The werewolf, from beast to modern alpha male. An ideal of masculinity and terrors of puberty

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 Being as popular as the vampires, the lycanthropes were being since the world existed and it’s hard to believe that they could have been killed by silver bullets – the silver bullets were invented in the 14th century. The ability to transform into a huge wolf, howling at the full moon, as an hereditary line, or being bitten by a werewolf is a modern contrivance, which appeared in 1941 with the movie “The Wolf Man” which was inspired by the folklore of these creatures that howled in the night by George Waggner, after Curt Siodmak’s original screenplay. The basic definition of werewolf refers to a person who hast he ability to change for different periods of time, in a wolf,usually in nights with full moon. The werewolf is also known as the lycan, although “lycan” means a mentally ill man who thinks himself a wolf.

The more interesting thing related to wolves is that, like all mythological creatures, they too area metaphor of some of the most repressed and hidden human fears. The psychotherapist Bruno Bettelheim recalled in his writings about the hidden meanings of fairy tales and on wolves and werewolves, saying that they are “all animal and social trends that exist in ourselves”, “external force devouring everything that signifies the primitive human fear to be  eaten alive, eaten and completely absorbed by another entity”.

Legends

This creature also has one of the oldest legends of monsters of human origin. The first literary writings belong, it seems, to Ovidius, with his Greek “Metamorphosis”. Here, he presents Lycaon, the king of Arcadia who wondered if the gods are able to differentiate the animal meat from the human one so he gave a feast for Zeus himself. This test infuriates Zeus so he decides to transform Lycaon into a wolf as punishment.

In the legends of  Ovidius, the werewolf doesn’t change only on full moon nights, but its own mood to metamorphose. It was also mentioned that sometimes they wore leashes or belts that allowed them the appearance of a wolf. The real link with the society appeared in the sixteenth century, when not only the witches were sought and executed but also those who were accused of being werewolves. It was understandable that people searched for someone who did the unexplained animal killings or for the odd crimes that happened then. Examples are the Burgot Pierre and Michel Verdun’s case, they were a team of serial killers in 1521, and that of Peter Stubbe, Germany, who was surnamed Werewolf of Dole. The neighbours said that they saw Peter Stubble changing his human form into a wolf. He admitted finally that he was a serial killer, a rapist and a carnivore. His Mistress and daughter were killed by law enforcement because they would have known his nature and had sex with him.This was a terrifying case given the fact that he raped his daughter after he killed her brother and ate his brain. Stubbe claimed that he was a werewolf and had a cloak that helped him transform into a wolf–he suffered from lycanthropy. He killed dozens of people for 25 years. After he was caught he was awfully tortured and beheaded on Halloween, 31 october 1589.

Werewolf by Iuly Vasile

Werewolf by Iuly Vasile

Apart from the metamorphose presented by Ovidius, there is the Indian Tribe of Wisconsin legend that would somehow link the legend of Lycaeon.     

The King, turned into a werewolf, would have gotten angry on Zeus and this anger made him kill all the people in the village next to his kingdom. This happened in a night with a full moon and the killings were made by a creature that had the shape of a wolf.  Afterwards, being ashamed by what he did, now being in his human form, he took refuge in the forests of Greece. There he fell in love with Leto, mother of Apollo and the goddess Artemis. Their child is called Wisakachek (some people believe that he is the god of wolves).  Scared about the violent transformation of Lycaeon,  Leto runs. Wisakachek was about to be killed by his father when Artemis appeared and killed Lycaeon with a silver arrow. The child was raised by the goddess.The indian tribe’s legend says that when he reached maturity he roamed the forests shaped like a man and that he could change into a wolf whenever he wanted. One day, he found two brothers Keme and Matchitehew who hunted deer, and asked them to give him food, though he wasn’t one of their tribe. The brothers gave him something to eat from what they hunted. A week after, the three are reunited, Matchitehew saying to Wisakachek that he didn’t caught anything since. For their generosity, the God showed them the gift of transformation into a wolf and gave it to them, with the absolute condition to never hurt people. In one of the following days, Matchitehew gets mad on a boy from his tribe and kills him.  As punishment, God, “the Father of the werewolves” cursed Matchitehew so that by day he walked as a man but by night he wandered as a wolf. The brothers were expelled from their tribe. Another version says that God would have given them his gift at the cost of his death, and Artemis was one who cursed Matchitehew to turn into half man – half wolf, forced by the full moon of each month,just like Lycaeon.

What do the legends say about the creation of the werewolf?

Werewolves can be recognized by 3 major physical features: increased hair on the palms; index finger longer than the others; pentagram mark on one side. In the encyclopedia “Giants, Monsters and Dragons”, folklorist Charles Rose says that “in ancient Greece, a person becomes a wolf after eating meat mixed with human flesh.” This curse could be activated when a person was conceived under a full moon, sleeping on a Friday full moon or drink water touched by a wolf. In the Irish and Scottish legends, werewolves were found as the selkies – creatures that lived in the cold ocean as seals, which turned into people if their cloak that allowed them to turn into animals was found. This is how fishermen took them as slaves. The full moon is just one of the reasons of the metamorphosis, but the most poignant in stories and cinema. People have always associated the full moon with madness and werewolves. Now even the US emergency services confirmed that in full moon nights, they get more calls, but there is no real connection between this and the legend. However, the imagination …

How to treat a curse: January Woodward researched very thoroughly the history of werewolves and explained the recurring themes related to this creature, on the facts of what happened in the trials of those accused of being werewolves and based on medical theories in his book “The Werewolf Delusion” (1979 ). According to this: “He May be cured surgically and medicinally, he may be exorcised; the most drastic, he may be shot with a special bullet “- silver bullet. But who can kill a product of a millennia?

Medical References

Hypertrichosis: is a condition that involves excessive hair growth on the body and the face     

Porphyria is excessive sensitivity to light, hence the outputs of the sick at night, the anxiety and epilepsy issues

Clinical lycanthropy, a mental illness in which the patient believes that he can turn into a wolf, tha this teeth multiplies, and has hallucinations and bloodlust.

Psychology meanings.The modern ideal of masculinity. The Alpha Male

“Even a man who is pure at heart

Hiss and says prayers at night

May become a wolf

When the blooms wolfbane*

and the autumn moon is bright.”

(“The Wolf Man”, 1941, directed by George Waggner)

A fabulous approach that combines myth with science and evolutionary psychology is that of Heather Schell. Specialized in Modern Literature, a member of the George Washington University and co-founder of the University Writing Program, Heather caught our attention with “The Big BadWolf: Masculinity and Genetics in Popular Culture”, which combines descriptions of the werewolf and its evolution from the beginnings to the modern era, with repercussions on our image about the alpha male and the way he was presented in movies, and the shift from the anti-hero to the modern hero and the evolutionary dilemma. The recipe of a successful horror movie that involves werewolves has three points: someone stumbles upon a wolf or is bitten; becomes a witness or participant in various mysterious suspect murders; it affects the concerned character’s love life. Classic, I say. Butthe 1994 movie, “Wolf” (played by Jack Nicholson and directed by Mike Nichols), rehabilitate the negative image of this creature of legend. The hero Will Randallis, with this curse of the werewolf, the man turned in his own true nature, offering a new ideal of masculinity.

The evolutionary psychology draws attention to some controversial analogies: male behavior resembles that of mammals: aggression, aggressive living  in patriarchal societies, due to the fact that men bear the gene that gives them the atavistic impulse behavior (primitive, savage) of the ancestors. Often, these aggressive and competitive traits from the hierarchical societies of the animals are correlated with those of dogs and wolves. Somehow, the genes have come to represent the basis of the sexual rehabilitation oft he predator and of the competitiveness, which transforms a werewolf from a victim of evil, petty and cruel, in a sexualized and desirable model: the alpha male. Most advocates of Darwinian theory would agree with the idea of modern male behavior as an inheritance from the wild ancestral – men hunters.

The confusion implied is related to the prey and women. Competitiveness, murder, jealousy, rape are adaptations of prehistoric male behavior, and men beyond the mark “civilization” would be natural predators. From this hard idea, but plausible in terms of science started the sexist controversies. There are theories that disturb the gender stereotypes which may degenerate in some cases. For example, speculative theories concerning the aggressive instinct in males may exacerbate the male violence that will motivate them to live a life devoid of a sense of equality, culture, a life governed by this genetic heritage. Werewolves, lycanthropy, the concept of alpha male and evolutionary psychology are intertwined and generates today’s dilemma: why alpha males are an ideal of masculinity? Do men compete for this alpha male role, to attract the most fertile women and to pass on their genes successfully? Is the aggressiveness, in fact, a form of supremacy in modern human society?

Returning to the iconic 1941 movie, “The Wolf Man”, which was inspired by George Waggner, created after the original screenplay by Curt Siodmak, in the movie many villagers recite whenever it comes to wolves, the poem: “Even a man who is pure at heart and says prayers at night May become a wolf When the blooms wolfbane* and the autumn moon is bright.” (“The Wolf Man”, 1941, directed by George Waggner)

Here, the werewolf involves the stages of puberty and the Freudian sexual identity. The character of the movie, Larry,  is beaten to death with a phallic-shaped crutch by his own father. Walter Evans raises, however, a more interesting approach to the werewolf as a female figure or at least dominated by femininity. Thus, he believes that those bloody werewolf attacks occurring monthly as the menstrual cycle is including the loss of emotional control and physical development of body hair. Moreover, he believes that the curse of the transformation illustrates “the terrors of puberty”.  

“Clearly, the monster offers the sexually confused adolescent a sympathetic and at best a tragic imitation of his life by representing a mysterious and irreversible change which forever isolates him from what he identifies as normality, security and goodness, a change thrusting him into a world he does not understand, torturing him with desires he cannot satisfy or even admit, a world in which dark psychological and strange physical changes seem to conspire with society to destroy him”.

Werewolf, by Iuly Vasile

Werewolf, by Iuly Vasile

Evans notes that traditional monsters – werewolf, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster – are our creations and part of our self. They are those dark aspects that we want to destroy with any weapon we have at hand. He emphasizes that the beast is exposed mainly for sexual. Between the childhood innocence and  the maturity of love and marriage at adult, exists the adolescent trauma. A monstrous and uncontrollable passage that leads us into dark paths, rapidly. And the destruction and the attack over these legendary monsters are but a lesson given to the society to control and destroy them. More specifically, monster transformations associated with the changes of the adolescent’s sexuality is the most intense erotic and aggressive behavior.

The paradoxical transition of the human hit by fate into a modern specimen, becomes a success story in which the beast gets all that we want: health, life and pair. “Werewolves will live as long as we fight the beast in us, but modern incarnations (…) suggests that the savage has already won the battle and wanders the streets of the modern jungle” (Douglas E.Winter,writer of horror stories).

For example,the 1985 comedy, “Teen Wolf”, illustrates an adolescent werewolf on his way to popularity and power, becoming a hero. In contrast to previous representations, the beast becomes a representative male successful both in career and in sexual conquests. Patriarchy, instinctual dominance is still observed now in the movies and this illustration is rooted in the scientific basis that link human genes to the animals. In dogs and wolves too, the need for hierarchy and leadership is strongly felt.

Alpha Men are naturally leaders, while women rely more on emotional ties, the pair (pair-bonding). However feminists we might be, with any efforts to change the mindset of gender, we can’t deny that there is an animal instinct. Terms like the mentality of a pack, marking  the territory, sexual predator are used as a recurring basis, hence the connection with lycanthropy. Defects become qualities.

An example is the movie in which Jack Nicholson plays the werewolf, “Wolf” (1994). Will becomes a werewolf, but this curse becomes a virtue. Once bitten, he becomes evil, mean, strong. Basically, everything that the 20th century transmits of a man of success,on a psychological, sexual and professional level. Becoming a werewolf, now, is to become a better man.

The transition from man to beast appears first as physical symptoms of the disease, but especially with the psychological: it appears the popular idea of the alpha male, but also the human fantasy ideal of masculinity that combines breathtaking power with sex appeal. It occurs as internal struggle between the will of the character and the passion of the animal. “It feels good to be a wolf,” admits himself, while enjoying an amulet that allows him to turn only when desired. The price of the control remains, however, the torture, the fight between desire and reason, between instinct and civilization.  The movie will appear as a testament of the masculinity, as we realized in”The Wolf of Wall Street”, especially from another less known movie “Wolves of Wall Street”(2002), a cinematographic example of the radically new representation of the concept of werewolf: the bankers not only have a dizzying success, but indulge voluptuous orgies with women fighting with the inner desire to remain educated people, faithful for their lovers from home, and caused by the animal instinct caused by the transformation into a wolf. The pathos oft he audience towards these fictionalized horror illustrations is motivated by Kathy Love, that we are beasts.

“Their behavior patterns are similar to ours. We can identify with them on an almost human level”. It has been tried, overtime, to replace the charm of an alpha male with that of a mild hero (wimp), but without success. Audiences want an alpha male, a leading lycan with an uncontrollable sex appeal.

PS: For gamers, another example of this theory of masculinity is the game “Wolf Among Us”. The Big Bad Wolf is a powerful and violent hero, but … a conquering hero.

Illustration by Iuly Vasile

Sources: “THE BIG BAD WOLF: MASCULINITY AND GENETICS IN POPULAR CULTURE”, de Heather Schell (George Washington University, Faculty Member, University Writing Program)  POPULAR CULTURE: AN INTRODUCTORY TEXT, by Jack Nachbarşi Kevin Lause – MONSTER MOVIES: A SEXUAL THEORY  Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in the Hollywood Cinema, by Steve Cohan, Ina Rae Hark. Chapter Barbara Creed – Sexual Desires Ovid, Metamorphoses, retrieved 3/12/11, classics.mit.edu/Ovid/metan.html Origin of the Werewolf Legend, retrieved 3/12/11, alam25.tripod.com/first.htm Werewolves-Lycanthrope, retrieved 3/12/11, mythicalrealm.com/legends/werewolf.html

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