On the eve of a full moon you just may hear a wolf baying into the night sky.
But is it a true wolf or a man who has been turned into one?
Werewolf folklore has been present throughout history. Many cultures have their own werewolf stories, and the concept of the werewolf in modern fiction has been prevalent and constantly evolving thanks to the creative minds of horror writers and movie storytellers.
Werewolf enthusiasts today may have a picture of werewolves thanks in part to the presence of the creatures in the popular "Twilight" book and movie series. One of the main characters learns that members of his people are able to shape-shift into large, wolf-like beasts. Fans of the television series "Once Upon a Time" had their concept of the "Little Red Riding Hood" story turned on its head when this show created a twist where Red is actually a werewolf herself. Many movies and other television shows have featured a werewolf as a main or supporting character, from Michael J. Fox in "Teen Wolf" to Seth Green's role in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
The origins of werewolf stories remain open for debate. One Native American legend says that a tribe in the area that is now Wisconsin may have been the first to receive the ability to transform into a wolf. A spirit named Wisakachek was a shape-shifter who lived in the woods. One day, a hungry Wisakachek came upon two boy tribe members who shared their food with him. Grateful, when Wisakachek came across the same boys on a separate occasion -- where now the boys were hungry and unsuccessful at hunting -- he shared with them his power to shape-shift into a wolf to catch deer more easily. However, he said that this power should never be used to harm a human. When one of the boys becomes angered some time later and accidentally kills another while in wolf form, Wisakachek becomes furious and puts a curse on the boy. The boy would no longer be able to shift into wolf voluntarily. In the day he would be human, and every night he would transform into a ravenous wolf. The boy is then known to be the father of all werewolves.
Other legends about werewolves date back to ancient Europe, where the term "werewolf" is derived from the Old English "wer", meaning "man," and "wulf," meaning "wolf." Different cultures have different methods to identify werewolves. For example, a Russian superstition says that a werewolf could be recognized as such in his human form by bristles under the tongue. Eyebrows that met at the bridge of the nose and low-set ears also may be indicative of a werewolf.
Werewolves may have been transformed simply by donning a belt made of wolf skin, being bit or scratched by another werewolf, drinking rainwater out of the footprint of a werewolf or even rubbing the body with a magic salve.
Although modern fiction says that werewolves can be killed or harmed when shot with a silver bullet, this concept does not appear in any literature prior to the 19th century. Older methods of removing the werewolf curse include medicine, exhaustion of the individual, piercing of the hands with nails or simply addressing him three times by his Christian name.
Werewolves have become a profound component of horror culture and literature. The inclusion of werewolves in many modern-day stories, movies and television shows indicates that the public's love of these wild, hairy beasts will not wane anytime soon.