Are they myth, magic or a medical condition?
Werewolves, beings that looked human and could turn themselves into wolves when ever they wanted to, apart from on a full moon, when they could not stop themselves, and they transformed whether they wanted to or not. Some of them were said to turn into a creature that was half wolf, half man, while other were said to turn into wolf completely.
It was believed that a werewolf could turn his skin inside out and so hide the fur, when they were in human form, and as such many people during the middle ages, had their bodies ripped open in the search for the fur that people were sure they were hiding.
It was possible to identify a werewolf while it was in its human form, as werewolves were supposed to be very hairy, with straight bushy eyebrows that met in the middle, and small pointed ears. The third finger of each hand was also supposed to be as long as the second, and they had hair growing in the palms of their hands. If anyone had any of these symptoms then they were watched very closely, for fear of being one.
If the werewolf was injured while it was in its wolf form it would revert back to its human state and try to hide, this did not work however as people would follow it, using the blood as a trail. There was only one way to kill it, and that was with a bullet or a knife made from silver or a melted down crucifix, and the corpse had to be burned as if it was only buried it would come back as a vampire to wreak revenge.
Legends also tell of people being turned into werewolves by a curse or an accident. Each night they were doomed to become wolves each night in search of human blood, and they often welcomed death when it came. In the middle ages Lycanthropy was also a recognised illness, although it is extremely rare, it causes the victim or sufferer to think that they can turn into werewolves, and though they do not, they do go around acting like one, and can sometimes murder people and eat there flesh.
Back then, in the middle ages, people believed that you could become a werewolf in a number of ways, they thought it could be done during the full moon, although this was usually against the persons will.
Some people actually wanted to turn into a wolf and they used magic to make it happen.
One Russian legend, had that it was necessary for people to have jump over a fallen tree in the forest, then stab it with a small copper knife, while chanting a spell. Other legends said that if you drank the water that collected in a wolfs paw print, or eating the brains of an animal killed by a wolf, you were sure to change into a wolf. But in many parts of Europe, there were legends of other magical acts that the person who wanted to become a werewolf could do to become one.
One such example of a ritual included, the making of the ointment into a pot when the moon was full, into the pot wolfsbane was added, as well as opium, foxgloves, bat blood and the fat of a murdered child, tis was then boiled down. The person wanting to be a wolf then rubbed it into his skin while chanting spells, he then put on a wolfskin pelt, the man then changed into a wolf each night, and back into a man each morning. The spell could only be broken if the man was stabbed three times in the head. Or death.
One example of a werewolf case is the true story of Jean Grenier.
He was a French boy, who lived in the 1600's and he apparently claimed that a the ‘Lord of the Forest’ gave him a magic wolf skin, and ointment that turned him into a wolf. This carried on for over three years, he admitted to eating over 50 children, and had a craving for raw human flesh. One such example f him doing this was, one day he was passing through a village when he heard a baby crying in an empty house, he naturally could not resist the chance, and s dragged the baby back to the woods and shared it with a real wolf that later joined him.
Jean was proud about his ability as a werewolf and used to tell a girl named Marguerite Poirier, stories about himself. She told her parents the stories but they though nothing of it, until Jean attacked her.
She claimed that a wild beast with red fur, and a stump of a tail, jumped her while she was out tending sheep, but that she was able to beat it off with her staff. She ran straight home, and told her parents, this attack led to the arrest of Jean Grenier. He was arrested and taken to trial by the Parliament of Bordeaux. Jean claimed that he was a werewolf, and that he had murdered and eaten people. His accounts of the attacks were the same as those made by witnesses, and the victims.
Two doctors were called in and they said that jean was suffering from lycanthropy, the judge thought that Jean was so dull and idiotic that any child half his age had more sense, he discounted any rumours of witchcraft and shape-changing, and he duly sentenced Jean to a life imprisonment in the local monastery. After being taken there, Jean still continued to behave like an animal, by running around on all fours and eating any raw meat he could find, the judge visited Jean about 7 years later, and he found that he was less wild and ore controlled, but that he was till claiming to have been a werewolf.
Other types of were creatures.
there were not just werewolves that people had to be wary of, but some transformations were not evil, some of them took place after death, it was also believed that some creatures could turn themselves into humans if they wanted to.
There were werefoxes in China and Japan, the fox could become human to trick and harm people, but to be able to do this the fox had to be at least 500 years old and live in a graveyard.
An ancient Scandinavian myth states that Odin, gave the berserkers there wild strength and bravery in battle, but to any cowards he punished them by turning them into boars.
A German, Bishop Hatto, was said ai the time to have been gnawed to death by wererats, they were the souls of all those that he had starved to death.
Welsh witches, were supposed to be able to turn into hares, and then drink all the milk out of cows, which left them dry.
In the modern world, there is another medical explanation than that of Lycanthrope, two characteristics of werewolves are the foaming mouth and the ability to turn anyone it bite into a werewolf. The foaming at the mouth and the infection could have an origin with rabies, if in the medically backward middle ages, the wolf that started the scare off was rabid then it would have foamed at the mouth and the person who it infected would have done the same, as the rabies infected the bitten person.
Author: David Sheldon
Source: Mystery Database