W – Werewolves

Wait…what? Werewolves aren’t a material! Well, they’re made of stuff, but no, that’s not where I’m going with this.  You could probably run a whole AtoZ on the history of werewolves and werewolf lore – and if anyone wants to run with that next year, please do, with my blessing.

The term lycanthropy, as might be expected, has an ancient Greek origin, with Zeus dealing out punishment, which in the context was actually justified, rather than him just getting a bit miffed.  As might be expected from a subject that has developed over millennia, and which sees variations in most major cultures around the world, there is a great deal of lore and arcana associated with werewolves, but before we get to the nub of today’s material, there are two titbits of information that I thought interesting, but which have nothing to do with what I want to talk about: i) the consideration of the affliction as a medical condition goes back almost to the dawn of the story, but the view that it might be a mental issue occurs as early as the 2nd Century AD, and was put forward by the eminent physician and medical research Galen of Pergamon; ii) whilst there has been some history of werewolves in the British Isles, it is almost non-existent when compared with the prevalence elsewhere in the world.  This is somewhat surprising giving the Germanic and Scandinavian influences on the Isles, including the bear-shirts (berserkers) and their wolf-brethren, the ulfhednar.

As noted, lycanthopy is not the only form of animal transformation that has been recorded.  Local variations exist, depending on what animals are dominant: for convenience, I’m going to stick to the term werewolf, but please do think of this as a general term, when the context is general.  One of the theories about the popularity of the stories and the popular view that werewolves are evil is that they represent an apex predator that humans should fear, with human attributes.  This has some merit as a theory, and may well be true, in some locations at least.  It may also explain why werewolves are rare in Briton/Britain – wolves have had a hard time of it since before the Dark Ages, have been persecuted by Royal Warrant, and were banished to the remotest parts of the country.  Whilst there are discrepancies in data and folklore, the wolf seems to have been effectively extinct in England no later than the end of the 15th Century and in Scotland around 200 years later.

But we’re in danger of the post being wholly digression and with no substantive materials consideration…Onwards! So, whilst there is a plethora of ways that you can become a werewolf, one theory, which dates back to early sources, is that it is a disease that can be passed on, an infection that can be transmitted.  Following this line of reasoning we can suppose some kind of agent, typically in the bodily fluids – and with an understanding of modern medicine, the logical conclusion is that it is some form of virus or bacteria.  Hold that thought.

Anybody who knows even a little bit about werewolves knows that: i) they have to change if it’s the full moon and ii) that they are vulnerable to silver.  Both of these are relative new ideas though, and owe more to the gothic writers of the 18th and 19th centuries than to anything else.  These ideas probably come from the traditional alchemical connection between the Moon and silver than anything else, with the Moon being a symbol for night and darkness, whereas anyone can look up at the sky and see the Moon in the daytime, if the alignment/orbit is, shall we say, auspicious.

But let’s come back to the idea that lycanthropy is an infection.  In the modern medical arsenal, much is made of silver to help defeat bacteria, even antibiotic resistant strains.  This is one of those contentious topics where lots of claims are made about the effectiveness of the use of silver in certain applications, which have been extrapolated from other applications.  So, for example, the use of silver in wound dressings and in socks, for example, is based on the proven ability of silver to disrupt key enzymes in pathogenic bacteria.  However the mechanisms by which this occurs aren’t really possible in the wound dressings and for odour control, so ignore the hype, is my advice.

So, whilst a bullet might not be the most effective way of getting silver into the body, it could, potentially, be used to cure lycanthropy – assuming of course that it has its origins in a bacterial infection…

Arrrrrrrrroooooooooooooooooooooo

PS  – if Werewolves are your thing, then do go and take a look at Tasha Duncan-Drake’s AtoZ Challenge focussing on Werewolves and Shapeshifters.

 

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14 thoughts on “W – Werewolves

  1. I can honestly say that I’ve never given werewolves much thought. I am probably opening myself up to ridicule because of this gap in my curiosity re: werewolves, but there you have it. Now that I’ve read about them here, I’m off to see what Tasha has to say. Thanks for sharing your werewolfian knowledge and starting me down the road to further learning.

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    1. I think we’ve all been there – a gap in our knowledge that surprises people. And to be fair, lots of people have no interest in werewolves at all.

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  2. And, of course, the werewolf narrative is beautifully subverted by Terry Pratchett in the character of Sergeant Angua of the City Watch in the various adventures she has both in human and in wolf form.

    BTW – where does the word ‘ulfhednar’ come from? I hadn’t met it before until a few weeks ago when I read it in a story by Elizabeth Bear, and I assumed that she had invented the term.

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    1. Yes, although of course she is still vulnerable to silver…

      Old English/Norse derivative somewhat analogous to berserker=bear-shirt. They were on the totemic/shamanistic end of the spectrum and wore the skins of wolves to imbue themselves with their power.

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  3. I’ve written werewolves in my only(so far) novel. It was fantasy, though, and as the world had three moons I skipped the full moon thing. I read somewhere that the silver thing goes back mostly to the old movies, but maybe it is a bit older, as you say. There do seem to be were creatures around the world, including were-jaguars in South America.

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    1. And were-tigers in India! There is an interesting physics question with regard to were, and indeed shapeshifting in general, in terms of preservation of mass. But I may be overthinking things again…

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