The word "Shifters" refers to the primordial race of shapeshifting beast-men that existed before recorded history. The term "Shifters" is almost never used now, since the existence of the Shifters has been all but entirely forgotten. They were the forefathers of the werewolves, beastfolk, vampires, and possibly some magical beasts. Northmen once called them hamrammr, or "shapestrong," and said they were eigi einhamir, "not of one skin." The ancient Achaeans once called them versipellis, meaning "turn-skin." Many of these terms are now reserved for werewolves, which are some of the only surviving shifter-kin who still undergo transformations.
Nature and Culture
The race of beings known as "Shifters" were able to freely change between the shape of a man, a beast, or anything between. Most types of shifters kept to their own race, though some shifter races lived together communally for protection. They worshiped their own now-forgotten gods and were great practitioners of spiritual magic.
During the age of the Titans, when the first giants and monsters roamed the earth, there too lived the Shifters. The most powerful race were the Wolf Shifters, the Werewolves, whose packs roamed all over the mortal world, which the Shifters accordingly called Wulfgard.
During the Titanomachy, the rapidly-growing population of Men who were favored by the younger gods came into conflict with the ancient Shifters. It is unknown if the Shifters and their gods actually sided with the Titans, either at first or later when they became threatened - or even if their gods were Titans - but one way or another, they earned the ire of the Men and the new pantheon of gods. After the great war, the Shifter gods were all cast down or destroyed.
With the destruction of their gods, the shifters were cursed, losing their shapeshifting abilities. Most shifters became beastfolk, stuck permanently in a half-man, half-beast state. The werewolves were doomed with a unique curse called lycanthropy, their spirit forever split between Man and Wolf, with both struggling for control. Today the descendants of the Shifters are still treated as monsters, and the fact that they are all brothers and sisters, all descended from the same ancient race, is entirely forgotten, even to the beastfolk themselves.
Despite their forgotten ancestry, a few Shifters still retain most of their original shape-changing powers today, by some means or other. Some appear to retain their powers because they are worshiped as godly beings themselves, like the Kitsune and Tengu of the East, though how they truly maintained their powers is unknown. Others can still shift at will because of dark pacts made with demons, like the undead Vampires.
In Kemhet, many of the gods take the form of beastfolk with the head of an animal and the body of a man, and it is speculated that some were in fact gods worshiped by the Shifters. The highest and most favored priests of these gods are said to be able to transform into beastfolk as the Shifters once did.
Just like the beastfolk and werewolves, however, these "modern Shifters" do not remember their shared ancestry (except in the very rarest of cases, such as the First Vampires) and do not refer to themselves as "Shifters."