Since the beginning of mankind people have believed in the superhuman qualities of animals. This belief originates in animism. Early people honored animals for having a spiritual life or soul similar to their own. They also honored the animal’s superior strength, speed, and fertility, and the animal became recognized as symbolizing these powers. These people always held the animal sacred because it shared a vital part of their lives, and they recognized their dependency upon the animal.
The spiritual life or soul of the animal was believed to exist after death, and remained powerful to promote good or evil. All animals, especially snakes and birds, eventually were venerated by early cultures who adopted prayers, rituals, and built temples in which to worship them.
The ancient Egyptians paid homage to almost every ordinary animal. Different animals were sacred in different districts which gave rise to many disputes and fights. A person might get even with an enemy by killing his sacred pig or cow which was not sacred to that person. The falcon and ibis were sacred throughout the country. In most regions of Egypt the bull was sacred. At Memphis, the sacred bull Apis was worshiped as the actual incarnation of the god.
To the Greeks the sacred animal was the eagle of Zeus. An early Gnostic sect, the Ophites, as was as the Buddhists, and the American Indians all venerated the snake. The Aztec and the Toltec had the Quetzalcoati bird.
Such are examples that there has always existed a belief in animal transformation or lycanthropy, i.e., in folklore, the ability to take on the form and characteristics of a wolf. A.G.H.
Riland, George, The New Steinerbooks Dictionary of Paranormal, New York, Warner Books, Inc., 1980
Nigg, Walter, The Heretics, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962. [Ed. and transl. by Richard and Clara Winston] Shepard, Leslie A., ed., Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 3rd ed., Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1991