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Did Argentina’s president ‘adopt’ a Jewish boy to save him from life as a ‘werewolf’?

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner waves to supporters at Plaza de Mayo on Dec.13. (Alejandro Pagni/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Last week, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner "adopted" a boy as her godson to prevent him from turning into a werewolf, according to multiple news reports. A report in the Guardian subsequently deemed the story spurious.

Kirchner tweeted images of a small ceremony conducted with the family of Yair Tawil, the seventh child of an Argentine Jewish family, during which the Tawils met with the president and lit candles on a menorah. She was adopting the child as her godson, a symbolic gesture made by generations of Argentine leaders over the years.

According to the Independent, tradition holds that the seventh son of a family is doomed to turn into a werewolf — known as "el lobison" in Argentina — after his 13th birthday and will stalk the night in its beastly form. The legend stems from indigenous folklore and melded with superstitions of European settlers in the 19th century. The fear of this werewolf-child was so pronounced that many seventh sons were killed after they were born, which started the practice in 1907 of Argentine leaders taking these children symbolically under their wing.

In the past half-century, the ceremonies have been opened up to girls and now, for the first time, Jews. The Tawil family appealed to the Argentine government as early as the 1990s to have the practice extended to non-Catholic families. The boy's new status as the president's godson wins him a gold medal as well as a full educational scholarship, according to the Independent.

Tales of shape-shifting demons and feral monsters slaughtering livestock can be found in many parts of Latin America. This Argentine iteration can be traced to a local Guarani story of the seven cursed spawn of Tau, an evil mythological spirit, and Kerana, a beautiful woman he seduced and kidnapped. The seventh son was "Luison," who appears sometimes in the shape of a small dog and feeds on corpses.

But, citing an Argentine historian, the Guardian disputes the connection between beliefs about this folk horror and the presidential act of adopting a seventh son as a godson, and says the latter is a distinct custom brought over by Eastern European migrants. In updates posted to their Web sites, both the Independent and Buzzfeed say European folklore surrounding seventh sons included fears of the child turning into a monster.

In any case, Americans should not be so quick to scoff at the tradition and its embrace by Argentina's head of state, in whatever form. After all, the U.S. president participates in the ritual pardoning of a fluffy and presumably bewildered animal every year.

Update: This post has been updated to reflect new skepticism around initial media reports.