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This question doesn't concern how it might be possible for a human to take on werewolf form. I'm asking about what impact the lunar cycle has on a human body and any other possible ideas of what might cause a werewolf to shift, not how a process of shifting might actually work.

Hope that makes sense!

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Aify, James, Frostfyre, Hohmannfan, Thucydides Jun 30 '16 at 3:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Matthew. Please note that the Worldbuilding site is not a place to query others for ideas, but is a dedicated Q&A site. As werewolves are supernatural creatures, the factors that influence the transformation are solely determined by your brand of magic. Note, also, that we have already discussed realistic werewolves. Feel free to take the tour to better acquaint yourself with the site, and check out our scope. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 29 '16 at 21:30

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I don't see a science tag on this question, so I will go supernatural on this.

The moon acts as a mirror for sunlight, effectively reflecting some of the sun's light back to Earth, during our night, making it a little less dark.

Those sun rays that are bounced off the moon have some of their characteristics changed - they are now charged with Moon mana or something - and irradiate living beings differently. Werewolves and other lycanthropes' skins are more sensitive to this magical radiation, and past a certain level they will shapeshift. The threshold is reached and passed naturally during the full moon.

A mad enough witch or wizard could maybe force such transformation by emulating moonlight in some way.

See also Blutz Waves, under Conditions for Transformation, for how they approached this in the Dragon Ball series.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, supernatural definitely seems to be the way to go for this, since there is no evidence of the lunar cycle having any effect on human behavior or physiology. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Jun 29 '16 at 19:21
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The way that disease works, I see 2 good, realistic options;

  • Might be same as with wolves howling at the moon - a mistaken myth. The werewolves just hunt more often at night so it was believed that they only appear when the moon is out. The one advantage of the full moon is that the nights are brighter so you could make some argument for it needing that but it's a pretty weak one.
  • It's linked to some other cycle and happens to coincide with the full moon.
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I am going to go a strictly biological route.

TL;DR: It's all hormones.

The lunar cycle is strongly (superstitiously?) reminiscent of the menstrual cycle. This is confirmed with a quick google search. It is a bit interesting that in humans, the menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle are (on average) exactly the same length. Clicking on a few of the most popular links (and as says on wikipedia), they have no correlation to the modern human. However, I found at least one study saying there is at least a correlation, if no definite causation. Which means we have an at-least-plausible example of very strong hormone change/cycle being caused by the moon.

A lesser example is simple circadian rhythms. Although to be called "circadian" they have to last about a day (24 hours), there are other rhythms that last different amounts of time. Circadian rhythms are most strongly associated with periods of light vs darkness (especially natural light, from the sun).

So we, as humans, are already at least slightly influenced by the movements of our celestial neighbors. Obviously the association with the moon is very, very faint so as to be indistinguishable in modern times, and the association with the sun is easily negated by artificial light, but the influences are there.

I always imagined werewolves to have similar influences, but for them to be a lot stronger. Instead of, say, ovulating and bleeding at a certain time of month, the werewolf's celestially-dictated hormones cause the lycanthropic change. If you want this only to happen at night, you could also have the hormones connect with the sun as well as the moon, circadian-like.


Post-answer thoughts

How would the infection happen? Assuming we are going for a werewolf's bite causes the wounded to become a werewolf, I think the simplest would be a virus. The virus infects the host's hormone-producing organs to produce the hormones necessary for lycanthropy, and off we go. If the infection can only happen during the shape change, it's simple to only have the virus present in the saliva when the hormones dictate the change.

This would also give the potential for a cure (or at least a treatment). After all, if all it is is hormones, birth control is a very simple form of hormone therapy, and it has radical influences on menstruation.

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    $\begingroup$ The link you post reads “average…similar”. You misreported it as “exact same” with a single frequency for everyone. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 30 '16 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ noted that it's an average $\endgroup$ – Tyrannosaur Jun 30 '16 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ There are thousands of studies showing correlations between the phases of the moon and human physiology/behavior, but none have stood up to scrutiny. The current modern scientific fact is that the moon has no effect on human biology. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Jul 1 '16 at 2:46
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In IMDb's description of Werewolf of London, a movie from 1938, it says...

While in Tibet looking for a specimen of the Mariphasa lupina lumina, an obscure phosphorescent plant that only grows in the mountains of Tibet and blooms in moonlight, botanist Dr Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is attacked by some kind of animal...

What if it wasn't the animal attack which made Dr. Glendon a werewolf? What if it was caused by the flower's pollen, which only comes out in full moonlight? It is therefore not the moon which calls the wolf; it is the moon which calls the flower which calls the wolf.

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    $\begingroup$ This is not a real flower, and you haven't answered the question of what effect the moon's phase (or light from the flowers) would have on the human body. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Jun 29 '16 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ Okay, I modified my answer so that it qualifies under the "and any other possible ideas of what might cause a werewolf to shift" clause of the OP's question. As for the flower not being real... this is a werewolf question! Anything that is real to the genre should be considered real for the purpose of justifying an answer. And you can't get much more "real to the genre" than a prop from an 1938 werewolf movie. That flower is as real as the wolf's fur and fangs. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jun 29 '16 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ Brilliant answer! +1 $\endgroup$ – Renan Jun 29 '16 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, I guess that works, since plants actually have been shown to be affected by lunar phase. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Jun 29 '16 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ The OP wanted a method of hooking a biologic event (transformation into a wolf) to a lunar event (full moon). The real world already has flowers which only bloom in moonlight. A good example of this is the aptly named, "moon flower". All I am doing is linking the existing bloom event to a spreading of pollen which then triggers the biological event (in the same way as hay fever symptoms are triggered by pollen). I'm bringing a questionable relationship (moonlight to transformation) together by bridging them with the flower and the pollen. How does that not answer the question? $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jun 30 '16 at 3:09
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It's the UV light and, thereby, the feeding cycle.

The light of the moon is reflected sunlight. This light extends into the ultraviolet spectrum, which most humans can't see into, but canines can. And what does this allow them to do? To more-easily see and track prey, relying on signs that don't show in the regular spectrum:

"There are many examples of things that reflect UV, which UV sensitive animals could see that humans can't," co-author Ronald Douglas told Discovery News. "Examples are patterns on flowers that indicate where nectar is, urine trails that lead to prey, and reindeer could see polar bears as snow reflects UV, but white fur does not."

A reindeer, a cat and a dog could therefore probably see a white-furred animal, such as a bunny, hopping through a snow blizzard, while most people would just see a blur of all white.

Therefore a werewolf's best meals will come by the light of the full moon -- and on that night a werewolf could be satiated for a month. (It'll still eat in human form, for both biological and social reasons. But the big, glorious feast comes once a month.)

A werewolf could turn at other times, but it's not worth it -- turning takes a lot out of the werewolf physically; he needs a few days to recover enough to do it again. To one who can see into the UV spectrum, though, the full moon really lights up the night sky. (Source: personal experience.) So a werewolf will restrain himself as the moon waxes full, holding it until the right night, and then go for it.

The moon doesn't turn werewolves; the moon is the cue.

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  • $\begingroup$ The link is lind of lame: how does the "occular media" allow vision without receptors because it transmits UV? Huh? Transmits just means it's clear. But the mammalian cornea is not, so there's a puzzle for you. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 30 '16 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz yeah, I actually had a better link, but it was on a site that kept spewing pop-over ads and made noise, and that's rude. I'm still looking for a friendly alternative. I linked this mainly for the "canines can see UV" part, not for the explanation of how it works. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jun 30 '16 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ How do you see into UV? I recall people with corneas removed were used in world war II to spot UV searchlights. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 30 '16 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ I have no lenses in my eyes and that's where a lot of the UV filtering happens. This trick isn't good for much if you don't need the benefits in the wild, by the way, and comes with the price that bright sunny (or snowy) days are pretty painful. Glasses filter a lot, but there's still what comes in around the periphery. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jun 30 '16 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ My dad just had the first of a pair of cateract surgeries. I thought the artificial lens they implant has intentional UV blocking, to mimic the natural protection of the retina. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 30 '16 at 16:39
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Just like the moon pulls up tides, it pulls out the wolf hiding inside the human.

All humans have it a bit, as can be seen in high rates of insomnia and first-aid emergencies during the nights around the full moon. When the moon grows, something wakes in your blood. It wakes and must come out.

Just like tides vary from almost non-existent like the closed-in Mediterranean to the pace of a galloping horse on the coast of Normandy the top of the range comes out as full-blooded lycanthropy.

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    $\begingroup$ The new moon has the same effect on tides as the full moon (which is to say it's in phase with the sun's tidal effect). $\endgroup$ – Monty Harder Jun 29 '16 at 21:13
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The full moon makes it lighter at night.

Humans were once preyed on by large cats. Cats can see better in the dark than we can, but they cannot see in total darkness, nor well by mere starlight. Ditto wolves.

So we may be wired to be more alert, more jumpy, less able to sleep soundly, when the moon is full. And wolves may be wired to go hunting. There's a grain of truth to the belief that mental patients become more disturbed under a full moon.

Easy to deny primeval instincts and reflexes, but they are still there. Why do we get hiccups? Apparently the neural pathway is something that was very important for a fish. The vestiges persist.

Maybe in a werewolf the human and dog reactions to the lunar cycle synergize?

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I'm going to go with legal issues on this one. In werewolf society for reasons that might seem archaic to the latest generation, it is illegal to transform except during a full moon. Physically, any werewolf can transform at any time, but the fines, red-tape, and social ostracism that come with breaking from tradition ensure that the majority of well-behaved werewolves will only activate their transformation during a full moon.

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    $\begingroup$ Can't a werewolf just eat the bureaucrats? That's much more convenient than filling out a form for a waiver and waiting 6 to 8 weeks. $\endgroup$ – Molag Bal Jun 29 '16 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ @amaranth not when the inspectors enforcing such regulations are merciless supernatural creatures stronger than you. $\endgroup$ – Ángel Jun 29 '16 at 21:48
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Having studied how the moon might impact humans, I think I can give you some insights.

Taking from a biological perspective, the moon does indeed affect animals: http://www.livescience.com/37928-ways-the-moon-affects-animals.html

From this, some creatures set particular biological processes, such as the coral reef's reproduction, on the full moon.

Furthermore, the moon has a weak magnetic field: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_field_of_the_Moon

And the moon is impacted by the earth's magnetotail when it is behind the earth (which has the best odds of also being a full moon, facing the sun): https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080420123319.htm

My own personal theory is the moon affects magnetite found in the human brain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetite

Magnetite in the human brain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1502184

So from this, we could speculate that the moon affects a particular biological process, in that, in distorting or interacting with earth's magnetotail it has a knock on effect on the magnetic field of earth, causing the magnetite in the human brain to effectively change, which in theory triggers things like headaches.

From a fiction perspective, you can then argue that such a change causes people to become angry, or mad (it's where we get the word 'lunatic' from: lunar), which causes them to become werewolf-esque in behaviour.

In terms of physical changes, it'd be harder to justify, and you'd have to suspend any sort of hard sci-fi approach here. You could argue the magnetic field causes the DNA to transform (mostly affecting the exposed outer skin), which starts a few days before the full moon and slowly disappears a few days after.

But you could go hard sci-fi and have the person act like a werewolf. Their rage triggering adrenaline would enhance their strength, which again, superhuman strength isn't unheard of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superhuman_strength

But obviously a physical transformation would be a step too far in a hard sci-fi. You could make it that the DNA or genes (perhaps modified by a retrovirus or even parasite?) makes the person noticeably hairier and stronger, but it would assume a permanent fixture rather than an instantaneous change.

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I've seen the idea used in such stories that it is the polarized light that does it.

Dependence on the moon is lightly tossed aside with a comment that the necessary components of moonlight (specific frequencies of polarized light) have been isolated, and his Polaroid "Were-flash" lets him turn into a wolf or back to his human form at any time, its controls having been designed to be operable even with paws and no opposable thumbs.

However, with any idea that it's something about the moonlight, why is it specific to the full moon, and not just any bright moon? The full moon is brightest compared to other times of the month, but how bright that is depends on atmospheric conditions.

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