"Canines of all kinds are some of the most commonly cited totemic ancestors and tribal as well as personal totems of people practicing magic even today. To those who practice Norse magic (Seidr) the wolf is a powerful totem and spiritual force, and Asatru followers even today use this power in their work. Magical possession by this power for the Vikings and others conferred great strength, bravery, and fierceness as well as resistance to pain and injury. This is likely how the 'werewolf' legends arose."
Stories of werewolves and their process of transformation have been with us for thousands of years; my discovery is that the historical and mythic roots seem to directly connect with the Horned God and shamanic practices. While wolves are known as the first canines to bond with humans at the dawn of time, the roots of this primal magic still reside today in our hearts and in our loyal canine companions.
Werewolves continue to capture the imagination, as they have for literally thousands of years. Ancient Greek writers discussed the phenomena and noted several ways one could transform into a Beast. Similar stories can be found all over the world, often taking on the attributes and aspects of the totemic animals of those cultures. There are European and Russian stories of werewolves as there are Greek and Roman ones. In China there are were-tigers, in Japan, were-foxes and bears, in the Congo there are were-jackals. Many people in many countries have been magickally transforming into different kinds of animals for centuries. It seems there are two intertwining threads here, the Mythical and the Magickal.
As a hunter follows old tracks and spoor of a wolf through hills and forests, so too will I track down the telltale myths and symbols scattered here and there. Who knows who we will bump into? What follows is simply a little stalking. My simple thesis (and not an original one) is this:
Werewolves as we know them are a collection of mythic patterns of magickal transformation and evolution—the right brain/left brain struggle of the Beast and Angel, the Self and Shadow. Unleash the Shadow (or wolf), the story goes, and you get great power and physical strength (werewolves are said to be virtually immortal and can regenerate), but you also unleash bloodlust and the purely aggressive animal being (claws, fangs, and all). People often get hurt. Houses get trashed. Lots of clothing gets ripped and sheep go missing. This is scary stuff.
Keeping the above in mind, let's take a quick look at what various bits of folklore teach us about "how to become a werewolf." What mythic or shamanic secrets does this process reveal?
Basically, you can become a werewolf in two different ways:
Looking at all these surviving bits of folklore and spells together, it seems that we have the ingredients for an animistic shamanic animal/spirit trance-ritual-worship. Magical links and tools (the wolf skin, the cauldron, the cast circle), presumably psychoactive or empowered sacraments (drug-filled rubs and potions, wolf or animal flesh, special wolf-water) and specific chants or words of power (spells, prayers, howls) directed to the shadowy source of all this dark, looming magick: the one called the Devil by Christians but who is really "The Lord of the Forest."
Who is this Shadow lord of Wolfish transformation? In my opinion, a good case could be made for the Great Beastly Horned God himself, known by many names such as Pan and Faunus.
Thousands of years ago, in Northern Greece, wolves were associated with the cult of Pan, as was "wolf mountain." Later, a Roman festival carried on several of the ritual actions and ideals that the cult of Pan had perpetuated through the "Festival of the Wolves," Lupercalia. During this festival, naked men (Luperci or "wolf wardens") in goat skins ran about the town whipping and likely mating with willing women who needed help with fertility. The festival was named after Lupercus ("wolf god"), i.e. Faunus.
Of course the Christian Devil took on the appearance of Panor Faunus (horns, hooves, night time raves, etc.), and authors like Margret Murrey indicate the survival of "witchcults" in Europe that continued to worship "olde hornie" or "Krampus" into the present. It seems reasonable to assume that ancient animal/animist magicks were part and parcel of these survivals. Such "wolf shamans" would be most certainly twisted by the Church into werewolves.
We could stalk the werewolf gnosis further, exploring all the information available about Viking/Seidr Wolf berserkers or exploring the links to Shiva (Pashupati, the "Lord of Beasts"), but that is enough for one little ramble through the dark woods and it is a full moon tonight… and so I must be loping on my way.
Denny Sargent (Seattle, WA) is a writer, artist, and university instructor who has a master's degree in history/intercultural communications. He has been an initiate of a number of esoteric traditions and groups, including ...