Wolves are big predators. As a result, it is no wonder that wolf possesses enormous symbolic power in a wide range of cultures in both the past and the present. Often, wolves were not regarded in a positive light, which is presumably connected to their associations with both danger and destruction. For example, the Norse believed that the Fenris-wolf was fated to kill Odin, the King of the Gods, at Ragnarok before being torn in twain by Odin’s vengeful son Vidar.
Likewise, the Zoroastrian text called the Avesta states that wolves are a creation of the hypostasis of evil called Angra Mainyu, thus making them the cruelest of the animals that can be found upon the Earth. With that said, it is important to note that other cultures saw wolves in a much more positive light, often by associating them with warriors and war-making.
She-Wolf and Romulus and Remus
For people in the West, the most familiar example might be Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars and Rhea Silvia who were abandoned in the wilderness but nursed by an old she-wolf. As a result, the she-wolf became a symbol of the Roman Empire, which sprang up from the city that claimed Romulus for its founder. This is the reason that ancient Romans never killed wolves for sport in the arenas in spite of the fact that slaughtering animals was a core component of ancient Roman entertainment.
She-Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus, Ludovico Carracci, 16th century fresco, Palazzo Magnani, Bologna
Descended from Wolves
Likewise, there are a number of cultures that believe that they are descended from wolves.
There is a Turkic myth in which a boy is rescued by a she-wolf named Asena, who gives birth to ten half-human, half-wolf sons when she is subsequently impregnated by the boy. Of these ten sons, Ashina goes on to establish a ruling dynasty of the Turkic peoples, which is of course called the Ashina clan.
Also in Turkic mythology it is believed that a grey wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland Ergenekon, which allowed them to spread and conquer their neighbours.
Oghuz Khan was a legendary and semi-mythological khan of the Turks, first records dated back to 13th century. There are many legends surround this famous warrior character, and one of them particularly linked to the grey wolf.
Oghuz declares war on Urum Khan and marches his army to the west. One night, a large male wolf with grey fur comes to his tent in an aura of light. He says, “Oghuz, you want to march against Urum, I want to march before your army.” So, the grey sky-wolf marches before the Turkish army and guides them. The two armies fought near the river İtil (Volga). Oghuz Khan wins the war. Then, Oghuz and his six sons carry out campaigns in Turkistan, India, Iran, Egypt, and Syria, with the grey wolf as their guide. He becomes the Khan of the Four Corners of the Earth.
As with most ancient peoples’ beliefs, the wolf was thought to possess spiritual powers, and that parts of its body retained specific powers that could be used by people for various needs.
Oghuz Khan pictured with two horns as Zulqarnayn on a 100 Turkmenistan manat banknote.
Chechens (Northeast Caucasian ethnic group) claim to have been born from a she-wolf, which explains why the wolf is a symbol of Chechnya as well.
There is one myth that the mythological founder of the Chechen nation, Turpalo-Noxchuo (Chechen Hero, who Chechens are descended from “like sparks of steel”), was raised by a fabled, loving “Wolf Mother”.
Old Chechen lore holds that the sheep was actually originally created for the wolf to enjoy, but man “stole” the sheep from the wolf (this is rather interesting considering that many Chechens in the past have in fact been shepherds). According to the ethnographic historian Jaimoukha, in olden times Chechens used to observe a wolf cult that would prevent lupine raids on sheep, by observing Saturday as being a special day.
Chechen (Ichkerian) seal bearing a wolf, the nation’s symbolic embodiment.
Wolf Symbol for Mongolians
The Mongolians tell stories about them having been born of a union between a doe and a wolf, thus setting them apart from all other peoples of the Earth.
Today, people don’t really believe in it literally, but it still has its symbolic meaning forged in every Mongolians heart. They believe that wolves are spiritual animals and even if you wanted to hunt a wolf, it wouldn’t be seen to any hunter, but to a person with high spiritual power and who is meant for something great. The wolf symbolizes spiritual power, luck and expresses strong instincts.
Eagle hunters in Mongolia (Image Source)
Summed up, there are plenty of cultures that have seen wolves in either a positive or a negative light. However, whichever the case, the wolf has always been a symbol of considerable importance, which seems to remain as true in the present as in the past.