Werewolves are certainly the most popular among all mythical creatures which are able to transform into another creature. Legends of werewolves exist mostly on the European continent. The myth became popular thanks to Count Dracula, but this is not the actual source. Some historians believe that the legend comes from Greek mythology, however, in Montague Summers’ novel, The Werewolf (1928), it is clearly mentioned that Greeks adopted the idea from lycanthropy – an ancient Phoenician cult which came to light about 3200 years ago and lasted for about 700.
But what is even more interesting about werewolves is how every culture has changed them in their own specific way.
Norway and Iceland
Although Norway and Iceland are not very close to each other, they share the same mythology – the Scandinavian one, which consists of sagas. The saga dedicated to werewolves is called Völsunga saga and it was written during the 13th century.
The most popular story is about a father and a son – Sigmund and Sinfjötli. While they were strolling through the forest they discovered a cottage with two magic wolf skins inside. If one was to put the skin on, he would turn into a wolf and obtain extraordinary strength, dexterity, and bravery. But the skin could be taken off only once every 10 days. Sigmund and Sinfjötli put on the skins, turned into wolves and began roaming the forest. Before they parted ways they promised each other that if one was stuck fighting 7 people at once, they would call for help. The son failed to stick to the promised and killed 11 people at once. His father was enraged and delivered a fatal blow to his son. But then a raven – the emissary of Odin – brought a healing leaf which saved Sinfjötli. On the 10th day, the two men took off the wolf skins and burned them, freeing themselves from the curse of the lycanthrope.
The werewolf myth in South America is mostly spread throughout Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It was believed that the 7th son of a family would turn into a werewolf upon each full moon, especially if it was on a Friday. This superstition went so far in Argentina that former President, Juan Perón mandated that every 7th son must be baptized.
The werewolves in Mexico were called nahual. Even though the country was a colony of Spain, the legends do not originate from the European ones. In some regions it was believed that the werewolf was a guardian spirit who lives in animals such as deer, jaguars, eagles, lions and others. And the legend is different in other regions – powerful people were able to transform into animals when they wished to hurt someone. This legend is more closely related with the term nahual – meaning “camouflage”.
The true North American legends pertaining to werewolves were brought over by European conquerors who noticed a large population of wolves. When their own superstitions mixed in with the ones of the locals, the modern myth of werewolves was born.
A German soldier claimed that the following story actually happened to his grandfather. The man went to the forest with two other men so they could cut up firewood. The grandfather noticed something strange about one of the men, but he couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. After they were done with their work, the strange man suggested that they rest for a while. The three of them lay down and closed their eyes.
The grandfather was only pretending to sleep, keeping his eyes half open. When the strange man was sure that the other two men were asleep, he put on a magic belt and transformed into a wolf. But he didn’t look like a regular wolf. A little after his transformation, the wolf ran to the nearby field and ate a pregnant mare. After that he returned, took off the belt and lay down next to the two men. On their way back into town, the werewolf complained of stomach pains and the grandfather whispered in his ear: “When someone eats an entire horse…”, but before he could finish his sentence, the werewolf responded: “If you said this to me while we were in the forest you wouldn’t be talking to me right now”.
An Irish tale from the 12th century:
A priest was traveling from Ulster to Meath in the company of a young boy. One night the priest was visited by a wolf claiming to be a God. The priest was terrified and couldn’t believe his eyes, but he was able to ask the wolf how was it possible to look like a wolf, yet speak like a human. The wolf answered that there was only one other creature in the world who was like him, and that was his wife. He explained that the native people of Ossory had been cursed by a priest by the name of Natalis and every 7 years a man and a woman would transform into werewolves. After those 7 years, another two people would take their place and those who have already lived out their curse would transform back into human beings.
One of the most famous Roman stories having to do with werewolves goes as follows:
A servant by the name of Niceros speaks about one day when he was taking a stroll with his master. Once they reached a cemetery, his master took off his clothes, urinated in a circle around them and transformed into a wolf. Immediately after, he rushed to a flock of sheep. Niceros couldn’t believe what he was seeing until the shepherd told him that one of his servants stabbed a wolf with a pitchfork. And on the next day, Niceros noticed a wound on his master’s neck. The wound was in the same place as where the wolf had been stabbed the day before.