Wolves and Werewolves - Animals

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Wolves and Werewolves

Depending upon what one understands a werewolf to be, the line between wolves and wolfmen may be very fine indeed. Mirror-images of each other, they can’t really be separated and so are considered together.

The emotions evoked by wolves and the treatment accorded to them parallel those toward witches. Some find profound beauty, spirituality, something indescribably unique and special about wolves; words aren’t sufficient to evoke the holiness many perceive. On the other hand, the passion, hostility, determination to exterminate wolves—out of all proportion to any damage they might possibly do—parallels emotions toward witches: the urge to kill off something wild, free, and independent.

Like witches, wolves are demonized. Wolves have historically been hunted and exterminated just like witches, shamans, and diviners.

Image By 300 BCE pagan Celts were breeding wolfhounds especially for killing wolves.

Image Vargr, “wolf,” was the term used in Icelandic law codes to refer to outlaws who could be hunted down like wolves. The word also implies that wolves could be hunted down like outlaws, the worst offenders.

Image In Anglo-Saxon England wolves were sometimes hanged near criminals. The Saxon word for gallows is “varagtreo,” “wolf tree.”

Image In France, in approximately 800 CE, Charlemagne founded an order for the purpose of exterminating wolves, the Louveterie.

Image In 1281, King Edward I hired a man, Peter Corbet, to destroy all the wolves he could find in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire.

The desire to eliminate wolves was frequently translated into what may be considered a “wolf-craze” similar to the European Witchcraze. In various parts of Europe and North America, it wasn’t sufficient to merely kill wolves; instead they were brutally tortured to death. There is a sadistic quality to the history of the extermination of wolves that more closely resembles the witch-hunts than extermination of other animal species. In the United States, for instance, wolves were captured alive and dragged behind horses until they were torn to pieces. Other wolves captured alive had their jaws (and sometimes penises) wired up and then were released.

Wolves, shy and wary, very rarely attack humans. (Not a single case of a wolf killing a human has been recorded in North America.) Dogs and automobiles are responsible for a vastly greater number of human death and injury, yet both are beloved. Wolves have been known to prey on livestock, but only when humans have encroached on their territory. It’s not wolves who’ve spread out—their territory has consistently diminished over the last two thousand years; humans have spread out, cleared and destroyed wilderness, removing wolves dining alternatives.

However, for some, wolves are the essential spirit of the wild. Without wolves, some magical earth power is also extinguished. In Lakota, the word for “wolf” translates as the “animal that looks like a dog but is a powerful spirit.”

Wolves are identified with witchcraft:

Image In Germanic tradition, wolves are witches’ mounts and were believed to carry them to sabbats.

Image In the Navajo language, the same word is used for “wolf” and “witch.”

Image Vargamors were forest-dwelling Swedish wild women who communed with wolves.

Image The connection between wolves and witches is so powerful that when some European Romany hear a wolf howl, the automatic reaction is to advise caution as the sound may signal the approach of a witch.

In myth and legend, wolves nurture humans: Zoroaster was allegedly suckled by a mother wolf; Siegfried, Teutonic hero, allegedly had a wolf for a foster-mother, and the founders of Rome, the abandoned babies Remus and Romulus, were found and nursed by a she-wolf.

The wolf was once Rome’s totem animal. The primordial horned spirit Faunus negotiates the balance between deer and wolves, the way the Greek deity Artemis sets the balance between wolves, deer, and hunters. The Lupercalia, Rome’s festival of fertility and purification, was held in honor of Faunus, also known as Lupercus, the wolf spirit. Remnants of the holiday linger in Valentine’s Day traditions. And Feronia was the Italian sacred spirit of magic, prosperity, and freedom. Her sacred animal is the wolf. Once upon a time, if slaves sat on a stone in her shrine, they gained their freedom. Feronia survives but not as a goddess; her most common manifestation is as a witch who roams the marketplace, once women’s place of power.

Wolves are identified with ravenous appetites, whether for food, sex or pleasure. They are identified with strong male sexuality, as in wolf whistles. A wolf is a euphemism for a sexually predatory man. One observes the evolution of demonization of wolves in the tale Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf Little Red Riding Hood meets in the earliest forms of the story is clearly a man. He forcibly gets her into bed; she only escapes by insisting that she needs to use the bathroom—this of course in the days prior to indoor plumbing. Later versions, cleaned up for children, suggest that the villain Little Red Riding Hood encounters is a real wolf, albeit a talking, cross-dressing one.