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The first documented werewolf attack was in Germany in 1591. Dogs were sent upon a 'wolf' that turned out to be a man named Peter Stubbe. He was tortured until he confessed to the murder of sixteen people. He even confessed to murdering his own son in his thirst for human flesh and was put to death.

Most legends have had some basis in fact, and the legend of the werewolf is no exception. However the werewolf of popular fantasy/horror novels and films is an imaginary beast, based on extravagant interpretations of past superstitions.

Wolves have been both feared and worshiped by past civilizations. The Ancient Egyptians feared the wolf god Ap-uat, who was associated with the Lord of the Dead. Ancient Greeks believed that wolves were sacred to Apollo and Ares, and a bronze statue of a wolf ornamented the oracle at Delphi. The legend of the founding of Rome is well known, with the abandoned twin babies Romulus and Remus being saved and succored by a wolf. Being suckled by a wolf is a notion that persisted into the Celtic civilisations, a legendary King of Ireland supposedly nurtured in this way. One Irish tribe claimed to be descended from a wolf.

The werewolf story has roots at least as far back as the Ancient Romans. One of Ovid's shape-shifting stories tells of a King of Arcadia who turned into a wolf. This was a punishment because he tried to trick the god Jupiter into eating human flesh. Other ancient Greek writers including Herodotus and Pliny wrote about shape-shifting human/wolves.

What could have led to such stories in the first place? There are various theories. The legend is too widespread and has been so for too long a time to have no basis in fact at all.

A rare genetic mutation can produce excessive body hair, in females as much as males. Varieties of this disorder were probably responsible for the unfortunate 'bearded ladies' and 'wolfmen' in traveling freak shows in less enlightened times than ours. It is a mutation of the X chromosome so can be passed to future generations by either parent. It is easy to see how such conditions could have frightened people in past centuries, especially in remote country areas (where inbreeding could have led to an intensification of the disorder).

Lycanthropic Disorder is a mental illness which causes the victim to believe that they are actually a werewolf. If someone truly believes that they turn into a werewolf under the full moon, they may be capable of committing crimes consistent with this delusion - thus perpetrating the werewolf legend into modern times.

Ergot, the fungus which frequently affected the grains that were used to make bread throughout Europe for many centuries, is well known for its hallucinogenic properties. In a modern case in France in 1951, over 100 people suffered from ergot poisoning after eating bread made from infected rye. Many of them suffered from hallucinations about being attacked by or turning into wild animals. Such poisoning could have been another cause for the development of the werewolf myth.

One final possibility lies in the diseases Rabies and Porphyria. Rabies, however, only lasts for a short while once the symptoms have developed, and then the victim dies. Rabies might have caused victims to briefly take on the appearance of a mad beast, but they would not lived to attack beyond this short timeframe. Porphyria, if untreated, leads to extreme sensitivity to light and degredation of the skin, thus producing a victim who rarely ventures out before nightfall and whose physical appearance is sinister. Mental disturbances accompany the physical symptoms. This disease is also genetic and therefore could have given rise to the notion of cursed families, as it often does not manifest until an age whereby the victim would have reproduced.

There have been a few celebrated cases of feral children, such as inspired Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Many cases have been reported over the centuries but there is little documentary evidence for most of them. However some have been documented, in which children have been found in the depths of the jungle or forest, apparently having been raised by wolves, and then returned the human civilization (usually by missionaries or other religious people). These children seen to have retained a propensity to run on all fours rather than walk upright, to eat raw meat rather than cooked meals, and have extreme problems learning any human language. It is difficult to say whether the children already had a mental disorder, whether one was induced by their upbringing, or anything else about them. But they undoubtedly add another thread to the enduring notion of the werewolf.

Just how enduring this legend is can be well born out by the proliferation of popular novels, films and television programs about werewolves. And a quick internet search on werewolves throws up a wide variety of sites, some dealing with legends and possible causes such as outlined above - and some apparently written for werewolves, by werewolves!

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โˆ™ 2011-01-09 07:35:02
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Q: Where did the myth of the werewolf originate?
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