Welcome to the first of our Halloween specials! This post is a follow up to the very popular post about “Wolf in a dream,” here on the Dream Well, and is inspired by several people I wish to thank, notably Roger Brantes and “Thepotatokiller” (a commenter), but to all have commented on the original post and shared their mystical wolf dream experiences. I wish to humbly thank you all for progressing my own wisdom.
After much musing and researching on the subject, I have come to realise that wolf dreams are often far more profound and significant than I had previously realised. It is by far my most popular animal post on The Dream Well (though importantly, it is more relevant to people from Europe, North America and colonised countries than to peoples of other geographical regions, such as Asia or India, where for example, elephants are often more significant – but more on that in another post!) Freud himself wrote of wolves in a tree as one of his most famous introductions to dream analysis (again, more on that later!)
It has lead to me question, why, of all animals in the world, do we tend to dream of becoming a wolf more than any other? Why do we have dreams of such mystical communion, of shining green or blue eyes, of sisterhood, brotherhood, or kindredness? What is it exactly, that is so special about our relationships with wolves?
Pondering this subject has lead me down a rabbit hole of research, and to be honest, as I share this with you, I am not sure I am not entirely cognisant of the true implications of what I am about to write. I am still wrapping my head around the enormity of it, so I ask you to be patient with me as I explore this theme at a deeper level.
I think there are three key developments that most importantly influence our relationship with wolves, and hence their symbolic meaning to us:
- the first “domestication” or befriending of wolves when humans were still hunter gatherers – when human beings and wolves lived in a similar way, as part of nature, at times competing for food, when we were both just two different types of animals living on the earth
- the human development of agriculture and the begining of humans moving away from a wild type of life, the destruction of wolves natural habitat and the occasional incidences of wolves attacking newly domesticated livestock
- the rise of Christianity in the 13th century and the vilification of all that was wild, the association of the wolf with the devil, the rise of the fear of werwolves and their persecution along with witches
So to start. Human Beings evolved with wolves… but only certain wolves developed relationships with people, those who displayed attributes that made them amenable to humans: they were both bold and friendly. Timid wolves did not befriend humans, and nor did aggressive ones. So from earliest times, character traits that singled out some wolves from others; lead them to form relationships with humans who were equally receptive, neither aggressive nor timid. Those that weren’t domesticated were “other” – these wolves could be identified as some how “lesser” than the wolves that had come over to the “other side” of human relationships. From this early union the basis of today’s domesticated dog was formed. This was arguably the very first domesticated animal. (See the article linked below from National Geographic “We din’t domesticate dogs, they domesticated us”)
Wolves who approached early humans served many functions, they helped in the hunt, they formed companionship, but they also are likely to have served as a source of food in dire times. Some postulate that this may have been the very first inception of farming – the idea of “keeping” a wild animal that may help you survive when you were starving.
And here we come to one of the critical points of wolf symbology on the human mind. The relationship of humans with wolves predates agriculture. Once humans moved from hunter gather societies to farming agricultural ones, the idea of a “wolf” began to metamorphosise. Now we have two types of canines: the “wild” wolf – the one who does not serve human needs but runs free, potentially attacking newly caged livestock (especially as the wolves hunting domain was diminished due to the human need to farm the land) versus the domesticated version – the early form of what we now call a dog, “man’s best friend.” And so the vilification of the wolf begins. As humans moved from wild hunters in tune with the land, and moved to farmers trying to control the land, wolves became our mortal enemy.
Now we overlay another profoundly significant influence: the rise of Christianity. (Disclaimer: I am not anti-Christian in any way. But in addressing the impact of modern Western society on traditional/indigenous/pagan communities we must in all humility and consciousness explore the controlling influence early aspects of this religion had.) Here we see the real beginning of the persecution of the wolf. No other animal in history (that I can identify, please correct me if I am wrong) has endured such targeted and merciless obliteration as the wolf. Snakes have been vilified and feared, but I am not aware of any situation that has sought to entirely exterminate the species, to the point of putting a price on their head and their skins. In my (albeit limited) research, I cannot find another animal that human beings have deliberately sought to wipe out as the wolf. Why?
And here we come to the crux of the question, and why wolves still play such an important role in our dreaming lives today. I can identify two core influences: wolves are symbols that correspond to one of the most fundamental shifts of human evolution: that from hunter gather societies to agricultural based/farming ones. Wolves do not just represent a “wild side” of our nature as may have been intimated from my original post, wolves represent our very basic core being. Wolves remind us of who we once were, before farms, before business, industry and compromise. At some very deep level, wolves represent our core being, our connection with nature itself. Secondly, wolves came to epitomise the “pagan” or “uncivilised” aspects of society once Christian missionaries began their works of conversions. At a most deep, integral aspect of the (Western) human psyche, wolves represent the move from living “with nature” to “dominating nature” (we must dominate the other peak, competing predator, as we must dominate our unruly, uncivilised behaviours and beliefs with godly, civilised ones), and a move from the freedom of the”wildness” of a pre-agricultural society to the necessary rules and regulations required to ensure the proper functioning of a sedentary, farming one. That which we cannot tame must be killed. And in order to be spiritual beings, we must suppress our instinctive, animal nature.
So, coming to the point of this post, what does it mean when we dream of becoming a wolf? While I have read of many people dreaming of interacting with other animals, few people actually become the animal they dream of, except in the case of the wolf. It seems the wolf really does live within us, in a way it is us. Perhaps the idea of a werewolf is not as far fetched as we might think, at least psychologically…
The idea of a part human/ part wolf being has a history that predates Christianity in the Indo/European culture, where the wolf human rite was part of being initiated as a warrior. This highlights the early respect and understanding humans had for wolves. By classical antiquity (and the development of what we would call “modern civilisation”, things had taken a turn for the macabre, with very early tales of people being turned into wolves for a period of time often as punishment. Early tales of human/wolf transformations were not always a bad though, for example some Norwiegan wolfmen were excellent warriors, strong and greatly resistant to pain.
But widespread belief in werewolves in Europe really began in the Middle Ages, and parallels of the persecution of humans who became wolves can be drawn to the witch trials of that time (though on a smaller scale). It is easy to see the associations between the Christian Church trying to subdue the pagan/shamanistic elements of society and the persecution of wolves, along with the concurrent belief in werewolves. Historically, Christianity was trying to bring “civilisation to the savages” (or to convert the indigenous/pagan societies to a new monothesitic tradition, and to instill a new authority that came from without, a judgemental overseeing god via the church fathers, rather than from within, through nature or the shared community.)
Dreams of becoming a wolf seem to lack the notable sense of distortion we so commonly associate with werewolves. Rather than a subversion of human nature, dreams of becoming a wolf seem to often involve a sense of nobility, or authenticity, and of connection – with nature, with another wolf or even the whole pack.
If we dream of becoming a wolf then, we are potentially tapping into a deeply profound aspect of human nature that predates our agricultural, farming societies. To dream of becoming a wolf is tap into an archetype that I don’t think Jung ever wrote of (please let me know if I am wrong!) It is to dream of our truest and most basic nature, something we have carried within us for generations. If you become a wolf in your dream, you may be sharing the shape-shifting experience of shamans who have been before you (see my post on Shapeshifting here), indeed I believe there is a strong case to mount the argument that the Wolf Archetype, being non-human, is actually a symbol for the commonality of all animals, even all living things. A wolf dream symbolises not just our wild nature but Nature herself. Beyond that, you may be accessing the deepest and most profound aspects of what it means to be human – and to be an animal. As technology, cities and our modern lifestyles separate us further and further from nature, a wolf dream is like a howl from your soul, asking you to reconnect, to remember what has been to lost, to awaken to your most authentic Self. It is our wild nature prowling at the doors of consciousness, demanding that we pay attention to the highest authority of our inner world, and our most basic animal biology. This can be at once exhilarating and terrifying. Will you heed your call of the wild? What do your instincts tell you?