Stories of men transforming into beasts is nothing new, it’s a belief that has been around for ages, a belief that is not exclusive to werewolves alone. There are legends of were-creatures all around the globe and of course, not all of these tales feature men turning into wolves. Today I’m switching things up a bit and shining a little light on the other were-creatures out there. As much as I adore werewolves, the others need some love as well.
Our travels begin in Finland, where the people there once worshipped bears. It was believed that shamans or local witch doctors could transform themselves into a ferocious bear by putting on a shirt made of bearskin. This magical article of clothing was known as baar-saark, and it was from this that we got the word “berserk,” meaning wild and crazed.
Over in Egypt and parts of the Middle East, sorcerers were believed to be able to transform into jackals. It was said that while in this form they would dig up dead bodies to use for their black magic. This idea most likely came from the fact that jackals were often seen roaming cemeteries in the Middle East.
Next up is Guatemala and Honduras where people believed in nawals, which were usually evil shapeshifting women that preyed upon their husbands. They could transform into a variety of animals, but it is said that their favorite guises was that of a great dog or a coyote.
All the way over in Africa there was a widespread belief in lion and leopard men. It was said that there were powerful magicians that would transform into these animals to take vengeance on their enemies. According to stories, certain tribes would create a magical elixir known as borfima, made from their victim’s intestines, which they believed gave them the power to turn into a leopard. The belief in werelions and leopards was so big that in the 1950s and 60s these beliefs helped drive colonists out of certain African countries.
Over in China there was a common belief in werefoxes, beings that inhabited the netherworld between the material world and unseen dimensions. While in human form they were said to be incredibly beautiful. There are also werefoxes in Japan, known as nogitsone, whose real form could be revealed by its reflection in a mirror or pool of water. You can also find werefox tales in North America, where certain tribes had sorcerers that would take the form of the fox.
There are even some ridiculous were-creature stories out there, like in England, where you can find loads of strange were-sheep tales from the 16th and 17th centuries.
And that is where our were-travels will end. There are many more were-creatures out there, and perhaps we’ll explore them later.
It’s ‘nogitsune,’ by the way. And there were actually a variety of ways (including the reflection) that could give a fox away–their shadow, a fine coating of hair, and the presence of a tail (just to add on).
Though I do have to wonder–can we put these under the same category as the others? These foxes only gave the illusion of changing shape (which they couldn’t do completely since their tails always showed), after all. This has always made me wonder, so I felt I should bring it up.
Thanks. I went with the spelling found in my books. Also, this was just a brief overview of other were-like creatures, just a look into what’s out there. It isn’t meant to be a fully detailed guide book containing every last detail. :)
The scandinavian peoples have a long tradition of men turning into bears, its not just the finns but good work on this.
Why sheep? Are they people doomed to be eaten by werewolves? :)