There once was a shepherd boy who was bored as he sat on the hillside watching the village sheep. To amuse himself he took a great breath and sang out, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!” – Aesop
“Grandmother, what big eyes you have.”
“The better to see you with, my dear.” – European Folk Tale
“Boys like me are not afraid of wolves.” – Prokofiev
All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel. – Margaret Atwood
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice.
“Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. . . . It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. . . . He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.” – Cherokee Fable
A couple of side notes before we begin, if you will indulge me.
1) Today is the anniversary of the day The Bad Husband made an honest Witch out of me. Twenty-one years ago I married the father of all three of my children and my best friend. We met on Ashland Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. I had walked out of the factory where we worked, my wild blaze of Auburn hair disheveled from the hair net I had worn for the previous nine hours, wearing a—get the late-80s look—peach stretch denim mini-skirt and a linen crop-top, and white huaraches. I saw him jogging for his car about 100 yards away. It was instant recognition. I grabbed my girlfriend/coworker by the arm and said, “I’m going to marry that guy!” I didn’t even know his name. We were so young.
Around-about four years ago, we commenced to making each other’s lives hell. The road was, of course, paved with the best intentions. I can’t say that I’m sorry, honey. Because we are here now; and we wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t passed through the fire. And I like here.
2) My soul-sister from Chicago has been at me to post a guest-blog she wrote back in August. If I don’t get it done by this time next week, you may all flog me.
I love so many Anglo-Saxon words that begin with U and that reflect Heathen ethics that I went a little nuts: unárlic and unárwurðlic (dishonest or dishonorable and unworthy), unarodscipe (cowardice), uncræft and unfǽle (both having to do with wickedness), and on and on—but it seemed like a cheat to use a prefix “un” for this post.
I also, like a good Heathen, thought it was worth discussing unrýne, but, to quote Rebel Wilson, I decided, “Mmehh, better not.”
I thought of the uncéas, the Anglo-Saxon formal oath of reconciliation. Not to be confused with regular oaths of fealty which involve two parties not necessarily at war. To break either was punishable by death.
There are so many funfacts about oaths and oathbreaking that this deserves a post of its own one day.
The Heathen includes in her “Beasts of Battle” the Eagle, the Raven, and the Wolf. So, for my U post, I have chosen the Anglo-Saxon word for “Wolf.” It’s the concept to which I’ve chosen to dedicate the name of my nascent ritual troupe: “Ulf.”
The Anglo-Saxons, like many old European peoples, had a double-edged relationship with the ulf. Sure, wolves were feared and driven from farmlands, but they were also revered for their strength in battle and were adopted as symbols for the finest warriors. Think about the White Wolf of England (which has, sadly, been coopted by white-supremacists, but originally stood for honor and fidelity).
Ulf are often imagined as spirits of the land. This is entirely true in Native American lore too, and one of those gracefully exquisite places where my European ancestry meets my Native American ancestry on the exact same page. The same paradox which characterized the attitude toward the Ulf-spirits characterized the Ælfs (Elves), also supernatural spirits of the land who could be either benevolent or ferocious. Or both.
It’s no coincidence, in my opinion, that Ælf ranks alongside Wulf among the most popular component in Anglo-Saxon names.
For me, there are some deeply ingrained personal images of the ulf. When I was about fifteen, I had a dream that a she-wolf, a huge beastly thing, gorgeously encased in muscle and sinew, took me under her tutelage and showed me how to be a bad-ass lycangyne. I can still feel the rush of adrenaline that accompanied the shape shift. I can still smell the blood.
We all know what these dreams mean.
I also have this um, er, ahhhh “buddy”—we’ll go with “buddy”—who untrustworthy folks can hear “growl” when I’m in danger. I have, myself, never heard it—but I’ve heard-tell of it often enough to know it’s there. And now, I finally know what it portends.
Plus, the first “scary movie” I ever watched was Devil Dog, Hound of Hell. I must have been six or seven. I can’t say it didn’t make an impression.
Having put myself in a wolfish mood, I’m sitting in my den right now, surrounded by 250 pounds of a particularly predatory and yet steadfastly loyal wolfish pack, watching The Grey. It’s not an awesome film, but it doesn’t blow. And it gets at the point of my post in a way I never could: The Wilderness Belongs to the Wolves. Wolves are not villains if they render your flesh from your bones while you are trespassing on their turf. And wolves will, I repeat, will remorselessly rip your face off. And there ain’t a fire in the world big enough to keep them at bay when you wander into their woods.
Plus, Liam Neeson with a side of Dermot Mulroney.
I particularly love the part in The Grey where the pack sends the omega, “the outcast,” into the enemy (human) camp to test their strength. The humans kill it and eat it – the dipshit of the group cuts off its head and tosses it into the woods as a “warning” to the wolves. The humans think they have won—for about half-a-scene. The wolves, I imagine, laugh, thinking “S’ok, we didn’t like her no how. Thanks for eradicating her for us.”
They certainly howl their heads off until the Alpha says, “Enough.”
That sound goes right through me. I can feel it like a hearbeat.
And then the wolf-pack eats the humans.
I guess that’s a spoiler if you’ve never seen a wilderness film or read a wilderness narrative. Or read a fairy tale. Ever. It’s the way of the wild, ladies and gentlemen. Wolves win.
Remember, even if Peter leads the parade, the last line of Prokofiev’s story is still: “What if Peter hadn’t caught the wolf?” The fear is ever-present. And sometimes, as Jeremy Bentham proves, your fear is all wolves need. They can smell it.
I also watched this terrible B movie: Wolf Town. Of course, wolves ate teenagers. In the end, all the wolves wanted was “to have their town back.” See? Stay out of wolves’ lairs and everyone will get along just fine. Go into the a wolf’s den? Dinnertime.
And when an Alpha is challenged? Boo-ya. The fangs will fly. I am a bit of a Milanian Pack-Master by nature (a trait which my youngest inherited) and would like to tell you a thing or three about Alphas.
(1) They are nearly silent. Though an Alpha will “lead” a vocalization, typically the ones you hear baying at the moon tend to be Betas at best. Usually, they are the terrified Omegas who want to prove themselves useful but really just end up ruining the hunt and pissing everyone off.
As humans, we tend to like Betas—they are victim-types who like to be scratched behind their ears and petted–easily domesticated.
(2) Alpha’s don’t get involved in fights involving underlings. Every so often you will see them tell the fighters, “Enough is enough,” but mostly Alphas let underlings work it out on their own. Know why? Because they are Alphas. Fights between Deltas don’t make no nevermind to an Alpha.
(3) Alphas tend to ignore challenges from anyone lower than a Beta. I’ve seen the Beta of my pack get whacked by the Alpha for stuff that the Omega can do with impunity. The Alpha knows the order. If the Beta tries to upstart, the Alpha will warn. And warn. And warn. And then destroy.
(4) Alphas protect everyone’s youngon’s. Until there’s a serious challenge of authority. Then the winning Alpha tends to trounce the loser’s offspring.
(5) Alpha’s don’t feel the need to explain themselves. One might find that after a decade they are just getting to know factoids that an Alpha never felt it was necessary to reveal. Know why? Because Alphas tend not to give a rat’s ass if Betas like their motivations.
We also think of werewolfs, no?
The “wolf-man” is a pretty universal concept, appearing in cultures all over the world that encounter wolves (Navajo, Sioux, German, Russian, French, etc.). The Scandinavian warriors had an established mythology about wolf-warriors in the ulfhethennir, a wolf like the berserker is a bear. And then there’s Loki, Garmr, and Fenris.
And think about Roman divine connections to the wolf and the wolf-man: the festival of Lupercalia; Zeus Lykaios, Apollo Lykaios, Lykaian Pan; and the myth of Demetrius who was turned to a wolf and charged to eat no human flesh.
There are typically two kinds of were/werawolf: (1) the person who behaves as a hunter—something that would have been admirable before the ulf became misassociated with the predatory demonic—and (2) the person who can change into a wolf and back.
Yum, shapeshifting . . .
I’ll leave the conversation here and pick it up when I talk to you about the ritual ulf-pack—whatever permutation its name finally takes. But for now, let me head off any ridiculous claims of wolves who pose a danger. We could go round and round about wolves being villains—both historo-linguistically and as misrepresented in lore.
But this is how TBW sees it: sheep have no place among wolves.
B, Q, 93,
 I’ve just been reading the Volsunga Saga again. The hero, Sigmund, and his son, Sinfjotli, avenge their kinsmen on King Siggeir, by putting on wolfskins, and speaking with the voices of wolves.
I also remember translating “The Battle of Maldon” (ten whole years ago!) with one of my favorite grad-school teachers; in this poem, the enemy are “waelwulfas” (“slaughter-wolfs”). On the other hand, as the name Beowulf shows, the word W/ulf is one of the common roots in Anglo-Saxon names. Even contemporary surnames like Lowell, Lovell, and Lovett are diminutives of w/ulf.
 And hell yea—they done peed on all the damned trees. You bet. On account of they were there first.
 As a toddler she controlled my sister’s ill-behaved Fiest with a poorly-pronounced, “No, Baiwey!” better than any adult could
 Same things work in the chicken coop.
 That hasn’t happened at my place, but I saw it on Meerkat Manor once. And the Alpha hen will push the Omega’s eggs out of the nesting box if she wants room.
 Were = Man + Wulf = Wolf whereas Wera = Woman + Wulf = Wolf, therefore Werawulf.
Also, I like to play with Lycanthrope (Greek). Lykos = Wolf + Anthropos = Man. Therefore, Wolf + Woman = Lycangyne.
I do this when I have a glass of wine and get bored.
 I don’t want to get into attributions of lycanthropy to dementia and the word “wearg” (which may or may not have anything to do with w/ulfs—depending on who you ask) to cursed—all of that came much later. But there is an association between the ulf and sorcery that is much older.
And there is a linguistic connection that lets us know that punishment by exile for a set period was reserved for heinous crimes like oath-breaking is related to wolves. Think about it – turning into a wolf is a great metaphor for temporary exile.
This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . . The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).