Research Discovery: Common Misconceptions about Werewolves

Yes, I know I said I’d never write about alpha males, but as it turns out, there happens to be a werewolf in the Mythical Menagerie series. Rest assured, it’s not the alpha male we’ve all been subjected to by your typical urban fantasy – you know the kind, the brooding misunderstood loner who’s really softhearted, but don’t mess with his girl or the inner beast will come out. Nope, my werewolf is going to break the mould somewhat.

Hairy beast | © Leo Karstens, Pixabay

While I was doing some research about werewolves, I came across a few interesting facts that I hadn’t know before and that I thought was interesting enough to share here.

We all know that a werewolf is created when a human is bitten by someone who is already a werewolf, right? But where did the first werewolf come from? Well, most old stories talk about Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who served the flesh of his own son to Zeus to test if the god was indeed all-knowing. As it turns out, Zeus did not take kindly to being tested, especially in such a gruesome manner, so he cursed Lycaon and turned him into a wolf (and also restored the dead son back to life). There are also some myths that tell about saints who could curse people by transforming them into wolves. So being turned into a werewolf is a divine punishment, and not the result of being bitten, although there are stories in which people transform willingly with the help of various magical items.

While the old myths clearly state that werewolves are humans who have been turned into wolves (the animal kind), my perception of the creatures have been influenced by bad horror movies into picturing a werewolf as some sort of hairy human-wolf hybrid creature, which isn’t historically accurate.

Werewolves form part of a class of creatures called therianthropes, a term that refers to any human that can shapeshift into another species. Lycanthropy (from Lycaon) is what we call the ability to shift into wolf form.

Surprisingly, silver bullets do not, in fact, kill werewolves, according to ancient legends (which makes sense, if you think about it, since people didn’t have bullets in Lycaon’s time, did they?). This belief is relatively new and has its origins in 19th century German folklore, and has since been exploited by novelists and Hollywood as a convenient weakness for an almost indestructible creature. Although all therianthropes are vulnerable to silver, the old stories tell us that the only way to cure a werewolf is by ingesting wolf’s bane or by exorcism. I imagine a good old beheading would also do the trick, if you were thinking of killing rather than curing.

Another belief is that a werewolf can only transform during the full moon. This one at least, seems to be mostly accurate, since the ancients believed that the waxing and waning of the moon could initiate the change. Modern science has also shown that some people do actually become more violent when the moon is full.

When I’m writing my werewolf, I’ll be keeping the old legends as well as the modern myths in mind. He’ll be a combination of both and something unique to Ambrose’s world and my Mythical Menagerie series.

Do you have any interesting werewolf myths and legends to add to this post? How do you feel about werewolves in novels and in movies – love them or hate them? And why?

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