Many have heard about the infamous European witch trials that ironically took place during a time period we call the Renaissance (c.1450-1750). What you may be less familiar with were so-called werewolf trials, in which physicians of the day would play a part.
When a person might be accused of being a werewolf, a physician or similarly identified medical expert of the time might be called into the trial to perform a physical examination to look for evidence of a “connection with the devil,” be it a skin mark or something that could erroneously be used against the defendant–whether they were accused of witchcraft or being a werewolf.
Contemporary accounts from this time period describe a possible association between mental illness and the belief that one might be a werewolf. Numerous accounts exist describing individuals (even up to the 20th century) that may have expressed a belief that they were wolves, though these accounts are not necessarily suggestive of violent behavior but may include behaviors mimicking those of a wolf. The term for persons diagnosed with a psychiatric syndrome leading them to believe or act as if they are a wolf is called “clinical lycanthropy” and is thought to be very rare.
The medical experts that were called upon to weigh-in on werewolf trials would help render an opinion as to whether the person on trial might actually be a werewolf or, more helpfully, might argue a type of insanity defense that attributed the person’s behavior with a mental illness, which could lead to an acquittal.
I think we can all agree that court proceedings and medico-legal defense strategies make for dry werewolf fiction. Predatory, full-moon transforming, silver-bullet dodging lycanthropes may be more interesting in their fictional form.
Doctor with a mustache.
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