Post by Graveyardbride on Jul 26, 2015 17:30:43 GMT -5
The notion of shapeshifting has been around for almost as long as human beings. The possibility that a person can take the shape of another being – most often an animal – can be traced back thousands of years, permeating various cultures and religions. While transmogrification has been widely valued in various religious mythologies, there is also evidence of its influence in pseudo-historical (possibly historical) records.
Shapeshifting in Fairy Tales and Myth. Shapeshifting appears often in fairy tales and myths. In tales from Greek mythology, Zeus transformed into countless creatures, such as a swan, a bull and an ant. The myths of the Egyptians depicted gods with the heads of animals, as seen in the falcon-headed of Horus and the jackal-headed Anubis, while the myths of Norsemen had the mischievous god Loki changing into a giant, a woman and various animals. More recently, in the well-known tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century, “The Frog Prince” has the male protagonist changed into a frog for a mistake he made in his past.
Prehistoric Shapeshifting. It is considered likely the earliest depictions of shapeshifting capabilities come from the Cave of the Trois-Frères in southern France. Though the purposes behind the images discovered there are constantly debated and are unlikely to be definitively decrypted in the near future, many scholars believe some of these drawings indicate a prehistoric belief in the ritual of transformation. The cave's depiction of "The Sorcerer," for example, gives the impression of both animal and human parts, his awkward position explained by placing him in the physical moment of alteration. If modern scholars are correct, then the belief in shapeshifting and transmogrification can be traced back as far as 13,000 BC.
Therianthropy. The most common type metamorphosis of a human into another being is documented as therianthropy, or the transformation of a human into an animal. These people, known as therianthropes, often have been greatly valued and highlighted in the historical record. Werewolves, for example, are undoubtedly one of the oldest and most prominent, with their supposed existence among the oldest recorded. Known as lycanthropy, the concept of werewolves stems from as far back as Ancient Greece, culminating in the modern belief of men transforming into wolves during the full moon. For the Ancient Greeks, this was not as magical as it is now perceived. The mythology of werewolves remains one of the most extensively written, often considered to be victims themselves of a spell or curse – such as the case of the Beast in the 18th century fairy tale “La Belle et la Bête” (Beauty and the Beast). Though the earliest references of therianthropy cannot definitively be traced, references from antiquity do exist. The most well-known from the age of the ancient Greeks. In Homer's Iliad for instance, one of the foremost characters is a sea god called Proteus who can alter as swiftly as the shifting waves and is known for his prophetic capabilities.
Shamans:Highly-Valued Shapeshifters. This theme – of a shapeshifter possessing other extraordinary powers – is common in most tales of shifters, as the ability to alter the physical form tends to be indicative of the highest degree of knowledge. These particularly-evolved individuals often take on the role of some sort of shaman in various cultures. Commonly, shamans are revered for their wisdom, healing capabilities and powers of premonition, all possible because of their dual form abilities. Even though the actual job descriptions of shamans vary depending on the culture, they are considered valuable and, in many cases, irreplaceable members of a society. Shamans are known to take on transformative forms in rituals for many reasons, but it appears to be widely-believed that they can alter their state of consciousness and interact with the supernatural world. It is believed that without the gift of transformation – often brought on by the use of certain drugs or mental/physical rituals – these shamans would not be able to achieve the necessary level of enlightenment.
Tales of shapeshifting could go on, just as could the tales of countless mythologies. Regardless, the ability to shape-shift has long spanned time as the belief in people with supernatural capabilities, usually brought on by some sort of mystical or magical instigator. Undoubtedly, these beliefs will continue to evolve as they have since the days of Grecian werewolves. As the belief seems to have begun thousands of years before the written language, these beliefs will likely withstand the passage of time.
Source: Ryan Stone, Ancient Origins, July 26, 2015.