We’ve been watching werewolf horror movies for years. We see men rip their clothes, morph into beasts, and howl at the full moon over and over again. American Werewolf in London, American Werewolf in Paris, Underworld, The Howling—what do all of these classic movies have in common? They don’t tell us the real history behind werewolves. They don’t tell us where the concept of the werewolf actually originates. The same thing applies to shapeshifters – they’re featured in TV shows like True Blood but no one reveals the origins of the shapeshifter. Now is the time to learn the occult (hidden) truth behind werewolves and shapeshifters. Their history may shock you.
To fully understand the origins of shapeshifting, we have to look at our indigenous hunter/gatherer ancestors. Dating back thousands of years to the time before agriculture, there were men and women called shamans who were consulted by their tribes to answer questions about disease, war, and nourishment. Shamans were wise people and worked with herbs and animals to attain outcomes for their people. They were spiritual leaders who crossed the barrier between the physical world and the spiritual. They were the original shapeshifters.
One of a shaman’s supernatural abilities was shapeshifting. Shamans wore the hide, fur, bones, teeth, or feathers of a certain animal in order to shift forms. Sometimes this was done as a means to locate the animal for hunting purposes. It was sort of a way to “get into the mind” of the animal being hunted (for instance deer or buffalo). Other reasons for shapeshifting were spiritual—to take on the form of the wolf was to become like the wolf. Powerful. Fast. One could easily slip in and out of the spiritual realms untouched and unfettered. Images of shapeshifting shamans are painted on ancient cave walls in America and Europe—the images of men “dressed” as animals or men running with animals.
If we take a look at the many trials and tribulations of a Medieval Europe, we would find some rather interesting information about werewolves coming out of the North. During a time when the Church was fighting hard to convert and control all of the people of the continent, individuals were accused of witchcraft, tried and executed. Not only were people accused of witchcraft, but some were accused of being werewolves! Yes, alongside the accused witches were individuals who were accused of being werewolves and shapeshifters.
In Estonia, there is a fairly infamous account of a man now known as Hans the Werewolf. Hans was a man who lived in Estonia in the fifteenth century and who was accused of acquiring his werewolf abilities from the Devil. Hans was said to have confessed to meeting a “man in black” and thereafter turning into a werewolf. Because of this account, the people also said Hans was a witch and that only witches had the ability to turn into different animals. Hans the Werewolf was found guilty of witchcraft and killed. This happened often in the Northern countries of Europe at that time. Hans was not the first man accused of being a werewolf and a witch and he would not be the last.
The Benandanti were an interesting group of men accused of shapeshifting in the sixteenth century. The Northern Italian men claimed to turn into wolves at night, travel to Hell, and fight off bad witches to ensure a good crop for their village. Because they claimed they were given shapeshifting abilities by God, they were found not guilty of witchcraft. These guys were the good werewolves. Unfortunately, the superstition and fear of wolves was so rampant in Europe, that in some countries people went on wolf hunts to kill the nearby wolves. As proof of this, in England today there are no wolves. They were all culled because of the superstition of werewolves throughout the Dark Ages and Early Modern Period.
At the same time as the werewolf trials, the infamous Witch Trials were in full effect across Europe. Men, women, and children all accused of consorting with the Devil and conspiring against the Church. And thus, they were tried, tortured, and killed. Some witches were accused of diabolical deeds – shapeshifting included. Isobel Gowdie, a Scottish woman accused of witchcraft, readily confessed to shapeshifting into a hare. Scholar Emma Wilby relates the witch’s ability to shapeshift dates back to ancient shamanism. Was Isobel Gowdie a woman who knew the old ways and admitted them to a people who would try to execute her.
A story taken from WB Yeats’s Fairy Folklore books told the tale of a priest catching a witch in shifted form. He was walking down the road one night and heard someone behind him. After quickly hiding, he surmised anyone on the road at that time of night must’ve been up to no good. He watched a pair of fat, engorged legs walk down the road, dripping milk. Somehow he caught the pair of legs and it was revealed that it was a witch in another form. People at that time thought witches would shift forms in order to steal milk and other items from their victims.
One thing is clear—Isobel wasn’t the only shapeshifting witch. In the seventeenth through twentieth centuries, people believed in witches, werewolves and shapeshifters in the United States. Witches lived high in the mountains because it was an easy place for them to hide from society and perform their magical deeds. Folklore of the Ozarks and Appalachians tell of witches who took the form of rabbits. Men hunted and shot rabbits that they’d track down only to find a naked woman with a gunshot wound where the injured rabbit should have been.
Another common witch story involved her taking the form of a cat, entering a victim’s house, and sitting on their chest. This hag attack was the witch’s attempt at sucking the life out of the victim. Skinwalkers were witches who could shapeshift into coyotes, according to Native American legend. There are dozens of eyewitness accounts of skinwalkers and people are still frightened of them today.
Do werewolves and shapeshifters actually exist? Or is it our imagination? Maybe through the years, our shaman ancestors’ memories have been passed down through our DNA. Were the witches in the Dark Ages practicing an ancient form of shamanism? These ideas are so ingrained in us that perhaps it fueled the modern stories of werewolves and shapeshifters. Today most of us do not practice shamanism, but it still exists. Are shapeshifters and werewolves of the Hollywood reflections of a wild, spiritual past? Are these people able to physically change form or simply use their spirits to travel in animal form? We may never know.
It’s midnight. Someone calls your name from down the hall. You peak from your bedroom …September 23, 2023