Werewolf (Lycanthrope)

A werewolf or lycanthrope is a folkloric/mythological being allegedly possessing the ability to shapeshift into a wolf or wolf-like creature, either intentionally, via lycanthropic affliction (a bite or scratch) or after being cursed the transformation often associated with a full moon. [1]

Werewolves while endowed with abilities far beyond those of either men or wolves (super-human strength, speed and senses) are in modern fiction (though not historically) often vulnerable to weapons composed of silver while being impervious (unlike vampires) to religious artifacts such as crucifixes or holy water.

Various means have been suggested over the years to return a werewolf to human form. In medieval Europe, traditionaly, three methods were said to cure a victim of werewolfism: medicinally (wolfsbane), surgically or by exorcism (the practice of casting out demons). Converting to Christianity was also supposed to be helpful with a devotion to St. Hubert (of Liege) being cited as both a treatment and defense from lycanthropes.

The same folklore also described the means by which werewolves could (supposedly) be identified while in human form: a long loping gait, a single vertical eyebrow, sharp curved fingernails, ears low-set, a bite mark with canine-like impressions, bristles under the tongue and if the flesh was cut fur within the wound.

Until the early twentieth century wolves were the most feared predators in Europe many scholars arguing that this was the major reason they became intertwined with the folklore of evil shape shifters. (In geographic areas devoid of wolves other predators often filled the role.)

The 1935 film Werewolf of London, starring Henry Hull, was the first to use an anthropomorphic [2] werewolf, a debonair scientist who retains, to a degree, both his manner and facial appearance after his transformation, but it was 1941's The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., that imbedded the werewolf in the public’s consciousness starting a love affair that has lasted till the present with werewolves appearing in numerous novels, movies and on television: The Curse of the Werewolf, An American Werewolf in London, Wolf, Wolfen, Bad Moon, The Howling, Silver Bullet, Teen Wolf, Dog Soldiers, Dark Guardian, Supernatural, Being Human, Sanctuary and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are just a few.

[1] There is also a psychiatric condition, called clinical lycanthropy, in which a person believes they can transform or have transformed into an animal (not necessarily a wolf).

[2] The attribution of a human form, human characteristics or human behavior to nonhumans or non-living things.

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