Werewolves and Social Reflection

Our conception of the werewolf, historically and today, is greatly influenced by, or reflects, our cultural conceptions, and misconceptions, of wolves.  In this, the werewolf is an excellent example of the adage that we create our own monsters.

Medieval sources, fearing the wolf and not understanding it, saw the wolf as a symbol of nobility gone wrong, or bad.  The lion stood for the noble ruler.  Clearly a misconception, in hindsight, as the wolf works with others for the good of its society, while the (male) lion lazes around and lets others do the work.  Regardless, this conception of the wolf as nobility gone bad persisted from the monstrous werewolf tales into the medieval sympathetic werewolf stories.  In those lais and romances, the werewolf himself was sympathetic and good, but something bad still happened amongst the nobility.  In most cases, a queen or noblewoman was disloyal—Gorlagon, Alphouns, Bisclavret.  Or the nobility mocked a holy man—the Ossory werewolves.

Even today, our depictions of werewolves are based on cultural conceptions and misconceptions of animals.  Most of our modern werewolves are pack oriented, from a scientific base.  The monstrous ones tend to be outsiders, the fear of the loner that even permeates our language (the “lone wolf”).  They also tend to be nature oriented, an influence of the environmentalist movement and a 1960s-1980s renewed interest in native American and First Peoples cultures, more than a wolf conception.  On the down side, they have also been, largely, dominated by the idea of the alpha wolf.  That is probably the greatest misconception affecting modern werewolves, as it is based on faulty, bad, science.  But, it has captured some part of the imagination and has been adopted by many urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal romance writers as well as most of the more toxic subcultures, particularly the MRA, “incel” (which is a, frankly, b.s. concept), white supremacy, and neo-Nazi movements (all of which have a fair bit of crossover in membership).

This relationship between the werewolf figure and social assumptions, it’s reflection of social ideals, views, and misconceptions, is one reason that I find it interesting to study.  This interest, of course, also applies to all symbolic, mythologic, legendary, and folk tale figures.

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