The word Lycanthropy means a humans who’s a shape-shifter and turns into an animal. Lyko is a compound Greek word with lyko meaning wolf and anthropos means man.
In this same vein, the word werewolf derives from Old English, and the word were means man.
We can start with the Roman Ancient myth King Lycaon in 1 A.D. There are different versions told of this story.
One is that King Lycaon and his twenty-one sons were notoriously cruel to their people, and disrespectful of the Gods. Zeus came to Earth to see this for himself, but came as a commoner. Zeus made it known he had come to Earth and looked like a common person. Word spread and Lycaon heard that Zeus was coming to each house.
Zeus came to Lycaon’s dwelling. Lycaon tested Zeus’s omnipotence by serving him a plate of sheep entrails with human meat. Zeus was offended by this and transformed Lycaon and his sons to werewolves.
In the second century a Greek surgeon, Galen of Pergamon, came across patients who were convinced they could transform to an animal. He described this psychiatric condition as “clinical lyncanthropy”.
In the Middle-Ages werewolves were thought to be humans, typically males, who convened with witches and demons giving them the ability to shape-shift. It was not unheard of people convicted of not just being a werewolf, but practicing witchcraft. The Church was a political force given the full rights to search, arrest, prosecute, and sentence all persons engaged in witchcraft practices.
Werewolf shifting was seen as such a practice. It was thought that a person had been given a belt or some device that allowed them to shift into a werewolf.
In this endeavor, the Church needed examples to bolster their political stance. They had scores, if not thousands, of potential victims ready to go. The Church’s efficiency and diligence ensured that the populace understood who held power.
There is no doubt that many people who were tried as werewolves or witches were either victims of mental illness or part of some political ruse. In regards to mental illness, one mental disorder causes delusions is Schizophrenia. This disorder includes bizarre, in-depth delusions; not to mention hallucinations of seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there.
One probable victim of mental illness is Hans the Werewolf. He was an eighteen year-old Estonian youth targeted by the Church. He admitted to being a werewolf at his trial. The boy said he bore a scar from a dog on his arm which he received when he was a werewolf. He was executed.
The case of the Frenchman Burgot in 1521, probably goes into the categories of mental illness and serial killer. He claimed while he was herding his sheep that three demon horsemen dressed in black accosted him. Burgot made a deal with the demon horsemen asking them to protect his sheep in return he would renounce God, Our Lady, the company of Heaven, and his own baptism.
The demon horsemen granted him the ability to change into a werewolf so he may protect his sheep. Burgot admitted as a werewolf he attacked children and committed other atrocities.
A woman named Claudia Gaillard was known as the Werewolf of Burgundy. She was accused of being a werewolf and it was claimed she often hid in a bush in the form a wolf with no tail. The biggest piece of bizarre evidence was apparently Claudia was never seen shedding a single tear. This evidence put her on the stake where she was burned alive.
The case of Stubbe (aka as Stuppe, Stumpp, or Stumpf) was probably a case of political powers at work. Stubbe was a widower who had a daughter and son, was a wealthy Protestant, a farmer who lived outside Bedburg, Germany. The time period was 1589 during the Holy Roman Empire which occupied present-day Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Italy to name a few.
Religious war had ravaged the area and the political details are convoluted and require a historian to guide us through it all. For simplicity sake we can say the Catholic and Protestants were warring against one another, and Stubbe’s area was held by Catholic forces. It is very likely that Stubbe was targeted due to his religious-political beliefs.
Stubbe was arrested and interrogated on suspicion of being a werewolf. He had a partially amputated arm which the authorities claimed he received as a werewolf. This detail was used as evidence to later convict Stubbe. Stubbe was placed on the rack and his muscles and ligaments were excruciatingly torn while he was interrogated.
Under pain of torture Stubbe admitted to practicing black magic since he was twelve years old. He told his confessioners the Devil gave him a magical belt that enabled to metamorphose into a powerful wolf. He confessed to killing and eating two pregnant women and fourteen children one of which included his own son.
Stubbe was convicted and executed which was not a pretty sight. He was tied to a wheel where he was tortured, then he was beheaded and burned.
Some historic texts indicate that Stubbe’s girlfriend and his daughter whom he had abused, had helped with the murders he had carried out. The picture on the right depicts Stubbe, along with his daughter and girlfriend being executed.
The townspeople later erected the wheel used in the execution into the middle of town. There was a wolf sketched on it, and on top of the wheel, was Stubbe’s severed head.
Did the head serve a warning to would-be witches and werewolves? Or Protestants?