Is my neighbor a werewolf?

Through various films (and television shows), we’ve seen many different versions of werewolves; such films include Van Helsing, Harry Potter, Twilight, and Teen Wolf. In these examples, the inhuman capabilities seem about the same, as does the way the people change into wolves. Sometimes, they don’t even change all of the way and become a sort of wolf-man, like in Harry Potter. Each time a werewolf is portrayed, they usually have a strong association with the full moon controlling their powers and supernatural abilities.

After transforming into a werewolf, one obtains superhuman strength, increased reflexes, and enhanced senses. As cool as it would be to have those wolf powers, when shifting from man to wolf, the experience is usually depicted as painful. Often, the shifters show no sign of human conscience while in wolf form.

Who is a werewolf? Graphic from the Scribe's Desk
Who is a werewolf? Graphic from The Scribe’s Desk

So where does this legend come from? The stories originated in Europe. Just like accused witches, those who were thought to be werewolves were questioned, tortured, and killed. Some Christians also associated werewolves with the devil and evil. At times, serial killers claimed to be werewolves, as well as those with clinical lycanthropy, which is when you believe you’re a werewolf.

There are several theories as to why people even considered others to be shape-shifting humans. One possibility is that they misunderstood the condition of those with rabies. It’s possible that they connected the aggressiveness, confusion, and hallucinations of those who had the disease to animalistic behavior and therefore a transformation.

Another theory from  folklore suggests that since livestock and people would get murdered during the nighttime, that’s when the shifters transformed. Therefore, those with porphyria were highly suspicious. Porphyria is in a group of hereditary diseases and one of the symptoms is for the skin to become extremely sensitive to sunlight. This causes redness, blistering, and sometimes scarring.

A third possibility that contributed to the idea of werewolves is a rare disorder called hypertrichosis. It’s a disorder which causes excessive hair growth. Not only does is grow a lot, but it could grow thickly on any part of the human body. This can cause the same hair growth men have on women. The hair can grow around their lips and chin. This disorder can affect anyone of any race.

Unfortunately, there’s no real conclusion as to the exact way these rumors and myths begin, but it’s safe to assume that the lack of understanding that science has been better able to fix over the centuries went a long way towards the entertaining movies and books we enjoy today.