Read an Excerpt
The Magic of Shapeshifting
By ROSALYN GREEN
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Rosalyn Greene
All rights reserved.
Beginning the Shapeshifter's Journey
Did werewolves ever exist? If so, were they anything like what we "know" about them from the main source of the modern werewolf stereotype: movies and novels? The answer, I believe, is "yes" to the first question, and "not exactly, but sort of" to the second.
Consider these events: In the recent past, a young anthropologist named Carlos Castaneda agreed to become apprenticed to an American Indian shaman. In the course of his apprenticeship, he experienced many "impossible" things, including transforming into a crow. And, according to many of the locals to whom he talked, the "diablero," or were-animal, still exists among the Hispanic and Indian populations of the American Southwest. Carlos Castaneda wrote a number of books about his experiences with shamanic magic, and became quite famous among New Agers. How many others have experienced transformations like Castaneda's? How many similar events have occurred about which no books were written? Judging from the similarity of Carlos' account to the shapeshifting folklore of the region, I would say that quite a few people may have had similar experiences.
Consider another example: A young man had constant vivid, realistic dreams of being a wolf, and of turning into a wolf. In these dreams, he was always himself, but his mind was entirely the mind of a wolf. All his life, he constantly felt as if he were somehow a werewolf, but he did not identify at all with the type of werewolf depicted in movies and novels. Later in life, he happened to go to a ritual meditation held by Native Americans. During the meditation, he felt himself change into a wolf, even though he was awake, and, for the first time, he experienced a mixture of human and wolf mentality while "transformed." After the meditation, one of the Indians said he had seen him turn into a wolf. Others said he had remained human the whole time, but turned into a wolf in their visions. Some also saw his wolf spirit guide, and described the guide in detail, completely accurately. Is this young man a werewolf?
A young woman I know was meowing soon after her birth. Later in life, she found she had a very special relationship with cats. She developed the ability to project her consciousness into animals. She could see what they saw, feel what they felt, and could even sometimes move their bodies as if they were her own. This all occurred without her ousting the original resident mind, which was in there with her and also seeing, feeling, and walking. She could even find out secrets this way, seeing places only cats could get into. Was this young woman a werecat? In more superstitious times, she would certainly have been considered one.
Another young woman had all the typical signs of being a "shifter" her whole life. As a girl, she started having mental shifts. Later in life, she began having very vivid, realistic experiences of running as a wolf at night, and her clothes were often muddy in the morning. She considered this as dreaming, combined with sleepwalking. One night, during one of these experiences, a dog she knew ran with her and kept bothering her. She growled at him, but he wouldn't leave. She bit him hard on a front foot, and he yelped and limped away. The next morning, the dog had a front paw split open to the bone and was very afraid of her, but had never been afraid before. Is she a werewolf?
A man I knew, who is a shifter, once felt lonely for some friends who lived far away. He had a vision of going there as a wolf, and trying to play with them. His friends later reported that, at the same time as his vision, a ghostly wolf with glowing eyes had appeared in their apartment and scared them to death by trying to "get" them. Both agreed on all particulars of this visit. In his wolf mind, the man had been puzzled by their fear and kept trying to play with them.
In another relatively modern account, the famous occultist Dion Fortune had some skirmishes with another woman occultist who was a rather unsavory character. Once, this woman sent a ghostly form resembling a giant house cat. Another time, Dion herself was under psychic attack while in a trance, and awoke with many cat scratches on her body. On questioning, she found that this woman was well-known for these scratch marks. If this woman had lived in the Middle Ages, would she have been called a werecat?
These are all modern examples of the phenomenon of shifting. I chose more modern examples, including some that have happened to friends, partly because I wanted to show that these things do still happen. They have not all died out, as some believe. And the older legends, even some that aren't that old, are extremely numerous, existing in every culture and every era (see figure 1, page 4). We know that "30,000 cases of lycanthropy were reported to secular and church officials between 1520 and 1630" in Europe. Thirty thousand in just about a century! And 1520 is after many of the educated people in Europe decided that shapeshifters didn't exist. In even earlier times, especially before 1000, missionaries and clergy found it nearly impossible to get people to give up beliefs in shapeshifting. In 970, Baianus, a prince of Bulgaria, was said to be able to turn himself into both a wolf and a bird. He was said to transform frequently in public, in front of all the people, who were amazed at his transformations.
Figure 1. Distribution of werewolf and shapeshifting folklore in Europe. This map shows where werewolf and shapeshifting lore are most common. Note the "werewolf belt" along Eastern Europe, from Greece in the south to Scandinavia in the north. This belt includes the land of the Neuri and the famous Carpathian mountains, known in former times as Transylvania. Some other features of interest are the haunted werewolf cave of Ben MacDhui, and the Fontana del Nobiet near Cimapiasole in Italy, which is reputed to be a lycanthropic stream. (Map is approximate only.)
This just scratches the surface of the tradition in Europe, where, historically, shapeshifting folklore has been least common. By reading books about werewolves, which mostly concentrate on the later famous French trials of individual werewolves, many people are led to believe that shapeshifters were rare, solitary, and unusual cases. On the contrary, hordes of shapeshifters are reported in much of the folklore.
Take, for instance, the time when hundreds of werewolves overran Constantinople. This happened in the year 1542, when Constantinople was a major city. It was reported that packs of werewolves roamed the streets and alleys of the city. Things got so bad that Süleyman II, with his Janizaries, hunted many down, killing at least 150 of them. Can you imagine that? Hundreds of werewolves, roaming about a large, major city, in front of countless witnesses, after educated people declared they didn't exist!
And this is not the only case of numerous witnesses reporting large masses of shapeshifters. The Neuri were a nomadic people living in the area that is now Poland and Lithuania who were reported to be hereditary shapeshifters and sorcerers. Whole clans of the Irish were also supposed to be hereditary shapeshifters.
Consider the legend of the leaping wall. This wall was the last remaining portion of an old castle that stood between Lithuania, Livonia, and Courland. It was said that thousands of shapeshifters used to come together at a certain time each year to celebrate at this old castle. They held contests such as leaping over this wall. It was also said that many of these werewolves were rich nobles.
From old-time Prussia, Livonia, and Lithuania come reports of packs of werewolves that gathered each Christmas in many villages, breaking into people's beer cellars and having drunken celebrations. This may sound ridiculous, but there were far too many people seriously reporting it, and even complaining to the authorities for something to be done, for it to be simply a "tall tale" or a children's fairy tale. Modern werewolf books that discuss these cases attribute these events to gangs of thugs in werewolf costumes, but the people who made these claims certainly believed otherwise—especially since the werewolves were said to be in full wolf form when they did this, indistinguishable from natural wolves except by their behavior of breaking into beer cellars and getting drunk. It is hard to believe that ordinary wolves would do this, let alone on a particular holiday and never at any other time. It is also hard to imagine that anyone could create "real wolf" (not "wolfman") costumes that could fool people into thinking they were normal wolves.
These cases are just a small sampling of the enormous body of shapeshifting folklore out there, a fair amount of which is substantiated by multiple witnesses, with impeccable reputations. Moreover, there are similarities across different cultures that couldn't have influenced each other's legends. Shapeshifters certainly existed in former times, and still do, albeit weakened and in much smaller numbers.
There is even a fairly significant belief in shapeshifters today. Beliefs in shapeshifters are not just found among superstitious hunter-gatherers. "Walton Brooks McDaniel found that many people of modern Italy believe lycanthropy can be induced by a full moon, witchcraft, or a birth at precisely midnight on particular holy days, including Christmas." Nor are the only witnesses of shapeshifting superstitious and uneducated people. On the contrary, many of the witnesses in the last centuries were respected, truthful, down-to-earth people, which is why people took them so seriously when they claimed they saw shapeshifting. Even in this century, educated people have claimed to witness physical shapeshifting, as in the case of Dr. Gerald Kirkland, a government medical officer who saw two were-jackal transformations while stationed in Zimbabwe on March 23, 1933. In the USA, people are still reporting sightings, and still believe in shapeshifters.
I will discuss some of the basic facts of esoteric study first, so that the rest of the book will make more sense. For those of you who are already familiar with the study of esoteric phenomena, I will present my particular perspective and the terminology that I will be using, for perspective and terminology can vary widely from one student of esoteric study to another. Where, you may ask, did I get my information? It's all well and good for me to say that I have detailed information on modern-day shapeshifters, but I don't expect anyone to believe me unless I show them how to prove to themselves that many people who follow such beliefs actually exist. The answer to this question can be found in the epilogue.
The Paranormal and Supernatural
The paranormal comprises those things that science does not explain, such as the powers of the psychic, the telepath, and the telekinetic. It also comprises sightings of ghosts, monsters, angels, spirits, the "fairy" folk, poltergeists, and other quasi-physical beings. It is the entire collection of things that are beyond the natural—thus the word "supernatural." The paranormal is in operation when the normal rules of this world seem to be superseded by the rules of some other type of reality.
Esoteric students believe that they know what these other realities are like and how they operate. The basic teachings about the paranormal have arisen again and again, in basically the same form, in every culture. They appear to have very little connection to either culture or religion. The basic facts of the paranormal are notions arrived at by studying the most basic of phenomena. Because the basic facts are true (that is, founded in basic phenomena), the cultural beliefs and interpretations of observers have little to do with how the phenomena happen. For example, ghosts have had similar characteristics through all time and cultures, even though many cultures have different doctrines about why people become ghosts, or how theology relates to ghosts. The interpretations may be different, but the reported phenomena are always astonishingly similar.
Paranormal teachings say that the physical world is only one of many worlds. Most of these worlds, such as the "fairy realm," have very little to do with our world. Two of these "worlds," however, have a lot to do with our world, albeit in subtle ways most of the time. These are called the astral plane and the etheric plane. Our physical universe is called the physical plane. These realities, including our own, are visualized as planes, one atop another. This is not truly how they are, of course. In the physical direction of up, there is nothing but sky and the endless expanses of outer space. Yet the planes operate almost as if they were stacked like this, and they have been traditionally visualized this way. Our physical plane is on the bottom. Just on top of it is the etheric plane. The etheric plane consists of "matter" that is like a shadow of physical matter. Etheric matter is not physical, yet it is not as "refined" as astral matter. There is something of the physical about it. The etheric plane "overlaps" with this plane. Many physical "objects" of this plane, especially living things, have a counterpart in etheric matter, a counterpart that looks much like a carbon copy of the physical object. The etheric plane is the entire "universe" of these etheric objects, plus etheric objects that do not correspond directly to things in this plane, as well as other "stray" etheric matter. Etheric matter is of a much "finer" substance than physical matter. It almost never breaks. If put under some sort of stress, it deforms and then reforms. Stray etheric matter tends to flow and stretch and form itself as if it were living water or living clay. Etheric matter has an almost infinite ability, at least in comparison with physical matter, to condense or diffuse. Unlike physical matter, etheric matter can also occupy the same three-dimensional space as other etheric matter.
The astral plane is visualized as the plane directly on top of the etheric plane. It also corresponds to the physical plane in many ways, particularly in that many objects, especially living beings, have astral counterparts. However, the astral plane has many more objects and "stray" astral matter that directly corresponds to nothing in this plane. The astral plane also has a bewildering array of "spirits" and "entities" that are native to it—many more than exist in the etheric plane. Moreover, the astral plane has one characteristic that the etheric plane does not: there seem to be entire regions of the astral plane that do not share the same three-dimensional space as our physical plane. They are regions unto themselves. Astral matter is of a much "finer" consistency than etheric matter. The astral plane resembles a great sea of astral substance, with its own features and cycles, slowly changing all the time.
There is one more plane that bears mention here, though it generally has little to do with supernatural phenomena directly. This is called the mental plane, found directly on top of the astral plane. This plane does not share the same three-dimensional reality as our physical plane at all. Indeed, direction and distance and dimension are largely meaningless in the mental plane. It, in fact, contains very few "objects" that correspond to anything in the physical world. Living things do have an aspect of themselves on this plane, but it is a high, lofty aspect, often (at least in non-saints) seeming to have little in common with the ego and the normal waking self and its desires. Yet this is the one part of us that is eternal—our soul, our true self. In modern New Age terminology, this is the "higher self," above the astral and etheric bodies, even above the world of the mind and ideas, which are, after all, very much a product of our species and culture, not of our true self. Many believe that there are more planes above the mental plane, but very little is known or even guessed about them.
One of the most basic and universal teachings about the supernatural is that living things, particularly human beings, are comprised of more than the merely physical. Even the modern forms of Christianity have preserved a garbled part of this teaching in their teachings that humans have a soul and spirit. Esoteric study teaches us that we live, simultaneously, on at least four different planes of existence. For the most part, we only perceive the physical plane and our physical body that is resident on it. But we also have an etheric body, an astral body, and a pure form on the socalled "mental" plane of existence. The etheric and astral bodies, and their interactions with the etheric plane and the astral plane, have much to do with certain forms of paranormal phenomena.
The etheric body looks almost exactly like our physical body. It overlaps the physical body and normally occupies exactly the same threedimensional space. Thus, it is difficult for even psychics to see. There are two conditions, however, under which psychics, and sometimes even ordinary people, can see the etheric body. When people lose an arm or a leg, they do not lose that same part of their etheric body. People who have lost a physical leg still have both etheric legs. More often than not, the etheric leg still sends sensations, still feels as if it were there, even itches or develops pains! Because this etheric part is not shrouded by any physical part, those who are psychic enough might see it.
Excerpted from The Magic of Shapeshifting by ROSALYN GREEN. Copyright © 2000 Rosalyn Greene. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.