Loup garou. Lycanthrope. Hombre lobo. Werewolf. No matter what you call it, it’s someone who physically changes – willingly or not – into a vicious wolf-like creature with an appetite for human flesh. The concept dates back to the classical Greek and Roman eras. In his novel Satyricon, Roman writer Gaius Petronius (27 – 66 A.D.) tells the story of a soldier who turns into a wolf that attacks a flock of sheep. The wolf is wounded and later, the soldier is found with the identical injury; while the story is fiction, it indicates familiarity with the legend of the wolf-man.
According to various legends, you can become a werewolf by being bitten by one; inheriting the condition from a parent or being born with a birthmark; using a magic potion or ointment containing such ingredients as deadly nightshade (a poisonous plant), bat’s blood and opium; wearing a magic belt; being cursed by a witch; eating the flesh or heart of a wolf; or eating human flesh. A full moon may or may not be required.
You can protect yourself from werewolves by wearing garlic or a silver cross (and you’ll be safe from vampires, too); carrying holy water; having silver bullets in your gun; or wearing wolfsbane (another plant). To kill a werewolf you must shoot it with a silver bullet or arrow; stab it with a silver knife; make it ingest wolfsbane; or cut off its head or rip out its heart.
Medieval Europe took the werewolf very seriously. Numerous people were accused and convicted in court of being werewolves. One famous documented case involved Peter Stubbe, a man from Bedberg, Germany, who was arrested in 1589 after villagers allegedly witnessed him changing from a wolf into his human self. Stubbe confessed to having made a pact with the Devil, who had given him a magical belt that could change him into a wolf. He admitted to killing and eating at least 16 people while in his wolf form. He was convicted of murder, tortured and executed.
Another historical case was that of Jean Grenier, a thirteen-year-old boy arrested in 1603 after a girl claimed she was attacked by a large, wolf-like creature in the Gascony region of southern France. Grenier said he had become a werewolf after being given an ointment and wolf skin by a demonic being he called the Lord of the Forest. He confessed to killing and eating several people. He was tried for murder, proclaimed insane, and imprisoned in a monastery where he died in 1610.
More recently and closer to home, huge wolf-like beasts have been reported near Delavan, in southern Wisconsin. In 1936, a certain Mark Schackelman allegedly encountered a human-like creature covered with dark hair. It had a muzzle, prominent fangs, and pointed ears on the top of its head. A number of subsequent witnesses have described the same creature as recently as 1999. It has become known as the Bray Road Beast and so far remains unexplained . . .