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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

werewolf (also, werwolf; in French, loup-garou or bisclaveret; in Spanish, lobombre; in Italian, lupo mannaro) The myth says that a human can be temporarily changed into a wolf through a spell, ingestion of certain substances, a curse, or simply from family disposition, but most often from the bite of another such creature.
      The belief is very old. Greek sorceress Circe in Homer's Odyssey changed men into swine. Plato and Pliny the Elder referred to werewolves, and Virgil wrote about one person:

      By means of these [toxic plants] I often saw him turned into a wolf.

      King John of England (1167-1216) was a far-from-excellent ruler whose body was dug up by superstitious folks who believed he was a werewolf, and in sixteenth-century France, serious laws were passed against those who were involved in such evil stuff.
      Various cultures have elected other animals in place of the wolf. In Greece we hear of a wereboar, in Romania a weredog, and in China a werefox. In Malaysia and other parts of the Orient, a very similar mythology is taught, but the animal into which the afflicted person changes is a tiger, leopard, eagle, or serpent. In Africa and India, the belief is that men change into hyenas, leopards, and tigers. In Chile it's a vulture and in Iceland they become bears. The American Plains Indians feared the werebuffalo.
      The condition of being a werewolf is properly known as “lycanthropy.”
      See also vampire.

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