English: Werewolf, by Rodrigo Ferrarezi Portug...

English: Werewolf, by Rodrigo Ferrarezi Português: Lobisomem, por Rodrigo Ferrarezi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight I gave my sixth speech from the Competent Communicator Manual. Tonight’s speech was the first time I’ve ever attempted speaking without notes, and it went way better than I expected. The exercise is ‘Vocal Variety’. The title is ‘Lycans’ and the time is meant to be 5-7 minutes. I was slightly overtime (but still within competition guidelines) at 7:07.


[Howl] There is nothing so mournful as the cry of the wolf and it is, perhaps, the most maligned creature on Earth. Yet it is also one of the most mysterious and revered. The wolf arouses such mixed emotions that it is no wonder legends arose of vicious man-beasts known as werewolves.

Mr Toastmaster, fellow members and guests, almost every culture has a werewolf legend.

The term werewolf is derived from the words wer, meaning man, and wulf, meaning wolf or beast and it refers to people who shape-shift (voluntarily or not) into the form of a wolf. The process of change is known as lycanthropy which comes from the greek word lykanthropos, which is itself derived from lykos, meaning wolf, and anthropos, meaning human. The term lycanthropy has also given rise to the more modern term of lycan, which is gradually replacing the term werewolf.

According to European folklore, there are several traits that will betray the identity of a werewolf. When in human form, werewolves have bushy eyebrows that meet at the bridge of the nose. They are likely to have curved fingernails, low set ears and a swinging stride. Russian superstition tells us that werewolves can be identified by the bristles under their tongue. Many werewolves become weak, debilitated and depressed after reverting to human form. If you still aren’t sure, just cut the flesh of your suspect. The presence of fur in the wound is a dead giveaway!

The appearance of the werewolf in animal form varies from culture to culture. It is most commonly portrayed as indistinguishable from ordinary wolves except for its human eyes and voice and lack of a tail.

There are several ways you can become a werewolf. Removing your clothing and donning a belt made of wolf skin or even a full pelt will effect a change, as will rubbing your body with a magic salve. Drinking rainwater from a wolfprint or drinking from certain enchanted streams could also cause you to become a werewolf. Livonian werewolves have only to drain a cup of especially prepared beer while repeating a set formula. In Italy, France and Germany you simply need to sleep outside on a summer night with the full moon shining directly on your face. Swearing allegiance to Satan, earning divine punishment or being born during a full moon will also result in your transformation.

So you’ve discovered your best friend is a werewolf. What now? First of all, protect yourself and your family. Religious artifacts such as crucifixes and holy water are not effective against werewolves – you are better off with rye and mistletoe. Now to cure your friend. You could try long bouts of physical activity – exhaustion can cure lycanthropy. European werewolves can be cured medically (with wolfsbane), surgically or by exorcism. Of course, many of these cures are fatal. Sicilian werewolves can be cured by striking the forehead or scalp with a knife or piercing their hands with nails. German werewolves need only be addressed by their Christian name three times, while for the Danish, a scolding is sufficient. By far the easiest way to help your friend is to convert him to Christianity or make a devotion to St Hubert.

Nineteenth century literature and film has brought some changes to the werewolf legend. One can now become a werewolf merely by being bitten by another werewolf. The famous rivalry between werewolves and vampires is a Hollywood invention, as is the werewolves’ vulnerability to silver (and apparent resistance to other attacks). The often painful, transformation at each full moon is another modern addition that we take for granted.

While earlier portrayals of werewolves are vicious, cunning and without mercy – Little Red Riding Hood is a good example of this – today’s werewolves are more likely to evoke sympathy than fear. Films such as Teen Wolf, Harry Potter and Twilight are heralding a new era where werewolf as savage outcast is replaced by werewolf as symbol of strength and faithfulness.

Origins of the werewolf legends are still unknown, though there have been many theories presented. Porphyria, hypertrichosis, downs syndrome and rabies have all been blamed at one time or another, though none of these fit the bill exactly.

Many authors suggest werewolf and vampire legends were used to explain serial killings in less rational ages. This theory is supported by the tendency towards cannibalism, mutilation and cyclic attacks displayed by modern serial killers – all traits associated with werewolves.

We may never know the origin of the werewolf stories but real or imagined, diseased human or serial killer, deserving of terror or empathy, I have no doubt these creatures will continue to fascinate.

Mr Toastmaster.

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