Werewolves: Where Did the Belief in the Werewolf Begin? Is There Any Proof?
Origins of Werewolves
Werewolf. Man, but at the same time—wolf. Men that change into terrible, murderous beasts under the full moon's radiating beams on a monthly basis. Werewolves have been ravaging the cinematic scene since 1941, when the movie The Wolf Man was first released in theaters. The concept of a man who had the ability (or curse) to turn into a hungry and ravenous animal was a concept that frightened many people in the 1940s. What most did not realize is that the belief in werewolves has been around for centuries—well before the twentieth century's film producers made their spine-tingling horror flicks.
Dating back a couple thousand years before the birth of Christ, a Sumerian text was written in cuneiform and is known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. In this text made up of eleven tablets, the main character Gilgamesh seems to take the form of a werewolf:
Gilgamesh was roving about...
wearing a skin...
having the flesh of the gods in his body,
but sadness deep within him,
looking like one who has been travelling a long distance.
The tavern keeper was looking off into the distance,
puzzling to herself, she said,
wondering to herself:
"That fellow is surely a murderer!
Where is he heading!..."
As soon as the tavern keeper saw him, she bolted her door,
bolted her gate, bolted the lock.
But at her noise, Gilgamesh pricked up his ears,
lifted his chin (to look about) and then laid his eyes on her.
Gilgamesh spoke to the tavern keeper, saying:
"Tavern-keeper, what have you seen that made you bolt your door,
bolt the gate, bolt the lock?!
If you do not let me in, I will break your door and smash the lock!"
This is one of the oldest stories ever written and could be the first true account of the belief in werewolves or shapeshifters. The Epic of Gilgamesh is fascinating, if you'd like to read it in its entirety.
Shooting forward a couple thousand of years to the European Middle Ages, the idea of werewolves living amongst humans ran amok in many rural areas. Specifically in the Baltic country of Estonia, there were approximately thirty trials held in which supposed witches were also accused of being werewolves. One particular eighteen-year-old boy was asked if he was a werewolf, and he openly admitted to it. The strange boy/werewolf gave the judges a detailed account of how he joined the hunt in his werewolf form. The judges were shocked and asked the boy whether he meant if he was a werewolf in spirit form and the boy denied their suggestions. Claims of a wolf bite on his leg and how a man dressed in black allowing him to become a werewolf filled the stale air of the courtroom, which made the decision to burn the boy a very simple and obvious decision. The boy's frightening confession to being a werewolf would go down in history and he is now referred to as Hans the Werewolf.
Even before the Middle Ages' witch and werewolf trials, we can take a look back at stories from Ancient Greece and find reference and details about men or gods who turn into wolves. One of the Ancient Greeks, King Lycaon, gets a random visit from a peculiar stranger, whom he believes might be an immortal. He decides to test the stranger by offering him human flesh to eat, but unfortunately for King Lycaon, the stranger turns out to be the mighty god Jupiter. Jupiter is none-too-pleased with King Lycaon's shady actions and mercilessly transforms the King into a beastly werewolf as punishment. The word Lycanthrope and also Lycanthropy is derived from the root of the King Lycaon's name, meaning wolf.
In addition to the belief of men and women metamorphosing into werewolves, there are legends from all across the world about humans transforming into other forms of animals. In America, when only the Natives roamed the lands, they held a sacred belief in shapeshifting. Shapeshifting is the belief that a human can change into a totem animal (or spirit guide), either spiritually or physically or sometimes both. As I see it, shapeshifting has some similarities to the belief in werewolves, though shapeshifting was a positively revered and spiritual thing, as opposed to the superstitious fear of evil witch-wolves prowling the countryside. In ancient China, the people thought that animals had the ability to change into human form, which is the opposite of the belief in many other countries around that time. Three shape-shifting animals were said to reside in the Chinese mountains: the Fox spirit HuXian, Da Yu who was said to actually be a bear, and dragons who had the ability to take human form. In Africa, eye-witnessed accounts of people turning into gigantic crocodiles and even witty hyenas circulated through the villages. Werecats are also a similar transformation of witches, a belief that was less common than the belief in werewolves in ancient and Middle Ages' Europe (a reason why black cats were later known as a witch's familiar).
As one can see, the concept of werewolves has been present in human society since ancient times. It is a concept that will be used in movies and books for centuries to come. A couple big questions that arise amongst paranormal researchers (as well as normal folks): is there any proof that they exist? What are the latest, modern accounts of werewolves?
Proof That They Exist?
One of the most recent documented cases of werewolf sightings comes from the state of Wisconsin. In a southern town known as Elkhorn, there has been as many as a dozen different accounts from the town's residents catching a glimpse of a standing wolf-like creature. The creature is said to be between 5 and 8 feet tall and reportedly has been sighted feeding off of roadkill. One particular man claims that he saw the creature try to pull a dead deer out of the back of his vehicle. Another teen girl claims to have been partying in a quiet Wisconsin field with friends one night, when they experienced a frightening sighting of the wolf-being. You can watch their full interviews, done by Fox News, in the video posted to the right. What I found to be most intriguing about this story is the fact that the Native Americans held a belief in water spirits who could take the shape of wolves existing in the same areas as where the modern sightings have occurred. Many locals claim that this creature is a werewolf, but others are not so sure about that theory. Whatever the being is, the legend of the Wisconsin werewolf thrives today.
A creepy story that shares similarities to the Wisconsin Werewolf is the legend of the Michigan Dogman. The legend of the dogman begins in the late 1930s, when the first spine-tingling sighting occurred. According to a man named Robert Fortney, he was fishing on the banks of the River located in Paris, MI, when he heard a pack of wild dogs emerge from the woods and head to where he was standing. He had a gun in his possession and so to warn the dogs that he was not messing around, he fired a shot into the air. The pack ran away, except for one dog. Robert said it looked at him and stood on his hind two legs. At this point, he was only about ten to fifteen feet away from the creature, and he swears that the creature was "smiling" at him. The creature seemed to be a wild dog, but had similarities to a human being...with large green eyes. "What kind of dog has green eyes?" Fortney had said in an interview in 1987. Many other accounts of this dog-man creature have been told and documented. A song has even been written about the story, titled "The Legend".
A similarity in many of these Michigander's experiences with the dogman is that they say he seems to always be smiling at them...creepy, huh? Is it possible that this dogman is another type of werewolf? There was a video taken in the late 70's, possibly early 80's, that I have posted here. The video is what appears to be a dog-like creature on all fours, running through the forest of Michigan. Apparently the person who took the video has remained anonymous, but many people swear that this is the dogman of Michigan fame. It resembles a bear or a sasquatch in ways to me; however, it doesn't seem quite like a bear. Check it out for yourself. Could this be proof that werewolves exist?
Another werewolf-esque creature said to inhabit the southern United States is El Chupacabra. El Chupacabra is a creature that has been described as a blood-sucking cryptid with features similar to a coyote. Sightings and reports of Chupacabra attacks on animals have been known to circulate in almost every southern state, as well as Puerto Rico and Mexico. Many claim that sightings have now been reported all the way up the east coast, in the state of Maine and also in the country of Russia. Different farmers have found carcasses of what they believed to be el Chupacabra and turned them in for investigation, only to find out later that the carcass was that of a coyote or fox with oversized incisors and a severe case of mange. Each time a body or proof is found, scientists seem to find an explanation; however, many farmers are adamant that a blood-sucking creature prowls the nighttime, looking for innocent goats and other animals on which to feed off of. With coyote features and a tendency to suck blood from farm animals, many equate the legend of the Chupacabra to that of the legends of American werewolves. Maybe there is more than one type of werewolf? Maybe we'll never know for sure.
Do you believe in Werewolves?
How to Kill a Werewolf
Throughout the ages, since the beginning of the werewolf's reign of terror upon the world, people have tried their damnedest to find the swiftest and most efficient way of killing these beasts. In modern times, we watch horror movies featuring werewolves as the main monster, and we are taught that the only way to kill these animals is to shoot them with a silver bullet. Another Hollywood made-up deterrent for werewolves is the herb called wolf's bane. Neither the silver bullet nor the herb deterrent has been documented historically, so it is safe to assume that that may have been thought up during werewolf movie filming in recent times.
Many people in the Middle Ages of Europe believed that the only ways to kill werewolves was to burn them at the stake or decapitate them. The burning at the stake theory has its roots in the witch burnings, as we discovered that in the witch burning times in Europe some witches were believed to also be werewolves.
Is there a certain way to kill a ravenous and vicious animal such as a werewolf or the dogman? I don't know that any one way has been proven (just as their existence hasn't been proven), but remember—if you are walking in the woods of Michigan or Wisconsin, always take a gun with you! Maybe a large sword of scythe would work, as well.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Nicole Canfield