Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia


Deep within dusty archives scatted across the globe lie tales of werewolves, creatures straddling the delicate boundary between human and beast, condemned to abandon their humanity for the bestial acts of wolves.

In the annals of folklore, the werewolf emerges as a figure of cunning, shyness, swiftness, and insatiable greed, captivating the imagination of storytellers and listeners alike. Perhaps the wolf’s historical menace to humanity, spanning epochs where it posed a genuine threat to villagers and farmers, ensured its prominence in legends and myths. Even in modern times, occasional reports surface in the media of wolf attacks in Europe and the Middle East, a chilling reminder of our primal fears.

Across cultures, those confronted by the formidable predators incorporated them into their lore, attributing their ferocious traits to dangerous and powerful individuals. The tale of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome suckled by a she-wolf, imbues them with her fierce spirit. This connection between humans and wolves persisted, influencing the organization and discipline of the Roman infantry, who mirrored the pack’s cohesion and nearly invincible prowess in battle.

Historical accounts, such as those by Polybius, recount the valor of soldiers rewarded with wolfskin attire for their courage, contrasting with the grisly fate awaiting those deemed cowards. The concept of assuming wolf-like behavior, whether through imitation or perceived transformation, permeated ancient narratives. Some attributed these metamorphoses to divine will, magic, or the use of hallucinogenic substances, while later interpretations framed them as manifestations of paranormal phenomena or symptoms of mental and physical illness.

The enduring allure of werewolf legends is evident in their continued resonance in popular culture and belief systems. Hollywood has capitalized on the fascination with werewolves, and individuals claiming encounters persist, as evidenced by the inundation of calls to a “werewolf hotline” established by Fox Broadcasting Company in 1988. These narratives, spanning centuries, have shaped a distinct profile of the werewolf.

About Werewolves

Physically, the werewolf is described with bushy eyebrows meeting over the bridge of the nose, red teeth, an abnormally long index finger, and elongated, blood-tinged nails. Their ears sit far back and low on the head, and their eyes and mouth are often dry, accompanied by an insatiable thirst. The skin bears roughness, scratches, and cuts from traversing through foliage in wolf form, often displaying a yellowish, rosy, or greenish hue, with a propensity for hairiness.

Beyond these physical traits, werewolves exhibit marked psychological characteristics, including a preference for solitude and nocturnal activities. Described as afflicted with deep melancholy, they are drawn to graveyards and may indulge in disturbing behaviors such as exhuming corpses for consumption. February, in particular, is depicted as a month of heightened cruelty for werewolves, marked by nocturnal forays into graveyards to unearth and transport human bones.

The transformation from human to beast is attributed to various means, including the application of magical herbs and ointments with physical metamorphosis, enhanced by the wearing of wolfskins or belt made from wolf hides. Rituals involving incantations within circles of dirt, conducted with reverence and expertise, amplify the illusion of transformation.

Historically, werewolf narratives evolved from notions of cursed individuals to accounts of voluntary transformation rituals. Ancient rituals, such as those purportedly practiced in Arcadian temples, involved human sacrifices and purportedly granted participants the ability to transform into wolves for a limited time, their duration dependent on whether they consumed human flesh.

These stories, captured by ancient and medieval literature, offer tantalizing glimpses into the eerie realm of werewolf lore. Roman writer Petronius recounts the chilling tale of a man transformed into a wolf after a bizarre encounter with a soldier, underscoring the enduring fascination with the supernatural and the macabre.

Werewolves in History

The lore of werewolves, deeply entrenched in the fabric of medieval Europe, persisted across epochs, captivating imaginations and instilling fear in equal measure. In regions such as Poland, Estonia, and Latvia, individuals were sometimes regarded as witches, believed to undergo a startling transformation into werewolves on an annual basis. A chilling entry in a Latvian court record from 1555 recounts the confession of a seeminly rational man who, along with his fellow farmers, shed their clothes and assumed the guise of wolves, terrorizing both animals and humans alike.

Such realistic transformations find echoes in Livonian histories, which dokument ceremonies occurring during the Christmas season – a time traditionally associated with magical rites due to its proximity to the winter solstice. According to legend, penned during the 1500s, scores of individuals were compelled, on December 26th, to follow a mystic, crippled boy into the countryside. Branded as slaves to the Devil, these unfortunate souls morphed into ravenous wolves, embarking on a twelve-day orgy of bloodshed. Their return to human form was marked by a sudden collapse, rendering them inert and devoid of emotion, leaving their fate shrouded in mystery.

Ireland, often referred to as “Wolfland” owing to the continued presence of wolves long after their near-extinction in England, boasted a treasery of werewolf legends. Notably, St. Patrick himself allegedly transformed Vereticus, the King of Wales, into a wolf – a testament to the enduring allure of such tales.

The blurred lines between reality and fantasy in werewolf stories defy neat categorization. Scholar Gervase of Tilbury, writing between 1210 and 1214, noted sightings of men transformed into wolves in England, while other accounts chronicle the exploits of figures such as Raimbaud de Pinetum of Auvergne, who, banished to the woods, terrorized the populace until his capture by a resourceful carpenter.

Medieval Irish chroniclers contributed their own tales of werewolves, including one recounted by Gerald of Wales in his Topographia Hiberniae. In this story, a priest and a boy encounter a wolf in an unknown forest, only to discover it to be a transformed man, compelled to live as a wolf every seven years as part of a curse on the kingdom of Ossory.

From these historical anecdotes and folklore, medieval authors spun tales of romance and intrigue, where werewolves featured prominently in stories of deceit and betrayal. Marie de France’s Lay of the Werewolf, penned in the 1200s, chronicles the tragic fate of a nobleman condemned to a noctural existence as a werewolf by a curse, ultimately betrayed by his wife and her conniving accomplice.

As the centuries passed, tales once regulated to the realm of entertainment took on a darker hue, reflecting real-life anxieties and suffering. Accounts such as that of Stubbe illuminate a period where belief in werewolves seemed pervasive, leading to trials and executions numbering in the thousands, with many enduring torture and trauma before meeting their gruesome fate at the stake.

The shadows cast by these legends linger still, haunting the annals of history with tales of transformation and terror that continue to fascinate and unsettle.

See also
Lycanthropy | The Legend of King Arthur