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Becoming a Werewolf: Ancient Shamanic Dog Magic

Wolf
"Canines of all kinds are some of the most commonly cited totemic ancestors and tribal as well as personal totems of people practicing magic even today. To those who practice Norse magic (Seidr) the wolf is a powerful totem and spiritual force, and Asatru followers even today use this power in their work. Magical possession by this power for the Vikings and others conferred great strength, bravery, and fierceness as well as resistance to pain and injury. This is likely how the 'werewolf' legends arose."
The Book of Dog Magic

Stories of werewolves and their process of transformation have been with us for thousands of years; my discovery is that the historical and mythic roots seem to directly connect with the Horned God and shamanic practices. While wolves are known as the first canines to bond with humans at the dawn of time, the roots of this primal magic still reside today in our hearts and in our loyal canine companions.

Werewolves continue to capture the imagination, as they have for literally thousands of years. Ancient Greek writers discussed the phenomena and noted several ways one could transform into a Beast. Similar stories can be found all over the world, often taking on the attributes and aspects of the totemic animals of those cultures. There are European and Russian stories of werewolves as there are Greek and Roman ones. In China there are were-tigers, in Japan, were-foxes and bears, in the Congo there are were-jackals. Many people in many countries have been magickally transforming into different kinds of animals for centuries. It seems there are two intertwining threads here, the Mythical and the Magickal.

As a hunter follows old tracks and spoor of a wolf through hills and forests, so too will I track down the telltale myths and symbols scattered here and there. Who knows who we will bump into? What follows is simply a little stalking. My simple thesis (and not an original one) is this:

Werewolves as we know them are a collection of mythic patterns of magickal transformation and evolution—the right brain/left brain struggle of the Beast and Angel, the Self and Shadow. Unleash the Shadow (or wolf), the story goes, and you get great power and physical strength (werewolves are said to be virtually immortal and can regenerate), but you also unleash bloodlust and the purely aggressive animal being (claws, fangs, and all). People often get hurt. Houses get trashed. Lots of clothing gets ripped and sheep go missing. This is scary stuff.

On the other hand, the werewolf meme points to a very important (can I say Typhonian?) primal magick in operation here: Maybe the oldest magick of them all: Animism/Animal Magick. Lycanthropy, we believe, is one of the paw-prints of this ancient pre-aeonic strata of magick. Hunting magick, communion with the animal spirits, trance-possession by animal spirits (still happening today in many countries to many shamans) and animal spirit worship.

Keeping the above in mind, let's take a quick look at what various bits of folklore teach us about "how to become a werewolf." What mythic or shamanic secrets does this process reveal?

Basically, you can become a werewolf in two different ways:

  1. You can be born one:
    Folklore tells us that some say people can be born as werewolves as a result of a curse being put on an infant or a pregnant mother. Others mention a curse for those born on Christmas. Why? That birthday is an affront to God it seems, so you must suffer. Go figure. Still other sources simply say that there are lineages of werewolves among us, that some families have the "Lycanthropy gene," if you will. Born under a full moon, but not always a bad moon! Romulus and Remus were raised by Lupa, the eternal spirit guardian of Rome, and thus all romans venerated wolves and "their children," dogs. The ancient divine Germanic hero Siegfried was abandoned at birth and raised by a she-wolf. Tu Kueh, the mythic hero who founded the Turkic peoples in prehistory, was raised by a "blue" she wolf. There are many such examples of demi-gods born from or raised by a sacred wolf. These were forever known as filled with wolf power and magic: werewolves.

    Such "wolf" people were often looked up to as warriors and leaders in ancient cultures, including Viking "berserkers" and Celtic Druids who were said to be able to shape-shift into wolf forms. Some claim that hereditary werewolves can be nice and not kill humans, but people who become werewolves due to curses are simply cursed forever, according to later Christian myths (which also maintained that all werewolves headed to hell).

  2. You can become a werewolf through Sorcery, Wirchcraft, or Magic:
    From ancient times it has been said said that a shaman or sorcerer can make you a werewolf through a ritual or spell, or that you can do a ritual yourself to become one. Since, magically, this is the juiciest way to become a werewolf, let's look at what kinds of rituals we are talking about. Here are some ritual components, often mentioned in several traditional Western grimoires or books of magic concerning werewolf rituals:
    • Wearing a wolf skin or a magical belt of wolf or of human skin will make you one under the right conditions.
    • Using a psychoactive ointment can do it, too: smearing one's body with, for example, "boiled wolfs-bane, opium, foxgloves, bat blood, and the fat of a murdered child." Other recipes for werewolf "body-rub" call for such ingredients as hemlock, poppy seed, belladonna, nightshade, and animal fat of some kind (usually that of a wolf). That is a lot of psychoactive ingredients! A brew like this was often to be cooked up in an iron cauldron, in a thrice-cast circle, during such self-transformation rites, before being rubbed on the body or eaten.
    • Another way to become a werewolf is to ritually eating the brains of an animal a wolf has killed or by eating the flesh of a wolf itself. Cooked, one hopes.
    • Or, you could ritually drinking rain water collected in a wolf-print or go drink from a wolf watering hole. There is a "Lobo Bar" in our town (one wonders if this counts, but probably not).
    • Another ritual for wolf transformation is jumping over a log, stabbing it with a copper knife, and uttering an incantation; this rite is from Russia.
    • Another ritual explicitly calls for the casting of a circle in the woods and invoking (and I love this one) the "Lord of the Forest." In 1603, a twelve-year-old shepherd boy, Jean Grenier, claimed that, "the Lord of the Forest," had given him a magical wolf skin and ointment that turned him into a wolf.

Looking at all these surviving bits of folklore and spells together, it seems that we have the ingredients for an animistic shamanic animal/spirit trance-ritual-worship. Magical links and tools (the wolf skin, the cauldron, the cast circle), presumably psychoactive or empowered sacraments (drug-filled rubs and potions, wolf or animal flesh, special wolf-water) and specific chants or words of power (spells, prayers, howls) directed to the shadowy source of all this dark, looming magick: the one called the Devil by Christians but who is really "The Lord of the Forest."

Who is this Shadow lord of Wolfish transformation? In my opinion, a good case could be made for the Great Beastly Horned God himself, known by many names such as Pan and Faunus.

Thousands of years ago, in Northern Greece, wolves were associated with the cult of Pan, as was "wolf mountain." Later, a Roman festival carried on several of the ritual actions and ideals that the cult of Pan had perpetuated through the "Festival of the Wolves," Lupercalia. During this festival, naked men (Luperci or "wolf wardens") in goat skins ran about the town whipping and likely mating with willing women who needed help with fertility. The festival was named after Lupercus ("wolf god"), i.e. Faunus.

Of course the Christian Devil took on the appearance of Panor Faunus (horns, hooves, night time raves, etc.), and authors like Margret Murrey indicate the survival of "witchcults" in Europe that continued to worship "olde hornie" or "Krampus" into the present. It seems reasonable to assume that ancient animal/animist magicks were part and parcel of these survivals. Such "wolf shamans" would be most certainly twisted by the Church into werewolves.

We could stalk the werewolf gnosis further, exploring all the information available about Viking/Seidr Wolf berserkers or exploring the links to Shiva (Pashupati, the "Lord of Beasts"), but that is enough for one little ramble through the dark woods and it is a full moon tonight… and so I must be loping on my way.

Io Pan!

Bibliography:

  • Adkins, Lesley and Roy. Dictionary of Roman Religion, New York: Facts on File Publishing 1993.
  • Andrews, Tamra. A Dictionary of Nature Myths. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Andrews, Ted. Animal Speak. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1993.
  • Fogle, Bruce. The Encyclopedia of the Dog. New York; DK Publishing, 1995.
  • Matthews, John and Caitlin. The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2005.
  • Walker, Barbara. The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row San Francisco 1983.
  • Walker, Benjamin. The Encyclopedia of the Occult the Esoteric and the Supernatural. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1977.

About Denny Sargent

Denny Sargent (Seattle, WA) is a writer, artist, and university instructor who has a master's degree in history/intercultural communications. He has been an initiate of a number of esoteric traditions and groups, including ...

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