Christians and werewolves

I’ve been chewing on the idea of a Christian Werewolf Romance. I’ve been able to parse the Werewolf Romance fine, but the Christian element is stumping me.

I got on Google and started looking for “a Christian perspective on werewolves”. There are loads of articles about Christians talking about vampires, Twilight, and why such things are bad and evil. There’s articles from non-Christians making fun of Christians for their views.

But I can’t find any Christians tackling the werewolf mythos head on. So I guess that leaves me.

First, werewolf mythos in general. These are some great quotes from The Book of Were-Wolves by S. Baring-Gould.

WHAT is Lycanthropy? The change of manor woman into the form of a wolf, either through
magical means, so as to enable him or her to gratify the taste for human flesh, or through judgment of the gods in punishment for some great offence.

And Herodotus:–” It seems that the Neuri are sorcerers, if one is to believe the Scythians and the Greeks established in Scythia; for each Neurian changes himself, once in the year, into the form of a wolf, and he continues in that form for several days, after which he resumes his former shape.”–( Lib. iv. c. 105.)

But the most remarkable story among the ancients is that related by Ovid in his “Metamorphoses,” of Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who , entertaining Jupiter one day , set before him a hash of human flesh, to prove his omniscience, whereupon the god transferred him into a wolf:

In vain he attempted to speak; from that very instant His jaws were bespluttered with foam, and only he thirsted For blood, as he raged amongst flocks and panted for slaughter. His vesture was changed into hair, his limbs became crooked; A wolf,–he retains yet large trace of his ancient expression, Hoary he is as afore, his countenance rabid, His eyes glitter savagely still, the picture of fury.

Pliny relates from Evanthes, that on the festival of Jupiter Lycæus, one of the family of Antæus was selected by lot, and conducted to the brink of the Arcadian lake. He then hung his clothes on a tree and plunged into the water, whereupon he was transformed into a wolf. Nine years after, if he had not tasted human flesh, he was at liberty to swim back and resume his former shape, which had in the meantime become aged, as though he had worn it for nine years.

Curse-of-the-Worgen-e1290118285615
Curse of the Worgen, copyright Blizzard Entertainment

And it goes on. Only wicked people turned into were-wolves, and they always roamed around and ate people. Real lycanthropy is a mental illness where a person believes they’re an animal, and I imagine some of the stories come from that.

You know in the Gospels when Jesus casts the demons out of the dude who’d been living in the tombs, and the demons said their name was Legion? Yeah, I imagine that sort of thing contributed, too.

So, bad werewolves are typically the lycanthrope kind, the ones Hollywood uses. Big nasty monsters and all.

But what about the other kind? The Twilight wolves, the modern day ones formed by studies of real wolves living and hunting in a family unit and having a close-knit society?

Werewolf fans refer to these as “shifters”. It’s a person who can shapeshift into a wolf, but it’s not a monster. A lot of times they retain human memories and intelligence, too. This is closer to fairytales and fantasy, where people can turn into an animal of their choice.

There’s no black magic involved–it’s usually genetics, similar to the X-men, who get their powers at a certain age. In Twilight they were all Native Americans who had inherited the ability to change into spirit wolves, and the proximity of vampires was triggering their transformations. (Which is brilliant, if you ask me.)

Which gets us into shapeshifting, period. This shows up a lot in mythology and fairytales, and Wikipedia has an interesting take on it.

An important aspect of shape-shifting, thematically, is whether the transformation is voluntary. Circe transforms intruders to her island into swine, whereas Ged, in A Wizard of Earthsea, becomes a hawk to escape an evil wizard’s stronghold. When a form is taken on involuntarily, the thematic effect is one of confinement and restraint; the person is bound to the new form. In extreme cases, such as petrifaction, the character is entirely disabled.

Voluntary forms, on the other hand, are means of escape and liberation; even when the form is not undertaken to effect a literal escape, the abilities specific to the form, or the disguise afforded by it, allow the character to act in a manner previously impossible.

werewolf2013_final_web_by_nambroth-d6jfcou
From Afar, by Nambroth. Click for original image.

It goes on to talk about fairytales where people were turned into animals, like the prince who was turned into a bear in Snow White and Rose Red, or the seven brothers who were turned into swans. That’s always a Bad Thing, like an evil spell of some kind.

But a person who can turn themselves into animals is always a freedom issue. Think of Sirius Black in Harry Potter, who escaped prison. Or Animorphs, or any number of stories where being able to turn into something else is a good thing. (Remember the girl who turned into a guinea pig in Sky High?)

Now we’re getting away from the whole “is it Christian” thing and into the realm of imagination and storytelling. The Bible has all kinds of stories that aren’t particularly Christian, like the trees trying to elect a new leader, or Jesus’s parables. Because Jesus told stories about unscrupulous servants and unrighteous judges, does that make his stories bad?

Jesus was making a point.

So if we want to write stories about people who can turn into animals, and yet go to church and see their alternate form as a way to explore and enjoy creation, well, that’d be a fun read. We can make our point, too.

Christians are writing vampire and werewolf books, like Never Ceese, which started out self-published. Lycanthropes are always bad, but it’d be fun to see somebody tackle the shapeshifter idea, too.

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11 thoughts on “Christians and werewolves

  1. Excellent examination. I haven’t read a lot of werewolf stories (aside from the one you gave me), but I’m interested in seeing someone take on the challenge of a Christian werewolf story without it being a bunch of ham-handed allegory about Christ.

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  2. I do have one story–a novelette, not a whole book, though–that has a different twist on werewolves. It was originally published in an anthology in which the common theme was stories in which a stereotypical monster/villain is the hero. My story shows werewolves as being misunderstood and hunted–not that they’re innocent by any means, but it’s one of those “who is the real monster, the werewolf or the human?” things. And while it’s not what I’d consider a “Christian” story, it is about forgiveness.

    Anyway, not sure why the Christian market hasn’t hit outside the vampire bubble yet. I think there is a lot of potential for werewolf stories from a Christian world view.

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  3. There are some non-evil wolf ‘shifters in folklore, too; they’re just uncommon, maybe because they mostly seem to come from Russia/eastern Europe. But there you can find myths where shapeshifting dragons and wolves are viewed as “other people” with interesting gifts, who help their community, instead of stereotyped hellspawn come up to devour mankind. I particularly liked the Wulver, who sits around fishing and generally minds his own business; supposedly he’d leave fish on the windowsills of poor people in his village, to help them get by. Though I’m not sure if he actually shapeshifts or not.

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  4. Gwen: Glad to hear there’s some positive shifter myths out there! I didn’t research this very heavily. Do you have any links to resources? I’d love to read more on this.

    Kat: I did find Cry for the Moon, a Christian werewolf hunter series for YA on Amazon. The Christian guy hunts lupe-garou with silver-tipped shotgun bullets. Hee. I read the first book and it was pretty good. It’s definitely a vast untapped market, though!

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  5. I wish I had resources on it; most of my research I did years back, so it’s all a bit jumbled up. And all my notes are still in storage.

    Disregarding any information I might have found online, I know I never read any books specifically on werewolves; all of the books I read were on real wolves and our perceptions of them, and some of them just happened to look at wolf and werewolf myths. That can be a good place to get ideas, since those authors intentionally look for a wide range of opinions rather than focusing on horror.

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  6. The differences pointed out between voluntary shifting and involuntary change are interesting. Lots of neat potential there for story conflict, if you had a world where both exist. Maybe the evilness isn’t in the creature they transform into, but in losing their humanity, reason, control and memories.

    I think part of the trouble in writing werewolf stories these days is that so many people are working hard to change the image of the Wolf in general that we animal lovers have trouble writing a wolf who is an ‘evil’ character (stop me if I’m speaking for you 😉 So the old school werewolf becomes an almost inaccurate stereotype from a medieval perspective o_O My two cents.

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  7. Kessie, I’ve been working on a werewolf story for a couple of years (I’ve been busy, so the writing goes slowly). Wrestling around with the mythology and seeking a framework that works for what I’m saying from a biblical point of view.

    I don’t have time today, but hope to read through your posts on this subject and drop you some comments or maybe strike up an email conversation. Would enjoy talking this over with someone else who is looking into it!

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  8. Jess: Yeah, that’s what I’m running into, is we know so much more about wolves than we used to. It’s not just wolves–apparently whatever country had man-eating animals had the same stories, from hyenas in Africa to tigers in India.

    I think lycanthropes are okay to make evil–you know, the giant man-thing with a wolf head and lots of fur. That totally represents the loss of humanity and reason. But shape shifters are a gray area. I’ll have to read more and think about it.

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  9. Teddi: nice to hear you’re tackling it, too! Are you writing evil lycans or friendly shifters, or a combination? Feel free to email me at netraptor001 at hotmail dot com. My only werewolf character so far has been the lycan kind, but his transformation is triggered whenever he uses magic.

    Pondering a shifter story. A straight up romance gags me, but if I reframe it as a fantasy, I think I could swing it. I’m more interested in the world building than the romance.

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