The wolf has been very much part of our heritage for at least 20,000 years and perhaps even longer. Different cultures have enshrined the wolf in ancient folklore such as the myth of Romulus and Remus being rescued and nourished by a she wolf and going on to found a great civilisation and in Norse mythology Odin riding to victory on the back of a wolf.
Across many parts of the world the wolf has walked alongside humans throughout the centuries creating fables, mysticism and stereotypes. A brief look at this history shows a human belief in the duality of wolves across the globe and throughout time. They can be feared and revered in equal measures as much as they are considered protectors on the one hand or destroyers on the other. What is interesting is this is the same duality that can be applied to the human psyche. Wolves are social creatures remaining loyal and protective of their packs yet seen to be guilty of an assumed carnage in seeking an existence in line with their nature as a wild animal. As Rudyard Kipling rightly pointed out, the strength of the pack is the wolf and the wolf is the strength of the pack, and so it is with humans.
In psychotherapeutic terms, any animal is merely a symbol of what lies within. Many indigenous populations used animals as totems for good reasons, either to help people take on the characteristics of a particular animal to help them deal with a specific situation, or to help explain the many multi-faceted aspects of our own way of being. We all have the capacity to show different characteristics in any given situation and the wolf is no different.
The involvement of wolves in a therapeutic style intervention is particular valuable for those that have been in the armed forces where they have had to be highly attuned to their senses to protect their pack, walk alone and suffer horror and deprivations that only other pack members may understand in relation to survival. They have also been part of a rigid hierarchy in which they have a role. Here, the duality of the wolf nature becomes a metaphor for life. It is also applicable to gang work where the gang is a protective pack within which the individual seeks strength and status.
So, having answered a little on the question of why wolves, this follows on to how this type of therapeutic approach could be applied in the UK.
Dogs and wolves are closely related in as much as there are breeds of dogs that have a wolf like appearance. This includes the Tamaskan and the Northern Inuit as well as the Eskimo dog. The picture accompanying this blog is the stunningly beautiful Cody who is an Utonagan dog which translates into Wolf Spirit. This breed is a mixture of Malamute, Siberian Husky and German Shepherd and they have exceptionally kind temperaments.
If the wolf is a symbolic representation of an inner world we inhabit then a ‘wolf dog’ can have the same impact. Walking with a dog that resembles a wolf still connects us with our wild self, a self that walks alone, that loves and protects and yet holds no fear. Many of us walk this world with a disconnection that we cannot place, feeling slightly adrift from others of our kind and perhaps out of step. Holding that powerful symbol mindfully can help us find a place to be at peace, where, like a wolf we can wrap our tails around our paws and nose to stay warm when life freezes. The wolf symbol can help us learn heightened awareness and to trust our senses and intuition as we learn to associate with those around us or to simply walk away.
When I met Cody I felt an immediate connection with him as he sat beside me and wrapped one paw protectively around me. There was no fear of this big dog even though my mind made words relating to savage, my senses told me to trust my intuition and to respond to the warmth and friendship he was offering. This is the gift these amazing creatures offer us – to trust and believe in ourselves.
Picture courtesy of Windy and Michael - Cody is pictured here with Bill who he had just met.