Werewolves --- The Story Behind Shapeshifters

Shapeshifters, skinwalkers, loup-garou, rugaru, war-woolfes – a werewolf by any other name is still a human who can become a wolf.

Werewolves have become as popular as vampires in pop culture, featured in ever-increasing numbers in books, tv shows and movies. New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, featured five impressive shapeshifters. On televion, Season Three of HBO's True Blood will focus on werewolves. Plus, don’t forget that The Wolfman will be in theatres next month.

But werewolves are far from new. Stories, myths and accounts of men and women changing into wolves and other animals date back thousands of years in almost every culture on earth. There are ancient artifacts and petroglyphs (rock carvings) showing humans with wolfen heads and tails. Native American legends abound with stories of shapeshifters.

WEREWOLVES IN AMERICA?

There are currently several places in North America where eye witnesses claim to have seen them.

Since 1936, Wisconsin has been said to be home to a hairy creature with fangs, pointed ears, a muzzle and glowing yellow eyes. It has a broad powerful chest, and its front legs are jointed like a man’s arms and the paws are hand-like. Sometimes it’s upright and other times hunched on all fours. The wolf-like being was eventually nicknamed The Bray Road Beast, when a witness encountered it while driving on that road. Her detailed account encouraged many other witnesses to come forward and tell their stories, and all are agreed, the animal is not a bear. Experts have stepped up to state that it isn’t a wolf either.

Similar stories are told about The Michigan Dogman, and its description closely matches the Bray Road Beast. The Dogman was the subject of a song written in 1987 for April Fool’s Day. Said to be pure fiction, the popular song still followed local folklore closely. There have been many reported instances of dogman encounters, and sadly, just as many pranks.

A large hairy wolf-man creature with yellow eyes, similar to the Bray Road Beast, has been reported in several other states, including Illinois, Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The Navaho tell of Skinwalkers, witches among them who can transform themselves into wolves, owls, coyotes and any other animal they choose. The goal of such beings is personal gain; greedy and selfish, they are the exact opposite of their fellow Navaho.

The Nagual or Nahual of Mexico is a shapeshifter whose stories date all the way back to Pre-Columbian times and were unchanged by the arrival of the Spanish. A person may be born a werewolf or he may choose to become one if he is a witch. He can assume the forms of any animal, and often chooses jaguars and pumas as well as wolf or coyote. The Mexican werewolf is fast and strong, usually black in color, and may be male or female. If the Nagual was harmed while in animal form, the wound would show up on his human body after he changes. Most stories say the Nagual hunts for sleeping children to eat – and some parents hang a mirror near a child’s bed that shows the child’s reflection, which apparently repels the werewolf. However, in some stories, the Mexican werewolf is not able to kill humans, but is well known for chasing women for other reasons!

The Loup-Garou is said to wander eastern Canada, Maine, New York State and Indiana. The word is Old French for werewolf. A stamp series in 1990 portrayed Canadian legends and the Loup Garou appears on one. This type of werewolf does not change voluntarily. Once under the spell, the unfortunate person is said to wander the countryside at night as an enraged animal. The curse lasts for 101 days, but could be broken sooner if someone were to recognize him or her in their wolfen form.

The Rugaru or Rougarou is said to roam the swamps around New Orleans and the Acadiana region of Louisiana. In Cajun folklore, it often appears as a man with the head of a wolf. The name is an mutated version of the French Loup Garou, but the creature behaves a little differently. According to the legend, one way to protect yourself is to lay 13 tiny objects such as buttons or beans in a row in front of your door. The Rugaru, in addition to his hairy curse is also afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder – he can’t cross the threshold until he counts the objects. He is unable to succeed, however, because he can’t count higher than 12, and is said to count the items over and over until daybreak frightens him away.

REAL LIFE WEREWOLVES

Lycanthropy (Lykos is Greek for "wolf," anthropos for "man.") is the name given to a mental disorder where the afflicted person believes that they are able to change into a wolf. At times they believe they have actually changed, although there is no physical indication other than their behavior. If the patient looks into a mirror during one of these episodes, she truly sees herself as a wolf. A person suffering from clinical lycanthropy may believe he can change into other animals, but the wolf is the most common manifestation. Lycanthropy is a very rare condition, with maybe 40 known cases in the world.

Dani Harper

www.daniharper.com
(Facebook and Twitter links are on my website)


Your turn -- Heard any good werewolf stories lately? Read any books, seen movies or programs featuring werewolves? (And does anyone besides me think that Bella chose the wrong guy?) Do you think it might be fun to be a wolf whenever you wanted to? Your comments are welcome.