Of Witch and Wolf
Witch and Wolf: the beautiful, the terrible, the mysterious.
The connections between witch and wolf go back to the beginning of time: we are iconic, mystical, simultaneously admired and feared. We both exist on the outskirts of society, and yet are integral to the health of our physical and spiritual ecosystems.
Humanity’s relationship with wolves is ancient and profound. In the earliest ages of history, we respected wolves, learned from and cooperated with them, as both species hunted the same game to survive. In the modern era, it was believed early humans learned to domesticate wolves to serve as guardians and companions in hunter gatherer societies. Then as we began to settle into agrarian life and communities, we dissociated from the wild wolf. However, recent archaeological evidence suggests that some of those ancient wolves actually self-domesticated, discovering they gained an advantage in befriending humans; that humans brought more food security and a larger sense of belonging. Every breed of modern dog that we love and raise with our families are descended from those original wolves we shared food with so long ago.
Over the centuries in the European + colonized lands, as the once mutually beneficial relationship between humans and wild wolves dissolved, wolves became the outsiders, the strangers, the threat. We came to fear the wolf and its intrusions into our communities; we tried to drive it away, control it, kill it off. And yet that ancient connection remains, totally independent of our close kinship with dogs: an untamed thread of nature weaving through the ages to remind us that wolves are magic.
Once upon a time, Witches were the most powerful figures in our tribal societies. Called by many names according to land, tribe, or culture, we were the ones who healed and taught, created art and recorded language, the ones who recognized the patterns in nature and read omens, who spoke with spirits and were touched by the gods. But along with the burgeoning civilization that alienated the wild wolf, the monotheistic and patriarchal arc of history banished the witches—the wild, magical ones—from the places of power in society. Just as we banished the wolves.
The Big Bad Wolf (like the Wicked Witch) of our fear is at constant war with the Noble Mythical Wolf of our ancient memory. As creatures of power, they model the beauty, ferocity and determination of the human spirit, though their dangerous edge stirs our most primal fears. We cannot help but marvel at the spirit of Wolves, even as we hasten to destroy them.
There is a fundamental ecological need for wolves in the world. As apex predators they help maintain the balance of Nature by culling the sick and keeping the population of prey animals down, which in turn allows the botanical habitat to survive and thrive. Yet landowners act only in their own interest, indiscriminately trapping and shooting adult wolves, even poisoning newborn pups to keep the population from intruding on human livelihoods. Gloating trophy hunters broadcast their mass wolf kills, proudly posting the gruesome evidence to their Facebook accounts. But the Wolf survives.
Witches also serve to bring balance to society. We practice the arts of magic in order to raise abundance, heal the sick, right injustices, and cultivate a benevolent relationship with the spirit world. As women of power, we are romanticized as seductresses and sorceresses, given a thin veneer of beauty which can be ripped away at a moment’s indiscretion to reveal the suspected hag beneath. Despite this polarizing treatment, the power of the witch is an irresistible temptation to the rational mind. And the Witch survives.
Great power will always ignite corrosive fear. Driven to subsist on the margins of society, shunned and suspect, molded into symbols of malefic influence...both witches and wolves are often portrayed as the incarnation of evil itself. Yet the knowledge of our power is deeply ingrained in the psyche, so potent is the human desire for the forbidden and the thrill of such dangerous liaisons. Whether called shaman, völva, cunning woman, seer, midwife, healer, saint or priestess, humanity has always craved the witch’s power—just as we crave the beauty, agility, strength, and majesty of the wolf—even if only in the secret, desperate recesses of the heart.
The place of magic that grants love, wish fulfillment, revenge, solace from grief, or relief of suffering: that is the kingdom Witch and Wolf rule.
May we always walk together, in this world and the next.
- Eric McLean
- Night Ride of the Witch, Babin by Bernard Zuber, 1926
- The Family by Pearl Whitecrow
- Company of Wolves, still from 1984 film by Neil Jordan