A Brief History Of Europe's Werewolf Trials

By | October 11, 2019

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Werewolf eats a baby. Johan Jakob Wick, 1580.

Werewolves, or lycanthropes if you're feeling fancy, have been around in myth form since time immemorial, but there was a period in Europe when they were taken entirely too seriously. Not only were they believed to be real, suspected werewolves were subjected to trial in the much the same way as the accused witches of Salem. Let's take a look at the mass hysteria surrounding werewolves, the odd (and occasionally sexist?) relationship between their trials and the witch trials of the same period, and the oh-so-unsurprising link between drugs and madness.

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A werewolf. Konrad Lykosthenes, 1557.

Back then, different social classes had very different opinions of what "werewolf" meant. Peasants, still steeped in the pagan mythology of the area, blamed werewolves for dead livestock or interpersonal disputes and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice. If it wasn't bad enough for humans to accuse each other of being actual animals, many of the accused were mentally ill or (as in Salem) poor and estranged from the majority of the population. In true witch trial tradition, confessions often only came after long bouts of "questioning" that definitely involved torture.