Cultural Perceptions of Wolves

A collection of research investigating some of the cultural perceptions and symbolisms surrounding wolves. This is key in influencing and informing our designs.

European
With European imagination, wolves long stood as a symbol of bane being uncontrollable nature. The Bible describes Jesus as the shepherd protecting his herd of sheep from the wolf, signifying the wolf as a symbol of sin and prurient influence (John 10:12). Wolves in literature also do not fair well, often being wicked villains as long fanged, terrible beasts, with examples in Grimms' Fairy Tales of the big bad wolf in Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs.


Roman
In Roman mythology, the Wolf symbol appears with the founders of Rome with the twins Romulus and Remus. Being cast out by their great uncle Amulius, the two founding brothers were adopted by a she-wolf known as Lupa. Otherwise, they have become as symbols associated with the Gods of war, Ares and Mars.


Norse
In Norse mythology, the Wolf is a symbol for victory when ridden by Odin and the Valkyries upon the battlefield. It often includes the legend of three malevolent wolves Fenrir, Sk├Âll and Hati, where the tale suggests that Fenrir will have grown so large that his upper jaw touches the sky while his lower touches the earth when he gapes. Otherwise, the wolves Geri and Freki were Odin's faithful pets, becoming a sign of good omen.

Celtic
As a Celtic symbol, the Wolf was a source of lunar power. Two wolves drive the time as they chase the sun and moon. Celtic lore states that the Wolf would hunt down the sun and devour it at each dusk so as to allow the power of the moon to come forth.

Asia
In Asia, the wolf guards the doors that allow entrance to heavenly, celestial realms. The Wolf is also said to be among the ancestry of Genghis Khan. Grain farmers once worshiped wolves at shrines and left food offerings near their dens, beseeching them to protect their crops from wild boars and deer; where talismans adorned with images of wolves were used as charms to ward against calamities such as fire and disease, as well as bringing fertility to crops and couples.

Native American Culture
Wolves held a special place in almost all Native American tribes, being admired for their strength, endurance and hunting skills. They taught the tribes about sharing, cooperating while hunting and looking after the young, caring and having pride in their tribes. They showed the Indians how to move in the forests - carefully and quietly. The hunters looked for signs of them, for when game was scarce, the wolves would be gone. And after killing the prey, a good hunter always left a piece of meat behind.

For the Cherokee tribe, they would never kill a wolf, believing the spirit of the slain wolf would revenge its death. The Cherokee also believed that if a hunter showed respect and prayed before and after killing an animal, the deer, wolf, fox, and opossum would guard his feet against frostbite.

The Native American symbol/carving of the Wolf:


Symbolising intelligence, leadership, a strong sense of family, guardianship, ritual and spirituality.

Revered because it was a good hunter, the wolf symbolizes cunning and was often associated with a special spirit a man had to acquire to become a successful hunter. As Wolves mate for life and live in close family units usually traveling in packs, they are regarded as a family-oriented symbol in West Coast Native culture. Wolf is the land manifestation of the Killer Whale as they mate for life, protect their young and do not separate from their families.

Upon looking at further symbols of Native American culture, I found an interesting example concerning The Twins.



Portrayed in most emergence or creation stories, they illustrate the concept of duality in life. In the natural world everything exists in balance: male & female, large & small, light & dark & good & evil. The twins are usually shown as boys or short men who overcame great odds to defend the people from all enemies, drought, attack from other beings, animals, or many other problems. Here they are depicted as Father Sky & Mother Earth from a Navajo sand painting.

Again, the idea of twins arises to reflect the duality of good and evil; they are part of the same and perhaps together form as one.

Sources:
Cry of Wolves: http://www.cryofwolves.com/wolves4.html
Totem Wolf Symbols: http://www.whats-your-sign.com/totem-wolf-symbols.html
Meaning Wolf: http://www.mnforsustain.org/wolf_meaning_wolf.htm
Wolves and Christianity: http://www.wolfsongalaska.org/wolves_and_Christianity.html
Symbols of West Coast Native Art: http://www.littlebearart.ca/mythology.html
Wolves Spirit Meanings: http://alltotems.com/wolf-totem-symbolism-and-meaning/

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