Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Werewolf Syndrome: Compulsive Bestial Slaughterers

Delusions?

In addition to psychological issues, there appears to be a biological manifestation as well, responsible for making some people grow a thick matting of hair on their faces and upper bodies. Brad Steiger reports this in The Werewolf Book.  Apparently, Dr. Brian K. Hall, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Canada, gathered nineteen such individuals and took blood samples, finding that a mutant gene was responsible for the condition.  In some cases, it had been inherited, showing up in several generations of a single family.

Book cover: The Werewolf Book
Book cover: The Werewolf Book

Dr. Richard Noll, a clinical psychologist, edited Vampires, Werewolves, and Demons, which includes reports of lycanthropy from the clinical literature.  Noll states that since 1975 there have been eighteen documented cases.  Six of them involved delusions about wolves and the rest were a collection of other animals.  The diagnosis most commonly given to the behavior of these people was bipolar disorder, but also delusional depression and schizophrenia.  Noll believes that lycanthropy more closely resembles zoanthropy, "the delusion that one has been transformed into an animal," which he says may be better described as a dissociative disorder.

Among the papers that Noll reprints is one from Paul Keck and others, published in a 1988 volume of Psychological Medicine, in which twelve patients with diagnosed lycanthropy were studied. The manifestations ranged in duration from a single day to thirteen years, and the patients ranged in age from 16 to 38.  They all had been found at McLean Hospital, from a survey of 5,000 psychotic cases.  There were ten males and two females.  Most had been diagnosed with either delusional depression or schizophrenia, although other disorders were present as well, so the mental health experts involved in the study concluded that lycanthropy was not specific to any one psychiatric disorder.  Seven out the twelve had experienced a complete remission, and only two were unresponsive to treatment.  Their conclusion: "Like other curious and memorable syndromes...lycanthropy persists as an occasional but colorful feature of severe and occasionally factitious psychosis.  However, it appears that the delusion of being transformed into an animal may bode no more ill than any other delusion."

Maybe...but maybe not.


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