The figure of the werewolf is a classic in science fiction and mythology from different cultures. Since ancient times, humans have created figures who mixed the characteristics of humans and different animals, seeing them as gods (as in ancient Egypt) to the products of a curse (in middle age or even in ancient times). Ancient Greece).
Additionally, throughout history many people have pretended to be or transform into animals, some living in real fear. It is believed that many of these people suffered a strange mental disorder called clinical lycanthropy, What we will talk about in this article.
Clinical lycanthropy: basic definition
Clinical lycanthropy or lycomania is considered to be a mental disorder characterized primarily by the existence of hallucination of being or transforming into an animal. This hallucination is accompanied by the perception of supposed bodily changes, with many patients noticing how their physical appearance has changed over time. The shape and size of the mouth or teeth or even the feeling of narrowing or enlargement was manifested in several of the recorded cases. The period during which these people consider themselves transformed varies enormously and can range from one day to fifteen years.
Clinical lycanthropy is not or should not be limited to a single belief, but they also retain behaviors typical of animals which they believe to transform into. Among other behaviors, they can move like them (on all fours for example), moan or howl, attack, or even feed on raw meat.
A strange and little recognized disorder
We are dealing with a strange and uncommon disorder, of which in fact between 1850 and 2012 one of the authors who explored the disorder, Blom, found only thirteen documented cases. Although it is not an internationally recognized disorder as there are few cases and its symptoms are largely attributable to disorders such as schizophrenia and certain psychotic attacksSome authors have come to generate diagnostic criteria. Among them, the patient claims to be an animal, to ensure in a moment of mental lucidity that he sometimes feels like an animal and / or to have typically animal behaviors such as those mentioned above.
It is important to note that although lycanthropy technically refers to wolves, people who suffer from this disorder may believe that they turn into very different animals beyond these. Cases have been detected in which the person turns into horses, pigs, cats, birds, toads or even insects such as wasps. Even in some cases it has been recorded that the patient refers to the gradual transformation into different creatures to become human again.
Lycanthropy throughout history
Although there are very few modern cases of clinical lycanthropy considered to be recorded that meet the criteria stipulated by some authors, the truth is that the belief in werewolves is very old and shared by many cultures. It should be noted that the belief in animist and totemic elements was much more widespread than today, which is why most cases and myths date back to antiquity. But a spiritual explanation has not always been given to this phenomenon. In fact, there are documents that already indicated in Byzantine times that there was some sort of mental alteration behind some of them.
During the Middle Ages, however, there were many cases of people who considered themselves or were viewed as lycanthropes by others were persecuted and burned, in many cases seen as examples of demonic possession. Yet even at this time, some supposed cases were treated medically (albeit with little success). Probably the high degree of belief in the supernatural elements facilitated the expansion of the werewolf myth and perhaps this could have led to the emergence of a greater number of cases.
However, scientific progress and the gradual decline of beliefs in magic and spirits meant that each time it was less common to believe in the possibility of being possessed and / or being able to transmute into an animal. The cases of lycanthropy have declined over the years, possibly for this reason.
The causes of this mental disorder
Clinical lycanthropy is a very rare disease, finding very few cases in the world. that’s why minimal investigation of this assignment, And there are no really proven theories about the factors that may be causing it.
However, the presence of neurological damage and cognitive impairment associated with the course of different diseases (including dementias) could be one of the possible causes: although the number of known cases of clinical lycanthropy is low, in two of some researchers have been able to obtain images of his brain and recordings of his brain functions. The brain recordings of these two subjects seem to indicate that at times when they believe they are transforming, an abnormal pattern of their brain function occurs. As for the information obtained by neuroimaging, it was observed the presence of alterations in areas of the brain that process proprioception and sensory perception, with the somatosensory cortex being impaired.
Others, whom different authors have maintained throughout history, have stated that this alteration may be due to some sort of vestige of socio-cultural evolution as a species, common in ancient cultures that imitated the wolf. or other animals in order to obtain its associated characteristics (strength, speed, ferocity) so that they benefit our survival. Those who have this hallucination may unconsciously seek to acquire the qualities of the animals with which they hallucinate, as a way to deal with frustration or stressful situations.
Psychoanalysis has also explored the view of transformation as ceasing to be who we are, this hallucination being a way of avoiding guilt or facing conflict. It could also emerge as a mental maximization of the bodily changes we experience throughout our evolutionary development.
Disorders with which it is associated
Although lycomania or clinical lycanthropy has particular characteristics compared to other disorders (such as the involvement of areas of the brain that regulate proprioception), it can be thought of as a part or symptom of other mental and neurological disorders.
The disorder with which it has been most frequently associated is the presence of schizophrenia, although hallucinations in this disorder are generally auditory and less kinesthetic and haptic than in lycanthropy. Another condition associated with it is chronic delusional disorder. It is generally considered to be a psychotic type disorder. In addition, it has been associated with experiencing manic episodes, in which different types of hallucinations can appear.
- Blom, JD (2014). When Doctors Weep Wolf: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Lycanthropy Literature. History of Psychiatry, 25 (1).
- Diaz-Rosers, JD; Romo, JE and Loera, DE (2008). Myths and Science: Clinical Licantry and Werewolves. Bol.Mex.His.Fil.Med; 11 (2).