Providentia has another interesting historical piece, this one on clinical lycanthropy, the delusion that one has been or can be transformed into an animal.
There were an estimated 30,000 cases of lycanthropy reported in Europe between 1520 and 1630 alone. The epidemic of werewolf hysteria that plagued Europe seemed to be linked to the witchcraft mania occurring during the same period. Witches were frequently accused of changing themselves into cats or rabbits and attending demonic Sabbaths to meet Satan. Werewolves, in turn, were accused of transforming themselves with the Devil's aid. Convicted werewolves and witches were often condemned to be burned alive (except in England where they were merely hanged).
The werewolf hysteria seemed to be largely fuelled by lurid stories of wolf attacks (which were more likely to be due to wild dogs) and only subsided when wolves were hunted to virtual extinction across Europe. The growing recognition that testimony obtained through torture was basically unreliable probably played a role as well (waterboarding advocates take note). The last major werewolf panic was in Gevaudan, France following a series of killings by a "wolflike creature" between 1763 and 1767. The killings were never solved. Read the rest here...
An aspect of this story that is interesting to me is that there was once a general fascination with attacks by wolves in Europe. The family lore had it that one of our not so distant ancestors was killed by wolves in northern Italy while out walking her baby in a carriage. A governess was present and supposedly witnessed the family member fighting the wolves to successfully protect her baby. This was supposed to have occurred in the late 19th century.
Naturally, as a child, I just believed the story. As an adult I became extremely skeptical... really I just stopped believing there was anything to it. It's possible that there was some kind of attack by dogs, but knowing how family lore sometimes develops I wonder if there wasn't something else going on. Maybe a young mother who ran off or even foul play. Or, maybe nothing at all happened, just some wild tale someone told to their children who passed it down to the next generation.