Wolf symbolism, thanks to pop culture, conjures up images of Lycans, shape-shifters, and feral dogs howling at the moon. In reality, a wolf represents many different and interesting things that range from good to evil to even romantic and sacred. So, if you are wondering what do wolves symbolize, then read on!
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Wolf symbolism and meaning
Wolf symbolism is ambiguous, ranging from negative associations with darkness, aggression, and chthonic powers to positive wolf characteristics like curiosity, intelligence, playfulness, fierce protectiveness of their young, pack allegiance, formidable hunting skills, and clearly defined social structure.
Wolves have also fascinated men since the early days because they look so similar to dogs – man’s best friend. They are closely linked to light, sun, moon, and spirit. Wolves also guide the dead and are closely linked to Hades – the God of the underworld.
In America and Europe, the wolf at the door symbolizes the fear of hunger and starvation. The phrase wolf at the door is an attack on the obscene extremes of wealth and poverty.
It conjures up images of extreme poverty and hunger during the Great Depression. By the 20th Century, the wolf became a symbol of a sexual predator, which could have come from the tale of the Little Red Riding Hood.
The wolf symbol became the symbol of male aggression. Later on, the popular culture brought about the concept of the werewolf – a man turning into a wolf on full moon night.
This could have come from the urban legend based on a number of studies that indicate that the full moon does make people more violent. Today, the word “werewolf” immediately conjures up images of the actor Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1941 film The Wolf Man. (1)
Wolf Native American symbolism
The Native Americans regarded the wolf with respect and reverence. The Cherokee Indians even had a group that called themselves the Wolf Soldiers – an organization that served as a defensive and protective association.
The warriors even went to the extent of wrapping themselves with wolf-skin to seek the anima’s strength and power. The Cherokee and other Indian tribes had many legends, songs, and stories about wolves and wolf medicine.
The largest Cherokee Clan is called Aniwaya – which is the literal translation of Wolf Clan. Even after the Cherokees went on reservations and acquired government jobs, they still turned to the animal powers of the spirit world.
Choctaw poet Jim Barnes also wrote his famous poem Four Things Choctaw as an homage to the wolf. (2) The Kiowa tribe leader was called the Lone Wolf. He became the most respected band chiefs from 1860 to 1870.
The Inuit tribes hunted wolves. They set traps and pitfalls to capture them. Many of these trapping methods were gruesome and cruel. The hunters would then pray over the trapped wolf’s dead body, asking the wolf spirit to forgive them.
The Natives also had a Wolf Dance – a marker of culture and belief. This sacred dance enabled groups of people to connect in a number of ways. In the wolf dance, young men would visit nearby homes, dismount their horses, and dance around a particular home, howling like wolves.
Wolf Eastern Symbolism
In Japan, the Ainu tribe revered the wolf and used it in their sacred ceremonies. The Ainu chief would sacrifice certain animals to send away their Godlike essences from their earthly bodies.
Many artifacts recovered from the Usu area in Japan depict carved wolf symbols on them. The wolf is also a sacred animal of the Shinto Shrine in Mitsumine, Saitama Prefecture.
This centuries-old cult is located on a remote mountain high above the clouds. The wolf statute located at the site is referred to as O-inu-Sama – meaning the honorable dog.
In Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the wolf is the vehicle of deities, and particularly of Tibetan Gods. For the Hindus, Lord Krishna created hundreds of wolves from his hair to frighten the people of Vraja into migrating to Vrindavana.
In Hindu Vedic Literature, the wolf is associated with the night and darkness. The inauspicious symbol vrika is also a wolf-like creature. In Northern China, the wolf symbolizes greed, rapacity, and cruelty.
But there is also an auspicious wolf meaning in China – a wolf in the form of the star Sirius guarding the Heavenly Palace. In Ancient Egypt, an archaic wolf god named Upuaut (or Wepwawet) was the offspring of Isis/Nephthys. (3)
Wolf Christianity symbolism
The Wolf at the Gate narrates the story of Saint Francis Assisi and how he saved the people of Gubbio from wolf menace. A wolf that had been doing great damage to the city of Gubbio was being hunted by the people of Gubbio.
When St. Francis encountered the wolf, he addressed it as Brother Wolf and protected the creature from reforming it.
The simple story evokes profound and fundamental themes like survival, war, hunger, violence, law, justice, fear, greed, and predation. This becomes a spiritually symbolic parable that shows the power of community and the dazzling force of love.
St Francis is fondly known as the Beggar King, who helps the ferocious wolf understand the fact that all life is worth preserving and that loving kindness is the greatest of all gifts. The Wolf is often mentioned directly in the Bible.
There are references made to its ferocity. In Old and New Testaments, the wolf is a special enemy to the sheep. In Luke x.3, Jesus says: Go your ways before I send you forth as lambs among wolves.
Likewise, in Genesis 49: 27, Benjamin is described to be as ravenous like the wolf. Thus, the human traits assigned to the wolf symbol include intelligence, cunning, sociability, and compassion. In the Christian tradition, the wolf represents the devil as the spoiler of the flock. (4)
Wolf Celtic symbolism
In Celtic symbolism and mythology, the wolf is seen as a symbol of a valiant warrior. The Wolf head symbol is a familiar image in heroic poetry and saga as well as a basis for providing personal names.
The wolf also symbolizes an outlaw that preys on the society but also as a warrior that hides in the forest, waiting for an opportunity to carry out deeds of vengeance.
Celebrated Celt hero Sigmund and his son Sinfjotli both hid in the forests under wolfskin using the voice of wolves preparing to avenge dead kinsmen on the King Siggeir.
The identification of young warriors with traits of wolves is based on the traditions of people descended from Indo German groups as well as Celts.
Scandinavian berserks also howled like wolves. It is estimated that there may have once been Celtic wolf-totem God of the dead. The Roman God was also associated with wolves. Fenrir was a Norse wolf, whom Odin brought to Asgard, the home of the gods, hoping that he might eventually tame him.
Fenrir, however, grew stronger and fiercer each day, until the gods had to shackle him with the strongest of chains. Fenrir succeeded in breaking each and every chain. Finally, he was restrained by a magical cord woven by dwarves.
Wolf African symbolism
The wolf’s limits in the African Continent are unknown, but he is believed to exist from Morocco eastward to the deserts of Libya and also that he extends from the highlands of Abyssinia to the mountains stretching inward.
Within these vast limits, the wolf has acquired various traits suitable to that region. One of the most prominent myths surrounding wolves in African Shamanism is that men were the first part of wolves and lived in the darkness without learning how to hunt. One day, a Deer Person allowed the Father of the Wolves to hunt him.
While the wolves were devouring him, the Deer Person turned into peyote due to which the wolves acquired great wisdom. They came out of the darkness and into the sun and had the option of remaining wolves or turning into men.
The wolves chose the second option and the Father of the Wolves made a temple dedicated to the Arrows of the Wolves. For Huichol tribes, the wolves represent their ancestors. Many African tales and legends talk about men shape-shifting into wolves.
The concept of werewolves symbolism is also common in this region where a man bitten by a wolf turns into a werewolf on full moon night.
Wolf in dreams
Wolves, jackals, coyotes, and other dog-like wild or feral animals in dreams usually represent stealth. The wolf is cold, emotionless, and predatory and may be an indication of a looming threat, impending danger, and also harm to the dreamer’s physical and emotional well-being.
Sometimes, a wolf may suddenly appear in your dream when there is a massive change on the horizon. A worried and anxious mother, for example, might dream of a wolf if her child is starting college and leaving home.
The worry may come in the form of a dream of a wolf, meaning – worries about whether the child will like it or get influenced by the environment, and also the parental powerlessness to help one’s child.
This is in conjunction with the phrase: throwing one’s child to the wolves. People who are emotionally close to each other can also share wolf dreams and telepathic messages in this way. (5) The wolf can be a silent ally in a dream or an indication that you are on a path seeking something greater than yourself.
Let the wolf be your guide to the psychic treasure within you. The wolf meaning in dreams, a teacher who can show you something valuable when you call upon it. Consider the wolf like a family member who will lead you to your personal development.
Wolf encounters and omens
For centuries the wolf has existed alongside humans, both in reality and through literary, scientific, and cultural representations.
The term ‘wolf at the door’ suggests isolation, greed, and deception, and represents a desire to invoke protection against poverty, hunger, and evil omens. Today, an encounter with a wolf may be rare unless it is in a wildlife park, animal sanctuary, or through dreams.
If you do see wolves in magazines, on TV, or simply see its symbol, then it may be telling you to be careful. The term lone wolf means a warrior or hero who works alone. Wolf it down means eating ravenously.
Different social groups have their own representations for the wolf. Native Americans considered wolf encounters as omens of ‘strength’ and revered the animal.
As well as killing farm animals, the wolf is also known to kill lone travelers and spread rabies. The Latin word for wolf is lupus, which is similar to lucis, which is Latin for light. Thus, the wolf omen also suggests the dawning of light in one’s life.
However, Lucifer, the name for Satan, is also suggestive of an association with wolves and the Devil. In Norway, it is lucky to meet a wolf, but the Comanches believed that seeing a wolf meaning is danger. (6)
Wolf mythology and folklore
Wolf mythology includes many wolf tales and legends. The most famous is the Boy Who Cried Wolf and Red Riding Hood. In the latter, the wolf is a symbol of greed, sexual predator, and the devil or Satan that lures innocent victims.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf became a symbol of a moral tale to teach children never to lie. In Norse Mythology, two wolves Geri and Freki, are linked to Odin, symbolizing greed and ravenous hunger.
Lycanthropy or werewolves and shape-shifting human-wolf hybrids have also inspired thousands of stories, novels, and even movies about these mythical creatures. Werewolves inspire terror but romance as well.
This transformation of man into a wolf occurs at Full Moon since wolves are linked to the moon. Ancient writings of Greek Petronius also depict werewolves with supernatural strength.
The werewolf may have European origins, but soon this folklore spread throughout the world. Today, shape-shifters similar to the werewolf are common in many stories and tales around the world. Fictional books depict werewolves to be susceptible to silver bullets.
They are also pitched against vampires and many popular romantic tales and movies have shown an enmity between the two clans. All in all, the wolf is portrayed as an interesting character in mythological tales as well as pop culture stories today.
Wolf spirit animal
The Wolf spirit animal teaches you many things. Wolf medicine brings with it a capacity for making quick and firm emotional attachments.
Learning to trust your instincts and secure your emotional attachments are lessons that the wolf spirit animal is trying to teach you.
The wolf has turned up to help you listen to your Inner Guidance. It will guard you as it teaches you – so trust it.
A wolf is very strong and has a great deal of stamina. It can travel great distances. Their senses of smell and hearing, as well as vision, are highly developed.
A wolf can gorge down everything that it hunts and that is an indication that you need to utilize all that is available at your disposal.
A wolf totem may show up trying to tell you not to waste anything. It is also a reminder for you that the cold winter will pass and to keep your spirit up.
A wolf has a keen sense of smell and a higher sense of smell is linked to higher spiritual idealism in metaphysical circles.
Wolves use their senses of smell and hearing to hunt. This is a reminder for those with wolf totems to listen to their inner thoughts and words. (7)
Wolf totem animal
To understand wolf medicine brought by your wolf totem animal, we must take a look at the traits and characteristics of wolves. The Wolf totem animal represents a love for the pack.
So love your family and take care of your cubs. Wolves always hunt in small packs. They trust their instincts and depend on their keen sense of hearing and smell to acquire their food.
Once they have their prey, they use their powerful stamina to hunt it down. And once they have their kill, they devour everything without wasting anything.
This shows that a person with a wolf totem must learn to trust their Inner Wisdom and also use their senses. Meditate daily and especially during the full moon. Call the wolf when you are feeling let down by the cold world.
The wolf totem will encourage you and provide you with the warmth you need to tide through a cold phase in your life. Stay alert as an opportunity may be nearby. A wolf totem may also show up if there is someone planning to cheat or scam you.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing is a phrase that refers to this situation. So do not let your guard down. Use your instinct and analyze the situation at hand. Take the right steps so you can emerge the victor and not let anyone get the better of you.
Wolf power animal
Wolf’s message for you: “ONE LOOK IN MY EYES,” and you can see the truth of who I am. Like some of my brothers and sisters, and four-legged animals, we’ve gotten a bad rap.
We mean no harm to you. If Wolf is your power animal – you have a strong sense of family and community.
You are intelligent, full of stamina, and trust your instincts – as a result, it is rare that you can be fooled or taken for granted by anyone.
You are an expressive person – verbally and non-verbally. You feel energized during the full moon and must use its power.
Meditate on the traits of a wolf on full moon night. Ask the wolf spirit to guide you and teach you. You love your family and your pack. You are an important member of the community.
You can instinctively know who means you harm. Your keen sense of sight, smell, and hearing can help you. Call for the wolf’s medicine and help when you need confidence. The community and your pack are looking up to you for leadership.
Wolf has magical energy. If you truly believe in the spirit of the wolf, he will come to you. When you meditate, visualize a dark forest and chant canis lupus, canis lupus, canis lupus, and the wolf power animal will guide you. (8)
Wolf tattoo meaning
The wolf tattoo is symbolic of the dark side of nature, intuitive powers, and the spiritual aspects of light in the darkness, inner knowledge, and also interconnectedness with your pack and community.
A wolf tattoo is also symbolic of a spiritual journey, of transformation, or overcoming hurdles, and also of your inner strength and power.
If you have recently felt an imbalance due to certain forces, energies, or negative elements, then your wolf tattoo meaning can provide you the assurance and support you need to overcome these.
It can be symbolic of your spirituality, of your Inner Wisdom, and natural guidance – encouraging you and giving you all the confidence you need. You have found your path, and the wolf reminds you to trust your instincts always.
The wolf tattoo will also help restore harmony, balance, and peace. It is a way of showing you the wheel of life, the ups followed by the downs and back by ups and how you can shine through them and persist through all that comes your way.
Your wolf tattoo brings lessons to help you evolve constantly. Discuss your vision with your tattoo artist so you can get the exact wolf tattoo of your liking.
Wolf symbolism can be negative and positive. The positive meaning of a wolf is guidance or teacher. The negative meaning of the wolf symbol can be greed, danger, or cruelty. We hope this brief guide helps you decipher your own wolf meaning so you can understand what the wolf spirit is trying to tell you.