Human Animals Part 1

Human Animals.

by Frank Hamel.


From the abundant records and traditions dealing with the curious belief that certain men and women can transform themselves into animals I have collected a number of instances and examples which throw fresh light on the subject both from the point of view of folk-lore and occultism. The causes of transformation are various: contact with a wer-animal, touching what he has touched, wearing an animal skin, rubbing the body with ointment, slipping on a girdle, buckling on a strap, and many other expedients, magical and otherwise, may bring about the metamorphosis. Removing the skin, burning it, or piercing it with the stab of a knife, or the shot from a gun, so that blood is drawn, are among the best-known methods for causing the human shape to be resumed, but the stab should be on the brow or between the eyes, and the bullet should be made of silver and is all the better for having been blessed in a chapel of St. Hubert, otherwise the attempt to break the enchantment may fail. The penalty for being a wer-animal is death, but sentence is not passed until after some ordeal has been gone through, such as dipping the finger into boiling resin, innocence being established if the finger be drawn out unhurt.

Any wound inflicted on the transformed animal is simultaneously inflicted on the human body, and in many other characteristics the nature of the wer-animal is similar to that of the witch or wizard.

In "Balder the Beautiful" Dr. J. G. Frazer, after telling many typical stories, endeavours to establish a parallelism between witches and wer-animals, the analogy appearing to confirm the view that the reason for burning a bewitched animal alive is a belief that the human being is in the animal, and that by burning you compel him to assume another shape. Since the sum of energy in the universe is held to be constant and invariable, the chain of transformation is thus continued, and form follows form, endlessly linked together. By some such theory the phenomena of life and death may be explained and the doctrine of immortality, usually applied only to the soul of man, can be reasonably extended to animals.

The belief that human and animal souls possess power and entity when externalised and apart from the living body is less widely held than that of persistence after death. It is one that bears strongly on the subject of animal transformation, as well as on the affinity which certain animals possess for some families, an affinity that is akin to totemism.

These preliminary suggestions will enable readers to grasp the scope of my book, which is intended to provide a comprehensive view of the subject and to familiarise them with the nature of the phenomena, even though it has been well-nigh impossible to classify and tabulate them fully, or to explain them satisfactorily.

I wish to express my thanks to Miss J. A. Middleton, author of "The Grey Ghost Book," for her kindness in reading my work in MS., and to her and others for suggesting interesting material.


_London_, 1915



The belief that men can change into animals and animals into men is as old as life itself. It originates in the theory that all things are created from one substance, mind or spirit, which according to accident or design takes a distinctive appearance, to mortal eye, of shape, colour, and solidity. Transformation from one form to another then becomes a thinkable proposition, especially if it be admitted that plastic thought in the spirit world takes on changed forms and conditions more readily than in the world of matter. The belief of primitive races that all created beings have an immortal soul dwelling in a material body applies equally to the brute creation and to the human race. "In the beginning of things," says Leland, "men were as animals and animals as men."[1] The savage endows brutes with similar intelligence and emotions to his own. He does not distinguish between the essential nature of man, of various beasts, and even of inanimate objects, except where outward form is concerned; and he senses, even more clearly than his civilised brother, the psychic bonds which unite man and the animals. Folk-lore abounds in incidents which are based on the impermanence of form and which tell of people changing into animals or animals changing into human beings.

The scientific problems of to-day which deal with the theory of breaking up matter into electrons may quite possibly have a bearing on this subject and may not be so far removed, as appears at first sight to be the case, from the intuitive beliefs of the savage.

Transformation was held to be accomplished in various ways, a sorcerer, a witch or the evil one himself being the agent through whom the change was effected. Certain people have had ascribed to them the power of self-transformation, a curious psychical gift which to this day appeals to imaginative people, and which may be regarded as a projection of mind in animal form.

Changes may be voluntary or involuntary, self-transformation belonging more frequently to the former class and transformation by sorcery, witchcraft or black magic more often to the latter class. The motives of a human being who wishes to change into an animal are naturally regarded with suspicion. Greed, cruelty, and cannibalism are accusations brought against those who were tried in the Middle Ages for the crime of lycanthropy, the transformation into a wolf or other wild beast. The desire to taste human flesh is a horrible but not improbable reason for the offence. The wish to inspire fear or to gain personal power over others are motives for impersonating wild and fearsome animals, as effective where superstitious people are concerned as the less common faculty of transforming actual flesh.

Savage races do not necessarily connect the idea of transformation with any thought of evil. They find the plan of impersonating an animal in its lair, for the sake of safety, say, extremely useful. They have also the best of reasons for developing a special attribute, such as the keen scent of the hound, the long sight of the eagle, the natural protective power against cold possessed by the wolf and so forth, imitative suggestion which occurs in many of their primitive customs. Thus the Cherokee Indian when starting on a winter's journey endeavours by singing and other mimetic action to identify himself with the wolf, the fox, the opossum or other wild animal, of which the feet are regarded by him as impervious to frost-bite. The words he chants mean, "I become a real wolf, a real deer, a real fox, and a real opossum."[2] Then he gives a long howl to imitate the wolf or barks like a fox and paws and scratches the ground. Thus he establishes a belief in transformation by sympathetic or homopathic magic, and starts forth on his difficult journey in perfect confidence, the power of auto-suggestion aiding him on his way. Such customs are closely allied with the superstitions of the dark ages, when it was assumed without question that bodily transformation took place.

Involuntary change into animal shape was thought to occur as a punishment for crime, and was looked upon as a judgment of the gods.

Few beliefs are more common among savages than that reincarnation in a lower form is the result of sin in a previous existence. Bats especially are held to be the abode of the souls of the dead, and to some races they are sacrosanct for this reason. Most animals have been looked upon as a possible receptacle of man's soul, and many primitive tribes believe that man can choose in which animal body he prefers to dwell. In the Solomon Islands, for instance, a dying man informs the members of his family in what sort of animal shape he expects to live again. One among hundreds of similar superstitions is that if a cat jumps over a corpse, the soul of the deceased enters its body.

Murder of what is holy, and the offering of human sacrifices are two offences punishable by transformation, but once transformed, the soul-animal wins respect rather than contempt, and care is taken that no injury shall befall it, lest a relative or friend should suffer. A savage avoids harming his own family animal, but does not hesitate to kill the soul-animal into which a member of a hostile tribe has entered. Should such an animal die, the soul is thought by many races to pass into another body of the same type, but other tribes, especially in Madagascar, believe that the death of the animal releases the human soul that had lodged within it.

A more original idea is that certain human beings possess animal doubles and that the soul-animal roams at large while the man remains visible in his ordinary form, and many of the vampire and wer-wolf stories are traceable to this belief. The Toradjas of Central Celebes believe that the inside parts only of the man take on the animal shape, a state which they term _lamboyo_. The _lamboyo_ may be distinguished from an ordinary animal by being misshapen to some extent, for instance, a buffalo may have only one horn, or a dog may have a pig's snout. The _lamboyo_, like the vampire, has a preference for human victims, whom he grievously tortures and maims.

Far more beautiful is the myth of _tanoana_, the divine essence in man which goes forth from his body, as in sleep, and, being of the same nature as the soul of the animal, allows of interchange to take place between the human and the animal bodies.

Even amongst the most practical and enlightened people of to-day psychic experiences in which animals have played a part are of common enough occurrence, and a survey of the grounds on which man and animal shapes and spirits meet may help them to understand things which, to our limited human intelligence, appear at least strange, if not altogether inexplicable.


[1] Leland, C. G., "Algonquin Legends of New England," Boston 1884, p.


[2] Frazer, J. G., "The Golden Bough," "The Magic Art," 1911, Vol. I, pp. 155-6.



How did man come to change into an animal? Folklore and superstition describe a number of ways. The most common method appears to have been the wearing of the skin of the animal in question. One drew it over one's shoulders, mask and all, and awaited results. These were not always satisfactory, and if any delay occurred it was better to strip off the clothes, rub the limbs with a potent ointment and murmur a long incantation. Such things, if we may believe tradition, invariably did the trick. But there were many other ways of bringing about the desired state. According to Grimm,[3] transformation could be effected by tying a strap of human skin round the body; others say the skin must be a girdle made from the animal's hide.... It also sufficed to shift the buckle of a certain strap to the ninth hole. To drink water out of the footprint made by the animal, to partake of its brains, to drink from certain enchanted streams, to haunt the lair of a wer-wolf, to eat his food or come into personal contact with him or his belongings were all means of voluntary or involuntary transformation which, according to its nature, might be permanent or merely transitory. Livonian wer-wolves were initiated by drinking a cup of beer of a special character accompanied by a particular incantation.

Other countries had magical procedure which differed in detail, if not in the main features. As a rule the devil was supposed to have had a hand in the transformation process, and one man accused of the crime declared that a female devil had presented him with a belt and whenever he buckled it he was changed into a wolf spontaneously. This gentleman, when he was back in human shape, was always heard to remark in surprise that he had not the faintest idea where the bristles went which had adorned him when in wolfish form.

A return to human body was sometimes easy, sometimes extremely difficult. The girdle or skin being removed was often sufficient to remove the enchantment too. Plunging into water or rolling over and over in dew were said to be equally efficacious. A considerably slower method was to kneel in one spot for a hundred years, long enough, one would imagine to deter anyone from ill-judged ambitions to prowl around the world in animal shape. Other cures, however, were simpler, such as being saluted with the sign of the cross, or to be called three times loudly by the baptismal name, or to be struck three blows on the forehead by a knife, or to have three drops of blood drawn from some part of the body. In many cases one other person besides the transformed man was in possession of certain formulae necessary for restoring him to a normal appearance, and if by any accident this person was killed or otherwise removed from the sphere of action, woe betide him in animal shape, for he probably had to retain it during the rest of his natural existence.

There is a legend in Lorraine that if stalks of grass are pulled up, blessed and thrown against a tree, wolves spring forth, being transformed from the men who threw the grass. To become a she-bear it is only necessary to put a slip of wood into one's mouth; when the wood is taken out human shape returns.

Another myth, mentioned by Grimm, is that at certain times of night wer-wolves turn into three-legged dogs and can only be freed by someone crying out "wer-wolf."

Seven and nine are important numbers in transformation. When seven girls are born of one marriage, one is thought to turn into a wer-wolf and the seventh child of the seventh child is predestined to the same fate. The spell is said to last nine days. Anyone who puts on a wolf-shirt is transformed into a wolf for this period and returns to human shape on the tenth day. Grimm says the seal is supposed to doff his fishy skin every ninth day and for one day become a man, and there is a common saying that a cat twenty years old turns into a witch, and a witch of a hundred turns back into a cat.

Having taken the body of a beast, man becomes known as a wer-animal, wer being probably derived from the Latin _vir_.[4] He then assumes the characteristics of the natural animal, with additional strength, agility, and ferocity.

In mediaeval times powers of transformation seem to have been sought after and were even regarded as a privilege. Although often acquired for evil purposes, among primitive peoples to change into an animal did not necessarily imply a descent in the scale of being. To them there is but a slight line of demarcation between the animal world and mankind. They are not influenced so much by the idea of human degradation as by a beautiful belief in the brotherhood and fellowship of all creation.

Lycanthropy is the technical name for the pathological condition of a man who believes he has become an animal. The word means literally wolf-man, the wolf being chosen as the most dangerous animal known in European countries, though the tiger, hyaena, or any other wild animal serves the purpose equally well.

The symptoms exhibited by the wer-animal are at first extreme restlessness and anxiety. He develops, sometimes instantaneously, sometimes by degrees, the instincts of the kind of creature into which he has been transformed, often acquiring enormous strength and the special characteristics of the animal. If it be carnivorous by nature he has a lust to kill, and he can do what the animal does as well as what he was naturally capable of doing. His body is in the shape of an animal, but his eyes, according to some accounts, remain unchanged, and the human being looks out of these windows of his soul. His intelligence will probably, however, be darkened by the shadow of malignity or passion usual to the lower creation.

As early as 1579, Wierius described lycanthropia as a disease, and declared the Arabs called it _Chatrap_, after an animal. Another name was _Tipule_. (Latin race.) The victims had sunken eyes and could not see well, the tongue was dry and they were thirsty, the saliva being dried up. To cure them they had to be well-fed, much bathed, and given drugs which were used in melancholic diseases. Before an attack the head was rubbed with soporific herbs, opium was applied to the nose and the patient was dosed with a narcotic.

When under the delusion that he is changed into a wolf the wer-animal gives vent to a long howl and starts off with a rush to the nearest forest, where he prowls about through the night seeking his victims.

These he kills in the ordinary manner of a wild beast, tearing asunder their limbs and feasting on their flesh. In some countries his method is more elaborate and it is supposed that the wer-wolf, having chosen his victim, exerts certain occult powers to numb his faculties and, cutting up the body, extracts the liver, which he eats and then joins the parts of the body together again so that the friends of the dead man know not how he came to lose his life.

Having satisfied his thirst for blood, the man-wolf, at the wane of his madness, once more seeks human shape, and then it is probable that he suffers for his abnormal appetites. Reaction leaves him weak and debilitated, with dry throat and tongue, feeble vision, hollow and discoloured cheeks, and sore places where he was hurt by his victim struggling for life.

Some subjects of lycanthropia, or imitative madness, endure still greater horrors, and the case of a patient who trembled with terror at his own condition is quoted by M. Morel in his "etudes Cliniques."[5]

"See this mouth," he cried, touching his lips with his fingers, "it is the mouth of a wolf, and see the long hairs which cover my body and my paws. Let me bound away into the woods so you may shoot me there!"

When his family endeavoured to caress him, he cried out that they were embracing a wolf. He asked for raw meat, the only food he could touch, but on tearing it apart he found it not to his liking as it had not been freshly killed. Thus he went through the tortures of the damned until released by death.

Another victim of the disease is mentioned by Fincelius in his second Book of Wonders. He says that "at Padua in the year 1541 a certain husbandman did seem to himself wolf, and did leap upon many in the fields, and did kill them. And that at last he was taken not without much difficulty, and did confidently affirm that he was a true wolf, only that the difference was in the _skin turned in with the hairs_.

And therefore that, having put off all humanity and being truly truculent and voracious, he did smite and cut off his legs and arms, thereby to try the truth of the matter, but the innocency of the man being known, they committed him to the chirurgeon's to be cured, but that he died not many days after. Which instance is sufficient to overthrow the vain opinion of those men that believe that a man or woman may be really transubstantiated into a wolf, dog, cat, squirrel or the like without the operation of an omnipotent power."

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