So remember that time I discussed ways to become a werewolf, and what came from folklore and what didn’t? Here’s another one, answering that burning question… what are the powers and abilities of a werewolf, anyway?
You know, aside of being totally awesome. We all know that one.
You might call a lot of these before I even list them – but do you know which ones are from folklore and which ones aren’t? Plenty of werewolf folklore actually has a lot of those abilities you might be thinking of – but pop culture expanded it considerably because, let’s face it, werewolves in folklore were from smaller-scale (and frankly often more meaningful) stories than people tend to put them in today.
So have some power lists…
Did NOT appear in folklore:
- Ice powers – I’ve seen things here and there that give werewolves ice powers. That’s great, but no, werewolves never had those in folklore.
- Fire powers – Just like ice powers, sadly this was never a thing. Doesn’t make it less awesome, though.
- Poison/venom – Plenty of things today like to say that a werewolf bite contains some form of “venom” that may be poisonous, such as to vampires. Yeah, that was never a thing. The werewolf vs vampire war was also never a thing, but more on that later.
- “Sire” powers – You know how some pop culture gives werewolf powers like a vampire “sire” from pop culture? That didn’t ever occur in folklore, either.
- “Alpha” powers – Very similar to the sire powers, there were no werewolf “alphas” that dominated other werewolves, were the only ones to infect others, could be slain to acquire a cure, etc. Werewolves in folklore didn’t do the whole “power levels” thing.
- Absorbing the pain of others – Looking at you, MTV Teen Wolf. I love this ability, but they completely made it up. That doesn’t make it less awesome and interesting, though, frankly. Oh gosh I love it so much for some reason, okay?
- Exploring memories of others – See the above.
- Telepathy – This goes hand in hand with the alpha powers. There’s not really folkloric case of werewolves communicating with each other telepathically.
- Dog physiology jokes – No, werewolves are not dogs. They are not dogs when they transform and they are not dogs in human form, okay? They can eat freaking chocolate if they damn well please. Werewolves being dogs was never a thing and it never should be a thing and ugh please just end the pain of it right now.
- Any of those other weird things – The list here could go on and on, I’m sure, because lots of things have their own spin they put on werewolves. But if it isn’t in the list below this one – chances are it wasn’t a thing in folklore, either.
Appeared in folklore:
- Transformation (duh) – Well of course there’s this, because that’s their whole thing. I just had to put it on here so no one would make a joke about it.
- Inhuman strength/stamina/speed – Yep! This was a thing, too. If you don’t believe me, go ask all those people Kveldulf beat up. In human form. This applies to both forms. Werewolves are physically superior to wolves and humans, both of the things they’re kin to.
- Inhuman senses (smell, sight, etc) – A lot of this also relates to the ulfhednar, but it was a thing. Not always apparent and not always common, but I’d still argue it was there. (By this I mean it applies to human form as well, like the previous one)
- Invulnerability (and regeneration) – Not all werewolves in myth are invincible, but you definitely won’t see them falling easy prey to your silly silver contrivance (hint: because that wasn’t a thing) or much else. Some werewolves were essentially invincible. Did all of them regenerate? Goodness, no. There are lots of legends of a werewolf retaining wounds between forms and that’s how they get caught – that’s a classic. But are they tougher than a normal person? Generally speaking – absolutely. And yes, applies to both forms.
- Immortality – Move over, vampires, you’re not as superior as you think you are.
- Communicating with wolves – There are lots of “wild child” werewolf accounts, especially in the later Middle Ages. We also see a werewolf working with wolves in other stories, such as some Norse sagas and Melion. Can apply to both human and beast form.
- Intelligence and speech – Werewolves aren’t dumb, and some of them can even speak. I actually did werewolf fact on all of that once!
- Stepping between planes/dimensions/worlds – I haven’t written up the werewolf fact on one of my favorite accounts yet, the tale of Thiess and the Hounds of God, but this relates to that one in particular – in which werewolves were highly benevolent beings sent by God to protect people, fight demons, and even pass to and from Earth and other worlds (i.e. Hell), to do those jobs.
The biggest difference, honestly, in terms of powers and abilities that a werewolf has in folklore as opposed to pop culture, is pop culture’s preoccupation with turning them into pack society creatures instead of the individuals we find in folklore.
And as much as I love any good relation to real wolves and wolf behavior (if you’re writing a werewolf story, be sure to read up on the truth behind Alpha/Beta/Omega, though, even if you still plan on using it), it’s honestly degraded werewolves somewhat as individuals – especially insofar as werewolf mechanics in video games are concerned.
Another reason for a lot of the stuff that was made up by pop culture stems from the fact that you won’t really see werewolves interacting in folklore much at all; it’s very rare (possible, but still very rare) to find a piece of werewolf folklore that includes more than one werewolf… which is basically the polar opposite of what we have today. Now werewolves are plague rats. Can we please go back to werewolves being unique and scary and at least slightly more individual, instead of only being scary in large groups? At least a little bit?
At any rate, there you have it!
I like to mix and match, personally. I love the summoning wolves thing, and I of course love werewolves in general – regardless of form – being physically superior to ordinary beings, among others. But we all know I have biases…