Today’s spiritual paradigm is evolving into something other than standard religious dogma. People are attempting various ways to contact higher realms and reaching for enlightenment. That is evident from the profusion of metaphysical sites on the Internet.
As a Spiritual Warrior and Seeker of the Way myself, I tend to write about different aspects of this new paradigm. I wrote an earlier article Animal: Spirit, Power and Totem which touched on aspects of spiritual seeking. Another article, Wolf Spirit, described the wolf spirit within. This one is going to touch on a different aspect of the wolf within.
Lycanthropy is a name given to a condition in which a person believes they transform into a wolf and back again. It comes from Greek terms lykoi for wolf and anthropos for man. A literal translation for lykoi-anthropos is ‘wolf man’. This belief has been diagnosed as a psychiatric disorder where the afflicted person believes they are a wolf. It is thought that the ‘disorder’ can be linked to the once widely held belief that lycanthropy is a supernatural state of being where men, usually a shaman, actually take on the physical characteristics of an animal. Psychiatry tells us that this ‘delusion’ is most likely to occur among those members of the community who believe in the transmigration of souls and reincarnation.
Ancient stories tell of men who turn into creatures who prey on humans and animals alike. Early Greek history provides examples of werewolf myths which may be linked with Olympian religious traditions. For example, one area rich in wolf mystique was Arcadia where a cult of the Wolf-Zeus existed. This belief existed among the Romans as well. Their version was of a versipellis or turnskin and was a person who, through the use of magic, could turn into a wolf.
Rumours, legends and stories about werewolves became widespread throughout Europe during the dark and middle ages. Unscrupulous robber barons and thieves may have taken advantage of simple agricultural communities by donning wolf skins and giving the appearance of shape shifting into wolves. Clinical psychiatry links the lycanthropic ‘disorder’ to beliefs which include animal guardian spirits, vampires, totemism, witches, and werewolves. ‘Vampires’ are yet another example (extreme though it may be) of lycanthropy.
Through to modern day, the idea that a person can become a wolf has persisted as a theme. One which has provided fiction writers and Hollywood with material for popular entertainment. The legend of the werewolf (wer is the Old English term for man, again, literally man-wolf), has been successfully integrated into modern media entertainment.
A recent example of how this theme has been worked into modern entertainment genres is the ‘Twilight’ series written by Stephanie Meyer. This series of books has become extremely popular, which in turn lead Hollywood to turn the books into feature films.
Along with lycanthropy, a person who believes that they can shift from person to animal and back has been referred to as a Theriomorph or shape-shifter.
More Details on Shape-shifting
The phenomenon of shape-shifting is not just confined to written or electronic entertainment media. The legends, folklore and fairy tales from many countries reveal a continuing belief in shape-shifters. Throughout northern Asia and Europe a person was thought to take on the appearance of the most feared predator in the region, i.e. the wolf or bear. In China, Japan and India it was the tiger, while in Africa it was the hyena or leopard.
Spiritually speaking, a person who undergoes lycanthropic or theriomorphic transformation is able to see characteristics of certain animals or spirit guides within their own personality. However, in the case of a spiritual seeker of the way, these shape-shifters assume their animal form in the spirit realm. These spiritual warriors identify with the animal spirit within and incorporate the attributes of their spirit animal into their daily interactions with others. The animal spirit guides provide lessons for the seeker to follow to encourage their spiritual development towards enlightenment. By blending with their animal spirit guide on the spirit plane during a meditation session one can truly say they have become a shape-shifter.
An example of a spirit guide is the wolf. The Grey Wolf or Timber wolf is a teacher that brings lessons of cooperation and community to the spiritual warrior. One shape-shifter describes the transformation as follows:
I exist mentally and in spirit as both wolf and human (I am one person, one character, one being). When I shift, mentally, the outside world usually notices. The change produces a change in my demeanour that is recognizable. Even without shifting, there are facets in my mind that are pure wolf, and make me different to the people around me.
The transition, change or shift is very difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced the alteration within themselves. The spiritual transformation has been described as integrating the human and animal personalities and achieving cooperation between the two that affects your actions, words, the way you carry yourself and your life generally. Other shape-shifting seekers of the way make a clear distinction between the spiritual forms of their human and animal guides in order to maintain their balance within the physical world and blend in with ‘normal humanity’. Transitioning between the human spirit and the animal may be achieved by will alone or if the animal within senses that you need its guidance and protection.
The Sceptics View of Lycanthropy
It is the delusional belief by a person that they can turn into an animal, predominantly a werewolf. Witchcraft or magic was thought to be the main cause of shape-shifting in Europe during the Middle Ages although modern theorists believe rye bread eaten by poor classes may have been contaminated with the fungus ergot. This potentially caused hallucinations and delusions about becoming a werewolf. Stories of humans turning into animals seem to be widespread and occur in all cultures indicating a shared fear of the wildest local beast or desire for animal powers such as great strength or the ability to fly.
The Sceptics View of Werewolves
A werewolf is a human who can change to wolf and back again according to folklore. The beast is thought to eat human flesh or blood to survive. There are no documented cases of humans turning into a wolf and back again, however cases of humans who believed they were werewolves have been recorded. This form of delusion is known as lycanthropy.
Speculation leans towards a genetic disorder known as hypertrichosis, excessive body hair, and lead towards individuals being thought to resemble wolves. This may have given the legend of the werewolf a boost. There are other disorders that may also have a similar effect such as adrenal virilism, basophilic adenoma of the pituitary, masculinizing ovarian tumors, or Stein-Leventhal syndrome.
Lycanthropy – Shapeshifters
Sceptics rebut the possibility of shape-shifting occurring in human beings. Spiritualists state that humans become an amalgam of human and animal spirit on the spirit plane. This view does not debunk the sceptics view as the spiritual seekers have not claimed a physical transformation as is often portrayed in books and movies like Twilight.
The myths, legends and folklore of many cultures support the spiritual beliefs in animal spirit guides, while shamanistic rites and rituals support the transfiguration of the soul during the spiritual warrior’s journey of discovery and enlightenment.
One website describes the spiritual seekers connection to the animal spirit as follows:
The act of honouring an animal is not an act of worship. It is the acknowledgment of their power and their being as brothers and sisters of the entire universe. It is a sign of our gratitude for their help. The energy of the animals, birds and other creatures that assist us should be honoured. For too long, we have subjugated these creatures who are our equals in the system of the Universe. Native Americans often leave tobacco scattered on the ground as a gift. You could also burn incense in honour of the animal. When honouring animal wisdom and energy, always leave a gift of some sort. Remember to say “Thank you.” For all the help they give us they deserve our gratitude.
Wolf Spirit is a teacher of humankind, a pathfinder. Wolves can teach us many things including how to know and understand ourselves and others.