Another otherworldly creature roaming the forests and townships on
Halloween is the mythical beast, the werewolf. In folklore, the werewolf
is a man who is transformed, or who can transform himself into a wolf in
nature and appearance under the influence of a full moon. The werewolf is
only active at night and while he roams the countryside, he's been known
to devour anything that crosses his path.
The word werewolf comes to us from the Old-Saxon - by combining "were" meaning man with wolf, we get manwolf. You hear the work lycanthrope associated with werewolves, and this term has come to mean someone who suffers from a mental condition whereby they actually believe they change into a wolf. Legends of werewolves were popular among the ancient Greeks and are found in many of the world's folklores. In areas where wolves are not common, the belief is modified to include werebears, weretigers, werelions and so on. These beasts are known as shape shifters.
In the dark Middle Ages, the church stigmatized the wolf as the personification of evil and a servant of Satan. Many of our children's stories reflect this attitude and wolves share the villain's role with the witch. In 1270, it was considered heretical NOT to believe in werewolves. The church forced confessions from the mentally ill to prove its convictions. Ultimately, they quit charging people of being werewolves in the 17th century, but only for a lack of evidence. The belief in the beasts, however, did not cease in the absence of indictments.
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Wendy Brinker is an artist and writer in Columbia, SC.
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