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European folklore usually depicts werecats who transform into domestic cats. Some European werecats became giant domestic cats or panthers. They are generally labelled witches, even though they may have no magical ability other than self-transformation. During the witch trials, all shapeshifters, including werewolves, were considered witches; whether they were male or female.
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African legends describe people who turn into lions or leopards. In the case of leopards, this is often because the creature is really a leopard god or goddess masquerading as a human. When these gods mate with humans, offspring can be produced, and these children sometimes grow up to be shapeshifters; those who do not transform may instead have other powers. In reference to werecats who turn into lions, the ability is often associated with royalty. Such a being may have been a king or queen in a former life, or may be destined for leadership in this life. This quality can be seen in the lions of Tsavo, which were reputed to be kings in lion shape, attempting to repel the invading Europeans by stopping their railroad due to attacks on humans.
Mainland Asian werecats usually become tigers. In India, the weretiger is often a dangerous sorcerer, portrayed as a menace to livestock, who might at any time turn to man-eating. These tales travelled through the rest of India and into Persia through travellers who encountered the Royal Bengal Tigers of India and then further west. Chinese legends often describe weretigers as the victims of either a hereditary curse or a vindictive ghost. Ancient teachings held that every race except the Han Chinese were really animals in disguise, so that there was nothing extraordinary about some of these false humans reverting to their true natures. Alternatively, the ghosts of people who had been killed by tigers could become a malevolent supernatural being known as "Chang", (伥) devoting all their energy to making sure that tigers killed more humans. Some of these ghosts were responsible for transforming ordinary humans into man-eating weretigers. Also, in Japanese folklore there are creatures called bakeneko that are similar to kitsune (fox spirits) and tanuki (raccoon dogs). In Thailand a tiger that eats many humans may become a weretiger. There are also other types of weretigers, such as sorcerers with great powers who can change their form to become animals. In Thailand however the were-crocodile is more famous than any other werebeast. In the folk tale Krai-thong, for example, the hero defeats Chalawan the Giant, who could take the form of a crocodile with diamond teeth. Chalawan was nearly invulnerable and could use magic as well.
In both Indonesia and Malaysia there is another kind of weretiger, known as Harimau jadian. The power of transformation is regarded as due to inheritance, to the use of spells, to fasting and willpower, to the use of charms, etc. Save when it is hungry or has just cause for revenge, it is not hostile to man; in fact, it is said to take its animal form only at night and to guard the plantations from wild pigs. Variants of this belief assert that the shapeshifter does not recognize his friends unless they call him by name, or that he goes out as a mendicant and transforms himself to take vengeance on those who refuse him alms. Somewhat similar is the belief of the Khonds; for them the tiger is friendly, and he reserves his wrath for their enemies. A man is said to take the form of a tiger in order to wreak a just vengeance. Also in Malaysia, Bajangs have been described as vampiric or demonic werecats.
The foremost were-animal in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures was the were-jaguar. It was associated with the veneration of the jaguar, with priests and shamans among the various peoples who followed this tradition wearing the skins of jaguars to "become" a were-jaguar. Among the Aztecs, an entire class of specialized warriors who dressed in the jaguar skins were called "jaguar warriors" or "jaguar knights". Depictions of the jaguar and the were-jaguar are among the most common motifs among the artifacts of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. The balams (magicians) of Yucatán were said to guard the maize fields in animal form.
In the US, urban legends tell of encounters with feline bipeds; beings similar to the Bigfoot having cat heads, tails, and paws. Feline bipeds are sometimes classified as part of cryptozoology, but more often they are interpreted as werecats.
Occultism and theology
Assertions that werecats truly exist and have an origin in supernatural or religious realities have been common for centuries, with these beliefs often being hard to entirely separate from folklore. In the 19th century, occultist J.C. Street asserted that material cat and dog transformations could be produced by manipulating the "ethereal fluid" that human bodies are supposedly floating in. The Catholic witch-hunting manual, the Malleus Maleficarum, asserted that witches can turn into cats, but that their transformations are illusions created by demons. New Age author John Perkins asserted that every person has the ability to shapeshift into "jaguars, bushes, or any other form" by using mental power. Occultist Rosalyn Greene claims that werecats called "cat shifters" exist as part of a "shifter subculture" or underground New Age religion based on lycanthropy and related beliefs.
In popular culture
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By far the most prevalent occurrence of werecats in pop culture is in books. Some novels, novellas, and short stories with werecats are listed below.
- Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle series includes several characters who are werecats.
- The children's novel, Sebastian Darke: Prince of Pirates, features an enchantress named Leonora, who can turn herself into a panther at will. She is recognisable in this form by the tawny colour of her pelt, which matches her eyes when she is in human form.
- The protagonist of Rachel Vincent's Shifters series is a werecat; she is a member of a Pride led by her father.
- Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series of novels has several characters who are werecats of varying types.
- The short story "Lusus Naturae" by Margaret Atwood centers on a young woman whose parents fake her death to hide the fact that she is a werecat.
Werecats also serve as heroes and villains in film and television shows. Notable examples include:
- The 1942 Val Lewton film Cat People and its 1982 remake both feature female shape changers: first Simone Simon and then Nastassja Kinski in a highly sexual role. The 1982 version also includes Malcolm McDowell as her brother, also a shape changer.
- "Cat creatures" have appeared multiple times in the Scooby-Doo franchise, including The Scooby-Doo Show (1976–1978) and What's New, Scooby Doo? (2002–2005); in the 1998 animated film Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, the three villains of the film were werecats.
- In the mid-1980s show She-Ra: Princess of Power, the villainess Catra can change into a panther.
- In the 1992 Indian movie Junoon the main antagonist is afflicted by a curse that transforms him into a Bengal tiger in the presence of a full moon.
- In the Tom and Jerry Tales episode Monster Con, Tom is turned into a werecat when he sees a full moon after being bitten by Jerry's friend, the werewolf.
- In Chie Shinohara's 1984 manga series Yami no Paapuru, the main character, Rinko, is pursued by the scientist, Sonehara, in order to expose to the world that Rinko is a human that can become a panther at will.
- In the second book of the Elseworlds Batman vampire trilogy, Selina Kyle is attacked by a werewolf, which later causes her to literally become a catwoman when she transforms into a purple werecat.
- Schrödinger from the anime Hellsing is a werecat.
- Marvel Comics has Catseye of the Hellions, a female teenage mutant werecat, who appears in a number of the Marvel Universe lines.
- In Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, the supporting character Boo Cat is a werecat.
Werecats have been featured in a number of games, both video and table-top.
- The 1988 video game Altered Beast includes a stage where power-ups transform the player into a weretiger, which provides extra strength and firepower.
- In the tabletop Role-playing game Bastet (White Wolf Publishing, 1997), players get to play Werecats.
- Weretigers are also featured in Dungeons and Dragons.
- In the World of Warcraft online roleplaying game, druids can transform into panther or lion-like forms, depending on their chosen race.
- In the video game Breath of Fire III, one of the main characters, Rei, is a weretiger.
- The 1993 Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen game features weretigers as hidden characters who can be recruited.
- In the video game Bayonetta, the main character has the ability to transform into a black panther, and the witch Jeanne can transform into a red lynx.
- The Darkstalkers game series features Felicia, a character who can shift between a domestic cat form and a werecat girl whenever she wants.
- In the game "Perfect World International" one of the playable classes is a Venomancer who may take on the guise of a Werecat, Werefox, Werebat, Werebunny and Weredeer.
- Galenorn, Yasmine (2006). Witchling. Berkley. p. 33.
- Monster Manual: Core Rulebook III. Wizards of the Coast. 2003. pp. 165–166.
- Feehan, Christine (2002). Lair of the Lion. Leisure Books.
- Worland, Rick (2006). The Horror Film: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 73, 176–178, 184.
- Greene, Rosalyn (2000). The Magic of Shapeshifting. Weiser. p. 9.
- Hamel, Frank (1969). Human Animals. New Hyde Park: University Books. pp. 7, 103–109.
- Summers, Montague; Heinrich Kramer, James Sprenger (2000). The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. Book Tree. pp. 61–65.
- Summers, Montague (1966). The Werewolf. University Books. p. 21.
- lycanthropy – the were-tiger of the east indies
- Encyclopædia Britannica. 1910–1911.
- Steiger, Brad (2001). Out of the Dark. Kensington Books. pp. 154–160.
- Hamel, Frank (1969). Human Animals. New Hyde Park: University Books. p. 292.
- Summers, Montague; Heinrich Kramer, James Sprenger (2000). The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. Book Tree. pp. 127–128.
- Perkins, John (1997). Shape Shifting. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books. p. 3.
- Greene, Rosalyn (2000). The Magic of Shapeshifting. Weiser. pp. 53–89, 125, 149.
- Weeks, Linton (July 17, 2009). "You Sexy Beast: Our Fascination With Werewolves". NPR.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Borges, Jorge. (1969). The book of imaginary beings. New York: E. P. Dutton. ISBN 0-670-89180-0
- Greene, Rosalyn. (2000). The magic of shapeshifting. York Beach: Weiser. ISBN 1-57863-171-8
- Hall, Jamie. (2003). Half human, half animal: Tales of werewolves and related creatures. Bloomington: 1st Books. ISBN 1-4107-5809-5
- Hamel, Frank. (1969). Human animals: Werewolves & other transformations. New Hyde Park: University Books. ISBN 0-8216-0092-3
- Steiger, Brad. (2001). Out of the dark. New York: Kensington Books. ISBN 1-57566-896-3
- Saunders, Nicholas J. (1991). The cult of the cat. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-81036-2