What is a Vrkolak?

Essentially, a Vrkolak is a Bulgarian Werewolf but what is a ‘werewolf’? There are vampire and werewolf legends across France, Germany and elsewhere but the Vrkolak is peculiarly Bulgarian. Depending on where you find yourself in Europe, werewolves may be linked to vampires but in Bulgaria, especially so.
Sabine Baring-Gould explains the many variations of lycanthrope folklore in “The Book of Werewolves,” noting the term “vrkolak” resembles the Greek term “bourkolakas.” The lycanthropist falls into a cataleptic trance, during which his soul leaves his body, enters that of a wolf and ravens for blood. On the return of the soul, the body is exhausted and aches as though it had been put through violent exercise. After death lycanthropists become vampires. They are believed to frequent battlefields in wolf or hyena shapes, and to suck the breath from dying soldiers, or to enter houses and steal the infants from their cradles,” Baring-Gould writes. Where did this concept of a werewolf come from? In some ways, it could be a misunderstanding of a disease or an interpretation of older myths and beliefs. “I took some pictures and shared them with a government wildlife official. He said that it was most likely a wolf that suffered from Paget disease, which caused the skull to increase in size and appear more human-like. It wasn’t long ago people or animals with malformations were thought to be demon-possessed. So, it is not unusual that a wolf with bone disease would be labeled as a werewolf!

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John Waterhouse