Wolves have been associated with a lot of different cultures, but none so automatically as the Native American culture. In most of these cultures, the one unifying tribute is that the wolf represented power and more positive attributes than negative. As most tribes lived in harmony with nature, or at least tried to, creatures of the earth, even the earth itself along with the sun and moon, were a part of what happened, they were a part of life. Many tribes held the wolf in such high esteem, movements were patterned after them, family dynamics were adopted, respect was given with many rituals, as well as clans were named after these animals. In a lot of tribes, the wolf is referred to as a brother or sister, even a teacher or guide. The wolf is a part of who these people are and how they want to be.
In some cultures it is believed that if one wore the skin of a wolf they would actually transform into a wolf. This mythology led to the belief in such creatures as werewolves, part man, part wolf. The Navajo word for wolf is the same as for witch, “mai-coh,” and was believed that if a person put a wolf skin on they would transform into the wolf. This contributed to such legends as shapeshifters, those who could change shapes at will. Amazingly enough, the most common one of these shapes was the wolf.
One of the most endearing qualities of the wolf is their pack dynamic, which Native Americans, and indeed, even other cultures, tried to adopt. Their pack dynamic is incredibly strong due to the roles that each member of the pack plays. Everything is for the good of the pack, for the good of the family. Their exceptional hunting skills caused envy among most tribes, as well as how they protected each other and their home. Even something as simple as the way the wolf walked in the snow was adopted to keep feet from freezing in the harshest of winters. These were all things that the Natives identified with and learned a great deal from the wolf, as they had similar issues to deal with.
The Ojibwe tribes held powerful beliefs when it came to the wolf. They describe them as members of the family, brothers or sisters, and their bonds were that close. It was believed that whatever happened to the wolves would happen to the members of the tribe. Traditional beliefs hold the wolf in high esteem, considering them sacred, able to guide them between this world and the spirit world. So when hunting is brought up, it is as though one has mentioned killing an actual person in their tribe, a cherished family member. They believe in the structure of the pack and how it works. In that context, if something happens to a pack member, the others mourn, and the pack dynamic has to shift to accommodate that loss. This is both a great sadness and a full family upset, so much so that sometimes it has a hard time coming back and working.
As there are many stories involving our mystical and incredibly beautiful creature, the wolf, some stories full of myth and steeped in legend, others very real and genuinely fantastic, but all hold a power of belief. Sometimes that is all we need to understand something very simple right in front of us. The Native Americans knew this and learned from this amazing animal that holds our hearts in its howls and our dreams in its eyes. They knew the power of this animal over all of us and learned how to achieve a harmony with the earth that some of us can only dream of.
For now, reach for the stars, believe in yourself, and howl at the moon for the sheer joy of it. Forever Follow the Wolf.
Written by Samantha Ford
OTHER INFORMATION ON NATIVE AMERICANS AND THE WOLF:
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