By Stirring MayhimInland 360 Faux Historian
When it comes to mythical beasts in history, the werewolf is one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped.
It’s hard enough being a wolf in the Pacific Northwest, where bumper stickers with the species in the crosshairs and the slogan “smoke a pack a day” are not uncommon. One can only imagine the stigma against werewolves — those among us who embrace our inner animal.
We’re living in an era of acceptance of diversity, and as Inland 360’s faux historian, I feel that the time is right to expose the truth about werewolves.
Let’s begin with the definition of a stereotype: A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person, group or thing.
The werewolf stereotype is of a blood-thirsty, murderous, out-of-control beast. This same stereotype applies wolves. The difference between the two is that werewolves are only active during the full moon. (The difference between blood-thirsty wolves, werewolves and people sporting the aforementioned bumper sticker is up for debate.)
Legends about people transforming into wolves come from many ancient cultures around the globe. Today, science could explain the origin of some of these tales.
According to werewolf lore, if a wolf bites you, you’re on the fast track to werewolfhood. Friends and neighbors begin to notice strange changes in your behavior. You’re agitated and aggressive and speak of bizarre things no one else can see. Your body spasms and you salivate heavily, like you’re turning into some kind of animal. And then you start trying to bite them.
Back before people knew what a virus was, “he’s a werewolf now” was as good an explanation as any for the symptoms of rabies.
While people of the past might be excused for not understanding modern medicine, the human habit of treating those who are different with disdain, as outcasts or “of the devil” remains.
The “wolfman” in sideshows of past centuries was likely someone with an excessive hair growth condition. Hypertrichosis is a very rare condition characterized by excessive hair growth anywhere on a person’s body. It can affect men or women, and hair can cover the face, body or occur randomly in small patches. It’s also been called “werewolf syndrome.” Hirsutism is a condition of male-pattern hair growth in women. People with these conditions struggle to this day against social stigmas about being “too hairy.”
Can all the tales about werewolves be explained by science and ignorance? To that I would firmly say, no.
There are many among us who, despite the dry logic of scientific discovery, still believe in the power and mystery of the full moon and, left to our own devices, just might shed all our clothes and run naked into the night, howling with abandon.
Stirring Mayhim is Inland 360’s faux historian and occasional contributor.