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Possible Explanations of Werewolf Phenomenon


So, what actually is werewolf or lycanthropy? Is it a fact based on concrete evidences? Is it a myth, fabrication of feeble minds? Is it an exaggeration of some other things? Well, all these questions have been puzzling mankind for last 5 centuries. Though many ingenious hypotheses have been suggested as possible explanations, definite conclusion can't be drawn. Some experts have tried to observe it as purely supernatural phenomena while others have relied on scientific observations. Contradictions and debates still persist and will continue till any single theory solves the jigsaw which seems unlikely considering complexity and diversity of the topic.

Mythological Explanation of Werewolf Phenomenon

Some people during middle ages believed that the werewolf was the projection of a demon, which made its victims appear as a wolf in his own eyes and to those around him. For others, the werewolf was a direct manifestation of the Devil. Early seventeenth century French author Henri Bouguet believed, as did a great many people of that day, that Satan would leave the lycanthrope asleep behind a bush, go forth as a wolf, and perform whatever evil might be in that person’s mind. According to Bouguet, the Devil could confuse the sleeper’s imagination to such an extent “that he believes he had really been a wolf and had run about and killed men and beasts.”

Robert Burton, the clergyman and scholar, considered lycanthrope to be a form of madness as mentioned in his book Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621; he blamed every thing from sorcerers and witches to poor diet, bad air, sleeplessness and even lack of exercise for this. The Mysteries of Magic, written by nineteenth century French occultist Éliphas Lévi, postulates the existence of phantom - a body that acts as mediator between a living organism and the soul. “Thus in case of a man whose instinct is savage and sanguinary, his phantom will wander around in lupine form, whilst he sleeps painfully at home, dreaming he is a veritable wolf.” Lévi believed that the wounds so often reported in the cases of werewolves could be attributed to the out-of-body experience. He saw the human body as a subject to magnetic and nervous influences and capable of receiving the wounds suffered by the metamorphosed shape.

Contrary to the popular explanations existed during middle ages, few doctors at that time asserted that it was caused by an excess of melancholy or an imbalance in humors, the liquid or fluid part of the body. Many doctors believed that such melancholy could lead to insanity and delusion. One physician recommended that the lycanthrope should be treated with baths, purging, bleeding, dietary measures and rubbing opium into the nostrils.

Scientific Explanation of Werewolf Phenomenon:

Food contamination

The diet of medieval peasants may have been a source of werewolf delusions. Ergot infection on food grains like wheat and rye was common in Europe during the middle ages. This is actually a fungus which grows in place of grains in wet seasons after very cold winters. Alkaloids of this fungus are chemically related to LSD (LysergicAcid Diethylamide, a strong hallucinogenic psychoactive drug which produces dreamlike changes in mood and thought and alters the perception of time and space. It can create lack of self-control, extreme terror and blurring the feeling between the individual and the environment.) Similar to this modern drug, Ergot poisoning results in hallucinations, mass hysteria and paranoia. Continuous exposure to this contamination through bread or other food items could contribute to either an individual believing he is a werewolf or a whole town believing that they have seen a werewolf. A recorded Ergot poisoning case confirms this hypothesis. Nearly 135 people had to be hospitalized and 6 died poisoning in the French town of Pont St. Esprit in 1951. They ate bread made from Ergot infected rye. The victims had horrible visions of being attacked by tigers and snakes and of turning into beasts.

However, Ergot contamination is not sufficient enough as a single cause to explain lycanthropy; werewolf appearance have been reported from other parts of the world where Ergot infection is rare.

Substance Induced Hallucination

Recorded werewolf cases and contemporary literatures mention rubbing magic ointment on the skin or inhaling vapor from magic potion by the alleged lycanthrope. The main ingredients of the ointment or potion were Belladonna or Nightshade that could produce hallucination and delusions of bodily metamorphose. This might explain how a wicked person make himself believe or act as a werewolf, but still the mystery of werewolf sighting remains ambiguous as it can’t induce same hallucination or delusions on surrounding people who has confirmed werewolf sightings.

Physical or Mental Illness

One branch of modern physicians refers lycanthropes as suffering from any of the five conditions; Rabies, Porphyria, Hypertrichosis, Body Image Distortion and psychological illness.

A strain of virus carried by dogs, wolves and other animals including vampire bats causes Rabies. The virus strikes the central nervous system and produces uncontrollable excitement and painful contractions of the throat muscles’ intervention preventing the victim from drinking. Usually the patient dies within three or four days of first symptom.

The second disease, Porphyria is a rare genetic disorder that results in a deficiency of heme, one of the pigments in the oxygen-carrying red blood cells. At the 1985 conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, biochemist David Dolphin suggested that the untreated symptoms of Porphyria match many of the traits associated with the classic lycanthrope. One of them is severe photosensitivity, which makes venturing out into daylight extremely painful and thus dooms the sufferer to