Werewolves, Lycanthropy & Skinwalkers

Originally shared by: Amelia Nightside on Sunday, March 25, 2012

*additional sources may need to be cited.


So, what actually is werewolf or lycanthropy?

Is it a fact based on concrete evidences?

Is it a myth, fabrication of feeble minds?

Is it an exaggeration of some other things?

Well, all these questions have been puzzling mankind for last 5 centuries. Though many ingenious hypotheses have been suggested as possible explanations, definite conclusion can’t be drawn. Some experts have tried to observe it as purely supernatural phenomena while others have relied on scientific observations. Contradictions and debates still persist and will continue till any single theory solves the jigsaw which seems unlikely considering complexity and diversity of the topic. Nonetheless, the werewolf phenomenon has not perished yet; recent werewolf sightings are still reported.

The word werewolf is most likely to derive from two old-Saxon words, wer (meaning man) and wolf. Frequently used Greek terms Lycanthropy refers to the transformation process while Lycanthrope, which is in fact synonymous to werewolf, is the afflicted person. The popular definition of werewolf or lycanthrope is a man who transforms himself or being transformed into a wolf under the influence of full moon. – http://alam25.tripod.com/

Possible Explanations for the Werewolf phenomenon

  • Robert Burton, the clergyman and scholar, considered lycanthrope to be a form of madness as mentioned in his book Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621; he blamed every thing from sorcerers and witches to poor diet, bad air, sleeplessness and even lack of exercise for this.
  • The diet of medieval peasants may have been a source of werewolf delusions. Ergot infection on food grains like wheat and rye was common in Europe during the middle ages. This is actually a fungus which grows in place of grains in wet seasons after very cold winters. Alkaloids of this fungus are chemically related to LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, a strong hallucinogenic psychoactive drug which produces dream like changes in mood and thought and alters the perception of time and space. It can create lack of self-control, extreme terror and blurring the feeling between the individual and the environment.) Similar to this modern drug, Ergot poisoning results in hallucinations, mass hysteria and paranoia. Continuous exposure to this contamination through bread or other food items could contribute to either an individual believing he is a werewolf or a whole town believing that they have seen a werewolf.
  • Rabies – A strain of virus carried by dogs, wolves and other mammals including vampire bats causes Rabies. The virus strikes the central nervous system and produces uncontrollable excitement and painful contractions of the throat muscles’ intervention preventing the victim from drinking. Usually the patient dies within three or four days of first symptom.
  • Porphyria – At the 1985 conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, biochemist David Dolphin suggested that the untreated symptoms of Porphyria match many of the traits associated with the classic lycanthrope. One of them is severe photosensitivity, which makes venturing out into daylight extremely painful and thus dooms the sufferer to a life of shadows and darkness. As the condition advances, the victim’s appearance grows increasingly morbid; discoloration of the skin and an unusual thick growth of facial or body hair occurs. There is a tendency for an abnormal change in skin and formation of sores. Eventually the disease attacks cartilage (the soft bone) and causes a progressive deterioration of the nose, ears, eyelids and fingers. The teeth, as well as the fingernails and the flesh beneath them might turn red or reddish brown because of deposition of Porphyrin, a component of Hemoglobin in the blood. Porphyria is often accompanied by mental disturbance, from mild hysteria to delirium and manic-depressive psychoses.
  • Hypertrichosis – Hypertrichosis is also known as “Wolfitis”, refers to a condition of excessive body hair growth. In most cases, the term is used to refer to an above-average amount of normal body hair that is unwanted and is an aspect of human variability. The hair growth can be generalized, symmetrically affecting most of the torso and limbs, or localized, affecting a particular area of skin. Though severe Hypertrichosis is quite rare it results in excessive or animal-like hair on face and body.



Lycanthropy is the professed ability or power of a human being to transform into a wolf, or to gain wolf-like characteristics.

A more modern use of the word is in reference to a mental illness called lycanthropy in which a patient believes he or she is, or has transformed into, an animal and behaves accordingly. This is sometimes referred to as clinical lycanthropy to distinguish it from its use in legends. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lycanthropy)

Clinical lycanthropy

…is defined as a rare psychiatric syndrome that involves a delusion that the affected person can transform into, has transformed into, or is a non-human animal.[1] Its name is connected to the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which humans are said to physically shapeshift into wolves. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinical_lycanthropy)




In some Native American legends, a skin-walker is a person with the supernatural ability to turn into any animal he or she desires, though they first must be wearing a pelt of the animal, to be able to transform. Similar lore can be found in cultures throughout the world and is often referred to as shapeshifting by anthropologists. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin-walker)


… is a common theme in mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. … shapeshifting occurs when a being (usually human) either (1) has the ability to change its shape into that of another person, creature, or other entity or (2) finds its shape involuntarily changed by someone else. If the shape change is voluntary, its cause may be an act of will, a magic word or magic words, a potion, or a magic object. If the change is involuntary, its cause may be a curse or spell, a wizard’s or magician’s or fairy’s help, a deity’s will, a temporal change such as a full moon or nightfall, love, or death. The transformation may or may not be purposeful.

Berserkers (or berserks)

…were Norse warriors who are reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk. Berserkers are attested in numerous Old Norse sources. Most historians believe that berserkers worked themselves into a rage before battle, but some think that they might have consumed drugged foods.