Sookie: Like a werewolf?
Sam: I am not a werewolf. Werewolves are mean nasty creatures, you do not want to mess with werewolves.
Sookie: Could a werewolf have killed my gran’?
(S1E10 True Blood)
Humans have been fascinated with with the creatures they share the planet with and have even learned some of their basic group dynamics by studying the behavior of their closest relatives. Among the most intelliegent and group centered are the wolves. The fascination with these animals have crept into our collective consciousness and have led to wonder if there isn’t a part of ourselves that is still wild and ready for the hunt.
Werewolves can be made in a variety of ways. The one we are most familiar with is being bitten by a werewolf. Lycan’thropy is also connected to witchcraft. Witches were able to make a potion using plants that caused a heightened sense of awareness and hallucinogenic effect. Many of the drugs listed in various werewolf potions included nightshade, nicotine, aconite, belladonna. The person requesting the potion would also be given a wolf pelt belt as a fetish or talisman to complete the affect.
Drinking from the paw print of a wolf on a full moon night and sleeping under the light of the full moon was also supposed to cause change.
Lycan’thropy comes to us from many sources, but the most ancient is the story of King Lycan, who was involved in a great war and after winning by using rather despicable and gruesome means, he puts together a great feast and invited the King of the Gods, Zeus, to join in the feast.
During the feast, King Lycan brags that some of the meat on the table for the feast was human flesh. This angers Zeus, and Zeus curses Lycan to be a beast who would be hunted and feared and would suffer at the time of the full moon.
As far as being born a werewolf, Gerald of Cambresis wrote of his travels through Ireland and recorded his adventures in the Carmina Gaelidica and told the story of a town in Ireland whose people had transgressed in some way against the Christian God. They were cursed to be werewolves for seven years. If they managed to through those seven years and not kill any humans (evidently a real chore for a werewolf) then they would be released from their bondage and be regular humans again. Gerald also recorded that children born during this period of punishment also changed, becoming pups indistinguishable from natural wolves.
Werewolfism or lycan’thropy may be an attempt to understand some diseases like rabies. Like Vampirism, the notion of being infected with a disease that brings out the bestial nature of man may have been man’s earliest attempts at understanding the physical and mental diseases that transform the civilized man into a creature who loses sense of their humanity and become mad like the animals in their world.
Sources: The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers, Carmina Gaelidica by Gerald of Cambresis, Malleus Malficarum by Kramer and Sprenger, and The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.