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Myths of the Movies: Werewolves

Long before they in appeared in movies, werewolves were a common folklore told throughout the world. For centuries, many countries tell various tales of a half wolf, half man that can shape-shift.  The legend of the werewolf, has survived the test of time, become a staple in modern horror monsters and will continue to be told throughout the ages.

Stories of Werewolves have dated back to Egyptian times, when Osiris had aid from a pack of wolves to stop the invasion of an Upper Egypt city. Many wolves died in battle but they were successful in defeating the invaders. To pay his respects and honor the wolves that had died, Osiris had the wolves mummified and buried beneath the re-named city Lycopolis, which translates to “Wolf City”. He also granted the wolves a human form as well as their wolf form in the afterlife. These are said to be the first Lycanthropes (“Man-wolves”). Descendents of the Lycanthropes would call upon their ancestors during the full moon to rejoin them on earth and run with the pack. Thus creating our common legend of the werewolf transforming during full moons.

Native American culture tells a story of Wisakachek, a spirit god who was a shape shifter. His common physical form was a wolf, but he was a friend to humans. One day Wisakachek was roaming through the woods in his human form when he met two brothers name Keme and Matchitehew. The two brothers had caught a deer and offered meat to Wisakachek, who presented himself as a lost stranger. A week later Wisakachek saw the two brothers again. Matchitehew explained that they hadn’t been able to catch a deer and they were very hungry. Wisakachek remembering their kindness offered to give them the power to transform into wolves at will in order to hunt. After they agreed, the only condition was that they could not use their power to kill humans, only to hunt. After months of successful hunting, Matchitehew had an argument with another boy, and in his anger, transformed into a wolf and killed him. The village cast out both Keme and Matchitehew and they were forced to live in the woods. When Wisakachek found out, he was so furious with Matchitehew, that he cast another spell. One that would take away his ability to transform at will, instead during the day he would be man and at night he would transform into a mindless wolf. Matchitehew became the father of werewolves. 

Stories like these led to beliefs that werewolves were created by curses or spells on humans, sometimes as punishment cast by witches and warlocks. In Finland, the werewolf was a melancholy creature. They were men cursed to turn into wolves, both night and day. They would roam around the towns at night in hopes of being recognized. Once someone recognized them and called them by their Christian names, their curse would be lifted. They would return to their human form, however they would retain their wolf tail their entire life.

In the early ages of Europe, towns were under developed and close to the woods. Many people were afraid of being attacked and killed by wolves. Which helps highlight the nightmare of the monster werewolf. All over Europe tales of werewolves can be found, some of the earliest “sightings” were documented in 1591 in Bedburg, Germany. A few men had a very large wolf cornered, when they went to attack the wolf, it stood up and transformed into a man from their village known as Peter Stubbe. After being tortured, Stubbe confessed to sixteen murders, rape, cannibalism and practicing sorcery.  In a time where Christianity was prevalent, werewolves became associated with witchcraft and the devil. The spread of Christianity helped spread the myth of the werewolf throughout Europe. Some have theorized that werewolves were an explanation for serial killers. During this time wolves were known to kill and eat humans. Cannibalism was unheard of, so they believed that if a man had the urge to consume human flesh, it could only be accounted to werewolves. This theory is reflected in another Native American legend similar to werewolves known as the Wendigo, which is directly translated to “cannibal”. Wendigos were men that had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive.

Although these legends are not identical in their depiction of werewolves, they share enough similarities to create our modern day monsters we see on film today. Many cultures share variation of this legend, separated by time or location, which makes you question; are these monsters just from folklores and fiction, or are they real?

—Black Widow Bride

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