Clinical lycanthropy is defined as a rare psychiatric syndrome which involves a delusion that the affected person can or has transformed into an animal, or that he or she is an animal.[1] Its name is connected to the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which people are said to physically shapeshift into wolves. The terms zoanthropy or therianthropy are also sometimes used for the delusion that one has turned into an animal in general and not specifically a wolf.[2]



Affected individuals report a delusional belief that they have transformed, or are in the process of transforming into an animal. It has been linked with the altered states of mind that accompany psychosis (the reality-bending mental state that typically involves delusions and hallucinations) with the transformation only seeming to happen in the mind and behavior of the affected person.

A study[3] on lycanthropy from the McLean Hospital reported on a series of cases and proposed some diagnostic criteria by which lycanthropy could be recognised:

  • A patient reports in a moment of lucidity or looking back he sometimes feels as an animal or has felt like one.
  • A patient behaves in a manner that resembles animal behavior, for example crying, grumbling, or creeping.

According to these criteria, either a delusional belief in current or past transformation, or behaviour that suggests a person thinks of themselves as transformed, is considered evidence of clinical lycanthropy. The authors go on to note that although the condition seems to be an expression of psychosis there is no specific diagnosis of mental or neurological illness associated with its behavioural consequences.

It also seems that lycanthropy is not specific to an experience of human-to-wolf transformation; a wide variety of creatures have been reported as part of the shape-shifting experience. A review[1] of the medical literature from early 2004 lists over thirty published cases of lycanthropy, only the minority of which have wolf or dog themes. Canines are certainly not uncommon, although the experience of being transformed into hyenas, cats, horses, birds and tigers has been reported on more than one occasion. Transformation into frogs, and even bees, has been reported in some instances. A 1989 case study[4] described how one individual reported a serial transformation, experiencing a change from human, to dog, to horse, and then finally cat, before returning to the reality of human existence after treatment. There are also reports of people who experienced transformation into an animal only listed as 'unspecified'.


Lycanthropy, a psychosis in which the patient has delusions of being a wild animal (usually a wolf), has been recorded since antiquity.   The Book of Daniel describes King Nebuchadnezzar as suffering from depression that deteriorated over a seven-year period into a frank psychosis at which time he imagined himself a wolf.  Among the first medical descriptions were those of Paulus Aegineta during the later days of the Roman Empire.  In his description of the symptom complex, Aegineta made reference to Greek mythology in which Zeus turned King Lycaon of Arcadia into a raging wolf.  Thereafter, references to lycanthropy appeared in the ancient literature.  Many medieval theologians envisioned lycanthropy as a consequence of the evil eye.

Delusions of being a wolf or some other feared animal are universal and, although rare in the industrialized countries, still occur in China, India, Africa, and Central and South America.  The animals in the delusioned transformation include leopards, lions, elephants, crocodiles, sharks, buffalo, eagles, and serpents.

Not infrequently, bizarre and chaotic sexuality is expressed in a primitive way through the lycanthropic symptom complex.  Patients whose internal fears exceed their coping mechanisms may externalize them via projection and constitute a serious threat to others.  Throughout the ages, such individuals have been feared because of their tendencies to commit bestial acts and were themselves hunted and killed by the populace.  Many of these people were paranoid schizophrenics.

Case Report

A 49-year-old married woman presented on an urgent basis for psychiatric evalution because of delusions of being a wolf and "feeling like an animal with claws."  She suffered from extreme apprehension and felt that she was no longer in control of her own fate:  she said, "A voice was coming out of me."  Throughout her 20-year marriage she experienced compulsive urges towards bestiality, lesbianism, and adultery.

The patient chronically ruminated and dreamed about wolves.  One week before her admission, she acted on these ruminations for the first time.  At a family gathering, she disrobed, assumed the female sexual posture of a wolf, and offered herself to her mother.  This episode lasted for approximately 20 minutes.  The following night, after coitus with her husband, the patient suffered a 2-hour episode, during which time she growled, scratched, and gnawed at the bed.   She stated that the devil came into her body and she became an animal.   Simultaneously, she experienced auditory hallucinations.  There was no drug involvement or alcoholic intoxication.

Hospital course. The patient was treated in a structured inpatient program.  She was seen daily for individual psychotherapy and was placed on neuroleptic medication.  During the first 3 weeks, she suffered relapses when she said such things as "I am a wolf of the night; I am a wolf woman of the day...I have claws, teeth, fangs, hair... and anguish is my prey at night...the gnashing and snarling of teeth...powerless is my cause, I am what I am and will always roam the earth long after death...I will continue to search for perfection and salvation.

She would peer into a mirror and look frightened because her eyes looked different: "One is frightened and the other is like the wolf--it was dark, deep, and full of evil, and full of revenge of the other eye.   This creature of the dark wanted to kill."  During these periods, she felt sexually aroused and tormented.  She experienced strong homosexual urges, almost irresistable zoophilic drives, and masturbatory compulsions--culminating in the delusion of a wolflike metamorphosis.  She would gaze into the mirror and see "the head of a wolf in place of a face on my own body--just a long-nosed wolf with teeth, groaning, snarling, growling...with fangs and claws, calling out "I am the devil."   Others around her noticed the unintelligible, animal-like noises she made.

By the fourth week she had stabilized considerably, reporting, "I went and looked into a mirror and the wolf eye was gone."  There was only other short-lived relapse, which responded to reassurance by experienced personnel.  With the termination of that episode, which occurred on the night of a full moon, she wrote what she experienced:  "I don't intend to give up my search for (what) I my present search for such a hairy creature.  I will haunt the graveyards...for a tall, dark man that I intend to find."  She was discharged during the ninth week of hospitalization on neuroleptic medication.

Psychological data.  On the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the patients performance showed normal intellect; the subscale configuration was devoid of behavioral correlates associated with organicity, as was the Bender Motor Gestalt Test.  On the Holtzman Ink Blot Technique, the performance was indicative of an acutely psychotic schizophrenic with distorted body image and gross sexual  preoccupation.  The Lovinger Sentence Completion Blank was corroborative.  The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was interpreted as showing an acute schizophrenic reaction with evidence of obsessional thinking, marked feelings of inferiority, and excessive needs for attention and affection.


We believed that the patient suffered from chronic pseudoneurotic schizophrenia.  What is of particular interest is that the delusional material was organized about a lycanthropic matrix.  Her symptom complex included the following classic symptoms:

1.  Delusions of werewolf transformation under extreme stress.

2.  Preoccupation with religious phenomenology, including feeling victimized by the evil eye.

3.  Reference to obsessive need to frequent graveyards and woods.

4.  Primitive expression of aggressive and sexual urges in the form of bestiality.

5.  Physiological concomitants of acute anxiety.

These symptoms occurred significantly in the absence of exposure to toxic substances.  Furthermore, the patient responded to the treatment protocol used for acute schizophrenia psychosis.  After reviewing ancient and modern literature, it is felt that the differential diagnosis for lycanthropy should include consideration of all of the following possibilities:  1) schizophrenia, 2) organic brain syndrome with psychosis,  3) psychotic depressive reaction, 4) hysterical neurosis of the dissociative type, 5) manic-depressive psychosis, and 6) psychomotor epilepsy.  The last item is mentioned because of the reports that individuals suffering from lycanthropy have been described as being "prone to epilepsy" and suffering from intercurrent amnestic episodes.

A search of modern literature produced three cases.  In two cases, the patients were ultimately diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia, facilitated by involvement with hallucinogenic drugs, and chronic brain syndrome with periodic psychoses.  In the third case, described by Morrell in 1852, it seems that the patient was suffering from a deteriorating psychotic depression.

We believed that the metamorphosis undergone by the patient we have described provided temporary relief from an otherwise consuming sexual conflict that might have taken the form of a completed suicide.

Lycanthropy is a rare phenomenon, but it does exist.  It should be regarded as a symptom complex and not a diagnostic entity.  Furthermore, although it may generally be an expression of an underlying schizophrenic condition, at least five other differential diagnostic entities must be considered.


This is not a world where it pays to flaunt what we are in front of humans, so the real lycanthropes hide and wait. One does not see their local lycanthrope pad out into the middle of the city square, clamber up onto the old statue of a significant city founder and start baying, crowing, or howling that they are a lycanthrope in the middle of lunch hour. Such actions would probably cause the poor sap to be committed the moment they touched ground, gain a significant amount of publicity, and get themselves locked away somewhere away from the rest of the "normal" folk.

     In today's world, one can have help when your bloody gerbil dies on campus. If someone keys your car, there is someone you can talk to nearby that has had the similar experience and doesn't mind talking with you about it in the middle of grocery store. If you are homosexual, bi or whatever you have help and a voice to listen to your frustrations, but not if you are a young lycanthrope...

      Where does the young lycanthrope go when he realizes that he is not what "everyone else is" inside --when the only voices around them are blaringly human? W.A.S.P.?  Dismissed as being mentally ill (in a world whose very definition of lycanthrope is a person who "thinks" they are something else)? Or simply closed to the entire concept? Where do they go when their feelings build up inside - they want to run around in the forest on all fours or hang upside-down somewhere dark? What if that son can't tell his parents he's a fox inside? or a mongoose? What if that daughter can't tell her parents that she's feels more like a raven? or a bear?

      The newly awakening being, whether wolf, raven, bear, fox, mongoose, bat, buffalo, or something else -- often feels as though there is no one else in the world that feels as they do. That they are destined to be alone and misunderstood for the rest of their lives. That life becomes one of loathing, perhaps -- where each day that passes becomes more painful.  Those that  believe they are alone in their lycanthropy sometimes also believe they are  the only one with this "insanity". The cities become uncomfortable to be in. The walls close in on them.  The slowly decreasing areas of trees and natural areas that could provide some respite from the feelings the expanding cities can bring are sometimes so pained themselves (in spirit)that they cannot help ease the feelings of dying life around them. What started perhaps as depression in a young lycanthrope, which may at one point have been more easily hidden, becomes more and more extreme. Some would even wish for death rather than continue in a world where "no one would ever understand." So the real lycanthropes hide themselves from the outside world... to hide themselves from a world that is not ready to embrace their natures as "natural." Sometimes they hide in the trappings of mankind in an attempt to distract themselves from their own inner turmoil, buring themselves deeper inside their own mind -- perhaps away from their own consciousness and the sight of those around them. But despite such burying, the truth remains inside, sometimes desperately clawing away at the youth's subconscious -- pleading -- demanding -- needing to be faced and dealt with. And until the lycanthrope reconsiliates with who and what they are and becomes one with it, accepting themselves as they are in their own heart, they will never truly be at peace (wherever they hide themselves.)

The older lycanthropes hide as well (even perhaps those who are content being what they are... or have even found others who understand them), knowing that showing themselves unneccesarily only exposes them to more redicule and misunderstanding from a world of people they want little to do with anymore.

       I have seen many people  claim to be "so misunderstood." In reality, they know nothing of what it is to be truly misunderstood; they wave their flag of angst against the world saying "see how I have suffered" or "look at me! I am suffering!" In the meantime, the real beings who are suffering often suffer in silence -- too private or feeling alone to share their pain with others who may not understand. The goth movement a few friends of mine are into is much like that. A bunch of people dressed up in as much black as possible, saying how misunderstood and angst they are.  The wear the adornments and clothes that just about every other said goth does. They listen to the same music as the other goths do.  They are "just like everyone else." In the meantime, the "real" goths get lost in the circus of wanna-bes.  The real goths, much like the real lycanthropes, get drowned out in a flood of those who think they are or want to be -- those who can out-goth the goths... or out-were the true lycanthropes.

      And these false people flaunt in front of others and scare those who truly wish to be understood into hiding -- bottling  up   themselves from the rest of the world -- afraid becuase they are alone and alone becuase they believe themselves to be so. Humans are the best at making life hellish to the minorities, and many  don't want to understand things outside of their own circles of belief. They don't want to believe that anything outside of their own self and their groups could possibly be a valid way of life. So we (the true lycanthropes) and others like us are forced to create places like this (an IRC chatroom) where two wolves hundreds of miles away can communicate in real time, and learn perhaps.. that they are not alone -- that they are not freaks. . .and that they do not HAVE to be discontent with themselves -- they can live -- be free -- be themselves - and have no one to answer to but themselves.

      And the self is the hardest judge of them all, is it not?


       Be what you are.


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