Whither Werewolf?

by Lilith Silverhair

“Even a man who’s pure of heart
and says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
and the Autumn Moon is bright.”
– Curt Siodmak

Modern film makers and writers have done much to make the werewolf a pitiable
creature. A man trapped by his own baser desires, unable to control the change
or the urges that come upon him when the Moon shows Her full form each month.
But deep in our hazy past there was a time when the ‘werwulf,’ (spirit-wolf or
man-wolf) was honored among our ancestors. The Wolf and those able to take her
shape were worshipped as Goddesses and heroes.

Belief in shapeshifters was found throughout the range of the wolf’s former
habitats: from Europe and Asia as far east as India and China and throughout
North America. What ties the legend if the werewolf together in all of these
places is the fact that the wolf was the largest predator indigenous to those
regions. The violence and aggression of were-beasts make this seem on the
surface to be a hunting and warfare legend. True, it is this, but also much

Prehistoric peoples learned the ways of the hunt from the animals around them,
and they learned the concept of time from watching the phases of the Moon. The
Moon phases also concurred with the female menstrual cycles and so hunting, sex
and time became totally enmeshed. The Full Moon was also the time in which the
women of the tribe bled, in effect, canceling all sexual activity. The men’s
minds turned to the Hunt, knowing that sexual activity would resume after they
had brought enough meat home to supplement the diet of grains and berries the
women provided.

It is this circular reasoning that created the association of a female deity
concerned with hunting, and in many cultures She was a Wolf. Apollo Lycaeus
(Wolfish Apollo) was mated to Artemis as the “divine Wolf-bitch.” The Sabine
Goddess Feronia was “Mother of Wolves.” Perhaps the most well-known of all was
Diana, Mistress of the Hunt. Gaulish Diana under her totemic name Lupa, “She
Wolf,” was Mother of wild animals. Young men learned magic and shapeshifting
from Her and She guided and protected them (provided, of course, that they
never set foot inside a Christian Church.) Her follower’s shapeshifting ability
followed the Moon phases and the Moon was another form of the Goddess.

Shapeshifting abilities usually lay within the realm of one person in the
tribe, the shaman. It was reasoned that at the moment of death, the animals
that the hunters killed and/or emulated took themselves to the spiritual
“other-world.” For the shamans to ‘speak’ to these animals, so that they could
intervene on behalf of the humans, the shamans themselves must lose their own
bodies and take on the aspects of the animals. And so the first shapeshifters
were born.

Down through the years the werewolf was known in almost every culture. The
title of the shaman who held high position in the life of the Slavs was
‘volkhvi.’ Variants are the German Volk, ‘people’ and the Russian Vrach,
‘physician.’ This indicates that the werewolves were people, shamanic healers
in wolf masks.

It wasn’t until Christianity came on the scene that the werewolf became the
demonic creature that he is today. Christ was known as the Lamb of God and the
enemy of the lamb is of course the wolf. The shift toward the imagery of the
Lamb of Christ led in natural sequence to the wolf as satanic. The werewolf
whose first meaning in biblical translations meant ‘outlaw,’ devolved from that
into ‘ravening wolf,’ as in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets which come
to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Werewolves
were captured and tortured by the Inquisition alongside accused Witches.

And so the werewolf descended throughout the centuries; from deity to demi-god,
from shaman to satanic. The noble wolf, whose only crime was to howl at the
Moon and teach awkward humans to hunt was demonized by those who would rather
be led by a lamb than a true king or queen of beasts.


The Beast Within: A History of the Werewolf. Adam Douglas – 1992

The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Barbara G. Walker – 1983