On the Natural History and Lifestyles of Werewolves

9 Jan

Sabine Barrat-Gould provides an excellent overview of the folklore and myth concerning werewolves. (The Book of Werewolves S. Barrat-Gould 1865 ISBN 1 85958 072 6).

Unfortunately there does not exist an equivalent text giving comprehensive details of the documented facts of the species. This omission has allowed the perpetuation of a great many misconceptions and errors concerning homo lycanthropus and it is my intention to address this problem, albeit briefly, in the following post.

The fossil record is generally unhelpful given that the skeletal remains of homo lycanthropus are indistinguishable from those of Homo sapiens, (or, where relevant, canis lupus) and a comprehensive study of mitochondrial DNA for the species is still sadly lacking. As a result, it is necessary to rely on oral traditions and cultural and linguistic studies. The oral traditions of homo lycanthropus are frequently reliable given the longevity of individual werewolves, but as a community they are notoriously reticent and unwilling to discuss their history and culture with outsiders.

The origins of homo lycanthropus, in as much as they can be determined given the paucity of available evidence, appear to lie in the foothills of the Himalayas some two million years ago.

The species appears to have spread rapidly throughout the Northern Hemisphere but given their dislike of tropical climates it is only very recently that communities of werewolves have begun to settle in the Southern Hemisphere. (Most notably in New Zealand and the Southernmost regions of Chile and Argentina).

The lifespan of the individual werewolf has never been accurately determined as there are no records of any werewolf ever having died of old age. It is clear, however that as well as providing considerable resistance to injury and disease, the process of shape shifting also retards the aging process to a considerable extent.

It is noteworthy that, unlike the vampire (homo vampiris), werewolves cannot be described as ‘undead’, in that they are capable of sexual reproduction. (The popular belief that one can become a werewolf through being bitten is incorrect and probably based on a misinterpretation of the transmission of rabies to which homo lycanthropus, unlike homo vampiris, is prone). Having said this, the reproductive rate of werewolves is very slow. This appears to be largely a matter of choice as werewolves, unlike Homo sapiens, deliberately control their fertility in order to avoid placing undue strain on the resources available to them, although there is some evidence to suggest that the werewolves longevity is also a factor as all aspects of their lifestyle seem to be extended in their timescale.

The phenomenon of shape-shifting is poorly understood and seldom witnessed by outsiders. What evidence is available suggests that the ability to shift is seldom present until puberty and is generally voluntary. The belief that werewolves are compelled to shape-shift due to the phases of the moon, or indeed due to sexual congress, appears to be quite false. Accidental shape shifting has been known to occur during early adolescence and is believed to be associated with hormonal imbalance and mood swings.

Shape-shifting appears to be experienced by the werewolf as a profound change in perceptual experience with associated cognitive and affective changes. In effect there is an extreme enhancement in auditory and olfactory perception, while the effect on visual perception is more complex. While there is an enhancement in night vision and perception of depth and detail, there is also a marked loss of peripheral vision and a significant change in colour perception. (Yellows and blues are reduced to some degree, while reds are reduced almost to grey).

The cognitive changes associated with shape-shifting are difficult to assess, given that the only available evidence is fragmentary and anecdotal. What can be established is that shape-shifting seems to be beneficial to the emotional,as well as the physical well-being of the individual. Studies indicate a significant reduction in stress and anxiety following a shape-shifting experience and prolonged periods without shape-shifting seem to cause a marked deterioration in concentration, emotional stability and mood.

Generalisations regarding character and behaviour across any population must be treated with caution, however some tendencies do seem to be consistent amongst the werewolf community.

Werewolves are notoriously itinerant, if not necessarily nomadic in the true sense of the term. In general they will tend to move from place to place within an extended range seldom staying in one place for long periods or wandering outside their chosen territory. They consistently avoid urban environments and report discomfort in the proximity of large numbers of humans. This appears to be due to overstimulation of their auditory and olfactory senses which can result in disorientation and distress.

Contrary to popular belief werewolves invariably live in close-knit family groups, normally numbering between four and six although groups of up to twenty-five have been recorded. They seldom, if ever, live solitary lives. Misconceptions in this regard seem to have arisen from the fact that individual werewolves will undertake extended solo expeditions, but it should be noted that they will always return to their family group if at all possible. Relationships within these groups are often intense and even volatile but disputes, while sometimes violent, are generally short in duration.

Werewolf culture is characterised by a rich oral tradition, particularly in music, (a capella singing featuring close harmony and intricate counterpoint is typical), verse and story telling. It is believed that werewolves have never independently developed a written language, but they have successfully adapted human scripts to meet their needs and recent developments include the growth of written werewolf prose fiction and even academic writing.

In general werewolves tend to be conservative by temperament, and they are slow to adopt new technologies. One exception to this trend was their early adoption of the motor car due to the promise of enhanced mobility. Werewolves are often adept in manual dexterity and this, coupled with their reluctance to discard and replace possessions, often leads them to continue to maintain and use their vehicles for years, and even decades, wherever possible.

Although not workshy in any real sense, werewolves seldom take regular employment. This is largely due to a reluctance to take on long-term commitments, or to submit to the discipline required by most employers. As a result werewolves are generally to be found taking seasonal and casual employment as and when it becomes available. This preference is exaggerated by a general lack of formal qualifications and work related skills which is a consequence of the disruption caused to their education by their refusal to settle in any one location.

As can be inferred from much of the above, werewolves often come into contact with humans and their attitude towards humans is complex and often difficult.

As a rule werewolves tend not to generalise and have little, if any, concept of universal altruism. As a result they mistrust humanity as a collective entity but can have friendly and even intimate relations with individual human beings. (Children of mixed human and werewolf parentage are rare, but cases have been documented. They are almost invariably female, given that the female foetus is typically more resilient than the male, and tend to be creative, volatile in temprament and long-lived, but normally incapable of true lycanthropy).

In conclusion, you may well have come into contact with a werewolf, or even a family of them, but if you have, they will almost certainly not have disclosed their true nature. If you do meet someone you know to be a werewolf, the following points should be kept in mind.

1/ Werewolves, unlike vampires, do not hunt humans. When they are in human form they behave as humans, when they are in vulpine form they behave as wolves.  As a result you are in far more danger from a werewolf when he or she is in human form than when they appear as a wolf. Wolves seldom attack or kill humans and do not prey on humans, or even domesticated animals where their natural prey are available. Humans kill other humans all the time.

2/ If you enter into an intimate relationship with a werewolf there is no danger of shape shifting during sex (The folklore is quite wrong on this point). There is some chance that children will be conceived and carried to term, although this is rare. The relationship is likely to be intense and include moments of extreme irritation and possibly sheer terror, but not of boredom. The relationship will not last. Werewolves can make exotic and stimulating lovers, but very poor husbands or wives. They never stay for long.

3/ Werewolves are quick to take offence and slow to forgive. They have very long memories.

4/ They always need money. They never have a regular income and they’re generally careless with the money they do have.

5/ Don’t lend them money. They will always mean to repay you, but there’s no telling when. They operate on a much longer timescale than humans so you may not live long enough to see your money. (Payment will, however, be made to your estate or descendants).

6/ Don’t call them werewolves. They prefer the term Vargr (from the old Norse meaning ‘restless’  and ‘wolf’ which is appropriate, and also ‘godless’ which isn’t, werewolves are often religious).

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