Creatures in the Mist: Little People, Wild Men and Spirit Beings around the World: A Study in Comparative Mythology

By Gary R. Varner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10. WEREWOLVES—NOT JUST IN TRANSYLVANIA

Werewolves have been a fear of humankind since the Neolithic age and may have originated in the shamanic rituals that seemingly transformed men into wolf-like creatures. During the Middle Ages, legends of the werewolf expanded into tales of daily occurrences. There are places in the world that even today the werewolf remains a feared creature that decimates livestock and threatens the lives of local inhabitants. The interesting thing about the folklore surrounding the werewolf is that, like the Fairies and Wild Men legends, it is a common folklore motif found around the world. Well, almost around the world. Gervase of Tilbury, according to Simpson and Roud, “wrote in 1211 that werewolves were common in England, the examples he then gave are all French.” Werewolves could not have been present in England as the wolf had already been extinct for centuries.1 “The belief” in werewolves, wrote Harvard lecturer John Fiske in 1881 “is supported by a vast amount of evidence, which can neither be argued nor pooh-poohed into insignificance.”2 Fiske cautions that the stories are a “curious mixture of mythical and historical elements.” Nevertheless, why, we may ask, is the werewolf legend so universally known?

Some scholars associate the original werewolves with martial brotherhoods, which were extent in the early Greek, Persian, German, Scythian, Dacian and Celt societies. The initiates “magically assumed lupine features.”3

1. Simpson, Jacqueline and Steve Roud. Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, 386. There is one other exception. Lewis Spence noted in his book Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends (pg. 272): “So far as one can judge, the idea of the werewolf or any similar form was unknown in ancient Egypt.”

2. Fiske, John. Myths and Myth-Makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company 1881, 70.

3. White, David Gordon. Myths of the Dog-Man. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1991, 27.

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