From Academic Kids

See Shapeshifters (band) for the electronic music group from the United Kingdom, or Shape Shifters (band) for a hip hop act from Los Angeles, or Shapeshifter (band) for the New Zealand drum and bass act.

Shapeshifting, transformation or transmogrification is a change in the form or shape of a person, especially:

  • a change from human form to animal form and vice versa
  • a change in appearance from one person to another

Although shapeshifting is not believed to be scientifically or medically possible, it is a common theme in myth and legend and a popular theme in science fiction and fantasy stories.

"Shapeshifting" often refers to characters who change form on their own, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, while "transformation" refers more commonly to externally imposed change of form, whether by magic or sufficiently advanced technology. However, there is no settled agreement on the terminology.


Shapeshifting in myth

Popular shapeshifting creatures in myths and legends are werewolves and vampires (mostly of European, Canadian, and Native American/early American origin), the kitsune or were-foxes of Japan, and the gods and goddesses of numerous mythologies, such as Loki from Norse mythology or Proteus from Greek mythology. It was also common for deities to transform mortals into animals and plants.

Although shapeshifting to the form of a wolf is specifically known as lycanthropy, and such creatures who undergo such change are called lycanthropes, those terms have also been used to describe any human-animal transformations and the creatures who undergo them. Therianthropy is the more general term for human-animal shifts, but it is rarely used in that capacity.

Other terms for shapeshifters include metamorph, skin-walker, mimic, therianthrope, and were.

Almost every culture around the world has some type of shapeshifting myth, and almost every commonly found animal (and some not-so-common ones) probably have a shapeshifting myth attached to them. Usually, the animal involved in the transformation is most likely indigenous to or prevalent in the area from which the story derives.

Also, it is worthy to note that while the popular idea of a shapeshifter is of a human being who turns into something else, there are numerous myths about animals that can transform themselves as well.

Examples of shapeshifting in classical literature include many examples in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Circe's transforming of Odysseus' men to pigs in Homer's The Odyssey, and Apuleius's becoming a donkey in The Golden Ass.

Notable mythological shapeshifters

  • werewolves -- humans who turn into wolves
  • vampires -- corpses who can turn into wolves and/or bats
  • Proteus -- a Greek sea god who was capable of changing his form to avoid being captured
  • Bouda -- hyena-men of Africa
  • encantados -- according to stories from Brazil, they are "the enchanted ones," creatures from an underwater realm, usually dolphins with the ability to change into humans
  • kitsune -- werefoxes of Japan; werefox myths abound from other countries such as China, Korea, Vietnam, and even the United States, but "kitsune" refers specifically to the Japanese variety
  • Nagas -- snake-people of Asian countries, especially India & Nepal; may appear either as transforming between human and snake, or as a cross between the two (such as the upper torso being human and the lower torso being serpentine); some Nagas may also assume the form of dragons
  • thunderbirds -- huge birdlike creatures described in the lore of several Native American tribes; some thunderbirds turn into human beings
  • zmei -- Romanian mythological creatures, similar to Ogres

Shapeshifting in fiction

Shapeshifters appear in many fantasy and science fiction stories.

The word "transmogrification" has been popularized by the transmogrifier used in Calvin and Hobbes.

The Transformation Stories Archive is an online collection of stories by amateur authors centered around transformations.

Notable shapeshifters in fiction

See werewolf novels and list of werewolf movies for lists of fiction featuring werewolves.

See also

External links


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