What can you use to tell werewolves apart from just regular old people? What are the physical telltale signs on a werewolf? How do you identify a werewolf while they’re in human form, anyway?
The answer is–
That’s right, all those things you hear about on the internet are complete and total garbage.
Werewolves DO NOT have hairy palms, a unibrow, excess body hair, curved fingernails, a “swinging stride,” and whatever other silliness you’ve heard across random internet articles, Wikipedia, or in certain unsourced books.
People with “brows that meet in the middle” were often generally considered dangerous and devilish in general, which probably helped get that tacked onto werewolves in particular. Wow – werewolves are dangerous, who knew? Someone tell that to game designers today.
I’ve tried very hard, time and again, to figure out where people got these ideas from. I just can’t find them. The only things I’ve ever found after some long, hard searching is a pair of books from the 1960s, one of which is film criticism and the other is a collection of short stories. Neither of them are actual sources on folklore. I’ve found one other written in the early 1900s, but still no actual sources there to convince me it has roots in folklore relating to specifically werewolves.
All that stuff is just more examples of how things get spread without a source and become “common knowledge” even though it’s all completely made up by people writing their own fiction. It’s extremely likely, given that, that no one at any point in the history of real-life werewolf beliefs actually freaked out when they saw a guy with a unibrow. But, regardless, we get plenty of media today using these incredibly silly ideas and taking them to heart.
Some of it may have originated from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in which Dracula himself exhibits “brows that meet in the center” and hairy palms. Yes, even though Dracula is a vampire. The line between werewolves and vampires is quite thoroughly blurred in Eastern Europe – pretty often, in fact. And, if anything, some of these telltale physical traits may have been more often associated with vampires.
The idea of hairy palms was also considered a kind of punishment for… Well, you know. And it didn’t really have a gosh darn thing to do with werewolves, so please don’t ask me where people got that from.
All in all, this sort of thing probably stemmed from atavism, which is technically defined as the reappearance of a genetic trait that has not appeared for many generations. But when it comes to study, atavism can also refer to the study of man regressing back to a more animalistic state. Think of it as, essentially, the opposite of evolution. Atavism (and in particular a study of the human skull, with a focus on studying the skulls of criminals, since anyone who committed a crime was generally considered atavistic) was popular during the Early Modern period, which is the same time when people were getting obsessed with “explaining” folklore and myth.
Signs of atavism included animalistic and caveman/prehuman-esque traits, which could include things like unibrows and other physical deformities that pop culture has since linked to werewolves.
There were, at various points, some ideas behind how to tell a werewolf based on medical beliefs, but these can’t be considered folklore, as their propagators weren’t people who actually believed in werewolves. These were people in the Early Modern period trying to scientifically explain the phenomena of people believing in werewolves at all, like Robert Burton. Such ideas included rabies (almost certainly where we get the “werewolf bite” pop culture from), porphyria (I never for the life of me understood why they picked this), melancholy (such scientific studies were referenced in Duchess of Malfy), and more. Oh, and of course just straight-up insanity.
At any rate, the real takeaway here is very simple.
If you’re going by folklore/actual historical werewolf beliefs, werewolves in human form have no outward signs of being a werewolf.
No dog smells, no weird physical features, no making weird noises… Heck, you could be a werewolf right now and not even realize it. Maybe you are. That’d be awesome, right?