Next to the werewolf, the Were-Cat is without any doubt the most prevalent of all shapeshifters: throughout Africa, the Americas, and Asia, legends tell of these strange beasts that lurk in the darkness, and that have the ability to mutate from man to animal and back again. In Africa of the 1700s and 1800s, for example, Were-Leopards were suspected of not being humans transformed into animals, but the exact opposite: namely, paranormal-style Leopard-Gods who could deliberately take on human form to allow them to seduce and mate with the men and women of the tribes that both feared and revered the beasts in equal measures. Their unique offspring, African lore states, are always born with the ability to take on the appearance of leopards – either deliberately or, more often than not, in a fashion completely beyond their control, and very much like the situation when the hapless victim of the werewolf-curse mutates at the sight of a full moon.
As far as Were-Lions are concerned, they, too, have specific and unique tales attached to them. In many African countries, the man or woman who had the power to become a Were-Lion was perceived as very likely having been a king or a queen in a previous life – or someone that might very well be destined for such an important role in the future. And such controversial theories have persisted until relatively recent times. Throughout March 1898, during which time the construction of a railway bridge that spanned Kenya’s Tsavo River was at its height, numerous Indian workers were dragged from their beds during the night, and both killed and devoured, by two ferocious, man-eating lions that plagued the area.
As a result of the fact that the building of the railway bridge fell under the control of an English engineer, one Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson of the British Army, rumors quickly circulated among local tribes to the effect that the lions were nothing less than ancient, proud African kings, returned to our world in distinctly animal form to prevent the invading Europeans from taking control of prized Kenyan territory. And the fact that the lions were reputed to have successfully slaughtered no less than 135 workers, only fueled the rumor-mill even further. Eventually, however, the two marauding animals were killed by Patterson himself; and today their restored corpses can be seen on display in the United States: at the Chicago, Illinois-based Field Museum of Natural History.
Throughout Asia, it is the Were-Tiger that is the most prevalent and well-known of all the shapeshifters. Often portrayed as the victim of either a family-curse or a vindictive spirit – and, sometimes, as a malevolent sorcerer who has succeeded in unlocking the secrets of bodily transformation –- the Indian Were-Tiger is a menace to both man and animal. The Were-Tiger of both Indonesia and Malaysia, however, is slightly different. To the people of both nations, the creature is generally not hostile to human beings; unless it is motivated either by overwhelming hunger, or a desire to seek revenge on someone that has wronged it.
So the story goes in Indonesia, the ability to mutate into Were-Tiger form can be developed via fasting, sheer willpower, and the use of spells, incantations and charms. As for Malaysian tradition, the man or woman who has the power to become a Were-Tiger is often perceived as a guardian: one whose role it is to specifically protect plantations from wild-pigs and other animals that decimate such areas by night as they forage for food.
Prevalent throughout the culture and folklore of the Olmecs – pre-Columbian people who flourished from around 1400 BC to 400 BC – is the tradition of the Were-Jaguar. While the notions that the creature is either (a) a definitive shapeshifter, or (b) the offspring of some bizarre alliance between a woman and a male Jaguar have long-persisted, another theory suggests that the Were-Jaguar may be a purely mythical animal: one that is meant to represent the Olmec’s very own rain-god. Unfortunately, the inevitable fog of time has ensured that firm and definitive answers concerning the truth behind the Were-Jaguar legend are unlikely to ever be satisfactorily forthcoming.
Similarly, in North America, Native American Indian tales tell of what has become known as the Wampus Cat. So the story goes, the creature in question was a woman of the Cherokee tribe who, distrusting her husband, secretly followed him late one night when he went on a hunting trip with several members of his tribe; suspicious that he was really heading for a clandestine rendezvous with a secret lover. To ensure that she was not recognized, the man’s wife donned a thick, large coat made out of the fur of a mountain-lion and pursued him into the dark woods. Unfortunately, her plan to stealthily shadow her husband failed; and, as punishment for not trusting him, she was forced to wear the coat for the rest of her life. Today, her half-human, half-mountain-lion spirit is said to still wander the wilder parts of East Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.