According to legend, a werewolf is a human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf, either purposely or after being placed under a curse or affliction. Yet, far from being confined to the pages of folklore, there have been many claims that werewolves are real, and have stalked the shadows for centuries.
Werewolves through history
Since classical antiquity tales of werewolves and wolfmen have abounded.
The father of history, Herodotus, wrote of the Neuri, a tribe of people who resided in central Eurasia, who supposedly turned into wolves once a year for a few days.
“It appears that these people practise magic; for there is a story current among the Scythians and the Greeks in Scythia that once a year every Neurian turns into a wolf for a few days, and then turns back into a man again.” 1.
Other writers and philosophers of antiquity, including Pliny the elder and Virgil, also described cases of people turning into wolves. Usually, men transformed into werewolves in the same way that, in North America, men are said to become Wendigo – after having committed an act of cannibalism. 2
“Agriopas, who wrote the Olympionics, informs us that Demænetus, the Parrhasian, during a sacrifice of human victims, which the Arcadians were offering up to the Lycæan Jupiter, tasted the entrails of a boy who had been slaughtered; upon which he was turned into a wolf” 3
After the Classical era, the werewolf continued to enjoy a rich tradition. King Harold I of Norway and Prince Vseslav of Polotsk of Belarus were both considered to have been werewolves. In Scandinavia, fierce fanatical warriors would wear wolf skins into battle, believing that they would channel the energy of the beasts and become wolf-like.4
Gilles Garnier: hermit, serial murderer and werewolf
In 16th century France, a reclusive hermit by the name of Gilles Garnier was convicted of being a werewolf.
Known as “The Werewolf of Dole”, Garnier was a brutal serial murderer who was reputed to have turned into a werewolf and devoured the flesh of his child victims. During his killing spree, several children from the town went missing or were found dead. At the same time, several witnesses came forward reporting to have seen Garnier in his werewolf form in fields outside the town, or as it is known in France, as a loup-garou.
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One evening a group of workers travelling from a neighbouring town came upon what they thought in the dim light to be a wolf. However, when they got closer, some of the group recognised it as the reclusive Garnier, with the body of a dead child. Gilles Garnier was arrested and found guilty of “crimes of lycanthropy and witchcraft”.5
This was not the only time that werewolves and lycanthropy were included in witchcraft trials in Early Modern Europe.
In Estonia and Livonia, between 1527 and 1725, eighteen women and thirteen men were convicted of having done harm as werewolves. It was believed that after having made a deal with a demon and committed an act of cannibalism on a specific victim, they were transformed into a bestial wolfman. 6
Werewolves in the modern day
Interest in and reports of werewolves have not diminished in the modern day.
Werewolf skull found in Macedonia?
In 2014, a Bulgarian born farmer, Trayche Draganov, recovered a skull from his land, in Novo Selo, a small village in the Republic of Macedonia. It had been buried, locked in a box, and chained shut. When uncovered, it was found that the skull looked like that of a wolf, except for the enlarged cranium, which made it appear more akin to a human skull.
The inside of the lid of the box contains lettering in Cryllic script, which is common in Bulgarian and Macedonian languages. It reads: “beware of the dangerous vrkolak”, with the word “vrkolak” meaning werewolf. Based on the spelling and lettering, it has been proposed that the box dates from before 1860. 7
Scientists have said that the strange remains most likely belonged to a wolf afflicted with Paget Disease, which increases the size and shape the sufferer’s skull. However, speculation has continued, with no one able to fathom why the werewolf-like skull was locked away in a box. The farmer who discovered it has offered an explanation.
“Many of my neighbours are angry that I disturbed the vrkolak (werewolf) […]They say that I will be reborn as a werewolf. If that is now my fate, so be it. What is done is done.” 8
As chilling as these remains may be, there have been reports that werewolves are still active in the present day.
Werewolf stalks town in Brazil
In 2014, there surfaced on the internet a video purportedly showing security camera footage of a bizarre wolf-like creature in São Gonçalo de Campos, Brazil. 9
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As the video is in black and white and of low quality, it is difficult to identify the creature.
Those reporting on the case stated that the beast plagued the town for several days. A local man, who was said to have encountered the lycanthrope, described it as “half man, half wolf”’. Another witness was a boy named Pingo. He described the creature as “a black monster, looking more than five feet tall, hairy, and writhing non-stop.” 10
Whilst there are many testimonies which appear to describe the same thing, the authenticity of the video has been put into question by local news outlets. It was found that the footage predated the 2014 incident, and had first been published online in 2007. It seems to be the case that this older video was attached to the more recent events after the story broke. Regardless, the caption of the original video presents it as real, stating that it was recorded by security cameras “on the full moon of Lent” in 2007. 11
As for São Gonçalo de Campos, whilst the video may not be connected to their sightings, there was a genuine fear amongst its of the werewolf at the time. As sightings and encounters spread, local residents issued a self-imposed curfew, meaning that everyone was inside by 9 pm. To them, a monstrous “half man, half wolf” did indeed stalk their streets. 12
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