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Lycanthropy is the professed ability or power of a human being to transform into a wolf, or to gain wolf-like characteristics. (Not to be confused with shape-shifting.) The term comes from Greek λυκάνθρωπος lykànthropos "werewolf" (a compound of λύκος lykos "wolf" and άνθρωπος ànthrōpos "human").
In the original myths and legends, lycanthropy is not given any specific cause other than being generally attributed to magic, which may be voluntary (a supernatural power) or involuntary (a curse). The notion of werewolves and other lycanthropes infecting humans through bites is a feature of modern fiction.
Clinical lycanthropy, where one believes that he or she is an animal or can turn into an animal, is a mental disorder with psychological causes, as contrasted to legendary lycanthropy.
Mechanisms of transformation 
Even if the denotation of lycanthropy is limited to the wolf-metamorphosis of living human beings, the beliefs classed together under this head are far from uniform, and the term is somewhat capriciously applied. The transformation may be temporary or permanent; the were-animal may be the man himself metamorphosed; may be his double whose activity leaves the real man to all appearance unchanged; may be his soul, which goes forth seeking whom it may devour, leaving its body in a state of trance; or it may be no more than the messenger of the human being, a real animal or a familiar spirit, whose intimate connection with its owner is shown by the fact that any injury to it is believed, by a phenomenon known as repercussion, to cause a corresponding injury to the human being.
Transmigration of souls 
Lycanthropy is often confused with transmigration; but the essential feature of the were-animal is that it is the alternative form or the double of a living human being, while the soul-animal is the vehicle, temporary or permanent, of the spirit of a dead human being. Nevertheless, instances in legend of humans reincarnated as wolves are often classed with lycanthropy, as well as these instances being labeled werewolves in local folklore.
There is no line of demarcation, and this makes it probable that lycanthropy is connected with nagualism and the belief in familiar spirits, rather than with metempsychosis, as E. B. Tylor argued, or with totemism, as suggested by J. F. M'Lennan. Thus, these origins for lycanthropy mingle a belief in reincarnation, a belief in the sharing of souls between living humans and beasts and a belief in human ghosts appearing as non-human animals after death. A characteristic of metempsychosis is a blurring of the boundaries between the intangible and the corporeal, so that souls are often conceived of as solid, visible forms that need to eat and can do physical harm.
The phenomenon of repercussion, the power of animal metamorphosis or of sending out a familiar, real or spiritual, as a messenger. The supernormal powers conferred by association with such a familiar are also attributed to the paranormal. Some superstitions found in Witchcraft can be close to lycanthropic beliefs, the occasional involuntary character of lycanthropy being almost the sole distinguishing feature. In another direction the phenomenon of repercussion is asserted to manifest itself in connection with the bush-soul of the West African and the nagual of Central America; but though there is no line of demarcation to be drawn on logical grounds, the assumed power of the magician and the intimate association of the bush-soul or the nagual with a human being are not termed lycanthropy. Nevertheless it will be well to touch on both these beliefs here.
Animal ancestors 
Stories of humans descending from animals are common explanations for tribal and clan origins. Sometimes the animals assumed human forms in order to ensure their descendants retained their human shapes, other times the origin story is of a human marrying a normal animal.
North American indigenous traditions particularly mingle the idea of bear ancestors and ursine shapeshifters, with bears often being able to shed their skins to assume human form, marrying human women in this guise. The offspring may be monsters with combined anatomy, they might be very beautiful children with uncanny strength, or they could be shapeshifters themselves.
P'an Hu is represented in various Chinese legends as a supernatural dog, a dog-headed man, or a canine shapeshifter that married an emperor's daughter and founded at least one race. When he is depicted as a shapeshifter, all of him can become human except for his head. The race(s) descended from P'an Hu were often characterized by Chinese writers as monsters who combined human and dog anatomy.
In the mythology of the Turkic and Mongolian peoples, the wolf is a revered animal. The shamanic Turkic peoples even believed they were descendants of wolves in Turkic legends. The legend of Asena is an old Turkic myth that tells of how the Turkic people were created. In Northern China a small Turkic village was raided by Chinese soldiers, but one small baby was left behind. An old she-wolf with a sky-blue mane named Asena found the baby and nursed him, then the she-wolf gave birth to half wolf, half human cubs therefore the Turkic people were born.
Animal spirits 
In North and Central America, and to some extent in West Africa, Australia and other parts of the world, every male acquires at puberty a tutelary spirit ; in some Native American tribes the youth kills the animal of which he dreams in his initiation fast; its claw, skin or feathers are put into a little bag and become his "medicine" and must be carefully retained, for a "medicine" once lost can never be replaced. In West Africa this relation is said to be entered into by means of the blood bond, and it is so close that the death of the animal causes the man to die and vice versa. Elsewhere the possession of a tutelary spirit in animal form is the privilege of the magician. In Alaska the candidate for magical powers has to leave the abodes of men; the chief of the gods sends an otter to meet him, which he kills by saying "O" four times; he then cuts out its tongue and thereby secures the powers which he seeks.
The Malays believe that the office of pawang (priest) is only hereditary if the soul of the dead priest, in the form of a tiger, passes into the body of his son. While the familiar is often regarded as the alternative form of the magician, the nagual or bush-soul is commonly regarded as wholly distinct from the human being. Transitional beliefs, however, are found, especially in Africa, in which the power of transformation is attributed to the whole of the population of certain areas. The people of Banana are said to change themselves by magical means, composed of human embryos and other ingredients, but in their leopard form they may do no harm to mankind under pain of retaining forever the beast shape. In other cases the change is supposed to be made for the purposes of evil magic and human victims are not prohibited.
A further link is supplied by the Zulu belief that the magician's familiar is really a transformed human being; when he finds a dead body on which he can work his spells without fear of discovery, the wizard breathes a sort of life into it, which enables it to move and speak, it being thought that some dead wizard has taken possession of it. He then burns a hole in the head and through the aperture extracts the tongue. Further spells have the effect of changing the revivified body into the form of some animal, hyena, owl or wild cat, the latter being most in favour. This creature then becomes the wizard's servant and obeys him in all things; its chief use is, however, to inflict sickness and death upon persons who are disliked by its master.
In Melanesia there is a belief in the tamaniu or atai which is an animal counterpart to a person. It can be an eel, a shark, a lizard, or some other creature. This creature is corporeal, can understand human speech, and shares the same soul as its master, leading to legends which have many characteristics typical of shapeshifter tales, such as any death or injury affecting both forms at once.
In the tradition of Shamanism it is believed that everybody has an animal spirit guide or 'power animal' and indeed a person would not even make it past birth were it not for the protection of their power animal. Spirit animals can be contacted through shamanistic journeying and may appear in repetitive dreams. The spirit animals role is as a protector and as a guide and should be honored in recognition of this help.
Regional varieties 
The wolf is the most common form of the were-animal in the folklore of Europe, though in the north the bear disputes its pre-eminence. In ancient Greece the dog was also associated with the belief. The were-boar variant is known through Greece and Turkey. Marcellus of Sida, who wrote under the Antonines, gives an account of a disease which befell people in February; but a pathological state seems to be meant.
Romanian folklore has multiple variations on the lycanthropy theme. The vârcolac is often - though not exclusively - seen as a werewolf though it can refer also to (usually wolf-like) demons, vampires, goblins or ghosts as well; the pricolici is more universally wolf-like, and much like the strigoi is said to be a formerly human member of the undead, having risen from the grave to wreak havoc on the living. Additionally, both the terms strigoi and moroi are traditionally closely associated with both pricolici and vârcolaci, and while modern fiction makes a clear distinction between the terms (with strigoi and moroi being in usage more a reference to the vampiric than the lycanthropic, and the latter in turn referring more to "living" as opposed to undead vampires), older folklore leaves them not always so easily differentiated, especially with regional variants.
North America 
Many Native cultures feature skin-walkers or a similar concept, wherein a shaman or warrior may, according to cultural tradition, take on an animal form. Animal forms vary accordingly with cultures and local species (including bears and wolves), for example, a coyote is more likely to be found as a skinwalker's alternate form in the Great Plains region. Skinwalkers tend to be totemic.
There are some modern reports of man-wolf creatures, including the Beast of Bray Road.
See also 
- Clinical lycanthropy
- Human animal roleplay
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