New Year, New Full Moon, HOWL!

New Year, New Full Moon, HOWL!

lone-wolf-moon2Tonight is the first ever full moon of 2013. Yesterday, when I was preparing for a Tour Of the Universe, I read that this particular full moon bears the name “The Wolf Moon” by the Algonquin Native Americans. They had a name for each full moon of the month. This got me thinking, why do the Moon, and wolves play such important parts in myth and folklore, and do wolves really respond to the Moon? Even more interesting, where does the myth of the werewolf, a man who turns into a wolf when the Moon is full come from? So, loyal readers and subscribers, here is my research on these fascinating topics.

Why is it called a Wolf Moon?

According to Space.com, in the cold of early January, wolves howled constantly outside native american villages, and this is where the name came from. The question now is, did the wolves howl because of the Moon, or because they were hungry in the cold winter months?

The Science Behind Wolves and Full Moons

Sorry to disappoint you, but according to How Stuff Works.com, there is no correlation between wolves and howling at the Moon. The real reason wolves howl, is to signal to other wolves, which they would especially have to do in winter, when food is scarce. So, the only correlation between the wolves and the moon, is that they howl at night, and we can see them better during a Full Moon.

So, what do the Native Americans say about wolves and werewolves?

Native American Totem SymbolHere’s another surprise- It turns out that in general, Native Americans respect and admire wolves; they don’t fear them like in our culture. Because wolves work together in packs, they are respected as social animals, who are compassionate and care for their own kind. One site I visited describe people born under wolf moon like the astrological sign Pisces.

As for werewolves, a lot of you probably associate Native American werewolves with the kind portrayed in the book/movie series Twilight. Well, in Navajo folklore, there is a term called a Skin-Walker, which is technically a witch that can take the form of most any animal, not just a wolf. These are not the Team Jacob werewolves, they are cruel, malevolent, and spend most of their time cursing people. To cure this kind of lycanthropy (werewolf disease), the Skin Walker has to be brought to a medicine man. The belief in Skin Walkers continues to this day among the Navajo, just like other forms of werewolves.

Other forms of Werewolves in Fiction

If a wolf sees a man before the man sees the wolf, the man will lose his voice. If the man sees the wolf first, the wolf can no longer be fierce. If a man loses his voice because the wolf saw him first, he should take off all his clothes and bang two rocks together, which will keep the wolf from attacking -Pliny the Elder, 1st Century.

In western culture, wolves themselves are often associated with negative qualities, especially greed, ruthlessness, and cold-blooded murder. It was only natural that stories would arise of men, who have those same qualities, would turn into wolves themselves. The Greeks gave wolves the name  lukos or Lupus, which comes from the word for blood. Also, there is an old tradition that some Greek villages knew how to conjure werewolves by hanging their clothes on an oak-tree in a certain marsh. Moreover, the philosopher Plato wrote a story about a tyrant who turned into a wolf. These stories and myths transferred down the ages until the myth evolved into a huge full-fledged phenomenon

woodcut of a German werewolf hunt, 1500s.

woodcut of a German werewolf hunt, 1500s.

With the advent of Christianity, werewolves became the work of the devil, prompting numerous witch hunts and werewolf hunts in the 15th and 16th centuries. Even King James of England wrote about them in his 17th century book Deomonology. The English of this period did not believe that werewolves were real, transformed wolves, but actually a mental illness, evidenced by this passage from the play The Dutchess Of Malfi:

In those that are possess'd with 't there o'erflows 
Such melancholy humour they imagine 
Themselves to be transformed into wolves ; 
Steal forth to church-yards in the dead of night, 
And dig dead bodies up : as two nights since 
One met the duke 'bout midnight in a lane 
Behind Saint Mark's church, with the leg of a man 
Upon his shoulder ; and he howl'd fearfully ; 
Said he was a wolf, only the difference 
Was, a wolfs skin was hairy on the outside, 
His on the inside. 

In Catholic countries like France however, the myth of the demonic wolf was alive and well. In France alone, there were 20,000 werewolf trials during this period! This was the heyday of werewolf paranoia, and it continued for over two hundred years.

Illustration for Little Red Riding Hood by Walter Crane (1896).

Illustration for Little Red Riding Hood by Walter Crane (1896).

In the 18th and 19th century, the belief in werewolves mostly faded away, although the Brothers Grimm managed to re-create the wolf myths in their 1815 book, taking all the dark and terror of the wolf, and putting it into stories for children. A lot of the origins for these stories came from the ancient legends of the German countryside, which probably had their origins back in Greece. Officially, the source for the Grimm’s version of Little Red, came from a French story from Charles Perrault in the 17th century. If you’d like to read one of the earliest versions, click here: http://littleredridinghoodmyths.blogspot.com/

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q77sJT8O56E]

 
Nowadays there are few cases of the mental illness that today is known as lycanthropy. Like the quote above from Dutchess Of Malfi, people still fear that they are turning into wolves, probably because of the dark symbolism associated with western werewolf myths. I like to think that having a larger perspective about wolves and wolf myths might help people to look at both the positive and negative in the animal, and thus, the positive and negative within themselves.

Of course, that whirlwind tour doesn’t scratch the surface of werewolf myths. If you’re interested in more info on wolves, the moon, and werewolves, click below.

More info on the Moon: http://lunaf.com/english/

More info on Wolves: http://www.wolf.org/wolves/

Here’s a interesting book about Were

The Wolf Moon will continue till tomorrow night. Enjoy it while it lasts, unless of course… HOOWL!

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