Lycanthropy is the transformation of a human being into a wolf. Lycanthropy may be thought similar to metamorphosis. There are two types: the first types is exhibited as a mania in which the person imagines himself as being a wolf, and has a craving for blood. The second type is the magical-ecstatic transformation of a person into a werewolf which is usually accomplished through the use of ointments or charms.
The lore of werewolves has existed in many countries and civilizations since antiquity. Traditionally the belief in lycanthropy was first mentioned by Plato. Piny the Elder mentions it in his “Natural History”, asserting that a certain member of a family in each generation becomes a wolf for nine years.
Other ancients including the poet Vergil, the novelist Petronius, and the geographer Strabo have written about the act of lycanthropy. In many legends the werewolf is a person born under a curse, and during the time of a full moon is unable to stop or control his hellish metamorphosis.
The term werewolf or “man-wolf” is derived from the Old English wer or man, plus wolf.
The werewolf is usually a man, but occasionally can be a woman or child, who roams the countryside killing and eating its victims. Often the werewolf is wounded and the wound sympathetically carries over to the human form and reveal the identity of the werewolf.
One theory, presented by P. E. I (Issac) Boneits in “Real Magic” (1971), explains that sympathetic wounding actually is a cellular psychokinesis brought on by an extreme telepathic rapport between the human and the animal. In such case the human identifies with the animal so much that he actually takes over the animal’s body. So any wounding the person receives while controlling the werewolf will carry over through cellular psychokinesis to the human body.
Other legends claim the person deliberately transforms himself into a werewolf. A sorcerer will do this to do evil to or kill his enemy. In South America sorcerers are said to kill and drink the blood of their enemies.
It is claimed sorcerers can turn into other were-animals (man-animals) such as serpents, leopards, panthers, jackals, bears, coyotes, owls, foxes and other feared creatures. Although, it seems it is the wolf that elicits the most fear, and, therefore, is feared the most of all.
It is a Navajo Indian belief that witches change into werewolves and other were-animals by donning animal skins. As were-animals they travel at great speeds. The meet in caves at nights to initiate new members, to plan ritual killings-at-a-distance, practice necrophilia with female corpses and eat their victims.
During medieval times European and Baltic countries were entrenched with werewolf beliefs. Later in the 15th. and 16th. centuries werewolves, like witches, were thought to be servants of the Devil. They made pacts with the Devil and sold their souls to him for his help.
In the 16th century French enacted edicts which banned the practice of lycanthropy. Many cases that were brought to the courts involved murder and cannibalism. Many were convicted of killing children and eating parts of their bodies. One man took some of the flesh of a little girl home to his wife.
Another case was that of Peter Stubb near Cologne, in 1573. His confession was gotten from his after he was tortured on the rack. He started the “wicked art”, as he called it, at the age of 12. He claimed the Devil had given him a magic belt that enabled him to change into a robust wolf.
He terrorized the countryside feeding on livestock, 13 children, two pregnant women, tearing the fetuses from the wombs and eating them. He also confessed to having incest with his daughter and having various mistresses. His sexual appetite remained unsatisfied, so the Devil sent him a succubus.
His escapades went on for 25 years until hunters tracked him down as a wolf, and he was recognized after slipping off the belt. His daughter and one mistress were judged to be accessories to his horrible killings and all were burned to death.
One of the strangest incidences involving werewolves was that of “Benandanti” in northern Italy. In this case the werewolves were men who left their bodies and assumed the shape of wolves. After becoming wolves they descended to the underworld to battle witches.
This case was tried in 1692 in Jurgenburg, Livonia, situated in an area east of the Baltic Sea, steeped in werewolf folklore. It involved an 80-year-old man named Thiess.
Thiess confessed to being a werewolf, saying his nose had been broken by a man named Skeistan, a witch who was dead at the time he had struck Thiess. According to Thiess’ testimony Skeistan and other witches was preventing the crops of the area from growing. Their purpose for doing this was so they could carry the grain into hell. To help the crop to continue to grow Thiess with a band of other werewolves descended into hell to fight the witches to recover the grain.
The warring of the werewolves and the witches occurred on three nights of the year: Saint Lucia, Pentecost and Saint John (the seasonal changes). If the werewolves were slow in their descent the witches would bar the gates of hell, and the crops, livestock, and even the fish catch would suffer. As weapons the werewolves carried iron bars while the witches used broom handles. Skeistan broke Theiss’ nose with a broom handle wrapped in a horse’s tail.
The judges were astounded by such testimony, for they had naturally supposed the werewolves were agents of the Devil. But now they were hearing the werewolves were fighting the Devil. When asked what became of the souls of the werewolves, Thiess said they went to heaven. He insisted werewolves were the “hounds of Gods” who helped mankind by preventing the Devil from carrying off the abundance of the earth. If it were not for them all would suffer. He said there were werewolves in Germany and Russia also fighting witches in their own hells.
Thiess was determined in his confession, denying he had ever signed a pact with the Devil. He refused to see the parish priest who was sent for to chastise him, saying that he was a better man than any priest. He claimed he was neither the first nor the last man to become a werewolf in order to fight witches.
Finally the judges, probably out of desperation, sentenced Thiess to ten lashes for acts of idolatry and superstitious beliefs. A.G.H.