Midweek Writer-Rummage: The Wolves of the 'Moon Goddess'

It’s been almost 2 months since the last Wednesday post! Back to regular service… that’s the plan anyway.

So, why did I choose wolves to feature in the story? Apart from being one of my most favourite animals, and the fact that they’re associated with goddesses of the moon and the hunt, it’s because they are highly intelligent and social.

Another reason – what might be termed a perverse one – is that wolves were persecuted. I do not wish to single out the Roman Church, but, historically, they took advantage of the medieval peasant’s superstitious fear of the wolf.

In the Middle Ages, wolves were a real threat to the peasant’s way of life because they attacked domestic animals. Occasionally, a starving wolf would kill a traveller. During the Black Death, with too many dead bodies and not enough space to bury them, starving wolves did eat the dead.

'The Triumph of Death' ~ Pieter Brueghel the Elder (Prado Museum)

'The Triumph of Death' ~ Pieter Brueghel the Elder (Prado Museum)

In times of war, packs of wolves were known to follow armies, to feast, mainly, on the dead horses. However, I don’t believe wolves eating people was as regular an occurrence as was claimed. The ‘party line’ about wolf attacks was more likely to have been used as a way to ‘encourage’ peasants to remain with and continue serving their feudal lords.

Especially during the time of the Inquisition, wolves and other ‘undesirables’ like gypsies were caught in the net as the Church fought to suppress political unrest and tighten its influence and control over the populace. Tales were told to frighten people into avoiding the woods because that was where man-eating wolves and terrifying witches lurked.

A nocturnal creature, the wolf was more likely to be seen at dawn and dusk. Because the moon is mainly associated with the goddess, so the wolf was linked with her and the moon, and the night. This added to the wolf’s fearsome reputation because the night was connected with things that cannot be seen, that exist in the shadows, things that can only be considered sinister.

Yet, the dichotomous nature of the wolf prevailed. In areas where it was considered dangerous, still the benevolent side of the wolf existed. For example, in France, the wolf is seen as a spirit of the crops…

When the wind blows in waves across the fields, the peasants say “the wolf is going through”… If a wolf is seen out in the fields they look to see if it carries its tail high or low. If the tail hangs straight down it is the crop spirit himself, and they salute him…’ (‘Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez)

By making the wolf an integral part of the story, I want to show the more benevolent, caring side of a creature better known for its fearsome reputation. Having said that, I do not attempt to paint it as a saint. Like any other animal, including humans, it is neither completely good nor totally bad; it is just another living being in the world that we inhabit. To quote Henry Beston: 

“…[animals] are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”