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lycanthropy

The delusional belief that one has turned into an animal, especially a werewolf. In Europe during the Middle Ages, lycanthropy was commonly believed to occur due to witchcraft or magic. One modern theory is that the rye bread of the poor was often contaminated with the fungus ergot, which caused hallucinations and delusions about werewolves.

Stories of humans turning into animals such as tigers, swans, monkeys, etc., are widespread and seem to occur in all cultures, indicating shared human fears (e.g., fear of the wildest local beast) or desires (e.g., wishing for powers such as great strength or the power of flight), or common brain disorders.

further reading

Eisler, Robert. Man into wolf, an anthropological interpretation of sadism, masochism, and lycanthropy; a lecture delivered at a meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine. With an introd. by Sir David K. Henderson. (London, Routledge and Paul, 1951.

Noll, Richard. editor, Vampires, werewolves, and demons : twentieth century reports in the psychiatric literature (New York : Brunner/Mazel, 1992).

Last updated 05-Dec-2013

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