What Is and Isn’t a Werewolf

I’ve been asked a lot of times, in various places, what is and isn’t a werewolf. I’m going to try to simplify it down to the most common mistakes – I’m sure I’ll miss a few, but here we go!

A good guideline to what I personally define as being a werewolf can be found here. But with that said, let’s get a little more into it, shall we? Let’s do that with some fancy lists; everybody likes lists.

Note that this is generally to be taken in a folkloric context. I might touch upon a few pop culture things – and these concepts, in my opinion, definitely do still hold true in pop culture – but generally speaking I’m referring to folklore, here.

Creatures that are confused with werewolves (but are not werewolves):

  • Vampires – Well, yeah. This is actually a pretty common one, for various reasons – but no, werewolves are not vampires, vampires are not werewolves, and “werepyres” (*cringes at the word* more on that later) are definitely not a thing in folklore at all ever.
  • Witches/sorcerers – This is a big one for me. Witches and sorcerers that turn into wolves are not werewolves, and that’s the case for a lot of reasons. (Side-note: Peter Stubbe/Peter Stumpp was absolutely not a werewolf, I wish people would stop counting his trial among werewolf folklore.) The overwhelming majority of werewolf scholars wrongfully claim various witches and sorcerers to be included among werewolf folklore, but I heartily disagree. Firstly, they rarely turned into a wolf for a thematic purpose (most werewolves turned into wolves for a reason, unlike modern media), and they often did so as an illusion, not a true transformation. More on that in my “what is a werewolf?” fact.
  • Wargs/worgs – This is another pretty big one. I did a little post on wargs/worgs once – you can find it here! But long story short, wargs (worgs is improper, introduced by D&D, see post for details) are giant wolves, generally extremely intelligent. They do not, however, generally shapeshift, so the idea of them being werewolves is out. They are, though, absolutely fantastically awesome, at least in mythology (pop culture doesn’t always do them so well and has an annoying tendency to make them all irredeemably evil).
  • The Beast of Gevaudan – Yep, absolutely not a werewolf – not in folklore, at any rate, though lots of people today like to make it a werewolf in pop culture because they were most likely told the myths were about a werewolf, which they kind of really weren’t. Details on that here.
  • Shapeshifters in general – If the person in question is turning into things other than just a wolf or wolf-man hybrid… not really a werewolf. That’s a shapeshifter.
  • All other werecreatures/werebeasts – This is a common mix-up, in both werewolf studies and popular culture. Mostly in that the overwhelming majority of “werebeasts” have retroactively taken basically all of their qualities from werewolf folklore and pop culture, and that includes their prefix/names.

Now, of course, some people define werewolves by what they look like. But werewolves come in wide variety. And remember: technically, all werewolves have tails! Or at the very least the more wolfish (not the ones in the style of the old Hollywood wolf-man) do.

Now let’s move on to another topic – what about creatures that some people claim aren’t werewolves, but let’s be honest, they totally are?

Here’s a list for those, too…

Creatures that are definitely werewolves (and sometimes people try to deny it):

Obviously I’m not just putting “werewolves” on here. As mentioned, lots more details in my “what is a werewolf” post linked to at the start of this post.

  • Berserkers – Yes, berserkers are totally werewolves, even if not all of them undergo an actual transformation. They’re wolf-warriors (NOT bear-warriors, despite what a lot of terrible scholarship will claim), and plenty turned into wolves – the rest “fought as wolves,” did all those awesome things like flying into mad rages and biting the rims of their shields and becoming impervious to all metal and fire and generally just being insanely hardcore badasses. You can read all about details of just how hardcore they are in various sagas (my favorite berserker is definitely Kveldulf) – you can also read my post about them here. I should really expand that sometime, or maybe do a part 2… There is just so much to say about berserkers (I adore them).
  • “Wolf shifters” – Yes, the wolf shifters in all those books are just werewolves. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have assorted Hollywood werewolf qualities – they’re still werewolves.
  • All other werewolves not called “werewolves” – This happens way more than it does for vampires, very unjustly. The word “werewolf” has a massive stigma around it, just ask anyone in any professional industry. So people call werewolves by all sorts of silly ridiculous things when they’re obviously just werewolves of someone’s interpretation or another. Worgen, wulven, lycans, blutbads, children of the moon, wolf shifters, cursed, accursed, blood beasts… Some people even just call werewolves “wolves,” which I’ve always found absurd. Some also just call them “weres,” which makes maybe even less sense than calling them wolves. But they are werewolves because they are humans + wolves, which means calling them humans (”weres” would mean “humans” and in no way denotes actual shapeshifting) or just calling them wolves is… weird. At any rate, there you have it. Can we just call all of them werewolves and give the word back its strength and scariness, instead of it being considered a lame joke?

Oops I kinda got up on a soapbox again. And you know me, I’d call a lot of the terrible horrible werewolves in Hollywood unworthy of being called werewolves (and most of those unfortunately were called werewolves; not that naming your thing a silly “our werewolves are different, we swear!” name actually makes people not recognize them instantly as werewolves), but…

Anyway!

Then, an outlier: you have Vrykolakas. I did a post on this before, so you can find a lot more detail here! But long story short, they are and they aren’t werewolves. It’s complicated. I really don’t know how I’d classify them; it’s really up to the lore of the writer/setting in question, if they are included in said lore, and/or which werewolf scholar you might ask. They can go either way depending on the legend in question.

I think that mostly covers it! I’m sure I missed more than a few, and I know this was largely just an overview and a lot of links, but hey, at least we have this nice concise list now, right?… Right?