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The Wolf: Evil or Spiritual
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The Wolf: Evil or Spiritual
During the past few years the wolf in many forms has appeared in sandtrays, primarily from female clients, a few from children. My personal early experiences with wolves came from the Walt Disney cartoon, the three little pigs singing "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf", and fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf was depicted as evil, out to kill unsuspecting and innocent people and animals. Was the wolf representing the evil shadow side of my clients? However, my clients interpreted their use of the wolf as a helpful creature, a guide, or companion. I was confused. I decided to do some research and find out the meaning of the wolf as symbol.
First, I turned to the literature of natural history e. I found that the wolf, as we know it today, evolved from carnivores and roamed the earth over one million years ago. During those early years of man and womankind wolves were always competitors with humans for the same prey species. They were always rivals, and sometimes enemies, perhaps because they were close to humans in many ways (Branderburg, 1993; Mech, 1991).
Wolves have a strong social nature. Through gestures and body movement, they communicate their feelings. The "wolf" talk conducted by the Alpha or dominate male and female pair keep the pack together and working as a group. Wolves like to howl as a pack for several reasons. It may be to encourage their closeness, to celebrate a successful hunt, and to tell other packs to keep away. The lone wolf, a younger male, is usually in search of his own territory and a mate. He will skirt the territories of others but rarely howl. Leaving the pack allows for young males to differentiate from their families or pack and begin the cycle of life by finding a mate, and beginning their own family (Fox, 1980; Resnick, 1995).
While the wolf pack is led by an Alpha male and Alpha female, each wolf assumes his or her share of responsibility for the welfare of the pack. From the early playful experiences with the older wolves, pups are carefully trained to assume their part of the leadership of the pack as if their life, and that of the pack, depends upon it. It is the same with successful organizations and families. Each member of the family or organization must be prepared to carry their load and assume leadership at any time. In the book, The Wisdom of Wolves: Nature's Way to Organizational Success, the author, Twyman Towery (1997) suggests that there are twelve characteristics of wolves that relate to organizational principles. They are: teamwork, patience, unity through uniqueness, curiosity, attitude, failure, communication, perseverance, strategy, play, death & survival, loyalty, and change.
In her book, Women Who run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, Clarissa Pinkola Estes (1992) suggests that healthy wolves and healthy women in particular share certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion. Wolves and women by nature are relational, inquiring, and possess great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack.
Archetypal Significance of the Wolf
The archetypal significance of the wolf symbolizes evil as well as positive and spiritual aspects. The wolf also represents the union of opposites. From mythology and story telling from all parts of the world the wolf has carried a sense of contradiction: a wild and fearful animal that can represent death and Satan; but at the same time a companion to the goddess Artemis and Scandinavian god, Odin. The theme of opposites in the imagery of the wolf is also represented by the contrast between the masculine and feminine nature. The masculine nature of the wolf is depicted by many cultures as the protector or exhibiting war-like behavior. The feminine nature is symbolized as the goddess in she-wolf form nurturing the twins, Romulus and Remus, or in the Irish myth of Cormac, King of Ireland who was suckled by wolves and was always accompanied by them. Early Biblical sources present a contrast between the wolf symbolizing bloodshed and destruction versus the symbol of the wolf and the lamb lying down together representing peace and the coming Messianic rule. The middle ages also depicted a contrast between the image of the wolf as the Devil, versus the wolf as an "emblem of Saint Francis of Assisi who tamed the wolf" (Cooper, 1978, p. 194).
People from many cultures and traditions have interpreted the wolf as an instinctive creature. At some point in psychological development, most people struggle with integrating the spiritual and physical aspects of their being. The image of the wolf has been used to represent both aspects. The Chinese saw the wolf as a guardian of the heavenly palace. In Japan the wolf was admired for its ferocity, tenacity and swift attack. Also, they considered the wolf to be from heaven and to be venerated. Early Biblical sources represented the wolf as destructive and associated with the evening (Jeremiah 5:6, and dishonest gain, bloodshed and destruction (Ezekiel 22:27, The Holy Bible). However, when the wolf and lamb were depicted lying down even though they were considered traditional enemies, together they represented peace and the coming Messianic rule (Isaiah 65:25 The Holy Bible).
The association of the wolf with the goddess was seen in the primitive Roman cult of Lupa or Feronia, which was inherited from Sabine matriarchy (Walker, 1983). "Sometimes known as 'Mother of Wolves', she was also the divine midwife and mother of the ancestral spirits" (Rank, 1959, pp. 45-46). An ancient statue in the Lupercal grotto was later enhanced with images of the infants, Romulus and Remus, whom she was supposed to have nursed. She was annually honored at the Lupercalia, the festival of the She-wolf, when youths dressed in wolf skins ritually purified the Palatine towns. This legendary female wolf and the abandoned twins became the emblem of Rome. The frequent connection between goddess figures and totemic wolves may be taken as another indication that "it was women rather than men who first established relationships with wolves and eventually domesticated them" (Newmann, 1955, p. 275).
The wolf today still represents our "instinctive nature that is wild and natural" (de Vries, 1984, p. 505). Estes (1992) suggests that there is a wild and natural creature within every woman, who is filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. This wild woman within is seen as an archetype that carries images, ideas, and unique behaviors for humankind. The gifts of wildish nature come to women at birth, but society, in many instances, will attempt to civilize them into rigid roles which will destroy the inner treasure and muffle the deep, life-giving messages of the soul. As a result, women become trapped, over-domesticated, uncreative, and have fearful feelings. For women to find their soul, they will need to face their instinctive wild self so that they can become free, creative, and loving. Estes (1992) illustrated her ideas by telling the story of La Loba, the wolf woman. Her work was collecting bones of wolves and singing life into them. The story symbolizes the soul-voice. It conveys the truth of a woman's power and need to breathe soul over the thing that is ailing or in need of restoration. Women can do it "by descending into the deepest mood of great love and feeling, until one∂s desire for relationship with the wildish Self overflows, then to speak one's soul from that frame of mind" (p. 28). The wild woman is an archetype that carries images, ideas, and unique behaviors for humankind that help people to find their soul.
The wolf can be seen as a symbol on an intrapsychic level for individuation. The unique voice of the Self triumphs over the collective norms of society. Individuation suggests a commitment to inner growth and development.
Stages of Individuation as Stages of the Sandplay Process
The sandplay process can be illustrated with the stages of individuation as written by Estes (1992) when she describes the journey of the female to find her soul. She suggests that the child is born with a wildish, instinctive, and creative nature. As the child develops the mother and society teach the child to conform. The creative and instinctive self is buried and problems begin to develop. The stages are:
1. Cognitive Ego
During this stage we see the results of society's and the mother's role in civilizing the wildish and instinctive nature of the creative child into a rigid role, losing touch with the soul becoming over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative, and trapped. Sandplay pictures during this stage often are pretty and superficial, or rigid and stilted, or vegetation and animals are placed in the tray presenting a peaceful scene.
2. Chaos and Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation This stage includes the awareness of self-preservation, questioning early development and identifying cages. During this stage there appear to be thoughts and feelings of confusion and being trapped, depicted by meanderings, mazes, bird and animal cages, lone wolf, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Jack and Jill, or symbols of opposites.
3. Deeper Uncovering of Feelings
The client becomes the lone hunter, facing the life/death/life nature of love, developing relationships that revive dead feelings that bring instincts to the surface again. Anger, hurt, loneliness, love, sexual and fears are expressed in symbols such as: the cross, tombstones, hearts, an animal or human alone or in couples. The client usually begins to play in the sand and reaches the bottom of the sandtray, or make hills and mountains. Anger may be depicted in battles, weapons, monsters, or the color of red in symbols.
4. Centering and Returning To Oneself
The client finds the clear water and begins to nourish the creative life and retrieve a sacred sexuality. Ponds, lakes and rivers, jewels, gold, rings, crowns, and mandalas begin to appear in the sand.
5. Finding One∂s Pack and Returning Home (Or Market Place)
The client, like the wolf, rediscovers her mate and family and begins to live creatively back into the environment or world. A wolf, dog, and other animal families may appear or realistic houses, neighborhoods, and people.
Themes of the Wolf Used in Clients' Sandplay Process
In reviewing the appearance of the wolf in sandtrays of women clients, seven themes emerged:
1. The nurturing and protective goddess mother appearing as the great she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus.
2. The lone wolf that is alienated by the family or pack of wolves which allows for differentiation of the young adult in becoming a mature adult.
3. The psychopomp conducting souls through the gates which had to be passed as in Egyptian mythology.
4. The wolf in sheep∂s clothing who attempts to hide its instinctive and wild self by developing a persona of meekness and innocence.
5. The howling wolf who has a voice to celebrate and share with others about successes or to encourage closeness.
6. The wolf and lamb lying together which represents inner peace.
7. The differentiated wolf who has accepted her role in life and is enjoying the present.
Symbolically the wolf appears to represent our instinctive nature that is wild and natural. The wolf can also represent the union of opposites and contradiction. The lone wolf may symbolize the acceptance of natural instincts that had been cut off by family and society and the process of growth and individuation. And the howling wolf illustrates the reclaimed inner voice of the soul.
Brandenburg, J. (1983). Brother wolf: A forgotten promise. Minocqua: Northword Press, Inc.
Cooper, J. C. (1978). An illustrated encyclopaedia of traditional symbols. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
de Vries, A. (1984). Dictionary of symbols and imagery. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.
Estes, C. P. (1992). Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild Woman archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.
The holy Bible. King James Translation. (1947). Cleveland: The World Publishing Company.
Mech, L. E. (1991). The way of the wolf. Stillwater: Voyageur Press.
Neumann, E. (1955). The great mother. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Rank, O. (1959). The myth of the birth of the hero. New York: Vintage Books.
Towery, T. L. (1997). The wisdom of wolves: Nature∂s way to organizational success. Franklin, TN.: Wessex House publishing.
Walker, B.G. (1983). The woman∂s encyclopedia of myth and secrets. San Franscisco: Harper San Francisco.
Mariellen Griffith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Bloomington, Illinois.
This article is summarized from the published article, The Wolf in Sandplay, Journal of Sandplay Therapy, Vol, 2, 113-129, 1996.
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