Werewolves and other shifters have fascinated people long before Lon Cheney Jr. appeared as Larry the Wolfman on the silver screen. Just about every culture past and present, had their version of shifters, from skinwalkers to ulfhednar and beserkers to werewolves.
Whether or not you believe the old stories that many people have relegated to myth, you have to admit that the fuzzy ones with big fangs even fascinate us today. But why is that?
Shifters: The Beast Within
Part of our fascination with shifters is the exploration of the beast within us. Each of us humans have the capability of doing evil, or at least, violent acts. It is our civilization which keeps us from turning back into the animals we evolved from. It is our civilization that keeps us from being “the wolf at the door.”
Look at the story, Beauty and the Beast–and other stories along the similar theme. The Beast demands Beauty as the price for her father stealing a rose from his garden. When the father reluctantly sends Beauty (the civilizing factor in the form of a woman), the Beast is taken with her, and only Beauty’s love can free him from his beast nature.
But obviously that’s not all of it. We see shifters in the forms of other creatures like otters (selkies) and foxes (kitsune), although these creatures are often dangerous for humans to deal with. We fear more the human side of the cute and mischievous creatures, who can possibly destroy us with their magic or lead us to our doom.
A Fascination with Metamorphosis
As humans, we’re intrigued by creatures and people who aren’t what they seem to be. The change from human to animal gives the shifter power over us puny “Normals.” They can go places us humans can’t. They can do things we can’t. They can choose which life they prefer and they hold a magical attraction that is hard for us to resist.
How many of us have at one time or another wanted to be a bird and just fly away? Or maybe you imagined you were your favorite pet, who didn’t have to worry about all the things we worry about in our lives? Or maybe you just admired an animal you saw and wished people could be more like that animal? If you have, trust me, it’s normal. Animals don’t necessarily have it great in nature, but we idealize them a lot. So, the concept of changing into one is magical, in more ways than one.
Just as the act of changing from one thing to another is magical. Whether it’s a child growing up to an adult, getting a degree in college, or becoming something you weren’t even a few years ago. We’re fascinated with butterflies, who start as lowly caterpillars.
Shifters Changed in a Variety of Ways
If you’ve been a fan of Urban Fantasy for any length of time, you know that shifters can change in a variety of ways. In myths and legends, a very common way people changed to werewolves was with magic. Someone puts a wolf skin or a belt on and they shift to a wolf. Or someone drinks a potion or casts a spell and they become a wolf. Or someone is cursed and becomes a wolf. In Norse legends, the goddess Freyja could change into a hawk by wearing a cloak of hawk feathers.
Some shifters were naturally born shifters. If you were Fae, chances are you were born with your abilities. Selkies, for example, were pretty much born into being selkies and not changed by a curse or magic.
Another popular way to become a shifter was for another shifter such as a werewolf to bite or scratch you. Then, you received the curse that the shifter had. Along those lines, a full moon could change people into werewolves, possibly related to Artemis/Diana legends and the strange behavior some people seem to show around full moons (at least anecdotally).