Werewolves are HOW old?–Beth Trissel


ansbach1The answer to this fascinating question and more from the brilliant Author Jonathan Brazee, here to share his wealth of werewolf lore.  Prepare to be amazed. I am. Take it away, Jonathan!

With the modern trifecta of vampires, zombies, and werewolves, therianthropy, or shapeshifting from human to animals, perhaps has the earliest appearance in human history.  Cave paintings from 8,000 BC in what is now modern Turkey depicted werewolves, and they also appeared in the early writings such as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian epic poem first written in about the 18th century BC.  Greeks such as Pausanius and Herodotus and Romans such as Ovid, Virgil, and Pliny the Elder wrote about them. (***Pliny the Elder was astounding–Beth interjecting here)

Over the years, the werewolf myth remained strong throughout most of Europe and the Middle East, and as Europeans reached the new world, the myth was adopted into native American cultures that already included cynanthropes (shapeshifters who change into dogs) and nagual, of shapeshifters who can change into any animals form if they wear the pelt of that animal.  In Asia, cynanthropy was the most common form of therianthropy, found in China, Timor, and India.  In Africa, were-hyenas and ailuranthropy (changing into felines, particularly lions and leopards) held sway.

werewolfattackedNo one can say for certain why this myth has been so widespread, but theories abound.  The most likely and common kernel to the myth, in my opinion, would be the need for people to explain evil and animalistic acts by others who would be either what we would now simply term serial killers or others who were deranged and were acting in an animalistic fashion.  Taken five hundred or a thousand years ago, the Florida man who stripped naked and attacked a homeless man last year, actually eating part of his face, might be easier explained not as a human attack on another, but an attack by a man who had been somehow transformed into an animal.

full moon and cloudsThe modern version of the werewolf has proven much more popular than other forms of therianthropy.  Perhaps the first modern novel about werewolves was G. W. M. Reynolds’ 1847 novel, Wagner the Wehr-Wolf, in which the concept of a werewolf changing under the full moon was first introduced.  Alexandre Dumas followed with The Wolf Leader in 1857, where the werewolf was bipedal, and the modern werewolf began to become became recognizable to what we know today.

Early mythology had the ability to shapeshift into a werewolf being caused by actions such as wearing a wolf-hide belt, drinking water from the footprint of a wolf, or drinking magic beer while reciting incantations.  It wasn’t until the 19th Century that the lycanthropy became a contagion, spread by being bitten by a werewolf.  Other aspects, such as the silver bullet aspect of killing a werewolf did not evolve until the middle of the 20th Century, probably with a 1936 account of La Bèstia de Gavaudan, a re-telling of actual wolf attacks in France during the 18th century.  In the 20th Century version, the wolf was killed by a blessed silver bullet.

Most werewolf novels of the 19th and 20th Centuries did not include vampires in the plots until the current popular literature of today.  However, linking vampires and werewolves can be said to be going back to the roots of the legends.  In medieval times, those executed for being werewolves had their bodies burned so they could not return as vampires.  In Serbian mythology, werewolves and vampires were collectively known as vulkodlak.

werewolf in londonHollywood has had a tremendous impact on the werewolf myth as we know it today.  The first werewolf motion picture was the 1913 The Werewolf, which portrayed a Navajo maiden who was able to transform into a wolf and attack white settlers.  Werewolf in films perhaps came of age with 1935’s The Werewolf of London, the first film with an anthropomorphic werewolf.  In this movie, the lead actor, Henry Hull, refused to sit for lengthy make-up sessions, so Jack Pierce, the make-up artist, had to make do with a decidedly less hairy version of a werewolf.  In 1941’s The Wolf Man, Lon Chaney, Jr. had no similar reservations, so Pierce was able to design the full mask that became the penultimate werewolf look and transformation until perhaps 1981’s The Howling became a cult classic.

For at least 10,000 years, werewolves have been part of human culture.  They have been presented in different lights and have changed over the years, but there is little doubt that they will continue to embedded in the human psyche for years to come.  The dichotomy between man and beast is just too delicious to ignore.

***Jonathan Brazee is a retired Marine colonel who has been fascinated with werewolves ever since reading Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think.   A frequent contributor to political science, business, and military periodicals, he has written five novels, only one being therianthropic.  Wererat tells the tale of a young man whose father is a werewolf and who mother is a weretiger, but when he finally makes his first shift, he finds out that his animal form is a rat.

He currently works in Thailand where he lives with his two (non-shapeshifting) cats, Pumpkin and Chokdee.

***Visit Jonathan Brazee’s Amazon Author Page

66 responses to “Werewolves are HOW old?–Beth Trissel

  1. Jonathan,

    I love the shape shifting…I write Native American and I am working on a manuscript now that the hero can shape shift and so can the villain…I love your post today. Very informative….

    Melinda

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  2. Actually shapeshifters have been around 10,000 year or more. Werewolves in certain areas of the world, there are those who changed into lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, snakes, hyenas, bears, foxes (well, the fox maidens of Japan), etc… These are just a few, too, to scratch the surface. 🙂 And let’s not go into mythology–and those who change into creatures not a real animal–like dragons. 😉

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  3. Wonderful post Jonathan! I can see to the author or researcher this werewolf lingo is a language itself. But you didn’t say…do you believe there really are werewolves? Myself, I will only say that just the fact that humans can be formed from a collection of cells, anything is possible. Anything.

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    • Jinny,

      I want to believe in shapeshifters, and if they are caused by contagion, I have always secretly wished some werewolf would take a bite, well, a small nip maybe, out of me.

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  4. Great article, Jonathan!

    I would be upset, though, if I ended up being a wererat after my parents were much more elegant werewolf and weretiger shifters. Once, I discussed another author’s romance series, and fans put their foot down on romantic liaisons with wererats.

    Would this cause trouble in the future for the poor man?

    There’s also the rare genetic disorder of hypertrichosis that causes some to be coated in fur or hair, that could make them appear wolf-like or ape-like. Super post!

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  5. Terry,

    In my book, becoming a less-than-impressive shapeshifter did have repercussions both mentally and with his position in the tribe. I don’t know if I managed to do the subject justice, but I’ve always gravitated to the non-heroic characters, the spear-carriers in life. Of course, sometimes it is the spear-carrier who has an impact on how things unfold.

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  6. Hi Beth- you never disappoint! Nice to meet you Jonathan! What a deep well to delve into for a writer! And to the commenters, thanks for adding to this post! I’m always looking for different anything for my shapeshifters (whom I refuse to acknowledge or call ‘were’wolves because they are two completely different entities as far as I’m concerned! Just ask my PN alter ego when she reveals herself!). For instance- ‘my’ males are born with the gene of the wolf, while the females are not and they can change at will– but only after centuries of trials and pain– due to the intricasies an ancient Native American witch doctor’s curse. That’s all I’ll say on my series, but I’m thrilled with this post. 🙂

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    • Thanks, and Wow Calisa. You have a whole other you I never knew about.

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    • Well, Calisa, now you’ve got my mind going. I’ve got visions of sequential, protandrous, and protogynous hermaphroditism and how that could effect shapeshifting. My mind is reeling.

      I’m about 2/3’s of the way through an intensive historical fiction (the most difficult book I have attempted to date due to the enormous research load), but my mind has momentarily fled 1805 Libya to contemplate the possibilites here.

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  7. Werewolves and other paranormal things seems to be so popular and ‘modern’ now, it’s interesting to discover how far back their history actually goes.

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  8. Great article Jonathan…I too have always been intrigued with the thought of shape shifters actually being..if you see what I mean. Werewolves are a fav of mine as well. As to them taking a bite out of you, you never know..hehe.

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  9. Thanks for the history. Loved reading your post!
    Blessings,
    andrea

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  10. Thanks for sharing! Really enjoyed it.

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  11. What a fascinating article. I have always loved werewolves!

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  12. Hi again, Jonathan! I’d forgotten a few of the shapeshifting paradigms, like drinking from the track of an animal. In my defense, I only remember one from a Russian magic tale, a genre separate from legends, so not one where beliefs spilling into everyday life are actually involved. I should re-read classical myths, shouldn’t I?
    Oh, in the tale in question, it’s a boy who drinks from the track of a goat and turns into one.
    In Russian folk belief, shapeshifters are called oboroten’ (from two words that mean “to turn” (around/into) and “shadow” — two typical components of shapeshifter lore.

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  13. In Russia? Very cool. Unfortunately, modern knowledge of traditional folklore in Russia is very blurry, and methodologically flawed, especially in popular culture. However, I’m curious how it’s morphed in the 20th century — as it has in the West. Maybe I’ll get a chance to research it. *sigh* So many ideas, so few uninvolved brain cells.

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  14. Thanks Jonathan,
    I took another path thinking about werewolves. If there were were-wolves, why not dog-shifters. I’ve published 2 books so far in my Shapeshifters’ Library series and love my dog-shifter librarians but also adore writing my book burning werewolf villains with humor.

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    • Amber,

      Cynanthropy, or the changing from man to dog, is one of the more prevalent shapeshifting myths in a number of Asian countries. I wonder why, though, in most modern stories, dogs seem to be the anti-werewolf, sort of a biological werewolf alarm. I don’t begrudge that aspect in the lycanthropic panoply, but I wonder where that first made an appearance.

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  15. I loved this accounting. I have a new critique partner who writes about werewolves and vampires. I’d never really been interested in the stories about them until reading his books. Now they seem common place to me and I enjoy the stories. I can’t believe how far back the interest in werewolves go. Mind boggling. Thanks for sharing this information. 🙂

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  16. SO MORE LORE, SO LITTLE TIME TO ABSORB IT! HI AGAIN, JONATHAN! Interesting to mention something other than were-wolves, though I think the trend has gotten from the sublime into the ridiculous lately. One reason I lost interest in the Anita Blake series was because she was dragging in all kinds of were…I kept waiting for the were-ladybugs and wereants to show up. I’ve even seen a werelamb…who fell in love with a werewolf…now that was a combination to behold! I suppose theoretically, if one can morph into a wolf, one should be able to morph into anything living, but, still… However, I digress.

    From Beth’s other blog, you know my stand on weres and my one foray into that arena. (And am wishing all my research books weren’t stored away in California so I could refer to them.) Interesting mention of the NA belief in being able to change while wearing the pelt of an animal. In an anthology, The Compleat Werewolf, a wolf in a zoo awakens one morning to finds himself human (a switch there) and manages to change back by killing another wolf and performing a ritual while wearing its skin. He returns to the zoo unscathed. Unfortunately, he had a brief encounter with a human female and one day sees her walking past his cage with a baby in a stroller, their eyes meet, and… She knows, and as for the baby…

    As for why people started believing in werewolves. I would imagine, for the same reason they started believing in vampires. When the human mind and knowledge hasn’t evolved to the point where it can offer rational and scientific explanations for events, what else can one do but fall back on curses from God and creatures of the supernatural ilk? As long as there have been those of the human persuasion ( no matter how much of a stretch to being human they are), I imagine there have been people afflicted with diseases which could manifest as those supernatural creatures…prophyria, PMLA, X-P, and those you’ve already named. And now that we can understand why these diseases happen, and in some cases cure or alleviate them, we still keep the supernaturals alive in our entertainment media. Why? Because of that statement Hamlet made to Horatio (and I won’t quote it here, you’ll be pleased to note)…and the fact that, with all the real horrors in our world today which we feel incapable of preventing, we want to believe there are creatures out there who exist at the edge of midnight, who can be vanquish simply by the rising of the sun or the brandishing of a cross, or with the casting and firing of a silver bullet. We admit that “even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf”…or worse…and there isn’t always someone around with a silver bullet to stop him.

    Most of the “classical” horror movies were made during the Depression, and they say it’s because people wanted an escape from a real life horror into a make-believe one. Looks like today, we’ve got a plethora of one kind and as long as we do, so surely the other will always closely behind…both wolf and bat and all other beasties in the night.

    Thanks for allowing my diatribe, Beth and Jonathan.

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  17. What a very informative post. Thank you for sharing,Lycanthropy and such has been of interest to me since seeing my first werewolf movie. Actually I just got through reading an article on Lycanthropic Legends of Skyrim,very interesting. Again thank you.

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  18. Jonathan, I am posting this comment for a visitor.
    She said: Wow! That was the most amazing history lesson I’ve had in a long time! Thanks Jonathan and Beth! It may be mythology, but try telling that to my characters! LOL Definitely history!
    Sincerely,
    Lisa Hannah Wells

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  19. What a fascinating post! I didn’t realise the lore went back so far in history. I learnt something new today.

    I’m a scaredy-cat, so I can’t watch horror or shapeshifter movies (well, apart from 80s movie Teenwolf!), but I find the background very interesting.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  20. Great post, Jonathan and Beth. There’s something so fascinating about shapeshifters. Maybe we all long to be something else other than an ordinary human.

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  21. Fascinating! Thank you Jonathan and Beth for sharing this!

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  22. lillygayleauthor

    Great blog, Jonathan. Fascinating as ever, Beth

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  23. Hi, Jonathan! THis was an awesome post!!! I’ve come over to be bossy! LOL Masha sent me…

    The best book I’ve read–based on forensics and folklore–deals with how and what happens to bodies after death. It’s back home where I can’t yank it off the shelf and give you the title. Darn it. I’m overseas as an ex-pat this year and don’t have my stuff like my research library!!!

    This book is the scientific analysis of shifters (via anthropology and archaeology) someone geeky like me would enjoy (i.e. She-who-writes-this-stuff-too). LOL I found one book at amazon but can’t guarantee it’s the same book…

    http://www.amazon.com/Vampire-Forensics-Uncovering-Origins-Enduring/dp/B0091XHBQI/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357246380&sr=1-8&keywords=vampire+folklore+and+legend

    That said, you’ve probably read the book!! If not, grab a copy. I love how what happens to a body during decomposition is used to explain folklore and myth (one being actively used and the other from long ago). *wink* Another book that was a dry read but incredibly fruitful is SLAYERS & THEIR VAMPIRES…

    http://www.amazon.com/Slayers-Their-Vampires-Cultural-History/dp/0472069233/ref=pd_sim_b_25

    It reads like a dissertation. So, I don’t recommend it for the average researcher because they’re just wasting their money on a book they won’t finish. THat said, it gave me loads of cool biblical quotes for a character who didn’t want to become a werewolf.

    Both of these books have VAMPIRE on the cover, but those creatures are shifters as well, and both are born from death. So, whoever thinks I’m nuts should think “where” they come from instead of moving on to what appears to be greener werewolf pastures for research. I say this since I’ve written about both vampires and werewolves and suffered through Medieval Literature… (I really loved that course. But don’t tell anyone.)

    Since I can’t remember the first book’s title, I’ll have my mother hunt down the book on my shelves because I was told it was the bible of vampire studies by an insane over-educated vampire author after I accidentally picked it up at a writing conference. If VAMPIRE FORENSICS is just a reprint with a new swankier title, then it’s the book according to this anthropologist. ;P And it’s a MUST READ for everyone doing research who wants to look more closely at shifters beyond a history. Anyway, I will let you know if the author is the same. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED THIS POST and it’s timeline structure. 🙂 I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was being rude by rambling…

    TRIVIA:
    The first thing that popped into my mind with your dates here is…
    Did you know that the Inuit (I think that’s the culture because my copy of Joseph Campbell’s book THE WAY OF THE ANIMAL POWERS is back home) think that a bear is a man in fur because a bear’s skeleton looks like a human’s skeleton? That perception should go back at least 10,000 years…for N. America! I bet some author could have loads of fun with that concept in a were-tale!!!

    Jonathan, if you’d like to share this post at my research blog, I’d love to have you talk it up there! ~Skhye

    (Beth, Masha is Russian! And I love your cover for Kira!)

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  24. Hi Beth and Jonathan! What a fantastic post, couldn’t wait to get home from work to leave a reply 🙂 Thank you both for all this wonderful information! I was thrilled to hear about the 1st werewolf movie made in 1913 (never knew about that one 🙂 now I’m going to try to see if I can find it anywhere) I write about American Indian wolf shapeshifters; and werewolves. My totom is the White wolf, and I’ve studied this magnificient animal for 30 plus years. My dream was always to be a zoologist and I love to study about cryptozoology. Thank you both so much again! Hoping to see Jonathan back as a guest on your blog in the near future again Beth.
    Patty K.

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  25. What an awesome and informative post! I printed it out so I’d have it for reference. Thanks so much. 🙂

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  26. Jonathan, you mentioned that the roots of belief in shapeshifters may come from a need to explain some aberrant human behaviors, but you didn’t mention the Viking berserkers — “bear-shirt wearers”, or warriors believed to be able to take on the strength (and spirit) of a bear during battle. Or even perhaps to turn into bears. It is also an aberrant behavior, but instead of being seen as negative, it’s perceived as a positive trait, if still dangerous — in the way godlike powers are dangerous to humans.

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    • I don’t know anything about these Viking berserkers, also bizarrely intriguing, but I do have a Bearwalking Shawnee Warrior in–wait for it–The Bearwalker’s Daughter, inspired by the NA belief/practice (mind over body and spirit) shared with me by a Shawnee sub-chief. He said this belief/practice predated the modern Shawnee to the far more ancient NA people here before them. He explained he was one of the few who still knew about the old–very old–ways, but had only partially mastered this practice. The ones with the full skill or power could transform themselves into a bear and go wherever they wanted, not deterred by distance or space. Do I believe him? Yes, after a strange experience that transcends logical explanations. Another Shawnee warrior shared with me about his–very real to him–bear spirit guide. After inadvertently offending his bear, the spirit guide could no longer be visible to him, which grieved him deeply, however, he could summon the bear to go and protect the ones he cared about. He sent him to me.

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  27. Wow. I read every word of the post and the comments. I’m usually a skimmer!

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  28. Nice post. Creating animal/human motifs certainly did help people to ‘understand’ their animal nature/behavior. Imagine how comforting it is to have an ‘explanation’ of some kind that accounts for what we don’t otherwise understand. And,in truth, if we are all connected, then expressing our animal nature by becoming four legged animals makes sense, doesn’t it?

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  29. Wow! What an amazing post! Seriously, I had no idea werewolf lore went back so far. And knowing this makes my MLitt in Gothic Literature pale in comparison. Thank you, Jonathan, for educating me a bit today! Oh, and Semper Fi, Marine! 🙂

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    • Thanks for stopping by Keiti. Yes, Isn’t is awesome? Speaking of, My dad and grandfather both served with the Marines. My grandfather was a captain during WW1 in the worst of the fighting in France–Belleau Wood.

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      • Off topic, but one of my more sobering experiences was walking Belleau Wood. It is hard to imagine those Marines charging the German machine guns. That lead to more reading, and I found this type of attack common place. The charge of the Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme is simply unfathomable.

        Mythology takes many forms, as the subject of this post and the subsequent comments reveal. One relating to Belleau Wood is that Marines who drink out of the Devil Dog Fountain, located near the battlefield, gain an extra 20 years of life. Who knows? I was targeted a number of times in Iraq and I am still here. My Thai friends say it was because of a 1,200-year-old Buddhist amulet and a 400-year-old Thai warrior’s amulet (I’ve had Thai generals and Admirals gush over them as “battle-proven) that they gave me, and the legend of the Devil Dog Fountain would point to its protective powers.

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      • Amazing and deeply sobering, Jonathan. fascinating amulets you have. My grandfather was commended for leading those charges at Belleau Wood, and injured several times during the course of the war and nearly killed on more than one occasion. He was saved at one point from a piece of shrapnel by his gold pocket watch. However, I wonder if another was lodged somewhere in him and shifted. He dropped down dead at the age of 41, so no extra 20 years. My dad was only 3. The ripples of his sudden demise spread down through the generations and his grandchildren grieved for the man we didn’t know, but felt we did in a way.

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      • Yes, Beth, it is beyond awesome! My maternal grandfather served in WWII, my father was career Army, and my brother served in the first Gulf War. No Marines in this family! (Sorry, Jonathan!) My grandfather is dead – he, like my brother, never really talked much about his time during the war, so I have no idea what he did or didn’t do. My mom probably knows.

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      • Thanks for sharing that. You should ask her Keiti.

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      • And I meant to reply to Jonathan, as well – having grown up as a Brat, I find tales of serving in war time to be fascinating – mostly because I don’t think that anyone knows exactly what they’re capable of until they’re put in such a life and death situation. An it amazes me that anyone comes out of the battlefield unscathed. The idea of a protective icon as your amulets may have been for you is certainly one to ponder. Whether I believe such things exist or have that magnitude of power, I have no idea, but had I something of the same sort that seemed to keep me safe, I might have more of a definitive opinion.

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  30. Such interesting information. Thanks for sharing! I had no idea that the origins went back so far. Printing the information out to keep on hand is a great idea. Thanks for sharing, Jonathan!

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  31. Fascinating post, Jonathan! I had no idea shape-shifting lore is found in so many cultures. Your theory on the origins of shape-shifting legends is interesting, indeed. I intend to bookmark this post to refer to in the future…awesome information. Thanks so much for sharing your abundant knowledge.

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  32. Great post on werewolves. Very informative and interesting. Thanks for posting it. 🙂

    Melissa Snark
    P.O. Box 1347, Pleasanton, CA 94566
    email: melissasnark@gmail.com
    twitter: @MelissaSnark

    My website: Melissa Snark author site
    Today on my blog: The Queen of Clean

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  33. Fascinating post and great comments. Enjoyed it!

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  34. Pingback: Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson (Berkley X1751 – 1969) | Vintage (and not so vintage) Paperbacks

  35. Pingback: Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson | Excursions Into Imagination

  36. Pingback: Werewolves at their goriest. | fundinmental

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