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Artist's depiction of a werewolf.
Werewolves, also known as lycanthropes, are creatures from mythology and folklore, generally regarded as humans with the ability to transform into wolves during the full moon. The legend can be traced to Europe, but versions of it appear in various parts of the world. Werewolves are typically created when a human is bitten or scratched by a werewolf and survives the encounter.


Appearance and Common Attributes

Depictions of werewolves vary widely from an anthropomorphic wolf-like appearance, to a complete transformation into a wolf. In many legends, werewolves are said to bear distinctive traits in their human forms, including hairy palms, a heavy brow ridge, sharp, curved nails similar to claws, and a distinctive loping gait. Werewolves are also regarded as unable to control their actions when transformed, but painfully aware of them in human form, giving them a melancholy and guilt-ridden disposition. Regardless of wolf or human form, werewolves are also said to heal at an incredible rate, making them nearly invulnerable.

The transformation is traditionally a compulsion, and completely uncontrollable, varying from being on the single night of the full moon, to the 3 days when the lunar cycle reaches its peak. Recent popular culture has rewritten that belief to varying extents. In some cases, a werewolf is able to control when the transformation takes place, though are still compelled to change with the full moon. In others, there is no compulsion at all, and the transformation can take place at will, typically becoming near-uncontrollable during times of high stress or extreme emotion.

Becoming a Werewolf

The most common and widely known method of becoming a werewolf is by being scratched or bitten by an existing werewolf. This method is an invention of modern popular fiction, however, and does not appear in older legends. Other methods that do appear in folklore include wearing a belt of wolfskin, or the entire pelt of a wolf. Drinking rainwater from the footprint of a wolf appears in many legends as well. The craving and consumption of human flesh is also said to accomplish the transformation.

Werewolves are also heavily associated with magic and the occult, and analogous to familiars conjured by witches and warlocks. The biggest distinction between a werewolf and a familiar is the uncontrollable impulse associated with werewolves. Werewolfism may also be a curse placed by a sorcerer, or in some cases a sort of divine punishment. In particular, excommunicated Roman Catholics were believed to become werewolves.

Vulnerabilities and Cures

In modern stories and legends of werewolves, their sole vulnerability is said to be silver. Due to their incredibly fast rate of healing, a standard bullet would simply be pushed out as the wound heals before much damage could be done. The purity of silver is believed to cause infection and damage beyond what the werewolf's natural healing abilities can cure.

In legends prior to the 19th century, mistletoe, wolfs bane and and rye were thought to ward off werewolves in a similar way that crucifixes and garlic ward off vampires.

Beliefs regarding the curing of werewolfism vary widely from culture to culture. Exorcism was a widely regarded cure in medieval times, as well as conversion to Christianity. Most other "cures" used in the middle ages were surgical in nature and resulted in the death of the patient.

Origins and Explanations

Werewolf legends were likely created in order to explain the very real acts of murder, cannibalism, and in some cases, epilepsy. Serial murder in particular is a very likely explanation of the legend, as werewolf attacks and serial murders have many things in common, such as cannibalism, mutilation, and cyclical attacks. Wolf attacks were also common in the forests of Europe before modern civilization limited the animal's numbers and territory.

There are also many medical conditions that are analogous to the werewolf myth. The mental disorder of lycanthropy is described as the belief that one has transformed into an animal, though not necessarily a wolf. Patients diagnosed with this disorder will behave as the animal they believe they've become. Hypertrichosis, which is an abnormal growth of long hair all over the body, may also be a cause of the werewolf legends. Individuals with this genetic disorder were often paraded around in travelling sideshows and billed as wolfmen.

Partial (yet ridiculously extensive) List of Werewolf Movies

  • The Werewolf (1913)
  • Le Loup Garou (1932)
  • The Wolfman (1941)
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)
  • I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
  • How to Make a Monster (1958)
  • The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
  • Moon of the Wolf (1972)
  • The Werewolf of Washington (1973)
  • The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973)
  • Legend of the Werewolf (1975)
  • Werewolf of Woodstock (1975)
  • Wolfman (1979)
  • The Howling (1981)
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • The Beast Within (1982)
  • The Company of Wolves (1984)
  • Vampire Hunter D (1985)
  • Teen Wolf (1985)
  • Howling II, The: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch (1985)
  • Silver Bullet (1985)
  • The Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)
  • Teen Wolf Too (1987)
  • The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)
  • The Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)
  • The Howling VI: The Freaks (1990)
  • The Howling: New Moon Rising (1994)
  • Bad Moon (1996)
  • An American Werewolf In Paris (1997)
  • The Curse (1999)
  • Ginger Snaps (2000)
  • Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
  • Dog Soldiers (2002)
  • Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (2004)
  • Van Helsing (2004)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
  • Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)
  • Cursed (2005)
  • The Brothers Grimm (2005)
  • An Erotic Werewolf In London (2006)
  • Underworld: Evolution (2006)
  • Blood and Chocolate (2007)
  • Skinwalkers (2007)
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