Five Weird Werecreatures

screech_owlWerewolves are probably the most commonly encountered werecreature in mythology by far. But they are not the only kind of shapeshifting monster. Other examples are known from just about every culture on earth. Some are friendly; many are deadly dangerous. Some are animals who can transform into humans while others are humans (perhaps witches or sorcerers) who can transform into animals.

In my previous post, I looked specifically at werewolves. Now, it’s time to track down some more unusual shapeshifters. Here, then, are five interesting and distinctive werecreatures from around the world.


Selkies are found in the traditions of Ireland, Scotland, and the Orkney and Faeroe Islands. They are a race of shapeshifters, switching between human and seal forms by removing or putting on a seal’s skin. They are generally perceived to be gentle creatures who love to dance on the shore and occasionally fall in love with humans. Both male and female selkies are said to be lithe and attractive. A common story tells of a female selkie forced to marry a mortal man when he steals her sealskin. Eventually, she finds the hidden skin and uses it to return to the sea.

Selkies are related to the Finfolk, which are essentially the same sort of creature but with malevolent tendencies.


In Muskogee legend, stiginis (or stikinis) take the form of animals. Although they might take on the shape of any sort of wild predator, they strongly favor owls. In fact, stigini means “screech owl.”

By day, stiginis look like ordinary humans. By night, however, they vomit up their souls—along with their internal organs—and become monsters who like to feed on human hearts. Hearing the cry of a stigini is an omen of approaching death.

In some stories, mentioning these creatures by name puts one at risk of becoming one. Therefore, stories about stiginis are only told by certain medicine men and women. In other communities, however, they are more of a bogeyman figure casually discussed to frighten children.

Perhaps related is Hoklonote’she, a Choctaw evil spirit who often takes the form of an owl. Hoklonote’she can read peoples’ minds and apparently enjoys creeping people out by reciting their thoughts back to them.


Werehyenas are common in the folklore of North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East. In addition to being humans who can assume the form of a hyena, some legends tell of hyenas who are able to take on human form.

In the region around Lake Chad, it is believed that whole villages might be populated by werehyenas.

In Ethiopia, it is traditionally believed that every blacksmith (a hereditary occupation) is actually a bouda: a wizard with the power to change in to a hyena, in which form they rob graves at midnight. It should go without saying that they are viewed with suspicion by most of their neighbors! Many Ethiopian Christians believe that Ethiopian Jews are bouda and accuse them of digging up and eating the corpses of Christians.


Brazilian folklore has the legend of the encantado or “enchanted one.” These are dolphin shape-shifters similar in some respects to faeries. They are thought to be dolphins with the ability to take on human form and not the other way around. Specifically, most of these legends involve the boto or freshwater dolphin of the Amazon River. Occasionally, the stories involve snakes rather than dolphins.

Encantados come from an underwater faery-land called the Encante. They are excellent singers and musicians who love parties and are often give to romantic liaisons with mortals. They only rarely take on human form, generally at night.

In addition to shapeshifting, encantados have other magical powers. They are able to control storms and exert a form of mind control over humans. They can sometimes turn mortals into encantados like themselves.

Encantados are dangerous, and many people in the Amazon region are terrified of them. They can inflict disease, insantity, and death, and are said to be fond of abducting humans they fall in love with and taking them to live in the Encante.

A Possible Weremesonychid

Mesonychids are an extinct group of carnivores that are most often described as a sort of wolf with hooves. Even though there haven’t been any mesonychids around for millions of years, a mysterious beast that terrorized France in the 1760s apparently bore a striking resemblance to one. Some witnesses described the so-called “Beast of Gévaudan” as a huge (horse-sized) creature combining features of wolf, bear, panther, and hyena. Some reported that it had cloven hooves, or that each digit was tipped with a hoof. Others said its claws were so heavy and thick that they merely resembled hooves. Such a creature would come close to matching the description of a large hyena-like mesonychid like the Pachyaena or Harpagolestes.

Furthermore, the locals claimed that this beast was, in fact, a sorcerer who shapeshifted into a fearsome creature. In other words, the Beast of Gévaudan was a human who apparently assumed the form of a prehistoric nightmare.

Five More Prehistoric Beasts that Could Stand In for Mythical Monsters

If the past week of web stats are any indication, my readers are really into prehistoric beasts. At least, you all really seemed to appreciate last Friday’s post on the subject. In that vein, I thought I’d write about a few more interesting beasties and how they might find their way into world mythology…

1. Teratorns

Wikimedia user: Stanton F. Fink / GFDL

Argentavis magnificense by Wikimedia user: Stanton F. Fink / GFDL

Members of the family Teratornithidae were huge, condor-like birds. There were numerous species with wingspans ranging from 12 up to 20 feet. One of their number, Argentavis magnificens, is the largest flying bird ever discovered. Traditionally, teratorns have been thought of as large scavengers, very much like oversized condors, owing to considerable similarity with these birds. Their long beaks and wide gapes, however, are more like the beaks of eagles and other actively predatory birds than those of carrion-eaters. Most likely, teratorns swallowed their prey whole. Argentavis could have swallowed up to hare-sized animals in a single gulp.

Teratorns have long be hypothesized as the basis of the Thunderbird legend in Native American mythology. This formidable spiritual power is described an enormous bird—according to many Northwestern tribes, large enough to carry a killer whale in its talons as an eagle carries a fish. The Thunderbird is responsible for the sound of thunder and, in some cases, lightning as well.

Native American groups have different traditions regarding the Thunderbird. In some tribes, they are considered extremely sacred forces of nature. In others, they are considered powerful but otherwise ordinary members of the animal kingdom. 

2. Amphicyonids

daphoenusAmphicyonids or “bear dogs” bear a similarity to both bears and dogs (obviously).  They are members of the order Carnivora and the suborder Caniforma (i.e, “dog-shaped” carnivores). Early amphicyonids such as Daphoenodon had a digitigrade posture, the same as dogs and cats. Many later and larger species walked flat-footed like bears, however. 

Although many amphicyonids were no larger than ordinary foxes or wolves, some of these creatures were enormous. Euroamphicyon was one of the larger and heavier members of this family, with a body mass estimated to c. 310 pounds. Other genera (Amphicyon, CynelosPliocyon) boasted members who weighed in at around 200 pounds.

In mythology, amphicyonids would seem to make a great stand-in for the hell hounds of Greek legend or perhaps some of the hunting dogs associated with the Wild Hunt of northern Europe.

Another possibility, admittedly more of a stretch, would be to find in amphicyonids a template for the Foo Dogs (or Lion Dogs) of the Far East. These figures seem to be related more closely to architecture and home décor than to folklore, and many insist the “dog” name is in error: they say these figures, which often appear in pairs outside homes, temples, and Chinese restaurants, are simply stylized representations of lions.

3. Entelodonts

entelodontIf amphicyonids represent hell hounds, we might think of members of the family Entelodontidae as “hell hogs”! These creatures from the forests and plains of North America, Europe, and Asia were not properly of the family Suidae (that is, swine) but rather a closely related group. They were the apex predators in their various ecologies, but they were also indiscriminate omnivores who ate everything from live animals to carrion to plant matter. 

Entelodonts had bulky bodies, slender legs, and long muzzles. The largest North American genus, Daeodon, stood almost 7 feet tall at the shoulder. They had heavy, bony lumps on their heads similar to a warthog’s.

Perhaps when king Oeneus of Calydon offended the goddess Artemis, the fierce Calydonian Boar she sent to the region as punishment was a type of Entelodont.

4. Protocetids

Wikimedia user: Nobu Tamura / GFDL

Georgiacetus vogtlensis by Wikimedia user: Nobu Tamura / GFDL

Protocetidae are a diverse family of early cetaceans. They were the first cetaceans to disperse from the region of India and Pakistan to all the shallow oceans of the world. They were probably amphibious, and some were probably able to support their weight on land—although others could not. Although there is some controversy over the matter, some believe they gave birth on land.

Grampus (or “Grumpus”) is a dolphin- or porpoise-like creature. Although it presumably lives in the sea, one legend claims a specimen once dwelled in a yew tree near Highclere Church in Hampshire, England. It was apparently not especially dangerous, although its presence terrified the villagers until the local priest banished it to the Red Sea.

Other amphibious creatures might be identified with family Protocetidae. For example, the dobhar-chú (loosely “water hound”) of Ireland might be some sort of otter-like proto-whale. This creature is said to have characteristics of both a dog and an otter, though it is sometimes described as half-dog, half-fish. It is definitely a mammal, though, as it has fur. The word is often Anglicized as doyarchu or dhuragoo. 

5. Mesonychids

Wikimedia user: Dmitry Bogdanov / GFDL

Synoplotherium vorax by Wikimedia user: Dmitry Bogdanov / GFDL

Simply put, mesonychids are hooved carnivores. Although most often described as “wolves with hooves,” this was, in fact, a rather diverse mammalian family. Various species looked liked hoofed bears, hoofed cats, hoofed wolves, etc. Their digits were tipped with hooves rather than claws.

The strongest possibility for inserting mesonychids into world folklore is probably the “Beast of Gévaudan” from France in the 1760s. Some witnesses describe this beast as a huge (horse-sized) creature combining features of wolf, bear, panther, and hyena. Some reported that it had cloven hooves, or that each digit was tipped with a hoof. Others said the claws were so heavy and thick that they merely resembled hooves. This beast would seem to be a great match for a hyena-like mesonychid like the Pachyaena or Harpagolestes.

Maybe the coolest thing about the Beast of Gévaudan is that locals claimed it was a werecreature or a sorcerer who shapeshifted into a fearsome creature. The prospect of a werepachyaena terrorizing the French countryside has awesome written all over it!

A cat-like mesonychid, perhaps a larger cousin of genus Sinonyx, might provide an interesting template for the Far Eastern creature called a bai ze (in Chinese) or hukutaku (in Japanese). This sacred animal is monstrous in appearance, as large as an ox, with both bovine and leonine characteristics. It has hooves and a lion-like body. It is sometimes said to have nine eyes (three on its face and three on each flank) and six horns (two on its head and two on each flank). Alternatively, it has just one extra eye in the center of its forehead, and either one or multiple horns on its head. Perhaps this detail reflects some sort of unusual coat pattern? Or, of course, the extra eyes and horns may be of purely magical origin…