By now, you are probably used to the idea that in Slavic mythology nothing is straightforward. The good is not always good, and the bad is not always evil. Even the well-known character of Slavic lore Baba Yaga is not pure evil, despite the way she is usually depicted in many movies and cartoons. But today, we are not going to talk about Baba Yaga. I want to leave it for another day, and it’s going to be a two-part blog that is worth waiting for.
Today, I wanted to introduce Volkolak—a complicated and dangerous but also fascinating character of Slavic mythology.
So, what or who is Volkolak?
The simple explanation—a Volkolak is a person who can turn into a wolf.
And before you wave your hand and say, “Oh, it’s just a fancy name for a werewolf”, I want to say that a Volkolak and a Werewolf are not the same. Not at all. So, please stay with me and let me try to explain.
A Volkolak is a type of “oboroten”. The word “oboroten” in Russian means the ability to change form and turn themselves into something else. So, an oboroten is probably closer to a shifter in their magical abilities, not a werewolf, since they can take the shape of any animal.
Volkolak, however, can turn only into a wolf, but it’s the way Volkolaks come into existence that is very different from a werewolf. Also, even in its wolf form, Volkolaks keep human intelligence, knowledge, memories and skills.
How can a person become a Volkolak?
In classic Fantasy/Urban Fantasy stories, a werewolf can be either born this way—a pureblood werewolf—or people could be turned into werewolves if they were bitten. These are probably the most common ways of becoming a werewolf.
But when it comes to Volkolaks, there are three ways of becoming one, and none of them involve biting.
1. Born Volkolaks. A person can be born a Volkolak, but it doesn’t mean that the parents of the baby are Volkolaks. Actually, it has nothing to do with the parents’ magical status. To become a Volkolak, a baby must be either conceived or born on a special day. For a while, the child will grow and develop as any child their age, but sooner or later, their true nature will take over, and at some point, the child will turn into a wolf.
2. Willing Volkolaks. A witch or a wizard can turn themselves into a Volkolak. To do that, they must know a spell and perform a special ritual.
3. Unwilling Volkolaks. This is probably the evilest way of becoming a Volkolak. An evil sorcerer can turn a person into a Volkolak against their will. I wouldn’t recommend getting on the bad side of Slavic witches, warlocks and wizards. They have a bad habit of turning those who wronged them into Volkolaks on their wedding day!
So, is a Volkolak good or evil?
That depends on which legend or myth you read. In some, the main hero can turn into a gray wolf and fight their adversary, combining their human wisdom with the power and speed of a wild beast. In some, an evil sorcerer turns into a Volkolak to do his evil deeds. Like I said—nothing ever is simple or straightforward.
In essence, it depends on the person who turned themselves into a wolf. If the person has homicidal tendencies, I don’t think they will be any better in their wolf form. So, a person like this would present an evil Volkolak.
How can you protect yourself from a Volkolak if you come across one?
It’s practically impossible to kill a Volkolak since they possess supernatural strength and speed. Furthermore, in their wolf form, they’re just as smart as any human. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself. Silver talismans can help, and if you know the Volkolak’s true name, you can temporarily neutralize them.
Enter the Salamanderverse, where magic and ancient myths are real, and things are not what they appear to be.