Werewolves have long been associated with horrible power, blood-thirstiness, a lack of control, and unbridled rage...but are all werewolves like this? Perhaps the bulk of them are and in movies, film, and books more often than not the werewolf is depicted either as a terrifying monster or a terrifying, yet tragic, figure. The Scottish werewolf, the Wulver, challenges some of our worst assumptions about the werewolf in folklore.
Wulvers are said to hail from Scotland and specifically the Shetland Islands. Unlike typical descriptions of werewolves, wulvers seem only to have the head of a wolf while maintaining a human body. Although the wulvers have human bodies those bodies are covered in thick brown hair. Furthermore, it may perhaps be wrong to include wulvers in the ‘werewolf’ category in the first place. Why? Well, it is believed that wulvers were never human in the first place and do not go through a change or transformation.
Wulvers appear to live together and seem to have a desire to help human beings. One of the ways they show their support and love towards humans is through leaving gifts of freshly caught fish on the windowsills of the poorest families or those who need help the most. This practice is so widespread and it was so common to see the strange profile of the wulver fishing for others that there is a huge rock in the Shetland Islands named ‘Wulver’s Stane.’ Wulvers prefer to be left alone so it is wise to avoid approaching them, despite their kind demeanor.
Wulvers seemed to enjoy being near water and often lived in isolated caves that were not easy to discover or traverse. In a way, it seems like the wulver is also a symbol of hope for the poor in the area who were helped by these strange, kind creatures.
Interestingly enough, many Scots believed the wulver to be an evolutionary bridge between humans and wolves. I find this quite interesting because it seems to link wolves and humans in an interesting and intimate way. So often, wolves are seen as adversaries to humans (and vice versa) which is why I think ‘evil’ werewolf lore is so prominent. However, I think this “evolution” from wolf to human and the wulver being this kind soul in between shows that wolves, however ferocious they might be, have several qualities that humans find admirable - their power, their connection with nature, and their pack instincts. I feel as though the wolf’s connection to the pack and human’s connection to other humans is given a kind of ‘perfection’ through the wulver that strives to help those most in need.
There may an interesting answer to why the wulver was so highly documented. There is a disease called hypertrichosis, also known as werewolf syndrome, where a human is covered in short, brown hair. Perhaps this person, or even a family who was genetically predetermined to get this disease, lived in isolation due to their affliction and, being human, still craved human interaction and kindness and so fished for himself and gave his leftovers to the surrounding community.
The above image is of Aith, Shetland and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license by Wolfgang Schlick.