As a mythological concept, werewolves are thousands of years old and common across many cultures.
Because of this, the powers and abilities they possess can vary from period to period, or place to place.
With that being said, what are the most common powers and abilities that modern werewolves possess?
In short, the most common powers and abilities of modern werewolves are the ability to transform into a wolf, superhuman strength, speed, and agility, the ability to quickly heal their wounds, immortality, resistance to normal weapons, and finally a contagious bite that transforms victims into werewolves.
8 Werewolf powers and abilities
Ability to transform into a wolf or humanoid wolf
The transformation of a human into a werewolf, known as lycanthropy, is the most iconic ability of werewolves.
According to the first werewolf myths, people affected by lycanthropy turned into simple wolves.
The concept of werewolves as “wolves-but-human-shaped” only emerged relatively recently, starting with the 1941 movie The Wolf Man.
Werewolf transformations in history
The first known case of a werewolf comes from Greek mythology.
According to myth, King Lycaon was turned into a wolf by Zeus as punishment for serving him a dish made of a sacrificed boy. The term lycanthropy actually comes from this myth, since “lykos” means wolf in Greek and “anthropos” means man.
The Norse also had their own werewolf myth. In their version, the heroes Sigmund and Sinfjotli wear magical wolf skins that transform them into these beasts while giving them their strength and ferocity.
During the medieval era, Christian writers believed lycanthropy was a curse or a sign of divine punishment for committing sins, witchcraft, or even drinking water touched by a wolf.
This period also cemented the belief that a person could become a werewolf by sleeping under the full moon.
Modern werewolf transformations
In modern culture, the transformation process is often linked to the full moon, and it’s usually depicted as a curse. The person inflicted typically has no control over the transformation and becomes a feral beast during the night of the full moon.
For example, in the “Harry Potter” series, werewolf transformation is involuntary, triggered by the full moon, and those transformed completely lose their human consciousness. They attack humans on sight and cannot recognize their friends or relatives.
There are also stories where the characters can control their transformations and retain their human minds, such as in the television series “Teen Wolf”. Here, lycanthropy is portrayed as both a gift and a curse, and the characters struggle to control their transformations and use their powers responsibly.
Why do werewolves need a full moon to transform?
The first werewolf myths did not require a full moon for a person to become a werewolf. This element was added late to the myth, most likely because the Moon was an ancient pagan symbol of magic. A full moon meant that magic was at its peak of power and influence.
Super strength, speed, and agility
At their core, werewolves are terrifying creatures because they represent the brutal, savage sides of ourselves.
Werewolf strength and speed in history
To transform into a werewolf, or “wolf-man,” meant losing one’s humanity, with the trade-off being that the individual took on the ferocity and strength of a wolf.
From the ancient stories, the best example of this is the Saga of the Volsungs in Norse mythology, where the heroes Sigmund and Sinfjotli lose their humanity while wearing wolf skins, but gain the strength, speed, and instincts of wolves. This allows them to survive their exile deep in the forests.
Modern werewolf strength and speed
Modern versions of werewolves have greatly enhanced strength and agility, to the point where werewolves can throw around cars, break walls, or run at near superhuman speeds.
This is partly done for visual spectacle, but more importantly to create a sense that werewolves are truly distinct and separate beings from normal humans.
In the “Underworld” series, werewolves (known as Lycans) possess superior strength, speed, and agility, even in their human forms.
When they transform into their beast forms, these attributes are magnified, making them formidable opponents for the vampires they are often pitted against.
Likewise, in the “Twilight” series, werewolves are incredibly strong as well, and are capable of battling and even defeating vampires.
Regeneration and Immortality
In nearly every werewolf myth, werewolves possess some form of physical regeneration, long life, or even immortality.
These powers are sometimes a blessing, but often they are a curse.
Werewolf immortality in myth
In the case of the first known mythological werewolf, Lycaon, the god Zeus likely cursed him to be immortal so that Lycaon could suffer for all eternity.
This wouldn’t be so surprising since other figures in Greek mythology, such as Sisyphus or Prometheus, were also punished with such forms of immortality.
Modern werewolf regeneration powers
Most modern versions of werewolves depict them as having superhuman powers of regeneration and extremely long lifespans.
For example, in the “Underworld” series, werewolves, known as Lycans, possess powerful regenerative abilities, and are able to recover from wounds that would be lethal to humans.
As mentioned previously, werewolf longevity and immortality are usually more of a curse than a blessing.
For example, in the “Twilight” series, werewolves age slowly when they are in their werewolf form. The character Jacob Black is essentially granted a form of conditional immortality, where he won’t physically age as long as he continues to phase into his wolf form.
Resistance to normal weapons
The idea that werewolves are immune to or resistant to normal weapons is a very recent innovation, as is the werewolf’s weakness to silver, which was borrowed from vampire mythology.
These two features of werewolves became popular in the 20th century, mostly thanks to Hollywood films.
Historically, the methods for killing a werewolf varied widely across different cultures and folklore.
In some legends, a werewolf could be killed like any other living being, while in others, more specific methods were needed, such as destroying the magical wolf-pelt a person used for transformations.
That being said, werewolves in pre-modern eras were never thought to be immune to conventional weapons or a special weakness to silver.
The connection to silver is thought to have been influenced by folklore about vampires and other creatures of the night, as silver was often considered a “pure” metal with supernatural properties.
In modern times, the idea that werewolves can only be killed by silver has become a standard trope in popular media, largely due to Hollywood’s influence.
The 1941 film “The Wolf Man” first started the trope that a werewolf can only be killed with a silver object, such as a silver bullet.
In most modern depictions, a werewolf hurt by conventional weapons simply retreats and uses regenerative powers to heal themselves. They then come back with a vengeance.
However, not all werewolves are vulnerable to silver.
Werewolves from the “Twilight” series are described as resilient to most physical damage except for specific supernatural harm. However, in a twist on traditional lore, the werewolves in “Twilight” are not vulnerable to silver.
Bite that transforms others into werewolves
The idea that a victim of a werewolf bite is condemned to become a werewolf themselves is widespread in modern versions of the myth. However, the power of werewolves isn’t as widespread as the trope suggests.
In historical accounts, a person becomes a werewolf by practicing witchcraft, making curses, or entering pacts with the devil.
Some medieval folktales also suggested the transformation could occur by wearing a belt made of wolf skin or drinking water from a wolf’s paw print.
The idea that lycanthropy could be spread through a bite, similar to a contagious disease, simply didn’t exist in the pre-modern era.
As with most popular werewolf myths, the idea of lycanthropy as a contagious disease spread through bites started with the movie “The Wolf Man” (1941).
In the film, the protagonist, Larry Talbot, becomes a werewolf after being bitten by one.
This marked a significant shift in werewolf lore, and this concept of the infectious bite has been used in many depictions since.
For example, In the “Underworld” series, a bite from a werewolf (Lycan) can turn a human into a werewolf. This concept is central to the series’ narrative and conflict between the vampire and Lycan clans.
In the “Harry Potter” series, the character Remus Lupin becomes a werewolf as a child after being bitten by the werewolf Fenrir Greyback.
However, not all modern interpretations follow this rule.
In the “Twilight” series, for example, lycanthropy is hereditary, not infectious.
Less common Werewolf powers and abilities
Nearly every modern werewolf story depicts the creature as having most, or all, of the powers mentioned above.
However, it’s not uncommon to see werewolves possessing other powers, such as:
Resistance to magic: In “The Witcher” series, both in the original books and in the video games, werewolves are depicted as being highly resistant to most forms of attack, including magical ones. Special tactics and weapons are often required to defeat them.
Lunar Empowerment: In the movie “The Howling”, werewolves are more powerful and aggressive during the full moon, and can transform themselves at will.
Enhanced Stealth: In the “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter” book series, werewolves are extremely skilled at moving silently and remaining unseen when hunting.
6 Werewolf weaknesses, historical and modern
Werewolf myths date back thousands of years, and have been common throughout many cultures. As such, there have been many folk cures or protections put forth as methods to ward off evil werewolves:
Wolfsbane: This plant, also known as Aconitum, has long been associated with werewolves. In some legends, it was believed to induce lycanthropy, while in others, it could be used to cure or repel werewolves.
Rye: In some Eastern European legends, throwing rye seeds behind you could distract a pursuing werewolf since the beast would be compelled to stop and count them.
Religious symbols: According to some folklore, crosses or holy water may be able to repel werewolves, just like they do vampires.This concept tied into the belief that lycanthropy was a curse or sign of spiritual corruption.
Silver: Hollywood popularized the idea that werewolves are susceptible to silver, particularly in the 1941 film “The Wolf Man.”Since then, the idea that a silver bullet can kill a werewolf has become a widely accepted part of werewolf lore.
Lack of Control: Modern versions of werewolves have no control over their actions while in wolf form, becoming savage and dangerous even to those they care about. However, this also exposes them to clever foes who can trick the werewolf into a trap.
Magic: Depending on the world or universe, werewolves might be vulnerable to certain types of magic. For instance, in the “Harry Potter” series, a werewolf can be repelled by a Patronus Charm.
- The Book of Were-Wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould
- The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers
- The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters by Rosemary Guiley
- The Origin of the Werewolf Superstition by Caroline Taylor Stewart
- Giants, monsters, and dragons by Carol Rose
- Man, Myth & Magic by Richard Cavendish, Cottie Arthur Burland, Brian Innes
- The Beast Within by Adam Douglas
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