The notion of shapeshifting has been around for nearly as long as human beings. The possibility that a person can take the shape of another being—most often an animal—can be traced back thousands of years, permeating various cultures and religions. While transmogrification has been widely valued in various religious mythologies, there is also evidence of its influence in pseudo-historical (possibly historical) records.
Shapeshifting in Fairy Tales and Myth
Shapeshifting appears very often in fairy tales and myths. In tales from Greek mythology, Zeus transformed into countless creatures, such as a swan, a bull, and an ant. The myths of the Egyptians depicted the gods with the heads of animals, as seen in the bird head of Horus and the dog head of Anubis, while the myths of the Norsemen showed the mischievous god Loki change into a giant, a woman, and various animals. More recently, in the well-known tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm, The Frog Prince (written in the 19th century), the male protagonist was changed into a frog for a mistake he made in his past.
Illustration of The Frog Prince, P. Meyerheim (Wikimedia Commons)
It is considered likely that the earliest depictions of shapeshifting capabilities comes from the Cave of the Trois-Frères, located in southern France. Though the purposes behind the images discovered there are constantly up for debate, and are unlikely to be definitively decrypted in the near future, many scholars believe that some of these drawings indicate a pre-historic belief in the ritual of transformation.
The cave’s depiction of “The Sorcerer”, for example, gives the impression of both animal and human parts, his awkward position explained by placing him in the physical moment of alteration. If modern scholars are right about this, then beliefs in shapeshifting and transmogrification can be traced all the way back to 13,000 BC.