Lunar Horrors and Fanged Frights


Elizabeth Yost, Copy Editor

Werewolves have been integrated into lore throughout the ages, an image of animalistic rage in the shape of a man. In recent years, however, the monster had taken less menacing forms, like Jacob in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly successful series, Twilight. As in all things, the modern presence of werewolves is something that can only be understood after looking into their past.

Most historians agree that the first appearance of werewolves arose with the story of Lycaon, a king in ancient Greece. The myth describes Lycaon as prideful and… busy. The king had roughly fifty sons and more than a handful of wives. In disguise, Zeus went to visit Lycaon’s kingdom, and, in a moment of brilliance, the mortal king decided to test the god’s power. With the help of his sons, Lycaon slaughtered a child, roasted him till he passed for medium-rare, and served him up to their visitor. While some sources claim the boy to be one of Lycaon’s own sons, others dispute the boy played the role of an unnamed captive. All retellings of the tale seem to agree on one thing, though: Zeus was not pleased. In his rage, he struck down all of Lycaon’s (remaining) sons with bolts of lighting. Seeing this, Lycaon decided he would prefer not to share the fate of his heirs and fled. In order to exact his vengeance upon the king on the run, Zeus got a bit more creative and opted to transform Lycaon into a wolf. 

The Greeks weren’t the only ancient civilization with an interest in lycanthropy, however; the Norse tale of Sigmund and Sinfjotli found in The Volsunga Saga tells the story of a father and son who stumble upon magic  wolf pelts. When they put on the skins, they were instantly turned into wolves. The men, having lost all sense of humanity after their transformations, went on a multi-month murder spree. After many bloody encounters, the two came across each other once again and began fighting over prey. Sigmund attempted to fend off the attack by biting his son; but when he made contact, he became immediately reminded of his humanity. The wolf skins fell off, and the two men returned to normal. 

The Middle Ages provided their own take on werewolves.  Similar to witch hunts in nature, men all over the European continent were accused of being werewolves and committing heinous crimes while in their animalistic state. While there are a multitude of accusations, ranging from serial killers to satanists claiming to have made a deal with the devil, one story stands out among them. A German farmer, Peter Stubbe, was accused of around 15 murders, cannibalism, and incest. Ravaged by war, the town where Stubbe lived began to formulate stories about a murderous wolf on the loose to explain a growing number of missing civilians. When the townsfolk attempted to hunt down the wolf, they came across Stubbe where they believed the wolf to be. After prolonged torture, Stubbe confessed to the murders. He asserted that, as a boy, he had made a deal with the devil, who had 

gifted him a wolfskin belt that possessed wolf-like abilities. Stubbe went on to claim that he craved the taste of human flesh, specifically that of children, and had even killed and eaten his own son. He then announced an incestuous relationship with his daughter and that he enjoyed watching the families of his victims mourn in the streets. 

 fter producing such a theatric tale, the town sentenced Stubbe to death, though the execution proved to be as gruesome as the torture. Before being beheaded on Halloween night, he would have the flesh ripped from his body with tongs and his legs broken with an axe or hammer. After his death, his body was burned at the stake, along with his mistress and daughter, who were convicted of aiding Stubbe.

 Over time, people began to become more sympathetic to werewolves, seeing them as victims of a curse rather than agents of the devil. Many believed a werewolf could be “cured” in three ways: an exorcism, a surgical procedure, or being shot with silver bullet. These options often resulted in death. The processes expected of a werewolf were violent and dangerous, sometimes including medically induced illness. This shift in opinion  from choice to ailment marked the start of the modern regard for lycanthropy. Recent media has portrayed this new age view of werewolves through characters like the tragic Remus Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Scott McCall from Teen Wolf, and, of course, teenage heartthrob Jacob Black in Twilight. These stories were the first of many, inspiring more and more sightings of werewolves in today’s entertainment industry. 

 In the 21st century, horror stories of werewolves have fallen from the spotlight and real believers are rare in comparison to the werewolf panic of the Dark Ages, but stories of oddities taking place on a full moon are still prevalent. Doctors across the country are known to believe that their Emergency Room becomes much more chaotic on a full moon, especially around Halloween. Patient numbers are said to increase and some nurses have even reported being attacked by those being treated. Hospitals even go as far as scheduling extra nurses on full moons. While some believe in the superstition itself, others provide a more science-based explanation. Since humans are 70 percent water, medical professionals believe the pull of water within the body brings about psychotic breaks. 

 While the effects of the full moon have yet to see the validation of solid evidence supporting its claim, medical professionals and scientific proof agree on the existence of clinical lycanthropy.  True lycanthropy, a condition of the mind believed to be brought on by other psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, can last as short as an hour or as long as a decade. Patients experiencing this enigma report to honestly believe they are shifting into an animal, growing elongated nails and becoming covered in hair. Since the first recorded case in 1852, a total of 55 people have been diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy. Of those cases, 13 believed their new form was a wolf. Other delusions come in the shape of pigs, snakes, and an assortment of other animals. Scientists now assert that lycanthropy is the effect of brain diseases altering the part of the mind that controls a person’s sense of their own body or their body schema. Brain disorders will give them false sensory information about their own body, causing them to believe major changes have occurred.

 The history of werewolves, very similar to lycanthropy itself,  has changed over the centuries, shifting shape to fit the thoughts and beliefs of the time period. Lore and superstition rearrange and contort into the shape of something new with each great war passed and scientific discovery earned. Like all tales passed down from era to era, the stories of werewolves were used as both a way to teach morals and give explanation to real life horrors. While the beast’s current roll in the media tends to carry the theme of the tragic hero, as the new decade rolls in they may even transform again with the promise of full moons to come.