posted: 08/13/12
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WHAT'S A WEREWOLF? The werewolf, or lycanthrope, is commonly described as a person with the ability to transform into a wolf or wolf-like humanoid, whether by choice or by uncontrollable forces, like a full moon. The werewolf is said to have extra-human senses and strength far beyond that of a normal wolf or human. According to legend, the werewolf can be identified in its human form by its low-set ears, curved fingernails, swinging stride, eyebrows that meet at the bridge of the nose and bristles under the tongue. Some claim that, if cut, a werewolf will have fur in its wound. In its wolf form, the werewolf of legend commonly looks like a regular wolf with no tail, human eyes and the capability of speech.

BECOMING A WEREWOLF: The idea that a werewolf is created through the infectious bite of another werewolf is a modern invention. Werewolves of legend were commonly evil men who voluntarily performed witchcraft in order to become a werewolf. One common method was to remove all of one's clothing and wear a belt made of wolf skin. Other methods included drinking rainwater from a wolf's paw print, sleeping outside on a specific night and letting the full moon shine on one's face and performing a Satanic ritual involving magic ointment and an enchanted girdle. It was also believed that those who invoked God's wrath or were excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church were turned into werewolves by divine punishment. And some were simply born into lycanthropy, notably those with epilepsy or children birthed on new moons.

VANQUISHING A WEREWOLF: Silver bullets may stop a werewolf in Hollywood, but there's no evidence of this belief prior to the 20th century. It was commonly believed that rye and mistletoe would stop a werewolf in its tracks, but not kill it. Others believed that if one's house was situated under a mountain ash, it would be safe. Wolfsbane was also believed to ward off werewolves. In medieval Europe, alleged werewolves were commonly cured through medical or surgical means, or through exorcism. Others believed that repeating the werewolf's Christian name three times, or scolding it, would destroy the curse.

WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE? Some historians believe the werewolf legend was conceived to explain the activity of serial killers. Cyclic attacks, mutilation and cannibalism were all characteristics of alleged werewolf attacks and are commonly ascribed to serial killers today. The wolf being the most feared predator in Europe at the time, it was perhaps inevitable that it ended up being partially blame for the slaughters. Rabies may also explain some werewolf beliefs. Today few believe in werewolves, though sightings are still reported.

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