There’s a common – and very silly – misconception that there are “no female werewolves” in folklore. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there are certainly far more werewolf men than women, but let’s go over the why of that and also cover how there are certainly werewolf women, too.
I’ve given a few talks about this, as a woman who loves werewolf legends, so you might imagine it’s pretty important to me for people to understand that a werewolf woman isn’t a uniquely modern concept.
There are actual arguments out there claiming that all werewolves are male and, oh no, there’s never been any female werewolves in folklore so we have to make our own in popular culture. That’s a ridiculous statement made by people who clearly have never bothered reading the legends.
The werewolf curse is in itself defined as “a man or a woman who turns into a wolf” in some of our oldest sources. There’s no exclusion of women.
There are two big reasons why most werewolf stories are about men: first of all, stories of these various time periods focused on men more than women. Women appeared in many, many werewolf legends, but they were not often the werewolf in question, as they were usually reactionary instead of being the protagonist. This is because werewolves were generally someone in the role of a warrior, a knight, a guardian, a ruler/king, an outlaw, etc., roles at that point in time not regularly attributed to women (though some of these were too, at times! But we won’t get into historical discussion beyond the matter at hand).
Is it true that some werewolf legends were quite unfair to women, as were many stories and legends of all these time periods? Yes. Take the “werewolf husband” folklore element, for example. These stories are all about the treachery of unfaithful wives, like Bisclavret (no one can make me dislike Bisclavret, though, despite that), Melion, Arthur and Gorlagon, etc.
Anyway, getting back on track, let’s talk about actual werewolf women…
- In the werewolves of Ossory story, which I detailed here, one of the werewolves who talks to the priest is an old woman.
- There are plenty of werewolf grandmas out there, as detailed here.
- There are other Chinese werewolf women; a good source on them is this book here, which is a translation of stories instead of retellings or someone’s interpretation, which is always preferable. One of my personal favorites features a werewolf woman betrothed to a guy, turns out she doesn’t like him, so she eats him and her entire werewolf entourage eats his entourage and all their horses and they get away scot free.
- There’s one obscure Armenian story in which the werewolf is specified to be a woman who wears a wolf skin. You can find it mentioned in one of my favorite werewolf sources, The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould.
- A 1615 treatise by Jean de Nynauld mentions a story about a woodsman who was attacked by a wolf, cut off its paw, and then later found a woman missing a hand – that woman was then burned alive for being a werewolf (bearing in mind this was during the time when werewolves were now seen as evil, as I discuss at length in various werewolf facts). This story was retold and adapted in various forms in various places. You can find Nynauld’s variant of the story in Baring-Gould’s book as well.
I’ve been asked before about good sources for female werewolves. Truth is, you need to just use the same sources as you do for all werewolf folklore.Here are many good sources. These are absolutely the ones I recommend.
‘Cause the fact is, there are no good sources specifically on female werewolves. If you find one that claims to be, it’s almost certainly going to be a gimmick. Just being honest. There are so many people out there right now trying to get in on the werewolf fever that started really going after Twilight was first published. I remember loving werewolves for so long and them being obscure, I was so “weird” for being so passionate about them, then suddenly they became mainstream. They even became a subgenre of romance fiction. It was all very weird and sudden to me.
At any rate, as a result, there are tons of trashy little books out there with non-information in them that are sold based purely on gimmicks, and you really need to watch out for those. The writers of said books basically just googled werewolves and compiled all the bad nonsense “information” and somehow got it published. Or else it’s literally just a parody piece where it pretends to be written by a monster hunter and talks about their weird werewolf headcanons with no real-world folklore involved at all. And then people made an actual Wikipedia article called “Werewoman.” What is even– “were” means “man.” It has nothing to do with “being a shapeshifter.” You can’t just cut the prefix off werewolf and have a thing that means “shapeshifter,” that removes all connotation of actually turning into something else. If you say “weres” to refer to werewolves, or “werewomen” to refer to werewolf women, you are effectively removing any sense of shapeshifting or animal of any kind. “Were” means “man” so… man-women? Human-women. They are people women. So they are… ordinary women! That doesn’t work at all. Just like how if you say “weres,” you are just saying “people,” with no concept of shapeshifting involved whatsoever. I may not like the “weretiger” and “werebear” thing just being a lame takeoff of the word “werewolf,” but at least it isn’t just “person-person.”
Anyway! Pet peeves galore.
If you were ever under the impression that there were no werewolf women in folklore, I hope this set you down the path of clearing that up! There are more out there, of course, but these are some of the prime examples in my opinion.