Living with the Wolf
the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength
of the wolf is the pack." Rudyard Kipling.
for many the very word brings to mind tales and
images of a cruel savage animal that has no redeeming
characteristics. In our modern language we find
sayings that portray the wolf as something to be
despised and feared….’ Wolf in sheep’s clothing’
or ‘throw to the wolves’ are examples of this. All
through Europe we find sayings that show how people
hated and feared the wolf. There are many legends
from pre-Christian Europe that show the wolf in
a positive light however, such as the legend of
Romulus and Remus being cared for by a she-wolf.
For many of these pre-Christian people the wolf
was seen as an animal to be respected. Indeed it
was most often seen as representing a link with
change, of being important in the transition from
one state to the next, from life to death. Something
we will see again in North American Indian myth
word wolf is thought to originate from the Indo-European
word ‘wlqwos’ (and I’ve no idea how to pronounce
that!) and it’s variant word ‘lubwos’ ( pro-lukos
), ‘Lubwos’ in turn gave us the Latin word ‘lupus’,
the word that is still used today as the scientific
name for the wolf- Canis Lupus. The English word
‘wolf’ is believed to come from the Anglo-Saxon
word ‘wulf’. In fact a quick look at some names
from the Anglo-Saxon era show that many names included
the word Wulf….Wulfstan, Wulfred, Wulfric, Aethelwulf
etc. From Norse mythology we have Beowulf as well.
This is surely an indication of the importance and
reverence of the wolf in early European history.
how did the poor wolf get its bad reputation? Not
for the first time it seems as if much of the blame
can be laid at the door of the Christian religion
and its view of the wolf as an evil minion of the
devil. In the bible the wolf gets a few mentions
and none of them are good! Isaiah 11:16 ‘the wolf
also shall dwell with the lamb.' The inference here,
being that of evil and good coming together under
the rule of the Christian god. In another part of
the bible Jesus is described as a shepherd
protecting his sheep from the wolf, yet again
the poor old wolf is portrayed as the symbol of
evil and a threat to all right thinking
i.e. Christian, people. In the gospel according
to St Matthew one passage tells of Jesus warning
of false prophets which come in the clothing
of sheep but inwardly are ravening wolves,
again we are given a negative view of the wolf as
being sly and sneaky, ready to devour the body and
soul of the unwary.
The bible contains more such examples, but Im
sure you get the point.
can be seen from such examples that once the people
of Europe came under the thumb of the church, succeeding
generations became effectively brainwashed into
seeing the wolf as bad, evil, something to be killed
whenever possible It must be remembered that at
this time in Europe the Christian church, and thus
the state, had total control of peoples day to day
lives. Few people could read or had any kind of
education, the church provided people with the knowledge
it thought they needed to go through there lives.
To go against the church was to invite being cast
out of the community around you and to be damned
by the church. Something the average person would
have seen as a fate worse than death.
populations began to grow in the early middle Ages
and farming became more widespread, the natural
prey animals of the wolf started to become less
in number and were pushed into the more remote areas
of country. The wolf would naturally have turned
to more readily available prey such as sheep and
goats, even young cattle if they could find a lost
or less than healthy animal. Of course this brought
immediate conflict with man. The fact that wolves
were very possibly seen along with dogs and ravens-
feeding on the dead of both animals and humans after
the end of the many battles fought during these
times would not have helped their reputation. Indeed
there are written accounts, possibly from the 10th
century, of wolves being seen feeding on the bodies
of dead travellers in Europe. It is not stated that
the wolves killed these people however.
It must also be remembered that at this time, despite
the slow but steady increase in population, there
were still very large area’s of forest in existence.
These often stretched almost unbroken from one village
to the next. People had a genuine fear of being
attacked when in these dark forests both by outlaws
and wild animals. We should remember that for most
people travel was on foot, only the wealthy would
have been on horse back, and no doubt there were
some instances of people seeing and hearing wolves
close by when travelling from place to place. Though
whether the tales of wolf attack on humans were
by pure wolves or by wolf-dog hybrids is open to
question. It is known that wild dogs and wolves
do interbreed. It is also now thought these tales
may well relate to animals which had rabies and
not to healthy wolves. Whether wolf attack was a
fact or mere common folk tales is a matter for debate.
There is one report however from Paris in the winter
of 1420- a very hard winter- that tells of the bodies
of the dead being thrown into rubbish pits and speaks
of hungry wolves swimming the Seine to scavenge
on the bodies. An interesting point to mention here
is that many of the common tales that have come
down to us date from the period around 1400 onwards.
This coincides with a time now known as ‘The Little
Ice Age’ from around 1400 to 1850. A period when
due to low sun spot activity-Europe suffered from
some extremely cold periods, so cold that at times
the river Thames regularly froze solid and some
years were so cold they became known as ‘a year
with no summer’. This extended cold period put humans
and wild animals under very great pressure just
to survive, let alone prosper. Circumstances like
these forced predators like wolves to seek alternate
food sources such as domestic animals. If we then
take into account the poor disposal of waste and,
as in the Paris example above, the disposal of the
dead, then we can see that almost without the Church
bias the scene was set in Europe for people to turn
against the wolf.
two factors combined to seal the fate of the wolf
in Europe. In a frenzy the likes of which can still
be seen in the modern media at times, the wolf became
an object of fear and hate. With full church and
thus state approval wolves in Europe began to be
systematically hunted and killed. The wolf had become
a symbol of all that was evil. Luring the ‘faithful
sheep’ away from the path of the Christian god and
devouring them at the first opportunity. As early
as the 10th century King John of England putting
a bounty of 5 shillings on the head of every wolf
and in France during the late 1500’s many hundreds
of wolves were hunted and killed.
what in truth is the wolf like, isit a cruel animal
that will kill for the fun of it?
Thankfully we now know far more about the real life
of the wolf than ever before. Much of what we now
accept as fact was known to the Native American
Indians long before Europeans ever set foot in the
is the wolf a lone animal. It is instead a very
social animal, living in packs with a strong and
clear order. Lead by a male and female pair-the
alpha male and female- these are the main breeding
pair of the pack, though all pack members help in
the rearing of the cubs.
Far from being an aggressive animal wolves are known
to be very friendly to fellow pack members. Even
wolves that have been reared by humans respond in
a friendly way to those people they recognise. One
of the most important traits for the wolf to develop
is a strong emotional attachment to its fellow pack
members. This emotional attachment begins when the
pup is just a few weeks old. The loss of a pack
member hits the remaining wolves hard. It’s recently
been observed that surviving pack members show sadness
and will mourn for several weeks after the loss
of one of their pack. Indeed wolf pups show stress
and upset if they are removed from the fellow wolves,
people or dogs that they’ve been brought up with.
Of course wolves can be and are aggressive when
the need arises, such as defending their territory
or their young or when meeting a strange wolf. Even
within the pack each wolf maintains its own distinct
character, and this individual character is as varied
in wolves as it is in humans. Timid, fun loving,
shy, reserved, playful, inventive, sober, gentle,
full of affection….all these terms have been used
to describe individual animals, both in the wild
and in captivity. Just as in humans, these differing
personalities appear in response to the environment
the animal is born in to and traits inherited from
its parents. Wolves are also very intelligent animals.
It has been said that if you imagine the most unusually
intelligent, emotional and sensitive dog you’ve
ever known, that is how all wolves are. Although
intelligence is a hard thing to quantify it has
been shown that wolves consistently show a high
level of intelligence. They are able to learn, and
remember and are able to make associations. An example
of this comes from modern times in northern Minnesota
where wolves were hunted from aircraft. The wolves
learned to avoid open areas of country when they
heard aircraft about. When the aircraft had gone
the wolves would come out into open ground. In another
example a tame wolf was separated from the human
who brought it up. When human and wolf were reunited
after three years separation the wolf clearly recognised
its human friend.
In another case Dr Harry Frank of Michigan State
University who kept both wolves and dogs for his
studies on animal behaviour, found that his wolves
learned very quickly how to open doors by turning
the door knob. They learned this just by watching
him using the door, they were not taught it. In
contrast his dogs never picked up this skill.
all their intelligence and friendliness the wolf
should not be seen as some kind of overgrown dog.
North American timber wolves are large animals,
weighing anything from just 50 lbs to 150 lbs, in
some cases more. A female wolf can be anything up
to 6ft long-including tail, males to 6.5 ft long.
The average wolf will stand anywhere from 26 to
32 in at the shoulder, some males being a full 3ft
high at the shoulder. Regardless of the wolf’s eventual
size most of their growth is achieved in the first
12 or so months, any further growth being more a
case of filling out. Wolf pups grow rapidly; this
fast growth is a survival characteristic. By the
first winter the wolf pup must be able to travel
with the rest of the pack in search of food.
Wolves travel great distances at times, easily covering
20 to 35 miles a day in search of food. They are
strong swimmers and are very agile, being quite
able to jump distances of 13 feet.
The wolf’s senses are also very acute. Its sense
of smell is well developed. There are cases of wolves
picking up the scent of a moose at over a mile.
However when the wind is not in their favour wolves
can be caught out by their specialized eye sight.
A wolf can very easily see movement…especially when
seen in its peripheral vision. Stationary objects
can however easily go unseen, even when at close
range. Its night vision is also very good. Along
with its excellent sense of smell the wolf has exceptional
hearing. Field study has shown they can hear other
wolf howls at a range of 3 miles. Under some conditions
wolves can hear at even greater range, as far as
6-8 miles on occasion.
wolf is able to strike a balance between peace and
aggression, by avoiding aggression whenever possible
but standing in defence of its pack mates and its
hunting range when the need arises, and also a balance
between the individual and the pack, by retaining
a strong individual identity but by cooperating
with its pack members. It is this balance, among
other things, that was seen long ago by many of
the Native American Indians. It is to these people
that we must turn to find a more positive and balanced
view of the wolf.
American Indians lived in a world in which all the
plants, rocks, rivers, lakes and birds and animals
had their own unique spirit. They recognised their
relationship with the natural world around them
and they saw the birds and animals as their brothers
and sisters. Like many native peoples, they had
achieved a balance with the world they lived in.
For many of the Native American Indian tribes the
wolf holds very special significance. To the Indians
the wolf was respected as a great hunter, working
together to obtain food for the pack, taking only
what was needed. They saw that the wolf was in harmony
with its world. It had strength, cunning, intelligence
and honour, both to the pack and to its mate….a
wolf pairs for life. All traits the Indians held
to be worthy of respect. Wolf was indeed brother
and sister to these people.
Indian peoples say the wolf had powers given it
by the Great Spirit. The Sioux name for the wolf
was ‘Skunk Manitu Tonka’- meaning ‘Animal that looks
like a dog but has powerful spirit’.
The Navajo word for wolf is ‘Mai-coh’….the word
that is also used to mean Witch..! They believed
that a person who donned a wolf pelt could transform
themselves into a wolf. The Navajo also have healing
ceremonies which call on Powers to restore peace
and harmony to the sick. The wolf is one of these
Hopi Indians also had wolf dancers to represent
one of the Powers of the universe.
The Shoshoni learned from the wolf how to hunt the
deer in the open prairies of Wyoming. They would
crawl through the long grass and then when close
enough, wave a strip of light coloured leather on
a stick to encourage the curious deer to come closer
and investigate. The wolf used to swish its tail
in the air to achieve the same thing. The deer would
come close enough to allow both wolf and Indian
a good chance to kill it.
Cheyenne medicine men would rub the arrows of hunters
and warriors against a wolf pelt to make the arrow
Cherokee would not kill a wolf believing, that the
rest of the pack would exact revenge. They would
also imitate the walk of the wolf to help ward off
frostbite in their feet in winter.
Crow Indians dressed in wolf skins to bring success
in hunting. Women of the Hidatsa tribe would rub
their bellies with a wolf skin to help with a difficult
Mandan Indians attached wolf tails to their moccasins
to show their success in battle.
Cree Indians believed that when the northern lights
shone they were being visited by divine wolves.
Chippewa myth tells of wolves supplying them with
food and hides. The Delaware thought that to hear
a wolf howl was foretelling of a change in the weather.
Pawnee, Hidatsa and Oto Indians used to make a sacred
bundle in which to keep magical items.
It is probably true to say that almost all Native
American Indian tribes held the wolf as an animal
to be respected and in many cases to be revered
as something sacred. Even the tribes as far north
as Canada and Alaska and as far south as Mexico
held the same opinions.
without doubt the Indian tribe most associated with
the wolf are the Pawnee.
The Skidi Pawnee Indians lived in the area of Kansas
and Nebraska. Skidi (pro Skid-dee) means wolf in
Pawnee. Even among the neighbouring tribes they
were known as the ‘Wolf People’ and the sign for
the Pawnee and the wolf was the same, such was their
close connection with wolves. This sign was a V
made by the middle and index finger held by the
right ear, then brought forward to the front of
following is the creation legend of the Pawnee:
great council was held to which all the animals
were invited. For a reason no one remembers the
brightest star in the sky, the Wolf Star, was not
invited. He watched from a distance, silent and
angry, while everyone else decided how to make the
earth. In the time after the great council, the
Wolf Star directed his resentment over this bad
treatment at The Storm That Comes Out of the West,
who had been charged by the others with going around
the earth seeing to it that things went well.
Storm That Comes Out of the West carried a whirlwind
bag with him as he travelled, inside of which were
the first people. When he stopped to rest in the
evening he would let the people out and they would
set up camp and hunt Buffalo.
Wolf Star sent a grey wolf down to follow The Storm
That Comes Out of the West around. Storm fell asleep
and the grey wolf stole his whirlwind bag, thinking
there might be something good to eat inside. He
ran far away with it. When the wolf stopped and
opened the bag all the people ran out. They set
up camp, but suddenly, looking around, they saw
there were no Buffalo to hunt. When they realised
it was a wolf and who had let them out of the bag
they were angry. They ran the wolf down and killed
The Storm That Comes Out of the West found the first
people and saw what they had done he was very sad.
He told them that by killing the wolf, they had
brought death into the world. That had not been
the way, but now it would be the way.
Storm That Comes Out of the West told the people
to skin the wolf and make a sacred bundle with the
pelt, enclosing in it the things that would always
bring back the memory of what had happened. Thereafter
he told them they would be known as the Wolf people,
the Skidi Pawnee.
Wolf Star watched all this. The Pawnee call this
star, Fools the Wolf, because it rises just before
the morning and tricks the wolves into howling before
first light. In this way the Wolf Star continues
to remind people that when it came time to build
the earth, he was forgotten.
Wolf star is more commonly known as Sirius and its
coming and going during the year was seen by the
Pawnee as the coming and going of the wolf spirit
in its journey down the Milky Way or Wolf Road as
they called it. The Blackfoot Indians also called
the Milky Way the Wolf Trail. Interestingly some
tribes have a legend that tells of their ancestors
in the far distant past as having come from Sirius.
the Pawnee to be able to move and behave like the
wolf was the greatest achievement. They were known
to be able to travel great distances with little
or no food, at times they would scavenge on the
carcases of dead animals they found. They would
journey in single file-like the wolf- but their
path would not be straight, again like the wolf.
Their eye sight was said to be so good they could
see ‘two looks away’ and their hearing so acute
they could hear a cloud pass. On coming into enemy
territory they would try to move as the wolf would,
slowly, taking in the slightest change in the world
around them. If the dogs of an enemy tribe should
be disturbed by them and start to bark the Pawnee
would howl like a wolf. So convincing was their
howl that the dogs would become silent.
wolf was seen as a strong totem or medicine animal,
both to the individual and the tribe, or to a clan
within the tribe.
The word medicine has a different meaning to the
Indian than it has to us. It means anything which
brings one closer to nature and the spirit within
all things. This can mean healing-physical and spiritual-
of the mind, body or spirit through the awareness
of the natural way of things in the world around
you. Not just awareness though, the individual must
go further and come to intuitively understand that
natural world by studying it on many levels and
by living in it on an equal footing. You must become
a part of it. Native American wolf medicine is a
way of life.
the Indians as well as to us the wolf is a magical
animal; and wolf spirit can teach many things if
you can just learn to ‘hear’ what you’re being told.
Wolf may come to you in many ways. In chance, but
continuous encounters of wolf images, by being drawn
to seek to know the wolf better, and of course wolf
may come to you in meditation and dreams, or a mix
The Indians believed it was the wolf that taught
men to live in harmony with nature and how to live
in peace with each other. Wolf is a teacher and
pathfinder among other things and those who have
strong wolf spirit will go on to teach and guide
Wolf is also good at taking advantage of opportunity
and at facing change in life, whether that change
is in day to day life or in facing the change brought
by the end of this life.
Wolf teaches us to trust our instincts and to listen
to our inner voice, to believe in our own strength
and individuality. Because wolf is a teacher he
tends to come to us when we need guidance in our
lives, so learn to be aware of him and of what he
is telling you. Seeing a lone animal can mean you
are being told to give time to being alone in your
life…to be yourself more, conversely, seeing a wolf
pack can mean you are being told to give time to
your family…to the pack, so to speak!. Remember
though that the wolf is a shy animal, it may take
time for him to come to you and when he does he
may at first appear hesitant. Be patient, give wolf
time and space. Let him see you are genuine in your
desire to be guided by him.
Wolf will look deep into your heart and will share
great knowledge and wisdom with you if he trusts
you. But beware, for wolf will demand full trust,
participation and absolute sincerity from you.
Take the time to look for the wolf in your dreams
and meditations; do not be afraid to run with him
and to hunt with the pack if invited to. This is
a sign that you are accepted by him.
Wolf is not an animal that makes much fuss outside
its own pack and nor do those people who have a
strong wolf spirit in their lives. They tend to
be quiet, calm people who have good instincts and
intelligence. Like the animal that guides their
lives they may stay in the background just watching,
though they are often aware of hidden motives and
meanings before others are. These people have strong
emotions and like the wolf will avoid confrontation
whenever possible; but when they do defend that
which they care for they will stand their ground
and fight with all the strength and determination
of the wild wolf. And like the wolf these people
can say much with just a look.
the Wolf does come into your life then honour him.
We, as humans have done great harm to them, yet
they have done no harm to us. Learn about the wolf
and add your voice to giving them all the help and
protection you can. And be true to your pack and
the natural world around you. For the wolf will
always be there in the forest of your dreams, waiting
patiently for you.
with the Wolf © Copyright Wolfsdream
/ EVH 2005