In the classical world, werewolves and others capable of animal transformation represented the fringes. They were associated with witchcraft and with the foreign, and were depicted existing on the borders of the known world: on distant islands (like Circe) and on the borders of ‘barbarian’ territory (like the Thessalian witches). They represented the border between the natural and the unnatural.
It is therefore not surprising that the werewolf was an enduring symbol of liminality, and appeared often in medieval literature and art. Wolves were the perfect symbol of the wild, epitomising the danger of venturing into the deep woods. Therefore the werewolf, as the wolf inside of man or woman, represented the internal struggle between concepts of civility and natural impulses, and echoes the external quest to tame the wild.
Some environments in particular were perceived as ones of liminality where the borders between man and the spirit world were thin and this concept instilled both fear and awe, some of it captured in medieval literature and legend. Some examples of this are discussed, including expressions of contests and shape shifting, monster and other fearsome beasts. Certain natural features, too, were considered to possess supernatural power, whether it was the features themselves or the spirits that were associated with them. Early documentation suggests that such beliefs were not easily eradicated by the Christian church and the ways in which the church met, and in some cases absorbed, such concepts are discussed.
The mapmakers in the Middle Ages had specific, both ancient and medieval, verbal material they could use, whereas the pictorial tradition was more vague and thus representations in the maps often vary. The aim of this paper is to examine the illustrations of monsters and monstrous races on medieval world maps and find similarities or differences between them. The best two examples of large-scale mappaemundi, the Hereford and Ebstorf maps, will mainly be used for purposes of comparison, but other maps will be studied as well, although to a lesser degree.