The belief in lycanthropes or werewolves dates back to ancient times with Ovid, Virgil and Herodotus all expressing belief in the phenomenon. Although the origin of the myth is unknown, in one of the earliest examples of a werewolf legend, Greek mythology tells of the story of Lycaon who was transformed into a wolf as a result of eating human flesh and wandered in that shape for nine years.
They also appear frequently in the Scandinavian and Viking sagas, which refer to them as ‘eigi einhamir’ or ‘not of one’s skin’. The Norse god Loki and the goddess Angerboda were parents to several werewolves, including Fenris, who could break through any chain placed on him by the gods until a the god Tyr bound him with a magical spell made by the dwarfs.
In Armenian legends, there are women who in consequence of committing deadly sins are condemned to pass seven years in the form of a wolf. A spirit comes to such a woman and brings her a wolf’s skin which she must wear until morning draws near, when she can remove it and return to human form.
List of countries and their equivalent myths:
- France – loup-garou
- Greece – lycanthropos
- Spain – hombre lobo
- Bulgaria – varkolak, vulkodlak
- Czech Republic – vlkodlak
- Serbia – vukodlak
- Russia – oboroten, vurdalak
- Ukraine – vovkulak, vurdalak, vovkun, pereverten
- Croatia – vukodlak
- Poland – wilkołak
- Romania – vârcolac
- Scotland – werewolf, wulver
- England – werewolf
- Ireland – faoladh, conriocht
- Germany – Werwolf
- Holland – weerwolf
- Denmark/Sweden/Norway – Varulv
- Norway/Iceland – kveld-ulf,varúlfur
- Galicia – lobisón
- Portugal/Brazil – lobisomem
- Lithuania – vilkolakis, vilkatlakis
- Latvia – vilkatis, vilkacis
- Andorra – home llop
- Estonia – libahunt
- Argentina – lobizón, hombre lobo
- Italy – lupo mannaro
People suspected of being a werewolf were often treated much like suspected witches or vampires, especially in the middle ages and if found guilty after a trial, would be put to death in some barbaric fashion, such as being burned at the stake. In France, especially in the 16th century, the werewolf trials were particularly numerous. The lubins or lupins as they were known were usually female who were usually considered less aggressive than their male counterpart, the loup-garous.
According to one 16th century Prussian bishop, werewolves were much more destructive than “true and natural wolves” and they formed “an accursed college” of those “desirous of innovations contrary to the divine law”.