Shapeshifters: Werewolves, Tricksters, Monster…

While the traditional image of the werewolf is,
without a doubt, the first thing that springs to mind when a discussion
of shapeshifters takes place, the truth of the matter is that
there is a veritable menagerie of such infernal things in our midst. Were-cats,
were-tigers, were-hyenas, and were-coyotes are also near the top of the
monstrous list. Then, there are the ancient beliefs that those who died violent
deaths—or those who were, themselves, murderers—were often destined to return
to our plane of existence in the forms of hideous beasts, including wild and
savage ape-like animals, fearsome black dogs with glowing and blazing red eyes,
and mermaid-like things. There are also beings from other worlds: aliens,
extraterrestrials, and Men in Black.

Even the legendary monsters of Loch Ness, Scotland, are
believed—in certain monster-hunting quarters—to be paranormal beasts
that have the ability to alter their appearances at will. As are legendary
vampires, who, the old legends suggest, can transform into the likes of bats
and wolves.

Collectively, all of these “things” amount to
an absolute army of otherworldly creatures, and half-human monsters that have
plagued and tormented us since the dawning of civilization. And, they show zero
signs of slowing down anytime soon. The things you thought were only fit for
campfire tales, late-night stories intended to thrill little children, and
entertaining monster-movies, are, in actuality, creatures of the real world. Of
our world. Shapeshifters are everywhere: they lurk in the shadows, in the deep
woods and expansive forests, in dark and dank caves, and in the murky waters of
our lakes and rivers. Maybe even, after sunset, in the recesses of your very
own backyard, patiently waiting to pounce. And many of them like nothing better
than to terrorize and torment us, the human race. Let’s take a look at a few
examples:

Werewolves
The latter part of the 1800s saw the surfacing of a tale of shapeshifting out
of Germany—a country that has a long and checkered history of encounters with
werewolves. It’s specifically to the town of Ludwigslust we have to turn our
attentions, a town with origins that date back to 1724.  One particular
creature that became almost legendary in 1879 was a large, wild wolf that
seemingly was completely unaffected by bullets. The brazen beast would even
creep up on hunters and steal their bounty—their dinner, in other words. It’s
no surprise that word soon got around that maybe the wolf was more than just a
nimble animal that had been lucky enough to avoid getting shot. Some thought it
was supernatural in nature. Others, in quiet tones, suggested Ludwigslust had its
very own werewolf. They were right. Witnesses claimed to see a wizened old
witch transform into the deadly beast—and back again.

In April 2016, a very strange story surfaced out of the
north of England. And to the extent that not just the local media, but the
national media, too, were busy chasing down the strange and sinister story of
what has become known as the “Werewolf of Hull,” reportedly an
eight-foot-tall, hair-covered monster. The case was, however, notable for the
fact that several of the witnesses claimed the beast shape-shifted from a
terrible, foul monster into the form of a black-cloaked old witch.

Most of the reports surfaced in and around the vicinity
of what is called the Beverley and Barmston Drain, a land drainage operation,
the origins of which date back to the latter part of the 1800s. A tunnel that
carries the drain can be found below an old bridge on Beverley Beck, a canal in
East Riding, Yorkshire, England—a location where a number of the encounters
with the hair-covered thing have taken place.

So, what might the creature have been? The UK’s media
picked up—and picked up quickly and widely—on a local legend of an abominable
beast known as “Old Stinker.” It’s a terrifying
half-human/half-animal thing that has a long history in the area, a history
that dates back centuries. So the story goes, the name came from the legend
that the creature allegedly suffered from severely bad breath! And its physical
appearance was said to have been no better either: it was covered in hair, and
had piercing and glowing red eyes. On top of that, it regularly devoured the
corpses of the recently deceased.

Were-cats
Jennifer’s encounter occurred in her small Oregon hometown in the fall of 2011.
Late one night, Jennifer saw what she assumed was a large black dog walking
towards her, on the sidewalk. As the creature got closer, Jennifer was
horrified to see it was actually a significantly-sized cat. As in the size of a
jaguar. Jennifer was about to make a run for cover—but to where, at that time
of night, she admitted she had no idea—when the cat suddenly stood upright,
changed its appearance and ran across the road, at a phenomenal speed, and
vanished into an alley on the other side of the road. Notably, Jennifer said
that the cat did not lose its black color as it changed into human form, nor
did it lose its cat-like head. It was, according to Jennifer, something that
appeared half-human and half-cat. A definitive were-cat.

Elementals
Of the many and varied kinds of “elementals
that were said to possess the awesome powers of shapeshifting, certainly one of
the most mysterious, and strangest of all, was the Dryad. It was a
definitive entity of magical proportions that took shapeshifting to a truly
unique level. The Dryad was a supernatural entity that features heavily in
ancient Greek mythology, and which was exclusively associated with forests,
woods, and trees. There was a very good reason for that: the Dryad had the
uncanny and eerie ability to transform itself into a tree!

Coyotes
Perceived almost unanimously by Native Americans as a trickster-like animal,
the coyote is said to have the ability to control the weather, specifically
rain and storms. And, like so many other trickster entities—such as fairies and
goblins—the coyote can be friendly, playful, and helpful. But, and also like
all tricksters, the coyote has a dark side: it can be manipulative, deceitful,
and even deadly, and as the mood takes it. As for what Native American lore
says of the shapeshifting abilities of the coyote, we are told that the animal
can take on human form, usually in the guise of a man with a large mustache.
Coyotes are said to be able to transform into the forms of birds, fish, and
cats. Also according to Native American mythology, witches and those familiar
with magical rituals can transform themselves into coyotes. Thus, a coyote seen
running wildly late at night may well be a shapeshifting witch or wizard,
embarking on some dark and disturbing mission.

The Kitsune
Japan has its very own shapeshifter: the Kitsune. It is a word that means
“fox.” Japanese lore has long maintained that each and every fox that
lives—and that has ever lived—has the ability to take on the appearance of a
human, whether that of a man or of a woman. And, like many of the shapeshifters
that we have focused on so far, the Kitsune alternates from being a malevolent
creature to a placid and helpful entity. Mostly, however, it acts as a classic
Trickster – manipulating people, and playing endless mind-games.

And that’s just the start of things: the Men in Black who
terrorize UFO witnesses
have been seen to morph into the forms of blazing-eyed, black dogs. The
legendary Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia has been described variously
as a winged humanoid, as giant bat-like animal, and as a huge bird. Clearly,
the beast is able to take on multiple guises. Bigfoot witnesses tell of the
creatures changing into bright balls of light. The legendary creatures of Loch
Ness are said to have the ability to take on the forms of beautiful women and
large black horses.

If you think that shapeshifters are merely the things of
folklore, mythology and legend, it’s time to think again. Shapeshifters are
here, there, and everywhere—and in multiple, monstrous forms, too…

[Nick Redfern, Llewellyn]