphlet was published in London, England in 1590 about the crimes of Peter Stumpp, or Stube. He was accused of being a werewolf who killed and ate people for a period of about 25 years in Bedburg, Germany. He allegedly confessed to making a deal with the devil that he may “live without dread or danger in life”. Under the duress of torture, he confessed he had been practicing black magic since he was a 12-year-old child and that all he had to do was put on the wolf pelt to become a werewolf and simply remove it to change back into a human. He stated he murdered his son and abused his daughter. Both he and his daughter were executed. It was noted in writings the so-called magical wolf belt the devil gifted him was never found.

Curses

If the Catholic church excommunicated you, then that was them cursing you, and that curse included being changed into a werewolf. Witches could also curse somebody with the horrible fate of being a werewolf. St. Patrick of Ireland himself cursed a Welch king named Vereticus by changing him into a wolf. The 6th century Irish monk Natalis cursed a whole family, decreeing that each of them would live as wolves for seven years. The devil also cursed people to be werewolves.

Sacrilege

If you got kicked out of church, you might turn into a werewolf. If you were especially sinful, you could become a werewolf. Blasphemy could also earn you the punishment of being changed into a werewolf. Not going to confession for ten years would turn you into a werewolf, and having the nerve to be born on Christmas Eve would make you turn into a werewolf. Sexual misconduct including sex with a wolf would change you into a werewolf.  Even something like the mere taste of human flesh, let alone eating human flesh, which was a sin, would transform you into a werewolf.

Attacks

Being attacked by a werewolf was often fatal. If bodies of children were found torn apart, people often suspected a werewolf was about, most especially if multiple occurrences of this happened in short periods of time. A werewolf often stalked victims to feast upon, and since werewolves were considered humans who had transformed, it was believed this was cannibalism. Surviving a werewolf attack was possible, but oftentimes, you, too would be a werewolf if one had its teeth, or claws sunk into you. Because being a werewolf was considered spiritually unclean, it was better to die from the attack than to become such a malevolent creature.

Misfortune

In the Saga of the Volsungs, one of the stories tells of Sigmund and his son Sinfjotli. They roamed the woods, robbing and killing people. They snuck into the house of some men who were under the powers of enchantment and had fallen asleep. They discovered the men had some wolf pelts, and they put them on, but they immediately realized they were unable to remove the pelts, and it turned them into wolves! They ran crazy through the woods killing many, until finally they got into a fight with one another, and Sigmund wounded Sinfjotli. He would have died from the wound had a bird not taken pity on him and healed him. Soon after, the father and son were finally able to pull the wolf pelts off themselves, and they burned the pelts in a fire to be rid of them.

 

 

Warding off Werewolves

The Truth About Werewolves

There were ways to ward off werewolves, defeat them, and in some lucky instances, one could be cured of being a werewolf. It wasn’t always easy, but sometimes it was. Sometimes, great care and ritual had to be observed, and other times, simple words and the power of belief were all it took to fend off werewolves or being a werewolf.

Cures

Some things used to cure being a werewolf were conversion to Christianity. If somebody called you by your Christian name three times, you would be cured of being a werewolf and a mixture with wolfsbane was said to cure somebody who had become a werewolf. Throwing a knife over a werewolf would make them no longer one, and hitting a werewolf with a knife or metal object could make them human again. Exorcism with the Catholic clergy could cure a werewolf. Ancient Greeks and Romans would exercise a suspected werewolf to exhaustion in belief this would cure them. A devotion to St. Hubert was believed to cure werewolves, and some people believed all you had to do was to scold a werewolf to cure them. In Serbia, it was believed that burning a werewolf’s skin when they had removed it cured them immediately.

Keeping Them Away

Some people did not focus on curing werewolves. They simply wanted to ward off werewolves and keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Wolfsbane will not only cure werewolves if they eat it, but it will ward them off in the event they don’t want to be cured. They will flee from fire, but if it burns them, their bodies will miraculously heal themselves. It is believed that Catholic artifacts and holy objects automatically repel werewolves, including crucifixes and holy water.  You can wash your clothes in holy water to protect yourself but be aware the holy water will need to be refreshed after about a day. Silver also repels werewolves, and wearing sacred religious symbols made of silver is a good way to be protected.

Defeating Werewolves

Some people don’t focus on repelling werewolves or curing them, but instead want to defeat them, and this means executing them. Being stabbed with a silver blade is said to be fatal to werewolves, but if the blade is withdrawn, they will immediately heal, so the blade should be left intact permanently. Being shot with a silver bullet also kills werewolves. Many would catch a suspected werewolf while they were in human form, where they could not rely on their superhuman strength, and death by burning at the stake or dismemberment was common.. In some rural parts of France, Poland, and Germany, it was believed a werewolf would turn back into a human after its execution when morning came and could be at risk of coming back to life again. To prevent this, a priest would decapitate it, do an exorcism over the body, and throw the body into a stream.

 

Some Famous Werewolves

The Truth About Werewolves

Some famous cases of werewolves have gone down in history as especially terrifying monster attacks, and oftentimes, things did not end well for the accused. One was the Wolf of Ansbach, another was Manuel Blanco Romasanta, and a third was Frances Bertrand.

The Wolf of Ansbach

What was suspected to be a monster was in fact, just an ordinary wolf terrorizing people in 1685 in Ansbach in Bavaria. The wolf had eaten a lot of livestock, and for some reason, decided to attack children and women. Nobody knows exactly how many human victims it claimed, but there were enough that people thought it was a werewolf. A local magistrate who was not loved by the people had just died, and rumors circulated that the ‘werewolf’ was him coming back after death to terrorize the people for not grieving his death. A mob formed and hunted the wolf down, and it leaped into an empty well, perhaps thinking it would be safe, but it was trapped. It was killed, dressed as a human, and displayed hanging from a gibbet before it was permanently put on display at a museum.

Manuel Blanco Romasanta

Known as the Werewolf of Allariz, this famous werewolf was active in more modern times, confessing to having killed 13 people in 1853, but he claimed a curse turned him into a wolf and made him a killer. He was a dressmaker, and a year after marriage, his wife died, and it was said he probably killed her. He became a traveling salesman after her death and within ten years, was charged with murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. He fled to escape the sentence, and he settled into other towns after being in hiding for a year. He took jobs in farming, and making rope, and got jobs as a guide, but women who hired him began to disappear. Finally in 1853, he was arrested and confessed to the murders and to using the women’s bodies to make soap- which he then sold. Rather than execute him, Queen Isabella II commuted his sentence, believing him to be mentally unstable, and he was instead sent to prison so doctors could study his belief he could turn into a wolf. He died of mysterious circumstances within months of going to prison. It was confirmed that he had definitely killed 9 people but said he may have killed up to a total of 20 people.

Frances Bertrand

In 1849 in Paris, France, Frances, or Francois Bertrand was convicted of doing something very odd. He was digging up corpses from the graveyard and eating them. He began doing so  in 1848, and in 1849, was caught because the cemetery staff set a booby trap to catch whoever was guilty. Other accounts say a police officer caught him in the act and shot him at the cemetery. Either way, he admitted himself to the hospital for his injuries, and confessed what he had done to a surgeon. He was said to have dismembered dead cats and dogs when he was younger and graduated up to doing so with human corpses. His case was responsible for the invention of the term “necrophilia”, defined as sexual attraction or intercourse with corpses. He was sentenced to a year in jail but was released. Unlike other “werewolves”, he seems to have lived a normal life after being caught.

 

Medical Reality

The Truth About Werewolves

How was it that people believed that some people had transformed into malevolent animals whose sole purpose was to terrorize human beings? It was not something somebody invented for entertainment. There were some very real things happening that made people believe a human had become a wolf. Sometimes, disease, including mental instability accounted for the belief. Other times, starvation drove people to do unbelievable things. Historic werewolf cases showed regular human beings accused of being half human, half animal mythical werewolves because of symptoms or behaviors.

Porphyria

A disease that creates symptoms like the symptoms of being a werewolf is the rare genetic blood disorder called porphyria. It creates extreme sensitivity to sunlight that can cause painful sunburns after a short amount of time in the sun and swelling and red patches on the skin. It can also alter the body’s natural hair growth patterns and cause patches of excessive hair growth. It can also cause hallucinations or even partial paralysis. The teeth of a porphyria sufferer can be red. Werewolves supposedly had thick hair all over their bodies and were active only at night. If sunlight bothered you, staying inside and out of the sun and going out at night would be much more comfortable. The red teeth of a porphyria victim can be mistaken for werewolf’s teeth as well.

Hypertrichosis

Hypertrichosis is just an abnormally large amount of hair growth on the body. Congenital hypertrichosis is present at birth, and acquired hypertrichosis can be caused by something like cancer. With hypertrichosis that is present at birth, hair removal is an obvious cure, but some people in history chose to keep their hair and use it as a career. Petrus Gonsalvus, for example, had the disease, and he was a man from Spain who was a gift to king Henry II in 1547. He married and fathered seven children, four of whom had hypertrichosis as well. They were not considered to be fully human, because of their medical condition. It is possible that his marriage was the inspiration for the folk tale of Beauty and the Beast. Such an abundant hair growth could be mistaken for being a werewolf.

Starvation

It was believed by many that eating human flesh turned you into a werewolf, and freshly buried corpses provided meat for starving people. In 1598, Jaques Roulet was caught in France while he was in the act of ingesting human flesh. He was a beggar who traveled from town to town, and those arresting him swore he and other wolves were eating bodies, and they chased after them. When they caught up to what they thought to be a wolf, it was Roulet dressed in rags, with scraggly beard and hair, and with chunks of human flesh underneath his fingernails. He confessed to eating multiple people, and instead of being executed, he was declared insane and sent to an asylum.

Mental Instability

In the cases of people like Frances Bertrand and Manuel Blanco Romasanta, mental illness played a part in their “werewolf” behaviors. Another so-called werewolf who was active probably due to mental illness was the Werewolf of Chalons. He was a tailor whose insatiable appetite to kill was kept hidden for a time, because people were looking for a man beast, and they never suspected a human. It was said he lured children into his shop where he butchered them and kept their bones and flesh in barrels in his cellar. It was said that every wall of the cellar was found to be covered in blood. Accounts say he was executed for his crimes and was without remorse even as he was burned to death.

 

Are Werewolves Real?

The Truth About Werewolves

After reading all this history, lore, and beliefs what is the truth about werewolves? The truth is, it is not a matter of believing whether human beings can shapeshift into another species or a hybrid of one. It is impossible. Real wolves are nothing like the werewolves of lore, and today’s wolves need our help.

Science

It is not possible to shapeshift into an animal. Think of the physical changes a thing like that would require. It takes a child many years to transform from a baby into an adult, and then the aging process takes many more years. To transform from a smaller creature into a larger creature in minutes would be incredibly stressful for the body. Then to reverse the whole transformation again before morning and so quickly would be even more stressful. Some people believed the power of a demon or devil allowed the human body to do such things, but modern science has shown the human body does not have the capability for such things. Such a quick and drastic bodily transformation is possible, but that happens in instances of being seriously injured in terrible accidents, and this often results in death.  

Real Wolves

Real wolves are very intelligent creatures, and they have been known to attack human beings, but they do not have the ability to walk on hind legs and are not as large as many myths say werewolves are. Real wolves only attack when they feel threatened or if they need food. In modern times, wolf attacks on humans are oftentimes because humans have encroached on the wolves’ territory, or the animals are starving. Wolves that have rabies may attack a human, but any rabid animal will attack and bite nearly any living organism. They will also attack if they feel threatened. Wolves are not on the prowl for humans to attack, and if you leave wolves alone, you are very unlikely to be attacked by one. They prefer to run away if they feel threatened, and safety and survival is their number one priority.

Saving the Wolves

Wolves are endangered and they could become extinct. In past times, people deliberately hunted wolves, and today their numbers have dwindled. In North America, gray wolves are endangered, and red wolves have such a low number, they were listed as biologically extinct in 1980. Mexican gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in the Southwestern American states. They roamed free until European settlers expanded into the West, and then people began killing them because they were eating livestock. Furthermore, wolves were nearly eradicated by the 19th and 20th century because of an organized effort to kill them off. It is believed that if wolves are reintroduced and allowed to live their lives undisturbed, the wolf population will rebound.

You can help by doing different things. Respect natural territories and leave nature undisturbed. This means not building homes or businesses on natural land that wolves rely on for their habitat. Don’t harm wolves if you see them in nature. You can also support organizations that help wolves. The Wolf Conservation center is in South Salem, New York, and they are dedicated to the survival of wolves globally through advocacy, recovery, research, and education. You can always make donations to them, but you don’t have to give money to help. You can volunteer or even just spread awareness about helping wolves. About Us | Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org)

 

The fear of werewolves was a very real thing in times past, but science has shown us that it is impossible for a human to shapeshift into an animal. Lack of understanding of medical issues and starvation fostered outrageous stories of monstrous werewolves, and real wolves paid the price for that. Today, we understand that creatures and things that could harm us don’t come in the form of mythical creatures, but from disasters and bad decisions other people make. Werewolf stories are a lot of fun to share on a clear, full moon night, but the howling of a wolf you will hear in the night is not from monsters, but from a real animal that needs our help. Enjoy the lore and save the wolves.

 

 About the Author:  Lady Saoirse has studied magic and lore for most of her life but started walking her own Magical Path after being spiritually reborn in the desert. Today she is a High Priestess for The Temple of the Goddess, she is a psychic advisor and spiritual counselor, she shares her gifts as a Psychic and Content Writer for Spiritual Blossom, and she is an admin and writes for Pagan Pages emag.