The werewolf is a legendary creature that has been the topic of numerous legends and numerous nightmares throughout history. According to certain myths, werewolves are people who can transform into ferocious, strong wolves. Others are a mutant wolf and human hybrid. Nonetheless, they are all ferocious beasts with an insatiable appetite for human and animal blood.
The exact beginnings of the werewolf mythology are unknown. According to some academics, the werewolf first appeared in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest piece of Western literature, when Gilgamesh rejected a potential suitor because she had transformed her former partner into a wolf.
The Tale of Lycaon is another early instance of werewolves in Greek mythology. Legend has it that when Zeus was offered a banquet prepared from the remains of a sacrificial kid, Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus, enraged the god. Zeus, who was furious, punished Lycaon by turning him and his sons into wolves.
Early Norse folklore also introduced werewolves. A father and son found wolf pelts that could transform people into wolves for ten days, according to the Saga of the Volsungs. The father and son team put on the pelts, changed into wolves, and then went on a murderous rampage in the woods. When the father struck his son and fatally wounded him, their rampage came to a stop. Only because a friendly crow offered the father a leaf with healing properties did the son live.
In reality, many of the supposed werewolves from centuries past—of whom France had its fair share—were serial killers. Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun, two Frenchmen, are said to have sworn allegiance to the devil in 1521 and claimed to have an ointment that could transform them into wolves. They were both burnt at the stake after admitting to ruthlessly murdering multiple infants. (One of the few methods for killing a werewolf was believed to be burning.)
Giles Garnier, dubbed the “Werewolf of Dole,” was another famous Frenchman from the sixteenth century who created an ointment with wolf-morphing properties. He was said to have brutally murdered and devoured children while he was a wolf. He was also executed by burning at the stake for his heinous acts.
It’s debatable whether Burgot, Verdun, or Garnier were mentally ill, engaged in hallucinogenic behavior, or were simply cold-blooded assassins. But in the 16th century, superstitious Europeans probably didn’t care. To them, a hideous creature like the werewolf was the only one capable of committing such awful murders.
According to certain myths, werewolves may shape-shift at will because of a curse. Others claim they were able to morph with the aid of an enchanted sash or a wolf-pelt cloak. Some assert that after being bitten or scratched by a werewolf, humans turned into wolves.
A person only transforms into a wolf during a full moon, which is a theory that appears in many werewolf tales. According to research done at the Calvary Mater Newcastle hospital in Australia, a full moon tends to bring out the “beast” in many people. According to the study, 23 percent of the 91 violent, acute behavior episodes that took place at the hospital between August 2008 and July 2009 took place on a full moon.
Patients bit, spit, and scratched at staff members and behaved like wolves, attacking them. It’s unknown why they turned ferociously violent when the moon was full, despite the fact that many of them were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
Perhaps the most notorious werewolf of them all was Peter Stubbe, a wealthy farmer from Bedburg, Germany, in the fourteenth century. Folklore holds that he transformed into a wolf-like beast at night and ate a large number of Bedburg residents.
After being trapped by hunters who asserted they saw him change from wolf to human form, Peter was ultimately held responsible for the horrifying murders. After being forced to confess to brutally murdering men, women, and children—and eating their corpses—he underwent a gruesome death. He also boasted of having an enchanted belt that allowed him to instantly change into a wolf. Naturally, the belt was never discovered.
As some people think Peter wasn’t a killer but rather the target of a political witch hunt—or possibly a werewolf-hunt—his culpability is debatable. In any case, the circumstances of his life and death added fuel to the widespread beliefs that werewolves were out and about at the time.