Wolves have been vilified since the beginning of time. Many superstitions about wolves are even today still upheld in certain cultures or communities…I can not vouch for many of these superstitions, but it should be seen in context of the time it originated and the impact such legends/beliefs still have today in vilifying the wolf as a fearsome, cruel and often supernatural creature with only ill intent towards humans.
It remains one of our biggest challenges to change the general perceptions about wolves and inform people of their true nature.
For a great read filled with beautiful photos and amazing stories, please order The Hidden Life of Wolves from National Geographic. I think you’ll fall in love with wolves all over again…
Meanwhile, here are some interesting myths, legends and superstitions about wolves from a cultures like the Vikings, the Middle Ages, Aztecs and Greeks that I think you will find quite fascinating (and a little weird).
- The Vikings wore wolf skins and drank wolf blood to take on the wolf’s spirit in battle. (Referred to as Berserkers).
- They also viewed real wolves as battle companions or hrægifr (corpse trolls)
- Viking legends also spoke of Vargr, who were sometimes thought of as bloodthirsty outlaws, demonic wolves or shape-changing werewolves.
- The term referred to the wolf Fenrir and his sons Sköll and Hati, who had been bound in chains at the dawn of time but were prophesied to escape to plague the world in time for Ragnarok. In their time the fearsome Vikings and their blood-soaked myths caused all of Christendom to tremble at their approach.
- In the 18th century, physicians believed that the autoimmune disease Systemic Lupus Erythmatosus (lupus), was caused by a wolf bite. The name literally means wolf redness.
- Wolves have historically been associated with sexual predation. For example, Little Red Riding Hood, who wears a red cape that proclaims her sexual maturity, is seduced off the moral path by a wolf. The sex link endures in common clichés, such as describing a predatory man as “a wolf” or a sexy whistle as a “wolf whistle.
- During the Middle Ages, Europeans used powdered wolf liver to ease the pain of childbirth and would tie a wolf’s right front paw around a sore throat to reduce the swelling. Dried wolf meat was also eaten as a remedy for sore shins.
- During the reign of Edward the Confessor, which began in 1042, a condemned criminal was forced to wear a wolf-head mask and could be executed on a “wolf’s head tree” or the gallows where a wolf might be hanged next to him.
- Werewolf (wer “man” + wulf “wolf”) trials (which can be distinguished from witchcraft trials) led to hundreds of executions during the 1600s. Men, women, and children—many of whom were physically and mentally handicapped—were put to death.
- The wolf was said to be the favorite disguise of the devil.
- There was a time when people thought the sight of a wolf could render a man dumb. But only if the wolf saw the man first. If you saw it first then you were in the clear.
- Some also said that just saying the word “wolf” could cause an encounter with one.
- According to Welsh superstition, the wolf was not created by God, but by the Devil and it has retained its ties to evil ever since.
- There was a time when people thought wolves feared crabs and shrimp.
- An old medical superstition claims that wrapping sufferers of epilepsy in a wolf skin would protect them from seizures. It was also said that wrapping someone in wolf hide would cure them of rabies.
- In some parts of Europe it was believed that wolf skins kept flies out the house.
- According to French superstition, rubbing wolf teeth on the gums of a child will alleviate tooth pain. They also thought that wearing a wolf tooth around your neck protected you from evil.
- It was once said that hanging a wolf’s tail over a barn door will keep wolves away.
- Eating wolf’s meat would prevent a person from seeing ghosts.
- Sleeping with a wolf’s head under the pillow will ward off nightmares.
- Rubbing wolf scat on a baby’s body would cure colic.
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- The Greeks believed that if someone ate meat from a wolf-killed lamb, he or she ran a high risk of becoming a vampire.
- According to Pliny the Elder, a first-century Greek scholar, wolf teeth could be rubbed on the gums of infants to ease the pain of teething. He also reported that wolf dung could be used to treat both colic and cataracts.
- Sextus Placitus, in his fifth-century B.C. Medicina de quadrupedibus (Medicinals from Animals), claims that sleeping with a wolf’s head under one’s pillow would cure insomnia.
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- The Aztecs used wolf liver as an ingredient for treating melancholy.
- They also pricked a patient’s breast with a sharpened wolf bone in an attempt to delay death.