Modern film makers and writers have done much to make the werewolf a pitiful creature--- a man trapped by his own baser desires, unable to control the change or the urges that come upon him when the Moon shows her full form each month. But, deep in our hazy past, there was a time when the werewolf (spirit-wolf or man-wolf) was honored among our ancestors. The wolf, and those able to take her shape, were worshipped as Goddesses and heroes.
Belief in shapeshifters was found throughout the range of the wolf's former habitat: from Europe and Asia as far east as India and China, and through North America. What ties the legend of the werewolf together in all of these places is the fact that the wolf was one of the largest predators indigenous to those regions. The violence and aggression of were-beasts make this seem to be a hunting and warfare legend. True, it is that, but it is also much more.
Prehistoric peoples learned the ways of the hunt from the animals around them, and they learned the concept of time from watching the phases of the Moon. The Moon phases also concurred with the female menstrual cycle, and so hunting, sex and time became completely enmeshed. The Full Moon was the time when the wolves--which the hunters emulated--howled, working the hunters into a frenzy in preparation for the hunt. The Full Moon was also the time in which the women of the tribe bled, in effect cancelling all sexual activity. The men's minds turned to the hunt, knowing that sexual activity would resume after they had brought enough meat home to supplement the diet of grains and berries the women provided.
It is this circular reasoning that created the association of a female deity concerned with hunting, and in many cultures She was a wolf. Apollo Lycaeus was mated to Artemis as the divine Wolf Bitch. The Sabine Goddess Feronia was mother of wolves. Perhaps the most well known of the wolf goddesses was Diana, Mistress of the Hunt. Gaulish Diana, under Her totemic name Lupa, "She Wolf," was mother of wild animals. Young men learned magic and shapeshifting from Her, and She guided and protected them. Her followers' shapeshifting ability followed the Moon phases, and the Moon was another face of the Goddess.
Shapeshifting abilities usually lay within the realm of one person in the tribe, the shaman. It was reasoned that at the moment of death, the animals that the hunters killed took themselves to the spiritual underworld. For the shamans to "speak" to these animals, so they could intervene on behalf of humans, the shamans themselves must lose their own bodies and take on the aspect of the animals. And so, the first shapeshifters were born.
Down through the years, the werewolf was known in almost every culture. The title of the shaman who held high position in the life of the Slavs was volkivi. Variations are the German volk (people), and the Russian vrach (physician). This indicates the possibility that werewolves were healers in wolf masks.
It wasn't until Christianity came on the scene that the werewolf became the demonic creature he is today. Christ was known as the Lamb of God, and the enemy of the lamb is, of course, the wolf. The shift toward the imagery of the lamb as Christ led in natural sequence to the wolf as Satanic. The werewolf, whose first meaning in the biblical translations was "outlaw," devolved from that into "ravening wolf," as in Matthew 7:15, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
And so the werewolf descended throughout the centuries; from deity to demi-god, from shaman to satanic. The noble wolf, whose only crime was to howl at the Moon and teach awkward humans to hunt, was demonized by those who would rather be led by a lamb than a true king, or queen, of beasts.
Lilith Silverhair, 1995