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Author Topic: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective  (Read 188 times)

SHARK

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Greetings!

I have wondered about how a society might view actual shapechangers and Lycanthropes. In D&D of course, most such creatures are terrible monsters and of an evil alignment.

However, from a Norse perspective, through history and at least through some of the myths, such shapechangers were a part of the community. Such shapechangers often appeared as villains, and were bloodthirsty and violent--but not always so. The predominant kinds of shapechangers seem to be bear people, wolf people, and boar people, with some also being raven people and eagle people.

Apart from using such creatures or characters as villains and monsters in your campaigns, have you embraced such creatures in a positive manner in some of your communities?

I think the implications from cultivating whole tribes or parts of a tribe as inherited shapechangers as being pretty intriguing from a variety of angles, for both potential NPC's and Player Characters alike.

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK
"It is the Marine Corps that will strip away the façade so easily confused with self. It is the Corps that will offer the pain needed to buy the truth. And at last, each will own the privilege of looking inside himself  to discover what truly resides there. Comfort is an illusion. A false security bred from familiar things and familiar ways. It narrows the mind. Weakens the body. And robs the soul of spirit and determination. Comfort is neither welcome nor tolerated here."

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but is doing what you have to, in spite of the fear."
"Let Death and Fire Be Their Portion!"
"Delenda Est Parthia!"

Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2020, 04:40:14 pm »
Well the question is - whether they were creatures really.
I mean basic bear/wolf/boar cults, seems more like some totemic-animistic sort of mini-religions (this mad-man Varg Vikernes likes to ramble about how it's true Nordic religion) than can be some residuum of pre-IE more animistic shamanistic European cults - before proper polytheism ruled. So Berserkers (bear-shirtS), Úlfhéðnar (wolf-coats), Svinfylking (boarheads) are more like some fort of totemism, with warrior-shamans taking some attributes of their spirit animal to fight. Maybe something like shifters from Pathfinder - of course irl even in mythos they were usually not full-blown shapechangers - but you can easily add it as upper level of their powers.

And as such they would be valued warriors of certain religious and spiritual power in society.

But not really some separate race of wolf-men.

In Dresden Files books among various beings put in thrashbin of "werewolves" were lycantrophes (which is sort of bad choice of name by author - Greek lycanthropos were mostly proper shapeshifters closer to Slavic wilkołak) - who were people naturally channeling bestial spirits of nature - and it was implied such inherited gift could give rise to berserker legend.


VisionStorm

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2020, 06:08:52 pm »
I don't often use shapeshifters in my campaigns, but I have tried give them more positive representation in the past, and tend to prefer viewing them more as an animistic subclass of people imbued with the power of a spirit animal rather than monsters, per se. Although individual members or tribes of such creatures may still be villainous or antagonistic.

Coincidently I was viewing a youtube video on historical Berserkers a few days ago, and apparently Berserkers were not always viewed positively by their own Viking tribes because they were feared for their perceived powers and were viewed as a potential danger or liability by common people, given that berserkers were known to lose control in their rage and sometimes attack their own people when lost in their own rage in battle. But I suppose that in a fantasy setting perceptions may vary, depending on tribe and their relations with shapeshifters in general or specific groups of them in particular.




Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2020, 06:26:21 pm »
And of course as in many European traditions their proper magicians seiðrmaðr could have more traditionally shapeshifting skills as part of their wide array of magical skills.
But I somehow doubt there were fullblown natural werewolves like in WOD there.

SHARK

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2020, 06:27:20 pm »
I don't often use shapeshifters in my campaigns, but I have tried give them more positive representation in the past, and tend to prefer viewing them more as an animistic subclass of people imbued with the power of a spirit animal rather than monsters, per se. Although individual members or tribes of such creatures may still be villainous or antagonistic.

Coincidently I was viewing a youtube video on historical Berserkers a few days ago, and apparently Berserkers were not always viewed positively by their own Viking tribes because they were feared for their perceived powers and were viewed as a potential danger or liability by common people, given that berserkers were known to lose control in their rage and sometimes attack their own people when lost in their own rage in battle. But I suppose that in a fantasy setting perceptions may vary, depending on tribe and their relations with shapeshifters in general or specific groups of them in particular.



Greetings!

HAH! VisionStorm! Yes, I agree! Excellent video, too. I watched this video just the other day myself! *Laughing*

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK
"It is the Marine Corps that will strip away the façade so easily confused with self. It is the Corps that will offer the pain needed to buy the truth. And at last, each will own the privilege of looking inside himself  to discover what truly resides there. Comfort is an illusion. A false security bred from familiar things and familiar ways. It narrows the mind. Weakens the body. And robs the soul of spirit and determination. Comfort is neither welcome nor tolerated here."

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but is doing what you have to, in spite of the fear."
"Let Death and Fire Be Their Portion!"
"Delenda Est Parthia!"

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2020, 06:27:38 pm »
Sometimes I'll set up shape changers to be akin to witches:  They are outside of normal society, often loners, and have supernatural powers.  Sometimes they are only this way due to their inheritance. What they do with that is up to them--but of course a lot of societies will shun them.  In certain times and places they will be seen for what they are and even valued.  A few societies will even value them, though this is fragile over the years.

A given character can be almost anything within that framework, but whatever they are, it is likely to be a little more extreme than your run of the mill peasant.  In a fantastical game, that's not necessarily a drawback.

Bren

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2020, 07:26:39 pm »
Had a few were-characters way back when in D&D. Many were-critters were neutral and I think in some version of the rules were-bears might have been on the lawful team. (Chainmail puts them in both the Neutral and the Chaotic team lists.)  They way I ran them being a were-something was either inherited or some sort of curse or infection. But no entire tribes. One guy ran a pseudo-African were-leopard. He wasn't eviil.

Glorantha has Hunschen tribes that can take on aspects of or even the complete form of their totem animal.

If you haven't read it already, you should get a copy of Poul Andersen's Operation Chaos. It's an interesting take on a magical society fighting a world war.


Edit: "few" not "view"
« Last Edit: November 11, 2020, 09:45:59 pm by Bren »
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Chris24601

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2020, 07:30:56 pm »
There’s a couple types of beings who’d qualify as lycanthropes and shapeshifters in my setting.

First are the actual Lycanthropes who are a sub-species of the Eldritch; primal spirits exiled to the mortal world. They’re reclusive and are born rather than becoming them later in life.

Second would be the Shifters, followers of the Old Faith who, through a covenant with the Source and its primal spirits gain the ability to change their shapes.

Peripherally are the Beastmen, created in ages past from beasts using the lost art of Biomancy. They’re basically permanently in the half-man/half-beast form; but not especially magical on their own.

Lastly there are certain curses that could befall someone that temporarily or permanently transforms someone into a beast. These typically lock the victim into a specific shape rather than being something they can control or which only effects them periodically.

Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2020, 07:37:04 pm »
In Slavic mythology/folklore there was werewolf variant that were result of curse by evil magician - and it turned into wolf by turning his skin to other side - by a cut under his arm.

In Dresden Files stories there were also hexenwulf - people using cursed totemic object with beastial spirit of more demonic nature, sort of vile totem. It turned people into basically dire wolves - bigger and stronger than conventional shapeshifter turning just into a wolf, but also addictive to it's users and eroding their will and reason.

In one comedic story I've read werewolf sides aged independently - so you basically could use wolf as proper form till like high school, and after 20 it died and you were stuck as a human, sort of what happened to Black Addam in DC comics.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #9 on: November 11, 2020, 08:59:50 pm »

If you haven't read it already, you should get a copy of Poul Andersen's Operation Chaos.

Yes.  Reading Anderson always good advice. 

HappyDaze

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2020, 09:40:52 pm »
Eberron (including the current 5e version of the setting) offers Shifters which are lesser versions of lycanthropes. Some versions say they derive from lycanthropes, others say that lycanthropes are cursed Shifters. Either way, they are innate shapeshifters (even if they only have limited shapechanging animalistic "shifts") that are a widely accepted (if not popular) people in the Five Nations. These can certainly take the place of some of the Norse bear/wolf-men or perhaps dip into the horrible cat-person trope (I hear it got a movie in 2019 that killed the self-respect of many actors).

Mishihari

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2020, 09:02:25 pm »
My great-grandparents immigrated from Finland, so I feel like my family life might give me some insight here.  When I was a kid and a great hairy beast stomped into the house growling, you didn't run in fear, you said "Hi, grandpa!"

Shawn Driscoll

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Re: Embracing Shapechangers and Lycanthropes from a Norse Perspective
« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2020, 10:22:40 pm »
Greetings!

I have wondered about how a society might view actual shapechangers and Lycanthropes. In D&D of course, most such creatures are terrible monsters and of an evil alignment.

However, from a Norse perspective, through history and at least through some of the myths, such shapechangers were a part of the community. Such shapechangers often appeared as villains, and were bloodthirsty and violent--but not always so. The predominant kinds of shapechangers seem to be bear people, wolf people, and boar people, with some also being raven people and eagle people.

I've only experienced shapechangers and Lycanthropes through the use of SKYRIM. Lots of role-play opportunities via mods, since the default game was watered down.