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Witchcraft and Werewolves

In Medieval Times, Lycanthropy and Witches Were Intertwined

Belief in were-animals was universal throughout Europe. In the Middle Ages,
different countries had names for the creature and in ways a witch could shape-s
Centuries ago, people believed witches could transform into wolves. They roa
med European lands, killing people and animals. Another belief was lycanthropes
were demons or the devil. Legends exist about witches arriving at Sabbats astrid
e these beasts. Pagans were considered witches.
Hollywood popularized the mistaken notion that they attack only during the n
ighttime full moon. Accounts have recorded daytime attacks and others happening
during the moon s other phases.
European Names
Andorra: home llop
Bulgaria: varkolak, vulkodlak
Croatia, Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia: vukodlak
Denmark/Sweden: varulv
England: werewolf
Estonia: libahunt
France: lubins, lupins, loup-garous
Galicia: lobisûn
Germany: werewolf
Greece: lycanthropos
Ireland: faoladh, conriocht
Italy: lupo mannaro
Latvia: vilkatis, vilkacis
Lithuania: vilkolakis, vilkatlakis
Poland: wilkolak
Portugal: lobisomem
Romania: varcolac
Russia: oboroten', vurdalak
Scotland: werewolf, wulver
Spain: hombre lobo
Ukraine: vovkulak(a),vovkun, pereverten'
How Witches Shape-shift into Werewolves
Witches were believed to be in league with the devil and because of this, th
ey could become wolves. Ways of transforming into a werewolf included:
* Removing clothing and donning a belt made of wolf skin or the entire pelt.
Removing the hide restored the werewolf to human shape.
* Rubbing one s body with magic salve
* Drinking water from a wolf s footprint, enchanted streams or special formula
* Eating a specific plant
* Repeating an incantation
Killing the Werewolf
The most common and best known method is to shoot a silver bullet through it
s heart. Destroying the heart and/or brain are the other methods.
One well documented case of a wolf-like creature, believed to be a werewolf
is the Beast of Gevaudan, a huge lupine that terrorized this town in south centr
al France in the late 1700s, attacking and killing people and animals. After all
efforts to kill it failed, the King rounded up hunters. One of them remembered
werewolf legends and placed a silver bullet in this rifle. He shot the creature
through the heart, ending the beast s reign of terror.
Contemporary Lycanthropy Speculations
Some lycanthropes averred they were wolves and that the fur grew inside thei
r body. James VI of Scotland, who persecuted witches with fervor, believed "warw
oolfes" were victims of delusion caused by extreme melancholia.
Although people no longer believe witches shapeshifted into werewolves, ther
e are theories to explain the werewolf phenomenon.
Ergot is a fungus that replaces rye in wet growing seasons preceded by very
cold winters. Its toxin usually affects part of or whole towns, resulting in hal
lucinations, mass hysteria and/or paranoia and sometimes, convulsions and death.
The hallucinogenic, LSD, can be produced from ergot.
Ergot poisoning has been theorized as a cause of lycanthropy in a person and
others believing they had sighted a werewolf. This theory isn t totally satisfact
ory because legends of animal transformations are globally universal. Rye isn t na
tive to all countries with were-animal beliefs.
It is possible that ointments used by witches for shape-shifting and self-su
ggestion created delusions of being wolves, but this doesn t explain others seeing
them as werewolves.
Other theories include:
Clinical lycanthropy: one has the delusional belief that s/he transforms int
o another animal, not limited to a wolf.
Congenital erythropoietic porphyria: symptoms include hairy hands and face,
reddish tinted teeth and inadequately healing skin. There is also photosensitivi
ty, so those afflicted only venture out at night.
Hypertrichosis: excessive hair growth on the entire body
Porphyria: a chemical disorder with symptoms that include delusions
The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, (Facts on F
ile, Inc., 1999)
A Natural History of Unnatural Things, Daniel Cohen, (The McCall Publishing
Company, 1971)
Copyright © Jill Stefko