Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lycanthropy is the transformation of a human being in to the form of a wolf. The term is derived from the Greek words lukos, meaning wolf, and anthropos, meaning man. Such a human, transformed, is known as a werewolf. This term derives from the Anglo-Saxon wer, meaning man, and wulf, meaning wolf. There are countless folk tales of werewolves coming from every country in the world where there is or was a presence of wolves. In other countries that have not known the wolf, there are folk tales of such things as weretigers, werebears, werefoxes, wereleoopards and werepanthers.

Some people believed that the only transformation that occurred was purely in the mind of the person. In other words, no physical changes took place. The affected individual merely believed that the changes had occurred. Yet there were numerous well-documented cases —including several in France in 1598—that appeared to show otherwise.

Throughout the time of the witchcraft trials at the end of the 16th century, there were several of cases of lycanthropy. Geiler von Kayserberg’s book on witchcraft, Di Emeis (Strasbourg, 1517), includes an illustration of a man being attacked by a werewolf. The Révérend Père M. Mar. Guaccius’s Compendium maleficarum (Milan, 1626) has an engraving of a witch transformed into a wolf. A variety of German works of the 16th and 17th centuries also show these types of pictures. In many of the witch trials in Britain, evidence was offered of witches transforming themselves into a variety of animals, including rabbits, cats, dogs, crows and wolves. In 1573, Gilles Garnier of Dole, France admitted to becoming a werewolf and killing a ten-year-old girl, ripping her body to pieces with his claws and teeth. In 1589, Peter Stumpf of Bedburg, near Cologne, under torture confessed that he changed into such an beast with the aid of magic belt that was given to him by the devil. He could change back into human form, he said, by taking off the belt. Among others, Stumpf killed his own son and twelve other children, plus two young women and various livestock. He and his daughter were sentenced to be horribly tortured then burnt alive at the stake..

The Roman poet, Vergil, in his Eclogues (c. 20 BCE), wrote, “Often have I seen Moeris turn into a wolf and hide in these woods: often too have I seen him summon the spirits from the depths of the tomb and transfer crops elsewhere.” Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) spoke of someone of the clan of Anthius, who was chosen by vote of the family and led away to a particular pool in the region of Arcadia. There he hung his clothes on an oak tree, swam across the pool, and went into the woods on the far side to transform into a wolf. He remained in that form for nine years before swimming back across the pool and changing back into a man. According to William Stokes (Religion of the Celts, 1873), St. Patrick cursed a certain race in Ireland so that every seven years they and their descendants would become werewolves.

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