I’ve been working on a short story for the past few weeks that deals with some of my main adult Shadow Walkers about twenty or so years before the ‘story that never ends’ (I actually plan to finish mapping out what will now be book one tomorrow). I got the idea from one of the scenes in what will become book three (when I get there) and decided to investigate what led up to that scene. Believe me, I had no idea where this was going when I started, and I surely didn’t intend for it to end up with werewolves as part of the problem. But it did. So I’ve been brushing up on some of my werewolf lore.
The most popular book on werewolves is Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Werewolves, and in it he goes through a good deal of mythology somewhat based on the idea of the werewolf. There’s a lot of other stuff in there that deals with cannibals and serial killers and whatnot, but the actual werewolf stuff is pretty interesting. He talks about different cultures that used animal skins as part of their wardrobes in battle, etc.
However, none of that was really helping me, so I looked into some of the skinwalker legends in Native American lore. These, too, are fascinating in the idea that someone can, through ritual, gain the ability to transform into another person or animal. According to the legends, the person (considered evil) must make a ritual kill in order to gain the power. However, in more modern sighting stories, the skinwalker’s behavior is more puckish – chasing cars, knocking on windows, etc.
The idea of shapeshifting into another form could go as far back as the cave painting known as ‘the Sorcerer’. This painting shows both human and animal features, so some scholars have suggested that his position is indicative of the process of transformation. It’s always looked to me like he was in the middle of a ritual dance of some sort.
Another story that most of us have heard at some point goes back to Ancient Greece. Here we have the first instance of the transformation of a human into a wolf (though Zeus himself didn’t seem too picky about what form he took). King Lycaon supposedly cooked up one of his sons and served him for dinner when Zeus was a guest. Needless to say, Zeus wasn’t too thrilled with this and turned Lycaon into a wolf as punishment. Most of what I’ve read points to this as the first story about werewolves and the origin of the legend.
Werewolf legends abound in just about every culture in the world, and wolves were not the only animal men transformed into. I find the concept interesting and often wonder about its origin. At what point did mankind get the idea of shifting into an animal shape? And, perhaps more importantly, if ancient people truly possessed this ability, why can’t we do it today?