Origin of the Werewolf Legend

The werewolf legend dates back to 1590, when it began to spread in small European villages. These villages were plagued by wolves, but it was a mass murderer named Peter Stubbe who became the horrible link between wolf attacks and a deranged person, even though he may have been an innocent man.

The Story of Peter Stubbe
Peter Stubbe was a wealthy, widowed landowner who lived with two children in Cologne. Details of his life before his trial and execution for witchcraft are unknown. The story of his trial is recounted in a German pamphlet that was translated into English in 1590.

Under the pain of torture, Stubbe claimed he massacred children, women and men in the woods of Bedburg over 20 years, drinking their blood and eating the bodies. He even claimed that he murdered his own son, along with livestock and wild animals whose blood he drank. Stubbe claimed the Devil had given him a belt that allowed him to transform into a wolf, earning him the nickname, "The Werewolf of Bedburg."

Because Stubbe's confession was obtained under torture, there are real questions about its authenticity or whether any of these crimes actually took place. The exact reason for his arrest is also unknown.

The Werewolf Legend Spreads
In time, people developed stories about man-wolf combinations, the moon and savage murders. It's easy to see how these stories could have developed from the original Peter Stubbe story, which is exceedingly gruesome. Modern movies and horror stories add to these frightening ideas, spreading the werewolf legend better known and giving it supernatural elements.

The modern werewolf is often a sympathetic character, unable to control his change or his behavior in altered form. While some early stories and legends have the werewolf as a part man, part wolf, others have the man transformed completely to a wolf. A man becomes a werewolf by surviving an attack from another werewolf. When the moon is full, the man transforms into a wolf and seeks human and animal victims. Bullets made from pure silver are the only way to kill a werewolf. 

Of course, in real life no one turns to a werewolf. But the fears that began the legend were real and have historical origins.

Medical Origins
There is a rare medical disorder in which a person grows excess hair all over the body. This is called Hypertrichosis, also known as Werewolf Syndrome. Those afflicted with Porphyria may develop mental disorders or depression because they shun society to hide their unusual bodies. 

There is also a mental illness called Clinical Lycanthropy in which a person believes he or she can actually transform into a wolf. Behaving as a wolf, disguising oneself and committing violent acts of aggression doesn't make a person a wolf. Those individuals need psychiatric help before they cause harm to others. 

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