I dreamt of werewolves last night. And with good reason. On New Year’s Eve I attended a party with a dozen or so friends and we played a game called Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. Most of the people there know me as a staunch wolf supporter and so they assured me that the game held no ill-will against wolves. And they were right. As if turned out, the werewolves had by far the most fun.
The legend of werewolves goes back to early Greek times. Herodotus wrote of these bloodthirsty beasts in his Histories. Ovid spoke of them in Metamorphosis, as did Virgil in the Aeneid. Werewolves were primarily a European myth, but the idea of humans changing into beasts is known in many cultures. When I worked on the Navajo reservation I recall the native people discussing Skin-walkers, people who shifted uneasily into the form of a wild animal or a demon. This was serious talk, Skin-walkers still existed on the rez.
Werewolves are also known as Lycanthropes. This is a name I have known for many years as my father, the ever-intriguing man he was, believed he was a Lycanthrope. He had been told that a birthmark on his chest was proof of this special quality and when the moon was full he would tease us that at any moment he would grow long of tooth and thick of hair. He was thrilled to have this birthmark because wolves were among his favorite animals. As director of a zoo and guardian of dozens of species he believed that all animals were created equal but some were more equal than others. By this he meant wolves and tigers.
The game we played last night was an intriguing blend of strategy and secrecy. We were each appointed a role that we kept to ourselves, one of which was werewolf. Others characters were villager, hunter, fortune-teller, little girl, and judge. The goal was to try to figure out who was a werewolf and order them lynched them before they devoured the village. But werewolves are stealthy and do a good job keeping their mouths shut when they need to. I was a werewolf twice last night, and for a few moments I allowed myself to imagine the fear-provoking power these mythological beast have held over humans for centuries.
It is said that the legend of the werewolf may have stemmed from early serial killers who murdered their victims and did awful things to their bodies. This was long before CSI and people had no answer to the killings. Blaming a wolf for what cannot be explained is not a new phenomena.
It’s helpful to know the history of our battle as we continue to stand up against misinformation and folklore involving wolves. In some people’s estimation the wolf that struggles to survive today is no less fearsome than the Lycanthrope of early Europe. Sadly, this irrational fear is sublimated into hatred. And what of the human aspect of the werewolf, the part of the beast that is in all of us? Perhaps we need to come to terms with our own predatory nature, accept it, and then learn to lead it on a golden leash, as my friend Marla Estes says. If our species ever advances this far the war between animals and humans will cease to exist. There will no longer be the projection of our own unsavory characteristics onto others. Nor will there be the compelling need to control and destroy life forms that we do not understand. We will live and let live. Finally.