The oldest report of a man changing into a wolf was from ancient Greek mythology. Lycaon (hence the
word lycanthropy; see the movie Underworld) displeased Zeus and the deity changed him into a wolf. However, a number
of ancient writers such as Galen and Virgil provided the first descriptions of lycanthropy. They rejected
mythology and believed that the change into animals was a diseased condition brought on by melancholia or drugs. In
like measures, werewolfism has been reported throughout the world, though
the animals into which humans transform has
been quite varied, including lions, tigers, jaguars, hyenas, sharks, and crocodiles - all animals that are large and
known for their ferociousness. Contemporary reports of lycanthropy also come from around the world, both in rural
areas and in the modern West.
The werewolf is one of several monsters closely associated in the public mind with the vampire. That relationship was
largely established in the
1930s with the production of two werewolf movies by Universal Pictures and the inclusion
of the werewolf and vampire together in three films during the 1940s. By definition the werewolf is a human being who
at various times (usually at the full moon),
either voluntarily or involuntarily, changes into a wolf or wolflike
creature and assumes many of the characteristics of the wolf, especially its viciousness. Closely related to
werewolfism was a disease, lycanthropy, in which people believe that they change into a werewolf when, in fact, they do
not. Like the vampire, and unlike
FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER, the werewolf was an ancient figure found in the folklore of
Some contemporary cases are included in the selection of papers compiled by Richard
Noll. WEREWOLVES AND VAMPIRES: Werewolves and vampires have been reported as existing side by
side in the mythologies of many cultures, but they have a special relationship in the southern Balkan area,
from whence much of the modern
vampire myth comes. That relationship was particularly evident in the use of the term vrykolakas (and cognate terms
in various Slavic languages) to describe vampires in recent centuries in Greece.
In accounts of the vrykolakas in
southern Balkan countries, there was some confusion over the word's meaning. In the early twentieth century, pioneer
researcher Freidrich Krauss, working in Bosnia, concluded that the vrykolakas (spelled vukodlak in Bosnia) was a
werewolf (i.e., a man or woman who changed into a wolf and attacked the local cattle). More recent researchers such
as Harry Senn and Jan L. Perkowski have argued that the word vrykolakas derived from an old Slavic word that referred
to the ritual wearing of
wolf pelts among Slavic tribes during the first millennium AD. Earlier Mircea Eliade had
observed that the Dacians, the people who previously resided in what is present-day Romania and whose name means
wolf, ritually transformed their young warriors into wolves by dressing them in wolf pelts and engaging in
appropriate mimicking behavior.
The historian Herodotus had described such behavior among the early people of the
southern Balkans. At the time the wolf was admired as a warrior animal. Senn noted that during the early centuries of
the second millennium the perceived role of the wolf changed from one that was admired to one that was feared. The
wolf became a threat to the community because it attacked livestock and people. Over
the first centuries of the
second millennium AD, the use of the term vrykolakas lost its ritual meaning (as the image of the wolf changed and
the ritual itself disappeared).
The original witchhunters, James Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, the authors of the 1486 volume THE WITCHES
started the great witchhunts of the next two centuries, declared the transformation of man into wolf impossible. But
they believed that witches and sorcerers could cause another person to believe that he had been transformed into a
wolf. There were, however, several trials against people accused of werewolfism.
According to Senn, the reference point of vrykolakas was transferred to the vampire;
throughout the southern Balkans (Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, etc.),
it replaced older terms for the vampire.
Perkowski emphasized that there was an intermediate step in which the term took on a mythological reference to a
being who chased the clouds and devoured the moon (Agnes Murgoci, working in Romania in the mid-1920s, found continued
references to this meaning of vrykolakas).
Further transition was made in the sixteenth century, by which time
vrykolakas had began to refer to vampires. That meaning then spread throughout the southern Balkans and into Greece.
Perkowski has even argued that the terms never referred to a werewolf, as Krauss and others have suggested. Among
modern Romanians there is a were-creature, the tricolici (or pricolici), a man who may take the from of a pig, a dog,
or, less often, a wolf. Belief in werewolves apparently peaked in Europe during the late Middle Ages. While many
refused to believe that
actual werewolves existed, many believed that lycanthropy was caused by the devil.