Werewolves. People who could shape-shift into beasts. “The concept of lycanthropy is deeply ingrained in the human mind: the duality of man and beast and of civilization and savagery”(Stebbins). The story of werewolves dates back as early as the ancient Greeks and Romans. Ever since then, the idea of what constitutes a werewolf has undergone a major transformation with different elements being added or modified. In the 2010 television series Supernatural, two brothers hunt a variety of supernatural creatures, including werewolves. There are so many different ways werewolves are portrayed. In modern society, werewolves are seen everywhere, from books, film, and television, all of which feature werewolves with different features. So, where did the makers of Supernatural get their inspiration from? There are, in fact, many historical events and beliefs that support their representation.
The werewolves in ‘Supernatural’ have many of the characteristics popular in other modern interpretations. It is believed that humans can be converted to werewolves after being bit by one. These werewolves are able to transform from wolf to human and vice versa. There are two types of werewolves in the series: regular werewolves and pureblood werewolves. Regular werewolves are only able to transform on a full moon, while the pureblood werewolves can transform at will. Another advantage pureblood werewolves have over regular werewolves is that they have more control over their wolf forms. Both types of werewolves feed on creatures nearby, which normally consists of humans. After they attack, they would eat their victims’ heart and occasionally, other parts of the body. Werewolves cannot be killed with weapons, but are vulnerable to silver.
While some of these characteristics may seem a bit bizarre, there are some historical basis to them. The spread of lycanthropy through a werewolf’s bite may have stemmed from the idea that rabies were spread through animals, specifically dogs or wolves. Rabies is a viral disease usually spread through an animal’s bite that causes inflammation in the brain and is almost always fatal. Early Europeans commonly associated rabies with superstition and magic. At the time, the relics from a patron saint of hunters, St. Hubert, was supposedly effective against rabies. His keys, especially, were said to have unusual powers over evil spirits. The symptoms that resulted from rabies were also seen in the wolf, so it seemed as if the relics would expel some sort of spirit that was transferred into the human through the bite. In addition, these beliefs may have also led to the concept of the ‘Supernatural’ werewolves attacking humans around the vicinity. In Europe, “There were a number of beliefs about werewolves, including one which claimed a demon took possession of the body of a real wolf and used it to attack livestock and humans. The terrifying symptoms of rabies combined with a deep ingrained superstition of the wolf helped reinforce the belief in a demonic wolf-creature who killed everyone in sight, a canine serial killer” (Blaisdell). In combination with the idea of that this ‘disease’ could be transferred through a wolf’s bite, these theories led to the development of the modern werewolf concept.
After the ‘Supernatural’ wolves attack their victims, they are said to eat their hearts and other body parts. Throughout history, there have been numerous ‘werewolf trials’ in which villagers would be accused of various crimes such as killing livestock or in some cases, murder, rape or cannibalism. One of the most popular ‘werewolf trials’ was that of a German man named Peter Stubbe in 1589. He was believed to have been given a girdle from the Devil in order to “turn into the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like brands of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body and mighty paws” (Stebbins). He would return to human form once the girdle was removed. Supposedly, Stubbe, as a human, raped women before killing them as a wolf . Not only would he eat his victims’ hearts “panting hot and raw”, he was accused of murdering animals to eat raw “as if he had been a natural wolf indeed;” killing pregnant women and tearing their children from the womb; committing acts of incest with his family and even his own daughter, with whom he had a child; and killing his own son and eating his brains” (Stebbins). He was only caught after he was seen ‘transforming’ and was then tortured into confession and executed. The trial of Stubbe is often credited for popularizing the association between werewolves, cannibalism and rape. While the wolves in Supernatural aren’t known to rape their victims, they are known to have cannibalistic tendencies which may have originated from Stubbe’s trial. In Cohen’s first thesis “The Monster’s body is a Cultural Body”, he explains the monsters are a result of the area’s culture. “The monster quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety and fantasy, giving them life and an uncanny independence” (Cohen). Perhaps the locals found the actions of Stubbe so horrendous their only explanation was that they were done by some monster.
Almost all modern interpretation of werewolves have something to do with their connection to the moon and silver and the wolves from ‘Supernatural’ are no exception. Wolves in general are known to be nocturnal and howl as a form of communication. Contrary to popular belief, wolves do not howl at the moon, or only when there is a full moon, but at each other. The moon howling legend may have emerged since the ancient people were more likely to come out during the full moon, which would then make them more likely to notice the wolves howling outside. They might have assumed that the wolves are more active when there is a full moon, or they even got special powers from the moon. Future generations may have warped this as werewolves transforming under the full moon, which would kind of make sense. If wolves [appear to] show more activity during a full moon, there could be a special event occurring – werewolves shifting into their wolf forms. The transformation might be painful, so that’s why the howling can be heard.
The connection between silver and the moon dates back to ancient times. Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon, carried a silver bow. Also, the color silver is similar to that of the moon when it is full. Silver is said to have healing powers and was considered “a dynamic way of healing injured and damaged tissue. In 1973, a doctor discovered that he could “stimulate bone-forming cells and stimulate healing of the skin and soft tissue” (Kollerstrom). Silver has healing properties, si I’m not sure how it became known as a weapon against werewolves. Maybe it was because Artemis was also considered the goddess of the hunt, or maybe it was because people needed some sort of weapon against werewolves and silver somehow made the most sense. Regardless, this concept has been perpetuated through almost every paranormal situation with werewolves, so it is no surprise it was picked up by the Supernatural producers.
The Supernatural series is based on two brothers who investigate and hunt certain paranormal creatures, even though they can be considered monsters. Why? This can be explained in Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster theory. In his sixth thesis, “Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire” he writes that “The monster is continually linked to forbidden practices, in order to normalize and enforce. The monster also attracts. This simultaneous repulsion and attraction at the core of the monster’s composition accounts greatly for its continued cultural popularity”(Cohen). While these monsters may be frightening, they have something that invokes a curiosity in people, which could explain why they are so popular with the public. In the case of the show, it would be that the two brothers want to find out more about werewolves, even if they could potentially be dangerous to them.
As a result, the idea of the werewolves in Supernatural was born. While none of these are confirmed to have actually influenced the creators in the making, they are still similar enough to their actual characteristics for them to be more than just a coincidence. The fact that there numerous historical accounts and modern interpretations of werewolves relates to Cohen’s second thesis “The Monster Always Escape”. There are so many stories with werewolves, and Supernatural is just one of them.
Blaisdell, John Douglas, “A frightful, but not necessarily fatal, madness: rabies in eighteenth-century England and English North America ” (1995). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 11041.
In his thesis, Blaisdell describes rabies in eighteenth century England and English North America. I used this source to describe how the rabies led the idea of people turning into werewolves through a wolves bite. This source is credible because it is a thesis for a university and lists its sources.
Blécourt, Willem De. “âI Would Have Eaten You Tooâ: Werewolf Legends in the Flemish, Dutch and German Area.” Folklore, vol. 118, no. 1, 2007, pp. 23–43., doi:10.1080/00155870601097099.
In this journal, the author discusses early werewolf stories originating from the Flemish, Dutch and German Area. He also describes how these stories were recorded and factors that may have led to their creation. I used this source to explain some of the factors that may have led to the creation of werewolf stories or the way they are interpreted. This is a reliable, because it not only lists its sources, it is described as a “a fully peer-reviewed international journal” in the description and lists the editors and advisory board.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 3–25.
In the first chapter of his book titled, “Monster Culture”, Jeffrey Cohen describes the Seven Theses of which he believes to apply to all monsters. I used this source as a reference as I explained the monster I chose. I would say this is a credible source because it is a published book and cites the sources used.
Kollarstrom, Nick. “Traditional Association of the Moon and Silver.” Skyscript, www.skyscript.co.uk/metal.html.
This source describes the correlation between silver and the moon, as well as the healing properties of silver. I used this source to describe that connection and relate it to the possible causes of silver being used as a weapon against werewolves. I’m not actually sure if this source is the most credible, but the information seemed to match that I found on other websites.
Stebbins, Maegan A. “The Werewolf: Past and Future.” Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2017. https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/77877/Stebbins_MA_T_2017.pdf?sequence=1
In her thesis for Virginia Polytechnic university, Stebbins describes the different portrayals of werewolves throughout history and how they were received. I used this source to describe how the image of the werewolf has changed throughout the years and the possible factors leading up to it.
Society, National Geographic. “Wolves: Fact and Fiction.” National Geographic Society, 27 June 2014, www.nationalgeographic.org/media/wolves-fact-and-fiction/
This source describes some myths about wolves and how they are incorrect. I used this source to describe how wolves do not actually howl at the moon, they only appear to. I would say this is a fairly reliable source, since National Geographic has a positive reputation.
“Werewolf.” Supernatural Wiki, supernatural.wikia.com/wiki/Werewolf.
This source describes the characteristics of the werewolves in Supernatural. Since I did not have time to watch the whole series, I used this as a source of the main points about werewolves. This wouldn’t be completely reliable since anyone can edit it, but it doesn’t seem like they have any reason to lie.