The legend of the werewolf is actually quite prevalent throughout history and can be traced all the way back to early Greek mythology. This means they were likely more prevalent than the closely-related mythical lore behind the vampire, which is a relatively new creature when compared to the lycan. While werewolves have been made popular in both literature and film, there are many 'real' accounts behind the stories that inspired these hideous, volatile beasts who were said to have slain many a human.
The other interesting thing about the legend of the werewolf is that its origins come from many places, not just one... Therefore, could there be any truth to the half-man, half-beast that many speak of in terms of pure fantasy? Could this particular species of the wolf have actually been an animal that prowled around on the night of the full moon, looking for its next unsuspecting prey? If there are people out there who legitimately hunt for Bigfoot, then there's no reason that a smaller species of similar qualities can't be real... So let's find separate the truth from myth.
The Oldest Known Story In The History Of Literature
The Legend of Gilgamesh is believed to be the oldest form of prose that's known in Western literature. It also tells of a woman who turned her lover from a human to a wolf, which is also believed to be one of the earliest known records of the mention of anything close to a werewolf. Where this inspiration came from or if it was spawned from a verbal legend is unclear. The next mention of a werewolf is where the term 'lycan' comes from: Greek mythology.
Those familiar with werewolf lore might recognize the Legend of Lycaon. Lycaon was the son of Pelasgus, who made a fatal flaw in serving Zeus the remains of a boy who was sacrificed. According to the legend, Zeus didn't turn Lycaon into a wolf but, rather, turned his sons into wolves. This could have very well been the official starting point for the legends surrounding werewolves and wolf-like humans but as with many legends throughout history, the legend of the lycan would soon appear in another place.
Nordic Folklore Describes Magical Animal-Morphing Items
The next appearance of this mythical creature occurs in Nordic folklore with the tale of a father and son who stumble upon some unusual wolf pellets. According to legend, these pellets had the ability to turn people into wolves for a total of ten days. However, upon finding these magic pellets, both the father and son wore them which led them on a rampage, wreaking havoc through the forest for ten days straight. In a bizarre turn of fate, the father then attacked his son, who was only saved by the grace of a raven lending him a leaf with healing powers. This legend from the Saga of the Volsungs is likely the closest thing to a modern-day telling of a werewolf.
While there's obviously no evidence of an actual human-to-wolf transformation, there are stories of brutal encounters with humans claiming to have a wolf prowess. These 'werewolves' were actually infamous serial killers who claimed to be otherwise. Two of the most infamous cases were Michel Verdun and Pierre Burgot, who both claimed to be able to transform into wolves back in 1521. Upon their heinous confessions, they were burned at the stake as was customary with any alleged mythical creature during that time, when people simply didn't know any better.
Another well-known case is that of the 'Werewolf of Dole,' who made his mark during the 16th century, known by his real name of Giles Garnier. His targets were children and he, too, was burned at the stake after confessing to such horrible crimes. Just like Burgot and Verdun, Garnier claimed to have an ointment that granted him the ability to transform into a wolf at will. Today, it's surmised that all three of the men were likely suffering from a mental illness of sorts, but that remains to be seen.
As far as the most infamous of 'werewolves' go, however, the Bedburg Werewolf is said to have been the most fearsome and gruesome. During the 16th century, the story went that Peter Stubbe, the man in question, went on killing sprees in the middle of the night in Bedburg, Germany, sending the entire town into a frantic frenzy of fear. when Stubbe was finally cornered, it's said that the hunters who cornered him actually bore witness to his transformation, after which he confessed to doing everything that was suspected of him and, by extension, a typical werewolf. He claimed his 'power' came from a belt that was never actually found, therefore never confirmed. Many believe that Stubbe was merely a scapegoat for political gain, but there's no denying that, similar to the Salem Witch Trials, even the mere thought of a werewolf on the loose was enough to drive up paranoia and fear.