The werewolf is a mythological animal and the subject of many stories throughout the world—and more than a few nightmares. Werewolves are, according to some legends, people who morph into vicious, powerful wolves. Others are a mutant combination of human and wolf. But all are bloodthirsty beasts who cannot control their lust for killing people and animals.
Early Werewolf Legends
It’s unclear exactly when and where the werewolf legend originated. Some scholars believe the werewolf made its debut in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known Western prose, when Gilgamesh jilted a potential lover because she had turned her previous mate into a wolf.
Werewolves made another early appearance in Greek mythology with the Legend of Lycaon. According to the legend, Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus, angered the god Zeus when he served him a meal made from the remains of a sacrificed boy. As punishment, the enraged Zeus turned Lycaon and his sons into wolves.
Werewolves also emerged in early Nordic folklore. The Saga of the Volsungs tells the story of a father and son who discovered wolf pelts that had the power to turn people into wolves for ten days. The father-son duo donned the pelts, transformed into wolves and went on a killing rampage in the forest. Their rampage ended when the father attacked his son, causing a lethal wound. The son only survived because a kind raven gave the father a leaf with healing powers.
Many so-called werewolves from centuries ago were in fact serial killers, and France had its fair share. In 1521, Frenchmen Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun allegedly swore allegiance to the devil and claimed to have an ointment that turned them into wolves. After confessing to brutally murdering several children, they were both burned to death at the stake. (Burning was thought to be one of the few ways to kill a werewolf.)
Giles Garnier, known as the “Werewolf of Dole,” was another sixteenth-century Frenchman whose claim to fame was also an ointment with wolf-morphing abilities. According to legend, as a wolf he viciously killed children and ate them. He too was burned to death at the stake for his monstrous crimes.
Whether Burgot, Verdun or Garnier were mentally ill, acted under the influence of a hallucinogenic substance or were simply cold-blooded killers is up for debate. But it likely didn’t matter to superstitious Europeans during the 16th century. To them, such heinous crimes could only be committed by a horrific beast such as the werewolf.
The Bedburg Werewolf
Peter Stubbe, a wealthy, fifteenth-century farmer in Bedburg, Germany, may be the most notorious werewolf of them all. According to folklore, he turned into a wolf-like creature at night and devoured many citizens of Bedburg.
Peter was eventually blamed for the gruesome killings after being cornered by hunters who claimed they saw him shape-shift from wolf to human form. He experienced a grisly execution after confessing under torture to savagely killing animals, men, women and children—and eating their remains. He also declared he owned an enchanted belt that gave him the power to transform into a wolf at will. Not surprisingly, the belt was never found.
Peter’s guilt is controversial since some people believe he wasn’t a killer but the victim of a political witch hunt—or perhaps a werewolf-hunt. Either way, the circumstances surrounding his life and death stoked rampant fears at the time that werewolves were on the loose.
The Shape-Shifter as Werewolf
Some legends maintain werewolves shape-shifted at will due to a curse. Others state they transformed with the help of an enchanted sash or a cloak made of wolf pelt. Still others claim people became wolves after being scratched or bit by a werewolf.
In many werewolf stories, a person only turns into a wolf when there’s a full moon—and that theory may not be far-fetched. According to a study conducted at Australia’s Calvary Mater Newcastle hospital, a full moon brings out the “beast” in many humans. The study found that of the 91 violent, acute behavior incidents at the hospital between August 2008 and July 2009, 23 percent happened during a full moon.
Patients attacked staff and displayed wolf-like behaviors such as biting, spitting and scratching. Although many were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time, it’s unclear why they became intensely violent when the moon was full.
How to Become a Werewolf
So you want to become a werewolf. And why not? Werewolves are swift, powerful, and enjoy a kind of freedom that most humans can only dream of. Here’s the bad news: The process of becoming a werewolf is often very painful and sometimes lethal. Also, there is no guaranteed cure. There are a variety of methods to become a werewolf, they are as follows:
The werewolf curse is the oldest way to become a werewolf. The first werewolf to be written about in ancient times was made that way by a curse from Zeus (Curse of King Lycaon). Since the gods don’t curse people anymore (at least not directly), it is left up to witches. I don’t mean Wiccans. I mean old-school, dirt, blood, and eat your children type witches. The kind you don’t want to meet in a dark forest alone. But if you do meet one you may be able to convince them to turn you into a werewolf instead of boiling you for dinner. Good luck!
Being bitten by a werewolf is one of the most common ways that people become lycanthropes these days. The trick here is to survive the other bites that come after.
Usually made of wolf skin or wolf leather and enchanted by a witch or enchantress. These normally take the form of a belt worn around the waist or a pelt worn over the shoulders and back. This method has the upside of allowing you complete control over when you change. The downside is if the clothing gets lost or stolen you can no longer become a werewolf.
Herbs and Potions
The werewolf potion is a fairly common way to become a werewolf. It usually contains wolfsbane (which is highly poisonous to humans so don’t try this one at home), a small amount of powdered silver, and several other herbs. The potion, or salve in some cases, is then either drank or rubbed on the skin.
This is always done under the light of a full moon. Depending on the potion the effect may be permanent or temporary.
Ah, the old pact with the devil. Is there anything that guy can’t do? This method gained popularity in 16th century Europe, especially in France, though it dates back much farther. A little known fact about the witch trials of Europe is that while the women were being accused of being witches, the men were being accused of being werewolves, and both were thought to consort with the devil.
We don’t recommend this method. Deals with the devil are always messy and he charges too much (your soul).
Be born as one
Then there are the lucky ones who are just born werewolves. No need to mess around with potions or witches for them because their parents or other ancestor did it for them. There are two generally accepted ways to be born a werewolf. Either your parents (both of them) have to be werewolves or your family has to be under a blood curse from a witch.
In the case of a blood curse you may not turn into a werewolf until your 18th or 21st birthday. Or it may be when you hit puberty. Witches are unpredictable like that.
Wolf and Human Meat
This is one of the original ways to become a werewolf. After King Lycaon got ‘curse smacked’ by Zeus, a rather large cult formed called ‘Zeus Lycaeus.’ They were big on sacrificing people and babies on Zeus’ alter and eating wolf and human meat in order to become werewolves. The practice lasted more than 1500 years. With this method, the change is permanent and you don’t regain human form.
Water touched by a Werewolf
This one is also brought to us by the ‘Zeus Lycaeus’ cult of ancient Arcadia. They would bathe in special pools of water thought to have been touched by a werewolf (usually King Lycaon himself). This was always done during a full moon, though the specific time of year also played a part.
Later it was thought that drinking water touched by a werewolf would have the same effect. There was a short lived superstition in the dark ages that if a werewolf cooked your food and you ate it you would become a werewolf.
This little flower is said to grow on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe near Romania. The flower is yellow with white edges and often said to resemble yellow monkshood. When picked the flower will ooze a white sticky sap and give off a foul odor. Sometimes the flower is eaten. Sometimes it’s mixed into a potion and drank, and sometimes simply picking the flower is enough to turn you into a werewolf.
It is said that a werewolf in human form will be forced to change if exposed to this flower. There is an old legend that states that werewolves were often buried with these flowers. Since a werewolf usually changes back into a human when it dies, other werewolves will tie these flowers around the dead person so that it can be a werewolf in the afterlife.
Spells to Become A Werewolf
The Book of Shadows has a number of spells for those wishing to use magick to transform into a werewolf. Here’s the list:
- Becoming A Werewolf Ritual
- Easy Spell To Become A Werewolf
- Lycanthropus Water Ceremony
- Ritual For The Gift Of Lycanthropy
- Ritual To Become A Werewolf
How to Cure a Werewolf
So you tried lycanthropy and decided it wasn’t for you. Not really a night person after all? Too many fleas? Maybe you decided being a Vampire is more your thing. We won’t judge.
Some of these cures are dangerous so use your best judgement before trying them. Some of them will only work if you were turned into a werewolf in a specific way. Such as, the curse removal method will only work if you were cursed to begin with.
Through much of history, people believed that all werewolves were created by the devil. Most believed that the human was still a human (a bad one that made a deal with the devil, but still human) but was being possessed by a demon werewolf. And what’s the cure for a demon werewolf? Exorcism of course! The exorcisms were performed while the subject was in human form since it’s quite hard to get a werewolf to sit still for long enough.
The exorcism process isn’t as bad as some of the other cures, but it isn’t fun either. Imagine your Sunday preacher coming to your house, yelling at you all day, and throwing water in your face. Not for just one night either, like in the movies. The exorcism process could take several weeks, months, or even years.
Wolfsbane is a plant that has been associated with werewolves for a long time, and associated with wolves for even longer. Some say it will kill a werewolf or keep it away from you if you wear it. Some say it will turn you into a werewolf if you mix it into a potion.
The belief in this cure arises from the fact that wolfsbane has been used to kill wolves for centuries. So, they reason, if it kills wolves then maybe it can kill the wolf part of you and turn you back into a human. The only drawback to this is that it’s very deadly to humans and most other things as well. We don’t recommend trying this.
Water Touched by a Werewolf
The ‘Zeus Lycaeus’ cult believed that if you bathed in, or drank from, the same water that turned you into a werewolf then you would turn back into a human. As far as we know, this cure only works if you were turned into a werewolf by bathing in these waters. Still, it could be worth a shot.
Around the time of the Age of Enlightenment (1600 – 1800 AD) people began to see lycanthropy as a sickness or something gone wrong with the blood. They began using modern medicines and surgeries to treat it. These practices were still very primitive according to modern standards and many (if not most) did not survive.
The most common surgery included draining a large amount of the subject’s blood, inducing vomiting, and drinking lots of vinegar in an effort to purify the blood. This was a common surgery back then since they believed that most sicknesses were caused by bad blood.
In fact, they believed that just about everything was caused by blood. Hot blooded if you were angry, blue blooded if you were rich or royal, bad blood if there was something wrong with you, etc.
Remember that mean, baby-eating witch we mentioned earlier? Well if she was the one who cursed you then the only way to get cured is to try to convince her to undo the curse. We recommend bringing a gift.
Converting to Christianity
Similar to the exorcism method, this cure revolves around the believe that a werewolf is a human who is possessed by a demon werewolf. The belief states that if you can convince a werewolf (usually in human form) to convert to Christianity then he will be cured. If that doesn’t work, then try the next method below.
Also related to the religious idea of werewolves, this belief states that if you strike a werewolf on the forehead three times with a cross shaped object then it will be cured. The reason it must be three times is because three has always been seen as a powerful number. It plays a large role in most religions and in witchcraft.
Are Werewolves Real?
The werewolf phenomenon may have a medical explanation. Take Peter the Wild Boy, for instance. In 1725, he was found wandering naked on all fours through a German forest. Many thought he was a werewolf or at least raised by wolves.
Peter ate with his hands and couldn’t speak. He was eventually adopted by the courts of King George I and King George II, and lived out his days as their “pet” in England.
Research has shown Peter likely had Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a condition discovered in 1978 that causes lack of speech, seizures, distinct facial features, difficulty breathing and intellectual challenges.
Other medical conditions that may have encouraged werewolf-mania throughout history are:
- Lycanthropy (a rare, psychological condition that causes people to believe they’re changing into a wolf or other animal)
- Food poisoning
- Hypertrichosis (a rare, genetic disorder causing excessive hair growth)
- Hallucination, possibly caused by hallucinogenic herbs
Throughout the centuries, people have used werewolves and other mythic beasts to explain the unexplainable. In modern times, however, most believe werewolves are nothing more than pop culture horror icons, made famous thanks to Hollywood’s 1941 flick, The Wolf Man.
Still, werewolves have a cult following, werewolf sightings are reported each year, and werewolf legends will likely continue to haunt the dreams of people throughout the world.
- Also known as: Mother Holle, Frau Holle, Hulde
- Origin: Teutonic
- Realms: The sky, underground, mountains, wells
- Constellation: The Milky Way is the street she travels
- Elements: Earth, air, water
- Sacred animals: Wolves, Rabbits
- Color: White, blue
- Spirit Ally: Odin, with whom she sometimes leads the Wild Hunt
- Plants: Holly, elder, juniper, mugwort, flax, Sorcerer’s Violet (Vinca major – sometimes called Frau Holle)
- Sacred Days: The Winter Solstice is Hulda’s feast day. The twelve days between Dec 25 and Jan 6 are sacred to Hulda.
- Offerings: She loves music and dancing.
A radiantly beautiful blond woman or a fierce old crone. In her guise as Queen of Witches, she has disheveled hair and a wild look.
She may also manifest as a woman when seen from the front but a tree from behind. She may be accompanied by an entourage of torch bearing rabbits who light her way.
Hulda, a great and ancient goddess of birth and death, presides over a transit station for human souls, a crossroads between life and death. Hulda receives the souls of the newly dead into her realm and releases newborns to live new lives on Earth. Hulda bathes at midday in a fountain from which babies emerge, a well of life.
She was no unknown spirit but a prominent Northern European goddess. Holland is her namesake. Her name may be related to “holy.” Hulda lives in mountain caves and among elder trees, portals to her realm. Her realm may also be accessed via wells. She is sometimes witnessed walking alongside rivers or mountain paths, alone or accompanied by an entourage of rabbits and Fairies. She may be Queen of the Elves.
She plays a prominent part in German folk-lore and superstition. In stormy nights she can be often heard flying through the air, accompanied by weird spirits and witches. On such occasions it is dangerous for ill-doers to be abroad, as they will surely meet with severe punishment; while to the good she frequently appears as a benefactor. Her particular season is winter.
Hulda is a weather spirit. When she shakes her feather bed, it snows on Earth. Rain falls from her laundry rinse water. Fog hovering over a mountain may be smoke from Hulda’s fire. She guards and nurtures all the growing things of the forest. She was a culture-goddess, too, credited with introducing flax to Europe and teaching the art of making linen.
Banished after official conversion to Christianity, people were forbidden to venerate or contact Hulda. Those maintaining that practice were branded witches. Hulda was reclassified as a demon witch-goddess who attacked and harmed children.
She retains dominion over Pagan babies. People were urged to baptize their babies lest they end up in Hulda’s realm. Mother Holle, once so benevolent was transformed into a monster. People warned their children that if they weren’t obedient, Hulda would “get” them.
Vestiges of rituals invoking Hulda’s blessings on baby girls were retained by Ashkenazi Jews (the Hollekreisch), whether because Pagan women found discreet safety in that community rather than convert to Christianity or because Jews perceived Hulda’s resemblance to Lilith. Although rituals survive, many would be shocked and horrified to realize that they invoke a Pagan goddess.
Like Lilith, Hulda is not always so benevolent these days. She is a proud and resolutely Pagan spirit with little patience for hypocrites. Hulda can bestow fertility but she can take it away, too. She has power over storms, raising them as well as soothing them. She can be ambivalent toward people as demonstrated by Mother Holle, the Brothers Grimm fairytail in which she stars.
The theme involves young girls who wander into Hulda’s domain, either inadvertently or deliberately in anticipation of a reward. She rewards the girl who respects her and follows her commands with effort and devotion but causes excrement to rain down upon the lazy, disrespectful girl.
- Encyclopaedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences
- The Encyclopedia of Spirits
- Also known as: Hella, Hela
- Origin: Norse
- Colors: Black and white
- Rune: Hagalaz
- Mount: Hel rides a black mare
- Animals: She has a pack of dogs, the original Hell Hounds, as well as horses and wolves
- Spirit allies: Hel’s staff includes servants named “Delay” (male) and “Slowness” (female)
Hel is simultaneously half-dead and half-alive. Half of her body (cut vertically) is that of a fair, beautiful woman; the other half is necrotized flesh. She is half living woman, half corpse.
Rake and broom; the Black Plague was especially devastating in Scandinavia. Allegedly Hel roamed the land armed with her rake and broom. Villages totally wiped out by the Plague were said to have been swept away; where there were survivors, Hel had raked instead.
Once upon a time, being sent to Hel may have been inevitable, but it wasn’t perceived as punishment: Hel, daughter of Angerboda and Loki, rules the Norse realm of the dead. She is the keeper of the souls of the departed. Those who die at sea or in battle have other destinations; everyone else goes to Hel, who welcomes them into her home, Helhaim, regardless of whether they were good, bad, sinful, or saintly while alive.
Hel’s realm is not a sulphurous, fiery torture chamber. Rather it is a kind of inn or way station for the dead, although once checked in, one can never check out. Helhaim is a bleak gray, damp, misty realm; the concept of heat as punishment was imported from hotter, southern climes alongside Christianity. Lack of warmth with no hope of Spring was the Norse equivalent of desolation. That said, some regions of Helhaim are more comfortable than others; Hel judges and decides exactly where each individual soul is directed.
Hel’s name may derive from the Old German halja, meaning “covering.” She may or may not be the same spirit as Hulda (Holle). Hel and her brothers, a wolf and a snake, were raised by their mother, the witch Angerboda, in the Iron Wood. Prophecy suggested that the siblings would someday lead a Host of Destruction against the Aesir, and so Odin had them “brought” to Asgard, where each was ultimately entrapped. Odin personally seized Hel and flung her as far as he could; she landed in the Realm of Death and became its Queen. She lives in a great hall, Eliundnir, within Helhaim. She remains destined to lead an uprising of rebellious spirits and ghosts.
Hel manifests in dreams, most famously to Balder, Odin’s son. She appeared to him three days before his death, advising him (accurately) that in three days she would clasp him in her arms. Because her father was instrumental in killing Balder, it’s unclear how much inside information Hel possessed.
Mount Hekla, an active volcano in southern Iceland, was allegedly among the entrances to Hel’s realm. A nearby town is named Hella. Some have suggested that the mountain shares its name with the goddess, although others protest that Hekla means “slab” or covering,” which would still make it cognate with Hel as that is what her name means, too. It’s also theorized that the Belgian city of Hal may be named in her honor.
The Anglo-Saxon and Norse Goddess of the Underworld is honored annually on the Day of Hel (July 10th) with prayers, the lighting of black candles, and offerings of rose petals.
Found in: Encyclopedia of Spirits