Howling wolves on a winter’s night sets the human heart aflame with fear – their legends are terrifying. Yet there is another side to Wolf. Deeply relational by nature, wolves are highly intelligent animals, excellent hunters and devoted to family. Human connection to wolves dates back to at least 20,000 BC in Southern Europe, where cave paintings of wolves have been found.
Wolf, once the most widespread predator in the world, has been unfairly viewed negatively in modern times and hunted almost to extinction. Yet our ancestors saw wolf through a multi-faceted lens. Some associated Wolf with destruction, war and death; others saw Wolf as helper, guide and teacher; and some assigned Wolf the role of mother and creator.
Native Americans and the Celts associated Wolf with the winter full moons of January and February, inspired by the hungry wolf packs heard howling in the cold nights.
A wolf pack is a complex social unit of many family members all within a set hierarchy.
Usually only one pair of wolves in the pack breeds – the alphas. They, and in particular the female alpha – the mother of the pack, hold the pack together. Next in the hierarchy comes the betas, followed by mid-ranking wolves. Omegas, at the bottom in rank, play the role of trickster.
These structures can change. If a beta loses a challenge to rule it will probably leave, becoming a lone wolf. Adolescents sometimes leave, becoming dispersers – a role critical to genetic diversity. But no wolf wants to be alone. It will search for a mate to start their own pack. Like humans, Wolf forms lifelong bonds and works best in community.
Wolf is extremely loyal. They interact constantly with movement, touch, eye contact and vocalization, greeting one another with enthusiasm after a separation. They howl to communicate and to set territorial borders. Wolf mates for life and rarely remates after the death of its partner. The whole pack grieves the loss of a pack mate..
Instinct, Intuition, Freedom, Intelligence
Wolf is magnificent and wild – roaming freely – untamable. Using instinct combined with intelligence and fortitude they are successful hunters.
Many Native Americans viewed Wolf as intelligent teacher and spiritual pathfinder. They saw themselves reflected in Wolf – proud hunters and loyal friends.
When Wolf appears you are asked to tune in to your intuition; to look more closely at the situation as to whether or not it is trustworthy. Or you can change course, becoming a “lone wolf” – seeking your own freedom.
The Wulver is a mythic creature from Shetland Island. With the body of a man and the head of a wolf he was often sighted fishing from the shore. The catch was left as a gift for the locals.
Wolf calls you to use your intelligence and your instincts when confronting difficulties, and to either seek help from one more knowledgable or to step into the role of teacher yourself.
Brothers Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were supposedly suckled and raised by Wolf.
Similarly the Turks believe the wolf Asena rescued and restored to health an injured boy. She then bore him ten half-wolf, half-human children, the eldest becoming Bumin Khayan, the leader of the Turkic tribes.
Anishinabe myth portrays wolf as brother of their benevolent culture hero, Nanabozho. The Shoshone, Bannok and Northern Paiute tribes depict Esa, their creator god and hero, as Wolf.
The Chechens saw Wolf either as Wolf Mother or equated Wolf with themselves and their nation – intelligent with a clan social structure, loyal and brave.
In Japanese wolf means “great god.”
Wolf reminds you of the divinity that resides within each of us.
Protector, Hunter, Warrior
Though a wolf can kill its prey unaided, as a cooperating pack they hunt much larger animals successfully. What wolves lack in speed they make up for with endurance. With a keen sense of hearing and smell they detect prey – then follow all day and night if needed.
Native American tribes viewed Wolf as a model of courage, strength, loyalty and a successful hunter.
The Japanese believed Wolf would protect against disease, fire and other disasters.
The Vikings, fierce warriors feared on many coasts, wore wolf skins and drank Wolf’s blood, taking on Wolf’s spirit in battle. Their god, Odin was accompanied by the wolves Geri and Freki, who together with his two ravens helped with the hunt.
Wolf offers protection, reminding you that you can provide for yourself and fight your own battles by nurturing loyal companions for optimal success.
Death, Destruction and Rebirth
Due to its superior hunting abilities and perhaps the fear its howls induced, Wolf was seen as a portent of destruction, war and death.
The Celts viewed wolf in this light but did not equate death and destruction with evil. The Celts honored the dark and saw death in a positive light – as simply another point on the turning wheel of life. Wolf, who helped maintain the natural balance by delivering death to weak or sick herd animals was honored as a companion to the goddesses and gods.
Wolf ruled over the winter period, from Samhain to Imbolc, February 2, when Brigid took the reins as the stirrings of new life were first felt. February was called Faoilleach, the month of the wolf.
The Morrigan, War Goddess, could shape-shift into Wolf or Raven or was accompanied by them. She was the harbinger of death with Wolf/Raven at her side. Wolf in its association with The Morrigan and with the Norse gods reminds us that chaos and darkness are part of the cycle of life. For something new to occur, something old must die.
In Norse mythology Wolf through its role as destroyer, offers an explanation for the movement of the heavens – the cycle of life. Wolf Fenrir, son of the god Loki, was so fearsome the gods bound him to a rock. It is told that on Ragnorök, the end of the world, Fenrir would devour the god Odin. Then Odin’s son would kill Fenrir, ushering in rebirth. Fenrir’s sons, Sköll and Hati, chased the moon and sun across the sky, keeping the movement of time in order until Ragnorök.
In the Pawnee creation myth wolf was the first to experience death. The Wolf Star (Sirius) was not invited to a Council of Stars concerning the creation of Earth. Enraged, Wolf Star sent Wolf to steal the bag containing the first humans. Upon their release the humans killed Wolf and death entered the world.
Wolf calls you to trust your intuition and natural intelligence – a powerful combination of skills. With Wolf comes discernment – the ability to see the truth of situations and people.
Wolf, the pathfinder, leads you on a journey to the underworld to transform personal darkness and then back again to the land of light and rebirth – to a higher level on the spiral of change.
Wolf reminds you of the importance of community and cooperation in your personal efforts toward fulfillment, or calls you to break away when circumstances are binding – finding your own way and new pack.
Wolf affirms that you have all you need to handle difficulties, even if you feel unprepared. The call of the wild still echoes within us all. Wolf calls you to that awareness – that by claiming your wildness you discover freedom and the clearest path to infinity.
PostScript – Be sure to check out Wolf Matters for an in-depth look at the importance of wolves as a keystone species.
Sources: Fact Retriever, Wolf Matters, Living With Wolves, LonerWolf, What is My Spirit Animal, Spirit Animal Totems, Exemplore, Homepage Ralph Haussler, Native American Mythology, California Wolf Center
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.