After a werewolf has achieved a close enough bond with their wolf side, they are finally ready to learn how to shapeshift at will. But, what makes shapeshifting tick in the first place, what actually goes into learning this skill, and what are some of the ways in which it can go horribly (or hilariously) wrong? We will find out here, as we finally complete our exploration of the rabbit hole that is lycanthropy.
Flexibility of Form and Endurance
The shapeshifting abilities of all beings which possess that power naturally—from werebeasts and vampires to selkies and merfolk—are determined by two physical attributes: flexibility of form and endurance. These attributes are possessed by all living organisms on the planet (Or else, how would one be able to turn princes into frogs and back again?) but only certain races of beings have been blessed with the ability to manipulate their forms at will and, therefore, are actually able to take full advantage of them. Just like physical strength or the ability to hold one’s breath, flexibility of form and endurance are naturally occurring abilities which can be improved upon through training. This means that even though some people may be born with more flexibility of form or endurance than others, an individual who only has an average level of these attributes but has trained hard for many years will more than likely have superior skills to one who possesses naturally high levels of these attributes but has never trained a day in his life.
As to what these attributes actually govern, we will look first at flexibility of form, or F.F. as it is sometimes referred to. Flexibility of form is the ability of the body to grow, shrink, stretch, and distort into different physical forms and the higher a werewolf’s flexibility of form, the more swiftly and gracefully they are able to transform and the more versatile a shapeshifter they are able to be. In the case of transmogrification spells, such as the aforementioned “prince-to-frog” enchantment, an individual’s flexibility of form is hijacked through the power of the caster’s magic in order to cause the actual physical change to occur. Voluntary magical transformations done through the use of spells, potions, or amulets also work through similar interactions with the body. For beings capable of shapeshifting naturally, however, they are able to tap into their flexibility of form through just the power of their will and their own spiritual and magical energy. This is what gives them the unique capability to develop their flexibility of form in the same way as an athlete develops his muscles or a detective hones his deductive skills.
Endurance, on the other hand, is how many consecutive transformations the body is able to endure within a given span of time before becoming exhausted. Just as some people are capable of running at certain speeds for longer stretches of time than others because of innate and acquired differences in normal physical stamina, so too are some shapeshifters—even of the same race—capable of transforming more often in a given span of time than others. Another similarity between normal physical stamina and shapeshifting endurance is that one can easily injure oneself if one is not careful to heed their body’s signals that it is time to stop and rest.
The least severe effect of pushing one’s endurance too far past its current limit is that the individual feels extremely exhausted and every part of their body (the muscles, bones, skin, fingernails…even the hair) feels stiff and sore like underused muscles on the morning after a vigorous workout. When this occurs, after the individual has taken a nice, long nap they awaken to numbness and itchy, tingly sensations similar to those felt when a limb falls asleep. More serious cases of form fatigue include symptoms such as transformations suddenly becoming more labored or painful, the individual’s entire body becoming consumed by excruciating pain upon changing back to their base form, and pulling not only muscles, but fingernails, teeth, and even bones. Needless to say, overexerting oneself while training in the art of shapeshifting is absolutely not recommended.
Basic Shapeshifting: The Three Basic Forms
All beings with natural shapeshifting abilities have at least two basic forms. Werebeasts—along with the other two shapeshifter races—have three: human, manbeast, and beast. Each has a different base form, however—beast for windigoes, human for werebeasts, and manbeast for vampires (although, most vampires will roundly deny this and insist that their much favored human form is their true shape). For a werewolf just learning how to change at will, the very first challenge is to master the change from human form to werewolf form and back again.
Of course, this is not an easy thing to master. Having a stable bond with one’s wolf half is a prerequisite, as one must call upon one’s inner wolf in order to call upon the natural reserves of wild magic which allow a werewolf to tap into their flexibility of form. Once that power is called upon, the werewolf is able to focus that energy and will their body to change into the decided upon form. At first, the entire process takes an enormous amount of focus and effort, and most werewolves who are only starting to learn how to change at will are bound to have quite a few attempted transformations which fail partway through and automatically reverse themselves—or “bounce-backs” as they are called. Their transformations are somewhat slow at this point, taking as long as seven to eight minutes to complete in many cases. Beginners are also much more likely to get stuck in werewolf form, especially turned werewolves who have not yet gone through the Great Shift. The beginner’s endurance is also quite limited, and most can only manage one or two full transformations over the course of three days at first. On average, it takes several months of training before the novice shapeshifter is capable of transforming two or three times a day for several days on end without becoming exhausted.
Eventually, however, the individual will have finally refined their abilities to the point where they are able to transform from human form to werewolf form in two to three minutes time and are capable of successfully executing three or four transformations in a day for five or six days straight without reaching the point of exhaustion. For turned werewolves who have not yet gone through the Great Shift, this is generally the point where they reach their pre-shift limit—the point at which they can no longer improve upon their flexibility of form until their physical development is truly complete. For born werewolves and turned werewolves who have already gone through the Great Shift, however, this is the point at which they are finally ready to begin learning to change to full wolf form.
Transforming from human form to full wolf form generally takes a werewolf about twice as long as changing from human to werewolf form. From werewolf form to full wolf form, it takes about the same amount of time as the transformation to human form. The procedure is the same for this transformation as the shift between human and werewolf forms, and generally the intermediate shapeshifter will be immediately set to work on going straight from human to wolf, since one usually makes more progress this way.
Demishifting and Microshifting: Forms between Forms
Of course, while most werewolves who learn to shapeshift are satisfied just learning how to go between their basic forms, others are compelled to further explore the art of shapeshifting. A werewolf is not bound to just three forms, and for these individuals the three basic forms are as toddler’s playthings to a six-year-old. For those willing, determined, and curious enough to look inside, there is a bottomless toy chest of possible forms that a werewolf can play with. For them, there is no more wondrous destination than the playroom known as advanced shapeshifting.
The first batch of marvelous toys that the student of advanced shapeshifting will likely get their hands on becomes available to them once they begin learning the technique known as demishifting. Demishifting is the art of transforming two or more parts of the body, partially or fully, creating a new form which is somewhere between two base forms. For instance, one may decide to change their eyes and ears and grow one’s tail out, but keep the rest of the body perfectly human. This new form is referred to as a demiform, and there are as many possibilities for these as there are minds willing to think them up. The only things limiting the number and types of demiforms that a werewolf can take on are their maximum flexibility of form and their imagination.
An even more delightful array of toys is made available several months later, when the werewolf has finally become masterful enough at demishifting to learn how to microshift. Microshifting is the art of transforming but a single part of the body, either fully or partially. A werewolf who is capable of microshifting can, for example, change a single fingernail into a claw in order to use it as a lock pick or change only a single canine tooth into a fang to give a grin an especially wicked look.
For most werewolves, however, demishifting and microshifting take much more out of them than a normal full transformation would. This, of course, makes learning these techniques a much longer and harder process than simply mastering the basics. A select few who have exceptionally high flexibility of form and endurance, however, are capable of mastering these techniques to such an extent that they can demishift and microshift just as easily as breathing. For these talented individuals, these theriomorphs, the body truly becomes a plaything of the mind.
The Myriad Mishaps of Metamorphosis
Shapeshifting for werewolves is not without its quirks and disorders, however. There are many ways in which a werewolf’s shapeshifting ability can act up in both troublesome and hilarious ways. The first of these is getting stuck in either wolf or werewolf form. This shapeshifting mishap can occur for a number of reasons. Two of them are going feral and going through the Great Shift, but there are multiple different things which can result in the individual being stuck in one form or another. Some of these include severe depression, embarrassment, and just plain inexperience.
Random temporary transformations triggered by strong emotions can also occur. While anger and fear are obvious candidates, excitement, joy, love, and lust have also been known to trigger emotionally driven shifts. In general, emotional shifts are triggered either when an emotion is so strong that an individual’s inner wolf cannot help but act upon it or when an emotion is so strong that the individual unconsciously initiates the change as a defense or coping mechanism. Those who have these often—usually linked to one or two specific emotional triggers—are known as emotional shifters, and require special training to bring the phenomenon under control.
Then, there is lunar hypersensitivity, which causes a werewolf to change during the night before the full moon, the night after, or—rarely—both. Lunar hypersensitivity does not happen every month and is most likely to occur in werewolves whose pentagrams are categorized as wild signs. This condition is potentially dangerous for werewolves who have not yet forged a proper bond with their wolf halves, but for those who have it is more of an embarrassment or annoyance than anything. Unlike a normal full moon transformation, one triggered by lunar hypersensitivity does not grant the effected werewolf the ability to stay up all night without being tired in the morning, and whether it occurs prior to or following the full moon is always quite random. Fortunately, there are no known records of werewolves who have been such for less than four months experiencing lunar hypersensitivity, and those who have reached a high enough level of skill with basic shapeshifting can hold back such a transformation for hours or even the entire night.
And so ends our foray into the world of lycanthropy. Although this exploration has focused mostly on werewolves, all of these facts apply equally to all other types of werebeasts. All of therianthrope kind shares the same physical, magical, and spiritual traits, even if some of their abilities may differ due to exactly what their animal nature is. Maybe one day we can all return to the way that things were in the Age of Legend, when there was peace between humanity and the werewolves. Maybe then, the veil of fear and stigma may be lifted and we may all be able to appreciate just how amazing these beings that have been unjustly shunned for so long truly are.
Avalonia, Greenmeadow Province
What an amazing article! Who knew that there was so much to being a werewolf? You can read about how Wolfsbane Bendis finds his way as a fledgling werewolf in The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner, available now at Amazon.com (print book and ebook), and Createspace.com (print edition only). Or, perhaps you can just join us next Sunday when we sneak a peek into the private lives of privateers. That’s right. Next week, pirates! Be there or I’ll make ye walk the plank. And tell yer mates, me hearties! YAAAARRRR!!