As with many other things on the list the tradition of werewolves must be approached from two sides that are very far apart. One side is the very ancient roots of the phenoenon and the belief in the phenomenon and the pother is modern popular culture and other learning based on a very long tradition that includes much of fiction.
In this post I am going to deal with the very remote origins of lycanthropy or werewolfism as it once changed the world. At one time many hunter-gatherer bands were often nearly starving and stagnating during the winters trapped in valleys surrounded by other tribes, clan and bansd or were otherwise isolated. During hard times killing and eating one another led to the roots of other legends such as vampires.
Then suddenly the first people to believe in werewolves were attacked on a full moon. The ice sheet reflected the lightas groups of of wolves and wild dogs pulled sleds of warriors into a circle around their camp . Wolves killed warriors as they were driven by men who howled and wore wolf skins. Many in the band were killed as these wolfpeople showed superior power in so many ways.
But the he wolfpeople subjugated and in a sense taxed the band. Secrets known to the wolfmen were guarded. The band now recieved trade goods by leaving them with wolf men and then there were carried far and fast to othere bands. Slaves and brides and warriors were sometimes blindfolded but only the learned were given access to hunting packs and sled wolves. Many had seen enough to know that these were not ordinary people but people who could become wolves.
When times were bad people ate some of the wolves. There were fewer bad times and canabalism was discouraged. The bodies of enemies were fed to the wolves and some part of each wolf man but burial rites signified liberation from canabalism. However, when the wolves were eaten werewolf priests and Shamanic leaders would remember that they had eaten men and that man became wolf and wolf became man. In time dogs would become ordinary in alll of these ancient tribes and the wolf rites, traditions and cults would appeal more to a group of mostly warriors in those peoples. However in some areas that original era of 100% real werewolves running things lasted for longer than we have had priniting presses.
My next post in this topic will be on lycanthropy since those early days. But the first phase is where the deep and powerful energy of the subject comes from.
So werewolf prospects were soon defined as those with warrior ability, a knack with anuimals and people who had a definable affinity with wolves. This “wolf in the man” (or “wolf in the woman” in some societies whiich had member of both sexes) began to be the basis of the individual centered disease/curse/gift kind of lycanthropy which is the basis of most books and movies. Through channeling and cultivating their wolf like qualities these people could reach parts of their human nature that were otherwise cut off from modern humans. They also caaried on a tradition related to the original phase.
These warrior societies occurred in many place where a dog-pulled travois could never be as fast as a dog sled and where large wolves were rare or unavailable. So in most places and times the groups shrunk and became less important. The tradition diffused and the werewolves survived as an increasingly shadowy phenomenon in most places relying on theatricality and attracting people who were more comfortable with dogs or wolves than people , who were violent outlaws and who had certain physical-mental conditions for which the old werewolf disciplines provided help and a cure.In most cases it was such small groups or individuals who provided the basis for ever richher stories as werewolves could not object anymore effiectively. While some more or less ancient werewolves survived the fiction and literature of all kinds was mostly based on these decaying and troubled forms. That does not mean they were all poor and insignificant. The silver bullet associated with killing werewolves in early modern times is the same projectile that was believed necessary to kill and a good and true king. Royal and noble families often were last bastions of older forms of lycanthropy.