A lot of our old folktales come from the fact that people in the Middle Ages didn’t have the scientific knowledge to logically explain certain medical conditions, so they assumed that it was simply magic. From their ignorance came forth many of the myths and folktales we know so well. But what about werewolves? Is it possible that rabies gave birth to werewolves?
The most common way in which someone contracts the disease rabies is by being bitten by an infected animal (like werewolf stories). Usually, they are bitten by a dog that had contracted the virus from a wild animal. An animal with the virus will suddenly become insane, incredibly aggressive and savage, acting much like a demon.
The most common symptoms a human that has contracted rabies first experiences are anxiety, disorientation and the desire to be left alone somewhere quiet, warm and away from bright light – sort of like a wolf’s den. After a while comes the fear of water and swallowing. Then delirium, the overwhelming hallucinations and mad ravings that often includes attacking and biting others.
If that wasn’t bad enough, these people occasionally have breaks in their madness, moments of total sanity. The sufferer is painfully aware of how they are acting and behaving, that they are acting like they are half-human, half-beast.
Now, pretend that you are living way back in the day before rabies was known, before science was what it is now – what would you think? You wouldn’t think it was a medical condition, people back then didn’t often use science as an explanation for events, but rather religion and superstition. One would simply assume that it was some form of magic, that the person suffering had become possessed by some kind of animalistic demon.
There are a handful of theories like this about vampires and how vampire hysteria reached the level it did. The same theories could apply to werewolves and the panic they caused in the Middle Ages. After all, there were nearly thirty thousand cases of lycanthropy reported between 1520 and 1630; obviously not all of those people were werewolves. But it is possible that many of them were simply suffering from rabies, and appeared to be animalistic monsters, when in truth they were just sick.