Do Werewolves Exist?

In 1853 Manuel Romasanta admitted to thirteen brutal murders He butchered women and children before turning their fat into fragrant artisanal soaps

After being found guilty in court, he became Spain’s first known serial killer and sentenced to death But Romasanta claimed he was not responsible for the deaths He said he was the victim of a curse that transformed him into a werewolf Amazingly, Spanish Queen Isabella II commuted his death sentence so that doctors could get to the bottom of his shocking claim Though Romasanta died before the investigation was completed, his case has long been viewed as proof that werewolves really live among us

Werewolves are legendary creatures with the ability to move between wolf and human forms The earliest known reference to the creature is in Ancient Roman poet Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” written in the year 1 AD Ovid tells the story of King Lycaon, who angered the Gods by serving them a feast of human flesh In punishment, Jupiter turned him into a werewolf, condemning him to munch on human remains forever more The ability to turn into a wolf at will is called “lycanthropy” after this cannibal monarch

But his tale is far from unique Journalist Kathy Padden says, “Virtually every culture across the globe has its own werewolf mythology, with this beastly shape-shifter being one of the oldest monsters to terrorize humans” In 2015 Macedonian farmer Trayche Draganov [ TRAY-CHE DRUGU-nov] claimed to have found a werewolf skull in a chained casket buried deep underground This lone skull matches Balkan folklore, which says werewolves must be exorcised, burned to the bone and decapitated to end their reign of terror Reporter Jon Austin notes that locals fear Draganov was hexed by finding the box

In a statement to press Draganov himself even said, ""They say that I will be reborn as a werewolf If that is now my fate, so be it What is done is done" History is full of suspected werewolves In 1589 German farmer Peter Stumpp was executed after neighbours caught him in his werewolf form

Stumpp confessed to rape, murder and cannibalism The neighbours also killed his daughter and mistress for having sex with him Under interrogation, Stumpp also confessed to murdering his son and snacking on his brain Between 1527 and 1725, 13 men and 18 women were accused of being werewolves in Estonia In one case in 1636, a woman called Kurna testified that an elderly woman had lured her into a wood where they ate berries that transformed them both into human-hunting wolves

In 1573 Frenchman Gilles Garnier was found guilty of being a werewolf The reclusive hermit kidnapped, slaughtered and ate at least four innocent children, purportedly while in wolf form His first victim was a 10-year-old girl whom he strangled and stripped, before chewing her limbs After this, he tore off chunks of her flesh and took them home to cook for his wife’s dinner He was only stopped when his final victim broke free and alerted police

In France in 1852 a man handed himself into an insane asylum claiming that he had undergone a series of physical changes He told doctors he had grown cloven feet, fangs and a thick layer of coarse hair over his body The changes ultimately transformed him into a human-wolf hybrid He would only eat plates of raw meat Then he rejected it on grounds it was “not rotten enough”

His suffering grew so unbearable that he spent the last years of his life begging doctors to kill him in a nearby forest And in another case from the 1500s three men were burned alive at Verdun in France, after confessing to being werewolves They revealed they had mated with the beasts several times They said they had “experienced as much pleasure in the act as if we’d copulated with our own wives” While these stories are certainly spine-chilling, there is still no proof that werewolves exist

The evidence we have comes from personal testimonies, not hard proof Their legend originates in ancient fictional texts As Newcastle University Ancient History Professor Marguerite Johnson explains, Ovid’s Metamorphoses is effectively a work of fantasy She says, “[In Ovid’s work] hundreds of hapless mortals, heroes, heroines, gods and goddesses rise victorious, experience defeat, endure rape, and inevitably metamorphose into something other than their original forms” The werewolves mentioned in the text are therefore part of his imagined fantasy landscape, not a comment on real goings on at the time

Meanwhile, people who confessed to shapeshifting were probably forced to do so Historians Samantha Lyon and Dr Daphne Tan note, “in nearly all cases where [some]one was accused [of being a werewolf] severe torture was freely utilized to procure a confession… [that was] severe and unremitting

” In the Verdun case for example, each of the accused men gave radically different accounts of the crimes they had committed This suggests that they were coerced into falsely admitting their guilt As for Draganov’s skull, there is nothing to prove that it came from a werewolf Historian Filip Ganev showed it to wildlife experts who said the skull was very ordinary They identified it as a wolf probably suffering from Paget’s disease

This condition deforms mammal skulls, making them expand and appear spookily humanoid Today, cases where people are convinced they are werewolves are usually understood as a symptom of an underlying mental illness Psychiatrist Jan Blom says that most modern instances result in “conventional diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and so on” Many truly violent and frightening individuals have been accused of lycanthropy over the centuries However, with little more than personal testimonies as evidence, and no scientific evidence, the existence of werewolves – for now – at least, remains a mystery

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