THE ORIGONS OF THE WEREWOLF
It all began with a myth that dates back as far as 1550BC in ancient Grease. The first human being Niobe who was first person of Peloponnese had a child by God Zeus called Pelasgus who was first king of Peloponnese later to become known as Arcadia. Who had a son lycaon. Lycaon later became King Lycaon of Peloponnese. He had fifty sons and a daughter Callisto. Lycaon and his sons were considered heroes but had little respect for gods. Zeus went to Peloponnese to check for himself, and went discussed as a labourer looking for some hospitality. Lycoan seen through his disguise and wanted to find out if he was really a god or not. He killed and served to Zeus the flesh of his baby grandson Arcas, who was the son of lycaon’s daughter Callisto and Zeus. This insulted the god zuce and he pushed away the plate. the myth is a bit unclear due to its age there are many different interpretations. In one as punishment Zuce turned only lycoan into a wolf and killed his sons with lightning except his son Nyktimos who was protected by Gaia. In others all Lycaons sons were turned to wolves apart from Nyktimos as he was protected by Gaia. Zeus also brought Arca back to life. Lycaon and his sons could only return to human form after abstaining from human flesh for ten years. Nyktimos ruled Peloponnese until he was succeeded by Arca from then on the place was known as Arcadia. This is what give the name lycanthrope comes from. It is also perhaps why many believed the werewolf’s were servants of Gaia and were good they were rumoured to have fed on acorns so that after the ten years they could return to human form if they wished.
Also as far back as roman times with the myth of Romulus and Remus. Their mother was Rhea Silvia the Vestal Virgin and it’s said their father was Mars the god of war. They are known traditionally to be the founders of Rome and Romulus was Rome’s first king.
Before either of them was born their grandfather Numitor and his brother Amulius who were descendants of fugitives of Troy inherited the throne of Alba Longa. When their father died Numitor received the sovereign powers of the throne while his brother Amulius inherited the Royal treasury which included the gold Aeneas brought by his father from Troy. Because Amulius controlled the treasury this gave him more power he overthrow his brother and declared himself as king.
Amulius feared that Numitors daughter Rhea Silvia would have children who would one day overthrow him as king, so he forced her to be a vestal virgin. This is a priestess sworn to abstinence. But Mars the god of war was smitten by her and seduced her while she was out in the woods searching for fresh water. When King Amulius noticed she was pregnant he through her in prison until she gave birth to twin boys, who were said to have been of remarkable size and beauty. Amulius was so enraged he ordered for Rhea and her two sons Romulus and Remus to be killed. Rhea was buried alive which was the standard punishment for vestal virgins who broke their vow of celibacy and the twins were ordered to death by exposure. The servant who was ordered to kill the twins could not because they were so beautiful and innocent. Instead she placed the twins in a basket and laid it on the banks of the Tiber River and left it there. The river which was flooded rose and gently carried the basket away. They were kept safe by the river deity Tiberinus who made the cradle catch on to the roots of a fig tree growing in the velabrum swamp, Tiberinus then brought the twins up onto the Palatine hill. There they were nursed by a wolf or in Latin lupa (this is the name of a fox goddess and was also used as the word for prostitute’s as they used to be called she wolf’s) leading some people to believe they were found and raised by prostitutes not by a wolf as the story says. They were also fed by a woodpecker named picus underneath a fig tree. Both the wolf and woodpecker are sacred animals to mars. He two children were later discovered by Faustulus a shepherd for Amulius and he took them home to his wife Acca Larentia. They raised them as their own. When Romulus later became king of Rome he brought in many laws against murder and adultery.
The idea of mans relationship with the wolf inspired many tales of man and wolf being as one there are many pictures of Romulus and Remus suckling at the wolves teat. Again in Rome the werewolf was believed to be good.
It wasn’t until the new order of Christianity took hold of Europe the werewolf was seen as something evil. As with many other old beliefs the werewolf was demonised by the church and it became a sin to believe in them. Now instead of being protectors they were said to be spawned by the devil and the church produced their own stories to support their own beliefs. And now like the Vampire the werewolf became a functional part of society to explain deaths in young infants and missing persons.
Now in Scotland and native America there was no werewolf myth. Scotland had fairies that could shift shape into animals and even fire and water, and Native Americans had shamans who could spiritually enter into another animal which was a very religious experience for them and was to help the tribe hunt and also entre the spirit world to help those who were ill or lost their way. The similarity with shapshifers in both cultures was that if the animal was injured the injury would remain when they turned back to human form. So when Christianity came to places like Scotland and America it wasn’t hard to make people believe in such a creature.
FEAR OF WOLVES
In Europe the wolf has been natural enemies of man and his livestock since before the twentieth century. In France from around 768-814 AD they had special government institutions for wolf control. Which lasted into the twentieth century. Some individual wolves were greatly feared and notorious for killing. Such as the beast of Gevaudan who hunted around the Auvergne from around 1764-1767AD and is said to have killed at least sixty people. Wolves who hunted in packs where even more feared, such as in 1439 during the civil war between the followers of Count Armagnac and the followers of the duke of Burgandy. A pack of hungry wolves ceased the opportunity and roamed into Paris and killed and ate fourteen people in fourteen days. As well as all this there was rabies and if you were bitten by a rabid wolf you would suffer a slow horrific death. Were as nowadays rabbis is easily cured.
Also within Europe the Normans would use the word wolf or wolves head to mean outlaw, and throughout Europe it was common for a wolf to be hanging next to someone who was a condemned criminal. Closer to home in Ireland after Oliver Comwells invaded and left many people hungry and week many people were pick off by hungry wolves. The problem became so bad that there was a £5 bounty to be collected for wolves’ heads the same was offered for catholic priests. So there was allot of fear and dislike of wolves throughout Europe and they were seen to be clever evil animals before the myth ever came to Europe.
If you have read the origins of the vampire myth on this site you will already be familiar with the disease. It is a metabolic disease. Porphyrians are essential for creating haem which is a molecule which is vital for red blood cells to carry oxygen. There are seven different types of Porphyria each caused by a dificancey in a different enzyme. Most cases of the disease are hereditary but others are caused by use of long term medication. In congenital porphyria the sufferers skin can often became yellowish and hairy and cause severe light sensitivity causing sufferers to come out mainly at night in fear of tissue damage. In some cases this can also cause ulcers on the hands which can then become severely deformed and paw like. Red pigments can show in their teeth and urine and their behaviour can become erratic. So again unfortunate sufferers of the disease and peoples ignorance helped escalate the belief in werewolves.
There is also reason to believe hallucinations would have conjured up werewolves. In particular Ergot poisoning which is caused by diseased rye. This was a common occurrence in Europe from as early as the ninth century and was often fatal. It would cause vivid hallucinations and in a time when the wolf was such a feared enemy it’s not surprising they featured in many hallucinations. Ergot poisoning was used by Albert Hofmann as the raw material for producing LSD. There was a case in 1951 Pont-Saint Esprit where over three hundred suffered from ergot poisoning five died but many others suffered from horrible hallucinations. There is a record of one man who believed red snakes were eating his brain. Another broke through seven straight jackets and broke his teeth chewing through the leather straps and even bent two iron bars in a hospital window as he was trying to escape the tiger he believed was chasing him.
Some hallucinations were self administered by people who wanted or believed they could transform into werewolves. They would use an ointment containing ingredients such as henbane and deadly nightshade. The ointment was rubbed onto the skin and provoked graphic hallucinations.
A famous case of this was in 1541 in a place called Padua where a farmer attacked and killed several people tearing at them with his teeth. When he was captured he said that he may not look like a wolf but this was because his hair was underneath his skin instead of on top. Bystanders took him at his word and decided to check for themselves. They done this by cutting off his arms and legs. They were disappointed to find there was no hair only bone, blood and muscle. The Farmer died from his wounds which again disappointed bystanders, as with witch trails werewolf trails were equally popular. The fear of werewolf grew to such an extent that like witches many innocent people were burned alive for werewolfry.
I hope you have found this study into the were wolf interesting. The werewolf is certainly an intriguing myth and has inspired and continues to inspire many horror movies such as wolf, American werewolf in Paris and my favourite dog soldiers. It is amazing how popular the myth is and how it has survived thousands of years and still frightens many people today.