Rahne (pronounced “rain”) Sinclair, alias Wolfsbane, is a character created for Marvel Comics, first appearing in Marvel Graphic Novel #4: The New Mutants in 1982. She has since appeared in a number Marvel comics and television series, including New Mutants, X-Factor, Excalibur and New X-Men as a member of government sanctioned crime-fighting teams.
A Scottish orphan, Rahne discovers her ‘mutant’ lycanthropy at puberty and is chased from her village in wolf form by an angry mob believing her to be possessed by the devil. Rahne finds refuge in Xavier’s School of Gifted Youngsters, a training ground for mutant crime-fighters. The mutations that see the graduates shunned by society nevertheless endow them with superhuman strength and abilities, serving them in their ongoing quest to save the world.
In Maggie Stiefvater's bestselling trilogy —Shiver, Linger and Forever—the dropping mercury sees Grace Brisbane and her fellow lycanthropes transform into the wolves of Mercy Falls. Grace was attacked by werewolves as an eleven year old, however, was saved by a yellow-eyed wolf, with whom she comes to form a deep a connection. A childhood fever prevents her from undergoing a transformation at the time of the attack, but a second bite some years later sets her lycanthropy in motion. The trilogy draws on current tensions surrounding the reintroduction of wolves into the American landscape, pitting Grace and her fellow wolves against the residents of Mercy Falls.
Leah Clearwater is the only female shape-shifter in Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga, causing her to view herself as a deficient woman, as a “freak” or “girlie-wolf—good for nothing else.” Although referred to as werewolves throughout the book, Meyer’s fictionalised Quileute Native Americans prefer the term ‘shape-shifter’ for their totemic, congenitally inherited werewolf nature, differentiating themselves from infectious, lunar-cycling werewolves, or Children of the Moon. Once Leah begins wolf phasing she ceases menstruating, simultaneously robbed of her ability to become pregnant and excluded from being a Child of the Moon in more ways than one.
Julia Jones is the latest actress to portray a shape-shifting Native American, a legacy that can be traced back to the 1913 film, The Werewolf. Unlike her Victorian predecessors, Jones is of Native American heritage herself.
Maki (or Mahi) Kaibara is the main character in Midori Yukako’s Ookami Nanka Kowakunai! (I’m Not Afraid of Wolves!), by Japan’s Princess Comics.
Maki is unaware that she is descended from werewolves. Her lupine (werewolf) nature lies largely dormant until she turns sixteen, at which time Maki’s senses suddenly become heightened and she gains physical strength and speed. Maki’s werewolf blood also causes her to sprout ears and a tail, although these are only visible to fellow werewolves. The largest change, however, occurs in Maki’s personality during the full moon, when she transforms from a timid, awkward wallflower to confident she-wolf. Although she looks the same, the formerly invisible nobody now attracts considerable attention. The rarity of female werewolves also makes her hotly contested amongst rival clans, both ruled by powerful lupine matriarchs.
Lilia is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as a member of the world’s hairiest family, five generations of whom have been born with congenital generalized hypertrichosis, popularly known as ‘werewolf syndrome.’ Werewolf syndrome is believed by some biologists to be the residue of an earlier evolutionary stage that, like supernumerary nipples or caudal appendages, is no longer expressed in the general population, but which nevertheless remain dormant in our genetic makeup. Such thinking causes especial anxiety amongst creationists, who insist on humanity’s genetic independence from, and moral superiority to, all other species.
In 1999, Lilia performed in the circus as Lili the Wolf Girl and features in “The Werewolf Boys” episode of Guinness World Records: Primetime. Lilia has also appeared in Ripley's Believe It or Not (“The Wolf People”) while her family is referenced in the “Werewolves” episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
The winter solstice was a primary time for werewolf births and activity in ancient werewolf lore, transmuted to Christmas Eve with the rise of Christianity. As a Lithuanian-Australian, Rima has always known what it is to be a hybrid, to sit between two cultures. In a country without wolves, the dingo serves as the local representative of the devil’s hound while also embodying the cultural complexities and challenges faced by New Australians. Its status as native animal is contested and the default classification of the blonde canine remains ‘feral’ outside national parks despite the dingo having been part of the Australian ecosystem for at least 4000 years. Debates also continue as to whether the dingo should be classified as Canis familiaris dingo (domestic dog dingo), Canis lupus dingo (wolf dingo), or Canis lupus familiaris dingo (wolf domestic dog dingo), all three options describing a creature which straddles the boundaries of civilisation and wilderness.
Rima has also known the curse of those born at Christmas time, robbed of their unique celebrations (and gifts). This is exacerbated in Lithuanian culture, which holds its primary gift-giving celebration, Kūčios, on Christmas Eve. Other archaic werewolf legends from the region tell of people transforming into wolves after drinking the water that settles in a paw print, or from passing through the roots of particular trees. In the Werewolf Pines (Vilkaču Priede) of Skaņaiskalns National Park, Latvia, for example, the ancient trees reputedly serve as supernatural portals. The Mazsalacā tourism website provides helpful instructions for effecting werewolf transformations, specifying that one must crawl “three times, unclothed, backwards through the roots during the full moon on a Thursday.”
Olga Dubeneckienė-Kalpokienė was a dancer, actress and artist as well as one of the founding members of the Vilkolakio Teatras (Werewolf Theatre). The avant-garde theatre group, operating in Kaunas Lithuania from 1920–1925, took their name from local legends of shape-shifters being traditionally employed to entertain wedding guests.
Folklorist Norbertas Velius collected urban legends of Lithuanian werewolves including three featuring wedding parties or brides. In one tale, a wedding party transforms after riding through a gateway. One of the wolves has a white head, back and tail, identifying her as the transformed bride in married-woman’s headdress. Villagers chase the wolves back through the gate whereupon they resume their human shape along with the wedding celebrations.
Werewolf scholar Chantal Bourgault du Coudray suggests that the proliferation of demonic female werewolves in nineteenth-century fiction was a response to the fear and alarm generated by the emerging womens’ rights movement, the suffragettes, in England at the time. These femme fatale werewolves were usually young, beautiful, foreign and dressed in white fur, with a tell-tale glint in their eye and intent upon the destruction of husbands and other unsuspecting men. Significantly, the suffragette werewolf committed her atrocities as a woman not as a wolf, only returning to lupine (wolf) form after death.
One such femme fatale is White Fell from Clemence Housman's 1896 English novella, The Werewolf. In the illustration by the author’s brother Laurence Housman, White Fell’s gender is not obvious, reinforcing the subtle allusions to androgyny in his sister’s text.
In 1913, the Canadian company Bison released its silent film The Werewolf, directed by Henry MacRae. Based on an 1898 short story by Henry Beaugrand, a Navajo woman, Kee-On-Ee (Marie Walcamp) transforms her daughter Watuma (Phyllis Gordon) into a wolf using witchcraft to exact revenge against invading white settlers. It is the first known example of a werewolf being portrayed on the silver screen. Sadly, the film was lost to a warehouse fire in 1924, and a single theatre poster offers the only visual clues as to how the female werewolf was portrayed, although it is known that a simple dissolve effect was used to transform woman into wolf. The film’s portrayal of the Native American she wolf saw anxieties about female morality combined with xenophobic fears of racial degeneracy.
Prior to Charles Perrault’s publication of Le Petite Chaperon Rouge in his 1697 collection of French fairy tales, the tale of a little girl in red who meets a wolf on the way to her grandmother’s existed as a peasant tale, with possible roots in the eleventh century. In one version of the tale, the wolf tricks Red into eating her grandmother. The scene appears in David Kaplan’s 1997 short film, Little Red Riding Hood, which visually references the artist Gustave Doré’s 1865 image of Red in bed with the wolf. Christina Ricci plays the title role in Kaplan’s film and also plays suspected werewolf, Ellie Myers, in Wes Craven's 2005 film, Cursed.
Kirsten Bakis’ best selling novel, Lives of the Monster Dogs (1997), captures the final days of a community of highly intelligent, surgically-altered dogs. The dogs have prosthetic hands and voice boxes, walk upright and wear clothes, are able to speak and perform complex actions. They were bred in the Canadian wilderness by nineteenth-century Prussian inventor, Augustus Rank, intended as a race of fiercely loyal soldiers. After Rank dies, the dogs maintain their Prussian dress and manners but abandon the wilderness for New York in 2008. Here, they become instant celebrities, living lives of high culture and decadence until an incurable illness causes most of the dogs to regress to lower intelligence and savagery. One exception is Lydia Petze, a white Samoyed, who is amongst the most civilised and cultured of the Monster Dogs and the key canine heroine of Bakis’ novel.
Angela Carter’s 1979 short story The Company of Wolves borrows from very old versions of Little Red Riding Hood to create a contemporary heroine. In doing so, Carter set in motion a new generation of Red Riding Hoods whose relationship with the wolf sees the boundaries progressively blurred to the point that Red Riding Hood is increasingly depicted as the wolf.
A passing reference in Carter’s story to a wedding at which the entire bridal party are cursed to turn into wolves becomes a major scene in the film of the same name directed by Neil Jordan in 1984. Weddings were a popular theme in archaic werewolf lore, as well as the traditional occasion on which maidens were ‘initiated’ into womanhood.
In the Philippe Mora spoof from 1987, "Howling III: The Marsupials", an endangered race of were-thylacines is discovered in the Australian wilderness. Mora blurs biology and combines clichéd European werewolf mythology with the shameful environmental legacy embodied by the Tasmanian tiger (aka marsupial wolf), utilising the parallel demonisation and persecution of the two animals in order to cast the lead lycanthrope, Jerboa Jerboa, in a sympathetic light. The simultaneous wonder and fear inspired by the discovery of the were-thylacines reverberates with reports circulating in the Early Modern era of strange races—such as the dog-headed Cynocephali—that European explorers brought back with them from new worlds. The Tasmanian Tiger, with its Latin name Thylacinus cynocephalus, further embeds Jerboa in the legends of dog-headed races from earlier centuries.
Erzsébet Báthory, who is mentioned in Sabine Baring Gould's The Book of Werewolves (1865), was a 16th century Hungarian noblewoman who spent the last four years of her life bricked-up within her castle in Čachtice, Slovakia. Legend has it that Erzsébet tortured and killed 600 virgins in order to bathe in their blood, believing it kept her skin youthful. It is rumoured that the countess was followed around by a she wolf and that the three 'prongs' that form the letter 'E' in her family seal represent wolf's teeth.
Julie Delpy directs herself as the Hungarian noblewoman in the 2009 film, The Countess, and also starred in An American Werewolf in Paris (1997).
On 20 May 1990, a stone memorial commemorating the 350th anniversary of Kongla Ann’s trial for witchcraft, was unveiled in the North-Estonian parish of Viru-Nigula. A nearby notice describes the memorial as “a symbol honouring nonconformers and dissenters throughout the ages whose activity has enabled Estonian traditions and customs to survive to this day.”
Ann testified to having turned into a tornado many times as well as a werewolf, although she denied causing any harm in this form, apart from chasing dogs. A witnessed claimed to have seen Ann transform into an invisible dog, in which guise she bewitched and caused the death of a child at Pada Manor, where she was later tried.
The Old Estonian trial transcript reads Ann's confession that she ran as a werewolf (literally witch wolf) then hid her wolf pelt beneath a large stone.
A pdf of Ann's trial transcript (in Old Estonian) is available here:
The mutilated or amputated hand was a potent motif for Swiss surrealist Meret Oppenheim. Although the artist doesn’t specify the identity of the woman or the breed of animal in Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers (1936), the work resonates strongly with the legend of the French noblewoman Arline of Barioux.
Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers is an image that suggests the interwoven fate of women and animals. It also hints at the violence which both have been subjected to throughout history, and of their supposed possession of magical powers.
St Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, was a shepherdess whose saintliness was such that sheep and wolves would harmoniously co-exist in her presence. German-born American artist Kiki Smith has made numerous artworks of the saint without her sheep and preferring the company of wolves. Red Riding Hood and Mary Magdalene (immortalised in the Nuremberg Chronicles, from Smith’s birthplace) join Genevieve to make up Smith’s wolf girls.
In Estonia in 1623 alone, thirteen women were tried as werewolves, among them Ann from Meremoisa, a town on the outskirts of Tallinn. Ann confessed to having been a werewolf for four years and to hiding her wolf skin beneath a stone in the fields. Ann was also blamed for the death of a horse and some small animals.
Lupine (wolf-like) femininity maintains a strong cultural presence in Estonia. The town of Viru-Nigula boasts a memorial commemorating Kongla Ann who, in 1640, also confessed under torture to burying her wolf skin beneath a large stone. In 2012, the Estonian State Puppet Theatre created a lavish musical to celebrate the centenary of August Kitzburg’s classic Estonian tragedy Libahunt (“Werewolf,” 1912) about the female werewolf Tiina. Estonia’s first post-Soviet pub Hell Hunt (tender wolf) features a naked blonde riding a smiling wolf as its logo.
In his witch-hunting essay, Discours execrable des Sorciers (1602) the French judge Henri Boguet tells the tale of a huntsman who is attacked by a large wolf in the French mountains. The huntsman fires his gun to no avail, however manages to cut off the wolf’s paw with his hunting knife, placing his trophy in his pouch after the wolf flees. On his way home the huntsman passes a gentleman at his château, who requests a share of the spoils. The huntsman obligingly reaches into his pouch for the wolf’s paw and is horrified to find instead a woman’s hand wearing a gold ring. The gentleman recognises the ring as belonging to his wife and immediately charges to the kitchen to confront her, finding her nursing a bleeding stump beneath her apron. The noblewoman confesses to being a werewolf and her husband promptly turns her over to the authorities for the appropriate punishment
Boguet relates the story as true, although no supporting documents exist. The amputated paw motif does appear, how-ever, in newspapers depicting the exploits of German werewolf Stubbe Peeter.
Else of Meersburg was brought to trial in Lucerne in the mid-fifteenth century on the charges of weather magic and riding on wolves and dogs. She was accused of causing hailstorms over many years by throwing water from a stream and calling upon her demons, Beelzebup and Krütli. The human hand and leg on Else’s wolf steed refer to Early Modern period (c.1500-1800) witness accounts of suspected werewolves. Expert werewolf researcher, Caroline Oates provides an example: “One victim of a severe fright said that the wolf had human toes on its hind paws, while another, who later died of his injuries, stated that his attacker's paws were hairless on the under-side and looked like human hands.”
The largely feminine crime of wolf riding helped to establish a connection between witches and were-wolves in the lead-up to the werewolf trials through out Early Modern Europe, particularly along the French-Swiss border. There is some suggestion that Else’s wolf was executed alongside her.