The Occult Truth About Werewolves and Shapeshifters
Werewolves and Shifters: What Is the Truth?
We've been watching werewolf horror movies for years. We see these men rip their clothes, morph into beasts, and howl at the full moon over and over again. American Werewolf in London, American Werewolf in Paris, Underworld, The Howling—what do all of these classic movies have in common? They don't tell us the real history behind werewolves. They don't tell us where the concept of the werewolf actually originates.
And what about other forms of shapeshifters? These are humans who can shift into other types of animals. Shapeshifters are also pretty popular characters in modern day fiction, including TV shows, movies, and books. Ever heard of Harry Potter? Yes, there are shapeshifters in the Harry Potter series. How about the popular Sookie Stackhouse novels turned into a hit HBO TV series—True Blood? Yes, shifters are a part of these books and shows, too. And yet again, no one explains where the concept of a shifter originates. We just know that they are interesting, sometimes attractive paranormal individuals.
Now is the time to learn the occult (hidden) truth behind werewolves and shapeshifters. Their history may shock you.
Ancient Shamans and the Hunt
To fully understand the origins of shapeshifting, we have to look at our indigenous hunter/gatherer ancestors. Dating back thousands of years to the time before agriculture, there were men and women called shamans who were consulted by their tribes to answer questions about disease, war, and nourishment. These shamans were considered wise people and knew how to work with herbs and animals in order to attain outcomes for their tribes' people. They were spiritual leaders and were thought to also be able to cross the barrier between the physical world and the spiritual world. They were the original shapeshifters.
One of a shaman's supernatural abilities was thought to be shapeshifting. History shows us that shamans would wear the hide, fur, bones, teeth, or feathers of a certain animal and then thought to be able to shift forms into this animal. Sometimes this was done as a means to locate the animal for hunting purposes. It was sort of a way to "get into the mind" of the animal being hunted (for instance deer, buffalo, and the like).
Other reasons for shapeshifting were spiritual reasons—to take on the form of the wolf was to become like the wolf. Powerful. Fast. If you were to become a wolf, you could easily slip in and out of the spiritual realms untouched and maybe even unnoticed by potentially dangerous spirits on the other side. We've learned these facts from indigenous people who still believe in shamans and the ability to shapeshift even today. We also see these images painted on ancient cave walls in America and Europe and all over the world—the images of men "dressed" as animals or men running with the animals.
As you can see, these accounts of shamans and medicine men may be the first accounts we have of the concept of shapeshifting. But the question remains: do these shamans actually manifest the form of the animal in the physical world or is it only in the spiritual?
The Werewolf Trials of the Dark Ages
If we take a look at the many trials and tribulations of a Medieval Europe, we would find some rather interesting information about werewolves coming out of the North. During a time when the Church was fighting hard to convert and control all of the people of the continent, individuals were accused of witchcraft and heresy, tried and executed. There are debates on just how many people were killed during the Dark Ages, but some say it was in the hundreds of thousands.
Not only were people accused of witchcraft, but there were some countries in which people were accused of being werewolves! Yes, alongside of the accused witches were individuals who were also accused of having the magical ability to take on different forms—mostly that of the dangerous and feared wolf. Who gave these people the ability to change forms? To shapeshift into the form of the wolf? The Devil, of course!
In Estonia, there is a fairly infamous account of a man now known as Hans the Werewolf. Hans was a man who lived in Estonia in the fifteenth century and who was accused of acquiring his werewolf abilities from the Devil. Hans was said to have confessed to meeting a "man in black" and thereafter turning into a werewolf. Because of this account, the people also said Hans was a witch and that only witches had the ability to turn into different animals. Henceforth, Hans was found guilty of witchcraft and killed. This happened often in the Northern countries of Europe at that time. Hans was not the first man accused of being a werewolf and a witch and he would not be the last.
Another interesting account of werewolves in the Dark Ages is with a group of people referred to as the Benandanti. These were a group of men in Northern Italy who claimed to turn into wolves at night, travel to Hell, and fight off the bad witches (known in Italy as Strega) to ensure a good crop for their village. Because they claimed they did this in the name of God and were given these abilities by God, they were not found guilty or killed. These guys were "good werewolves", if you will. The account of the Benandanti also took place in the sixteenth century.
Unfortunately, the superstition and fear of wolves was so rampant throughout Europe, that in some countries people went on wolf hunts to kill the nearby wolves. As proof of this, in England today there are no wolves. They were all culled because of the superstition of werewolves throughout the Dark Ages and Early Modern Period.
The Benandanti were a group of men in Northern Italy who claimed to be good werewolves in the sixteenth century.
Witches as Shapeshifters
At the same time as the werewolf trials, and as previously mentioned, the infamous Witch Trials were also taking place all across the continent of Europe. Men, women, and children were all accused of consorting with the Devil and conspiring against the Church. And thus, they were accused of witchcraft, tried, tortured, and many killed. This period of time is sometimes called The Burning Times, as a large majority of the witch executions were done by burning at the stake.
These "witches" were accused of various diabolical deeds. One of those deeds was shapeshifting. If we look at one of the most well-known cases of witchcraft in Scotland, a woman named Isobel Gowdie was accused of witchcraft and readily confessed to shapeshifting into the form of a hare. A modern witchcraft scholar Emma Wilby believes the idea behind these so-called witches and their ability to shapeshift again dates back to ancient shamanism. The theory is that this form of shamanism carried on over time, somehow surviving the Church's attempt to stomp out ancient pagan traditions. Was Isobel Gowdie a woman who simply knew the old ways and admitted them readily to a religion that sought to rid the countryside of these ways? We may never know.
Another story taken from one of WB Yeats's Fairy Folklore books told the tale of a priest catching a witch in shifted form. He was walking down the road one night and heard someone behind him. He decided to hide, as he thought anyone on the road at that time of night must've been up to no good. He watched a pair of fat, engorged legs walk down the road, dripping milk. Somehow he caught the pair of legs and it was revealed that it was a witch in another form. People at that time thought witches would shift forms in order to steal milk and other items from their victims.
One thing is clear—Isobel wasn't the only witch who was thought to also be a shapeshifter. Long after the Dark Ages and across the Atlantic Ocean, parts of the United States were thought to be populated by witches. In particular the Ozark and Appalachian Mountains. Witches were thought to live in the mountains because it was an easy place for them to hide away from the rest of society and perform their magical deeds. Legends and folklore of the Ozarks and Appalachians tell of witches who would take the form of hares, mostly. When men would go out hunting and shoot a hare, they'd track the dying animal only to find a naked woman with a gunshot wound in its place. This tale is one of many that seemed to be rampant in the mountainous regions of the U.S. dating to as recent of times as the early twentieth century. Another common story is that a witch would take the form of a cat, enter into a victim's house, and sit on their chest. This was thought to be the attempt to suck the life out of the victim.
In addition to the typical "witch" of the mountains, there are Native American legends of evil witches that are able to take the form of coyotes. These are called skinwalkers and are particularly infamous in the South and Southwest of the United States. There are dozens of eyewitness accounts of these skinwalkers and many people are frightened of them. People still see skinwalkers today!
What Are They? Do They Exist?
So do these werewolves and shapeshifters actually exist? Or is it all in our imagination? Perhaps it's a little of both. Maybe throughout the years, our ancestors' ties with shamanism and spiritual shapeshifting have stuck with us through ancestral DNA memory. We fear these things and these abilities because of the superstition that surrounded it during the Dark Ages and beyond.
Were the witches of the Dark Ages actually practicing an ancient form of shamanism? Many signs point to the fact that they were. These ideas are so ingrained in us that we can't get rid of them. Today we may not practice shamanism, but we sure see it reflected in the movies, don't we? Are shapeshifters and werewolves of the Hollywood kind just reflections of a wild, primal and deeply spiritual past? Are these people able to physically change form or simply use their spirits to change form and travel?
© 2017 Nicole Canfield