This is a brief history of lycanthropy for a story I'm working on. I'm setting up the world for myself so I know what's going on. Ha.
Not so much a read as an "Aha!" and a basis for me to work from.
A Brief History of Lycanthropy
The first lycanthrope was nothing like the were-animals we know today. He did not have a full-animal form, and had a barely developed "beast-man" form, the Man-Animal cross form that is common to modern cinema. He was not created through the lycanthropy virus, as many modern were's are today. He was not a practitioner of magic, no shaman or mystic of a local tribe. He was just a man driven to such extremes to survive that his brain forced his body to adapt, making it into a form that his brain knew could help his body survive. When finally his need to survive was sated, he reverted back to his original human form. But his brain remembered what it had done, and his body was able to change at will between the two forms. But he had to keep this ability secret, or he would be killed by the scared and untrusting tribesmen. So he hid.
Forcing evolution's hand had set the ball rolling. He eventually found a wife, loneliness driving him to search for companionship, and produced a son. He discovered that his son possessed the same ability of transformation, but it was different from his own, more complete. This trend continued through his line, and with each generation, the animal form was more complete than the last, until finally the lycanthrope could go from full human to full animal.
But they were not allowed to live peacefully, contrary to the way things may seem. Once their clan was discovered, they were ostracized, reviled by society for being unnatural monsters. They were hunted and slain with little provocation, often blaming the deaths of livestock or pets on the clan of shape-shifters. So they were forced to scatter across the globe, traveling to distant lands where they would not be persecuted, some peoples even worshipping their shape-shifting abilities. As time went on in these new locations, each lycanthrope generation changed more and more, their forms adapting to local creatures and to fit their new environments, thus creating many of the modern species of lycanthropes that we see today.
That is the history of hereditary lycanthropy, which predates the written word, whereas viral lycanthropy is a much more modern condition. The discovery of viral lycanthropy happened sometime in the early 16th century, when a French scientist named Louis Gerou was attacked by a "wolf of great proportions, of a most unnatural size and strength." After his attack, Louis suffered many of the common systems of modern viral lycanthropy (high fever, short term memory loss, accelerated healing and an increase in metabolism), and a week after being attacked, on the night of a full moon, he "turned" for the first time. Though there have been many stories and tales of transmitted lycanthropy through a bite or attack earlier than this, thanks to Louis Gerou's diary, this is the first true recording of such an event. Modern science believes that viral lycanthropy began with the mutation of the lycanthropy gene, thus turning the lycanthrope into a carrier of the virus. Evidence is taken from the fact that each strain of viral lycanthropy differs from the others, and that not all forms of lycanthropy are contagious (meaning that some are pure hereditary lines, not able to be transferred by infection).
Lycanthropy is now tolerated in several countries, the most prominent being the United States and Canada, and though lycanthropes are still treated with fear and repulsion in these countries, laws have been put into effect to prevent discrimination against lycanthropes when it comes to jobs and civil treatment. There are movements beginning in Europe to recognize lycanthropes as regular citizens, though they are being met by heavy resistance from traditionalists and "anti-monster/pro-human" groups. Areas encountering the heaviest resistance to these movements are the Balkan States, the Czech Republic and Russia.
And now you know. Lycanthropes are a very diverse group.
This history, though semi-detailed, leaves plenty of gaps and room for me to work in without being too restrained.