The transformation of a human being into an animal. The
belief is an ancient one. The term derives from the Greek words
lukos, a wolf, and anthropos, a man, but it is employed regarding
a transformation into any animal shape. It is chiefly in those
countries where wolves are numerous that we find such tales
concerning them. But in India and some parts of Asia, the tiger
takes the place of the wolf. In Russia and elsewhere it is the
bear, and in Africa the leopard.
Such beliefs generally adhere to savage animals, but even
harmless ones sometimes figure in them. There is considerable
confusion as to whether such transformations were voluntary or
involuntary, temporary or permanent. The human being transformed
into the animal may be the physical individual or, on
the other hand, may be only a double, that is, the human spirit
may enter the animal but the human body remain unchanged.
Magicians and witches were credited with the power of
transforming themselves into wolves and other animal shapes,
and it was asserted that if the animal were wounded, then the
marks of the wound would be discovered upon the wizard’s
body. The belief was current in many tribal cultures that every
individual possessed an animal form, which could be entered
at death or at will. This transformation was effected either by
magic or natural agency.
As mentioned, the wolf was a common form of animal transformation
in Europe. In ancient Greece, the belief was associated
with the dog, which took the place of the wolf. Other similar
beliefs have been found in India and Java. In the former country
we find the werewolf in a kind of vampire form.
Magical Transformation
The seventeenth-century writer Louis Guyon related the
history of an enchanter who used to change himself into different
‘‘Certain people persuaded Ferdinand, first Emperor of
that name, to command the presence of a Polish enchanter and
magician in the town of Nuremberg to learn the result of a difference
he had with the Turks, concerning the kingdom of
Hungary; and not only did the magician make use of divination,
but performed various other marvels, so that the king did
not wish to see him, but the courtiers introduced him into his
chamber. There he did many wonderful things, among others,
he transformed himself into a horse, anointing himself with
some grease, then he took the shape of an ox, and thirdly that
of a lion, all in less than an hour. The emperor was so terrified
by these transformations that he commanded that the magician
should be immediately dismissed, and declined to hear the future
from the lips of such a rascal.
‘‘It need no longer be doubted [that Lucius Apuleius Plato
was a sorcerer, and that he] was transformed into an ass, forasmuch
as he was charged with it before the proconsul of Africa,
in the time of the Emperor Antonine I, in the year 150 A.D., as
Apollonius of Tyana, long before, in the year 60, was charged
before Domitian with the same crime. And more than three
years after, the rumour persisted to the time of St. Augustine,
who was an African, who has written and confirmed it; as also
in his time the father of one Prestantius was transformed into
a horse, as the said Prestantius declared. Augustine’s father
having died, in a short time the son had wasted the greater part
of his inheritance in the pursuit of the magic arts, and in order
to flee poverty he sought to marry a rich widow named Pudentille,
for such a long time that at length she consented. Soon
after her only son and heir, the child of her former marriage,
died. These things came about in a manner which led people
to think that he had by means of magic entrapped Pudentille,
who had been wooed in vain by several illustrious people, in
order to obtain the wealth of her son. It was also said that the
profound knowledge he possessed—for he was able to solve difficult
questions which left other men bewildered—was obtained
from a demon or familiar spirit he possessed. Further, certain
people said they had seen him do many marvellous things, such
as making himself invisible, transforming himself into a horse
or into a bird, piercing his body with a sword without wounding
himself, and similar performances. He was at last accused by
one Sicilius Œmilianus, the censor, before Claudius Maximus,
proconsul of Africa, who was said to be a Christian; but nothing
was found against him.
‘‘Now, that he had been transformed into an ass, St. Augustine
regards as indubitable, he having read it in certain true
and trustworthy authors, and being besides of the same country;
and this transformation happened to him in Thessaly before
he was versed in magic, through the spell of a sorceress,
who sold him, and who recovered him to his former shape after
he had served in the capacity of an ass for some years, having
the same powers and habits of eating and braying as other
asses, but with a mind still sane and reasonable as he himself
attested. And at last to show forth his case, and to lend probability
to the rumour, he wrote a book entitled The Golden Ass,
a mélange of fables and dialogues, to expose the vices of the
men of his time, which he had heard of, or seen, during his
transformation, with many of the labours and troubles he had
suffered while in the shape of an ass.
‘‘However that may be, St. Augustine in the book of the City
of God, book XVIII, chapters XVII and XVIII, relates that in his
time there were in the Alps certain sorceresses who gave a particular
kind of cheese to the passers by, who, on partaking of
it, were immediately changed into asses or other beasts of burden,
and were made to carry heavy weights to certain places.
When their task was over, they were permitted to regain their
human shape.
‘‘The bishop of Tyre, historian, writes that in his time, probably
about 1220, some Englishmen were sent by their king to
the aid of the Christians who were fighting in the Holy Land,
and that on their arrival in a haven of the island of Cyprus a
sorceress transformed a young English soldier into an ass. He,
wishing to return to his companions in the ship, was chased
away with blows from a stick, whereupon he returned to the sorceress
who made use of him, until someone noticed that the ass
kneeled in a church and did various other things which only a
reasoning being could do. The sorceress who followed him was
taken on suspicion before the authorities, was obliged to give
him his human form three years after his transformation, and
was forthwith executed.
‘‘We read that Ammonius, a peripatetic philosopher, about
the time of Lucius Septimius Severus, in the year 196 A.D., had
present at his lessons an ass whom he taught. I should think
that this ass had been at one time a man, and that he quite understood
what Ammonius taught, for these transformed persons
retain their reason unimpaired, as St. Augustine and other
writers have assured us.
‘‘Fulgose writes, book VIII, chapter II, that in the time of
Pope Leon, who lived about the year 930, there were in Germany
two sorceresses who used thus to change their guests into
Lutoslawski, Wincenty Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
beasts, and on one occasion she changed a young mountebank
into an ass, who, preserving his human understanding, gave a
great deal of amusement to the passers-by. A neighbour of the
sorceresses bought the ass at a good price, but was warned by
them that he must not take the beast to a river, or he would lose
it. Now the ass escaped one day and running to a near-by lake
plunged into the water, when he returned to his own shape. Apuleius
says that he regained his human form by eating roses.
‘‘There are still to be seen in Egypt asses which are led into
the market-place to perform various feats of agility and tricks,
understanding all the commands they receive, and executing
them such as to point out the most beautiful woman of the
company, and many other things that one would hardly believe;
and Belon, a physician, relates in his observations that he
has seen them, and others also, who have been there, and who
have affirmed the same to me.’’
Augustin Calmet, author of The Phantom World (2 vols.,
1850), stated
‘‘One day there was brought to St. Macarius, the Egyptian,
an honest woman who had been transformed into a mare by the
wicked art of a magician. Her husband and all who beheld her
believed that she had really been changed into a mare. This
woman remained for three days without taking any food,
whether suitable for a horse or for a human being. She was
brought to the priests of the place, who could suggest no remedy.
So they led her to the cell of St. Macarius, to whom God had
revealed that she was about to come. His disciples wished to
send her away, thinking her a mare, and they warned the saint
of her approach, and the reason for her journey. He said to
them ‘It is you who are the animals, who think you see that
which is not; this woman is not changed, but your eyes are bewitched.’
As he spoke he scattered holy water on the head of the
woman, and all those present saw her in her true shape. He had
something given her to eat and sent her away safe and sound
with her husband.’’
Modern Beliefs in Transformation
Belief in transformation of human beings into predatory animals
persisted into relatively modern times in Africa, India,
Java, Malaya, and other countries. In Africa there were tiger
men and even a leopard society of wizards. It seems very likely,
however, that many apparent cases of transformation were effected
by wearing the skin of an animal when hunting victims.
In some cases there may have been a perverse desire for blooddrinking
or cannibalism, as in the celebrated sixteenth-century
case of the French lycanthrope Gilles Garnier.
In July 1919 the Journal of the SPR published a summary of
Richard Bagot’s article, ‘‘The Hyaenas of Pirra’’ (Cornhill Magazine,
October 1918), in which some experiences were reported
by a Lieutenant F. personally and an experience of the late
Capt. Shott, D.S.O. dealt with the killing of Nigerians when in
the form of supposed hyenas. The main facts, which deeply impressed
the officers were as follows
‘‘Raiding hyenas were wounded by gun-traps, and tracked
in each case to a point where the hyena traces ceased and were
succeeded by human footprints, which made for the native
town. At each shooting a man mysteriously dies in the town, all
access being refused to the body. In Lieut. F.’s experiences the
death wail was raised in the town almost immediately after the
shot; but Capt. Shott does not mention this. In Capt. Shott’s experience
the beast was an enormous brute, readily trackable,
which after being hard hit made off through the guinea-corn.
It was promptly tracked, and a spot was come upon where ‘they
found the jaw of the beast lying near a large pool of blood.’
Soon after the tracks reached a path leading to the native town.
The natives next day came to Capt. Shott—and this is the curious
part of the affair—and told him, without any regrets, that
he had shot the Nefada—a lesser head-man—who was then
lying dead with his jaw shot away. The natives gave their reasons
as having seen and spoken to the Nefada, as he was, by his
own admission, going into the bush. They heard the gun and
saw him return with his head all muffled up and walking like
a very sick man. On going next morning to see what was the
matter . . . they found him as stated.’’
Mr. Bagot, a member of the SPR, added in response to further
‘‘In the article in question I merely reproduced verbatim the
reports and letters sent to the said official . . . by British officers
well known to him, and said that the authenticity and good
faith of the writers can be vouched for entirely. I have evidence
of precisely similar occurrences that have come under the notice
of Italian officers in Eritrea and Somaliland; and in all cases
it would seem that a gravel patch thrown up by the small black
ants is necessary to the process of metamorphosis. I drew the
attention of Sir James G. Frazer (author of The Golden Bough)
to this coincidence and asked him if he had come across in his
researches anything which might explain the connection between
gravel thrown up by the ants and the power of projection
into animal forms; but he informed me that, so far as he could
recollect, he had not done so. Italian officials and big game
hunters assure me that it is considered most dangerous (by natives
in Somaliland, Abyssinia, etc.) to sleep on ground thrown
up by ants; the belief being that anyone who does so is liable
to be possessed or obsessed by some wild animal, and that this
obsession once having taken place, the victim is never afterwards
able entirely to free himself from it and is compelled periodically
to assume the form and habits of some beast or reptile.’’
Psychic Aspects
Psychic research does not normally admit such phenomena
as lycanthropy within its scope, but there are two possible
points of contact. The first is the projection of the double (or
astral body), provided it could be proved that the double may
assume any desired shape. Eugen Rochas asserted that the
double of his hypnotic subject, on being so suggested, assumed
the shape of her mother. If it were proved that the shape of animals
could be assumed, we would have to consider lycanthropy
as a psychic possibility. But the animal, in that case, would not
be more than a phantom, and we would have to prove that this
phantom can be hurt and transfer, by repercussion, the wound
to the projector.
The second possibility brings us nearer to this aspect of the
problem. Paul Joire succeeded in transferring the exteriorized
sensitivity of his subject to a figure made of putty. If the hand
of the putty figure was scratched by a needle, a corresponding
red mark appeared on the somnambule’s hand.
The question arises would it not be possible to transfer sensitivity
to a living being, to an animal In that case it would be
natural to expect a repercussion from the animal to the human
Baring-Gould, Sabine. The Book of Were-Wolves. London,
1865. Reprint, New York Causeway Books, 1973.
Hamel, Frank. Human Animals. London, 1915. University
Books, 1969.
Kaigh, Frederick. Witchcraft and Magic of Africa. London
Richard Lesley, 1947.
Maclean, Charles. The Wolf Children. Hill & Wang, 1977.
Summers, Montague. The Werewolf. London, 1933. University
Books, 1966.
Woodward, Ian. The Werewolf Delusion. London & New York
Paddington Press, 1979.