1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lycanthropy

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LYCANTHROPY (Gr. Λύκος, wolf, άνθρωπος, man), a name employed (1) in folk-lore for the liability or power of a human being to undergo transformation into an animal; (2) in pathology for a form of insanity in which the patient believes that he is transformed into an animal and behaves accordingly.

I. Although the term lycanthropy properly speaking refers to metamorphosis into a wolf (see Werwolf), it is in practice used of transformation into any animal. The Greeks also spoke of kynanthropy (κύων, dog; in India and the Asiatic islands the tiger is the commonest form, in North Europe the bear, in Japan the fox, in Afrika the leopard or hyena, sometimes also the lion, in South America the jaguar; but though there is a tendency for the most important carnivorous animal of the area to take the first place in stories and beliefs as to transformation, the less important beasts of prey and even harmless animals like the deer also figure among the wer-animals.

Lycanthropy is often confused with transmigration; but the essential feature of the wer-animal is that it is the alternative form or the double of a living human being, while the soul-animal is the vehicle, temporary or permanent, of the spirit of a dead human being. The vampire is sometimes regarded as an example of lycanthropy; but it is in human form, sometimes only a head, sometimes a whole body, sometimes that of a living person, at others of a dead man who issues nightly from the grave to prey upon the living.

Even if the denotation of lycanthropy be limited to the animal- metamorphosis of living human beings, the beliefs classed together under this head are far from uniform, and the term is somewhat capriciously applied. The transformation may be voluntary or involuntary, temporary or permanent; the wer-animal may be the man himself metamorphosed, it may be his double whose activity leaves the real man to all appearance unchanged, it may be his soul, which goes forth seeking whom it may devour and leaving its body in a state of trance; or it may be no more than the messenger of the human being, a real animal or a familiar spirit, whose intimate connexion with its owner is shown by the fact that any injury to it is believed, by a phenomenon known as repercussion, to cause a corresponding injury to the human being.

The phenomenon of repercussion, the power of animal metamorphosis, or of sending out a familiar, real or spiritual, as a messenger, and the supernormal powers conferred by association with such a familiar, are also attributed to the magician, male and female, all the world over; and witch superstitions are closely parallel to, if not identical with, lycanthropic beliefs, the occasional involuntary character of lycanthropy being almost the sole distinguishing feature. In another direction the phenomenon of repercussion is asserted to manifest itself in connexion with the bush-soul of the West African and the nagual of Central America; but though there is no line of demarcation to be drawn on logical grounds, the assumed power of the magician and the intimate association of the bush-soul or the nagual with a human being are not termed lycanthropy. Nevertheless it will be well to touch on both these beliefs here.

In North and Central America, and to some extent in West Africa, Australia and other parts of the world, every male acquires at puberty a tutelary spirit (see Demonology); in some tribes of Indians the youth kills the animal of which he dreams in his initiation fast; its claw, skin or feathers are put into a little bag and become his “medicine” and must be carefully retained, for a “medicine” once lost can never be replaced. In West Africa this relation is said to be entered into by means of the blood bond, and it is so close that the death of the animal causes the man to die and vice versa. Elsewhere the possession of a tutelary spirit in animal form is the privilege of the magician. In Alaska the candidate for magical powers has to leave the abodes of men; the chief of the gods sends an otter to meet him, which he kills by saying “O” four times; he then cuts out its tongue and thereby secures the powers which he seeks. The Malays believe that the office of pawang (priest) is only hereditary if the soul of the dead priest, in the form of a tiger, passes into the body of his son. While the familiar is often regarded as the alternative form of the magician, the nagual or bush-soul is commonly regarded as wholly distinct from the human being. Transitional beliefs, however, are found, especially in Africa, in which the power of transformation is attributed to the whole of the population of certain areas. The people of Banana are said to change themselves by magical means, composed of human embryos and other ingredients, but in their leopard form they may do no hurt to mankind under pain of retaining for ever the beast shape. In other cases the change is supposed to be made for the purposes of evil magic and human victims are not prohibited. We can, therefore, draw no line of demarcation, and this makes it probable that lycanthropy is connected with nagualism and the belief in familiar spirits, rather than with metempsychosis, as Dr Tylor argues, or with totemism, as suggested by J. F. M’Lennan. A further link is supplied by the Zulu belief that the magician’s familiar is really a transformed human being; when he finds a dead body on which he can work his spells without fear of discovery, the wizard breathes a sort of life into it, which enables it to move and speak, it being thought that some dead wizard has taken possession of it. He then burns a hole in the head and through the aperture extracts the tongue. Further spells have the effect of changing the revivified body into the form of some animal, hyena, owl or wild cat, the latter being most in favour. This creature then becomes the wizard’s servant and obeys him in all things; its chief use is, however, to inflict sickness and death upon persons who are disliked by its master.

Lycanthropy in Europe. - The wolf is the commonest form of the wer-animal (see Werwolf), though in the north the bear disputes its pre-eminence. In ancient Greece the dog was also associated with the belief. Marcellus of Sida, who wrote under the Antonines, gives an account of a disease which befell people in February; but a pathological state seems to be meant.

Lycanthropy in Africa. - In Abyssinia the power of transformation is attributed to the Boudas, and at the same time we have records of pathological lycanthropy (see below). Blacksmiths are credited with magical powers in many parts of the world, and it is significant that the Boudas are workers in iron and clay; in the Life of N. Pearce (i. 287) a European observer tells a story of a supposed transformation which took place in his presence and almost before his eyes; but it does not appear how far hallucination rather than coincidence must be invoked to explain the experience.

The Wer-tiger of the East Indies. - The Poso-Alfures of central Celebes believe that man has three souls, the inosa, the angga and the tanoana. The inosa is the vital principle; it can be detected in the veins and arteries; it is given to man by one of the great natural phenomena, more especially the wind. The angga is the intellectual part of man; its seat is unknown; after death it goes to the under-world, and, unlike the mosa, which is believed to be dissolved into its original elements, takes possession of an immaterial body. The tanoana is the divine in man and after death returns to its lord, Poewempala boeroe. It goes forth during sleep, and all that it sees it whispers into the sleeper’s ear and then he dreams. According to another account, the tanoana is the substance by which man lives, thinks and acts; the tanoana of man. plants and animals is of the same nature. A man’s tanoana can be strengthened by those of others; when the tanoana is long away or destroyed the man dies. The tanoana seems to be the soul of which lycanthropic feats are asserted.

Among the Toradjas of central Celebes it is believed that a man’s “inside” can take the form of a cat, wild pig, ape, deer or other animal, and afterwards resume human form; it is termed lamboyo. The exact relation of the lamboyo to the tanoana does not seem to be settled; it will be seen below that the view seems to vary. According to some the power of transformation is a gift of the gods, but others hold that werwolfism is contagious and may be acquired by eating food left by a werwolf or even by leaning one’s head against the same pillar. The Todjoers hold that any one who touches blood becomes a werwolf. In accordance with this view is the belief that werwolfism can be cured; the breast and stomach of the werman must be rubbed and pinched, just as when any other witch object has to be extracted. The patient drinks medicine, and the contagion leaves the body in the form of snakes and worms. There are certain marks by which a werman can be recognized. His eyes are unsteady and sometimes green with dark shadows underneath. He does not sleep soundly and fireflies come out of his mouth. His lips remain red in spite of betel chewing, and he has a long tongue. The Todjoers add that his hair stands on end.

Some of the forms of the lamboyo are distinguishable from ordinary animals by the fact that they run about among the houses; the werbuffalo has only one horn, and the wer-pig transforms itself into an ants’ nest, such as hangs from trees. Some say that the werman does not really take the form of an animal himself, but, like the sorcerer, only sends out a messenger. The lamboyo attacks by preference solitary individuals, for he does not like to be observed. The victim feels sleepy and loses consciousness; the lamboyo then assumes human form (his body being, however, still at home) and cuts up his victim, scattering the fragments all about. He then takes the liver and eats it, puts the body together again, licks it with his long tongue and joins it together. When the victim comes to himself again he has no idea that anything unusual has happened to him. He goes home, but soon begins to feel unwell. In a few days he dies, but before his death he is able sometimes to name the werman to whom he has fallen a victim.

From this account it might be inferred that the lamboyo was identical with the tanoana; the absence of the lamboyo seems to entail a condition of unconsciousness, and it can assume human form. In other cases, however, the lamboyo seems to be analogous to the familiar of the sorcerer. The Toradjas tell a story of how a man once came to a house and asked the woman to give him a rendezvous; it was night and she was asleep; the question was put three times before the answer was given “in the tobacco plantation.” The husband was awake, and next day followed his wife, who was irresistibly drawn thither. The werman came to meet her in human form, although his body was engaged in building a new house, and caused the woman to faint by stamping three times on the ground. Thereupon the husband attacked the werman with a piece of wood, and the latter to escape transformed himself into a leaf; this the husband put into a piece of bamboo and fastened the ends so that he could not escape. He then went back to the village and put the bamboo in the fire. The werman said “Don’t,” and as soon as it was burnt he fell dead.

In another case a woman died, and, as her death was believed to be due to the malevolence of a werwolf, her husband watched by her body. For, like Indian witches, the werwolf, for some reason, wishes to revive his victim and comes in human form to carry off the coffin. As soon as the woman was brought to life the husband attacked the werwolf, who transformed himself into a piece of wood and was burnt. The woman remained alive, but her murderer died the same night.

According to a third form of the belief, the body of the werman is itself transformed. One evening a man left the hut in which a party were preparing to pass the night; one of his companions heard a deer and fired into the darkness. Soon after the man came back and said he had been shot. Although no marks were to be seen he died a few days later.

In Central Java we meet with another kind of wer-tiger. The power of transformation is regarded as due to inheritance, to the use of spells, to fasting and will-power, to the use of charms, &c. Save when it is hungry or has just cause for revenge it is not hostile to man; in fact, it is said to take its animal form only at night and to guard the plantations from wild pigs, exactly as the balams (magicians) of Yucatan were said to guard the corn fields in animal form. Variants of this belief assert that the werman does not recognize his friends unless they call him by name, or that he goes out as a mendicant and transforms himself to take vengeance on those who refuse him alms. Somewhat similar is the belief of the Khonds; for them the tiger is friendly; he reserves his wrath for their enemies, and a man is said to take the form of a tiger in order to wreak a just vengeance.

Lycanthropy in South America. - According to K. F. P. v. Martius the kanaima is a human being who employs poison to carry out his function of blood avenger; other authorities represent the kanaima as a jaguar, which is either an avenger of blood or the familiar of a cannibalistic sorcerer. The Europeans of Brazil hold that the seventh child of the same sex in unbroken succession becomes a wer-man or woman, and takes the form of a horse, goat, jaguar or pig.

II. As a pathological state lycanthropy may be described as a kind of hysteria, and may perhaps be brought into connexion with the form of it known as latah. It is characterized by the patient’s belief that he has been metamorphosed into an animal, and is often accompanied by a craving for strange articles of food, including the flesh of living beings or of corpses. In the lower stages of culture the state of the patient is commonly explained as due to possession, but where he leaves the neighbourhood of man real metamorphosis may be asserted, as in ordinary lycanthropic beliefs. Marcellus of Sida says that in Greece the patients frequented the tombs at night; they were recognizable by their yellow complexion, hollow eyes and dry tongue. The Garrows of India are said to tear their hair when they are seized with the complaint, which is put down to the use of a drug applied to the forehead; this recalls the stories of the witch’s salve in Europe. In Abyssinia the patient is usually a woman; two forms are distinguished, caused by the hyena and the leopard respectively. A kind of trance ushers in the fit; the fingers are clenched, the eyes glazed and the nostrils distended; the patient, when she comes to herself, laughs hideously and runs on all fours. The exorcist is a blacksmith; as a rule, he applies onion or garlic to her nose and proceeds to question the evil spirit.

BIBLI0GRAPHY. - For the anthropological side of the subject see bibliography to WERWOLF; also Tijdskrift voor indische Taal, Land en Volkenkunde, xxviii. 338, xli. 548, 568; Med. Zendelingsgenootschap, xxxix. 3, 16; O. Stoll, Suggestion, p. 418; W. H. Brett, Indians of British Guiana.

For the pathological side, see Hack Tuke, Dict, of Psychological Medicine, s.v. “Lycanthropy”; Dict. des sciences médicales; Waldmeier, Autobiography, p. 64; A. J. Hayes, Source of Blue Nile, p. 286 seq.; Abh. phil.-hist. Klasse kgl. sächsische Gesellschaft der Wiss. 17, No. 3. (N. W. T.)