The shape-shifter has one physical form or human nature, and then he transforms into another form or nature. In addition to his double form and double human nature, he would also be of two colors – once transformed that is. The ‘Bisclavret’, in the language of the Bretons, is a ware-wolf. This word, Bisclavret, describes well an anthropomorphic creature; because ‘bis’ means to double.
France is a country fertile with legendary shape-shifting creatures. One, if not the most popular shape-shifter with the Bretons and the French, is ‘le lougarou’ (the ware-wolf). After ‘le lougarou’, comes ‘la chimere’ (the chimera), and ‘le vampire’ (the vampire). This, the French and the Bretons have in common with many other cultures throughout the world.
Today, the Bretons still consider shape-shifters as ‘tricksters’; these have endured in their memory. Proof of this, are the descendants of the Bretons that have settled in Canada since the 1600’s. These French-Canadians still tell today of a ‘changeling’; namely, ‘le lougarou’ (the ware-wolf) who will go to their houses – at 7:30 pm precisely – if the children don’t go asleep right away. It is but one of the bedtime stories, amongst others, they still tell to their children at bedtime.
As part of the Celt culture, the myths of the Bretons have a slightly different swing on anthropomorphic creatures – in comparison to the Celts from other countries. The myth of the shape-shifter, in Bretagne, is not newly invented. Just as the Celts, other very ancient pagans sprang-out of traditional societies throughout the world; all have very old, ancient pagan rites that still mention the shape-shifter.
A shape-shifter is a usual theme in mythology and folklore, and also in science-fiction and fantasy. The shape-shifter is generally a being possessing the capacity to modify his physical appearance. The transformation itself can be voluntary or not.
Both the French and the Bretons hold the belief that shape-shifting can be the result of a malediction or a spell upon a person. According to their folklore, the shape-shifter can experience difficulties in finding his original form after his transformation. Humans do not have the exclusivity on shape-shifting; a shape-shifter may also be an entity adopting a physical appearance.
When it comes down to shape-shifting, numerous divinities and demons from many other mythologies change their form and nature. Also, it is common for a divinity to transform some mortals into animals and plants. In France, as with the Bretons, the average person who believes in shape-shifters see them as demons who come to terrorize people. This demon would be under the command of the Devil. Tales there of involuntary transformation are rare. For them, shape-shifting is more the destiny that some men must suffer; rather than a devotion to the devil.
To better understand the shape-shifter of the Bretons and of the French, it is essential to study the shape-shifters from other belief systems. As the Bretons are also Celtic as a people and in culture, it is good here to mention that the Celts were not insular. Because of migration, war and conquests, the Bretons added to their cultural belief systems – myths from other countries as well. For example, it is only after the Christian conquest did the French, and subsequently the Bretons, begin to believe in a devil and then in a demonic influence.
Compared to the demonic shape-shifting myths of the Bretons, the Nordic Traditions held shape-shifting has an ancient belief in an animal soul that embarks on a voyage. The soul can have several forms. It is the inner form that marries the human envelop (the skin). In doing so, the person could augment the energy and the strength of his inner form. Thus, a person could leap and bound over great distances and obstacles, or ferociously hunt and kill an enemy.
This Nordic ancient belief in a soul that embarks on a voyage, links-up to the shaman’s of the aboriginals, of the natives or traditional nations in other countries. Their shamans wear animal skins during certain rites.
The shaman, while covered in skin, visits the other world and enters into communication with spirits. While in communication with spirits, the shaman asks them questions. The shamanic tradition link’s up to the development of some esoteric traditions of today who were inspired by the belief of the ancient Nordics. The ancient Nordics believed in animal souls.
According to old Norse mythology, someone (or a supernatural being or creature) could accompany a person. But that was only if it was the person’s faith or fortune to do so (or a person from a family who has a fortune). This is not unlike the Egyptians and many other traditions…
When accompanying, the shape-shifter appears in the form of an animal. He can appear during sleep, or when awake. If the changeling appears in the form of a male, it is an omen of impending death. If he appears in the form of a female, then it is a guardian spirit for people or clans.
If there is something that all traditions have in common, is that shape-shifters are not necessarily friendly. All agree to say, the vicious shape-shifter is predominately a male. And that their more benevolent form and nature, is that of a female’s. And finally, that it can be very dangerous to change – when not knowledgeable – and properly trained to do so.