Wolf symbolism and meanings include loyalty, family, friendship, teamwork, protection, wildness, freedom, instincts, playfulness, and other noble traits. Historically, wolves lived throughout the world, so they are subjects in the mythology and folklore of many cultures. In addition, the wolf spirit animal is a sacred figure to those who feel a special kinship with these wild canines. In this post, we’ll explore all aspects of wolf symbols and meaning, including wolf spiritual meanings, wolf mythology, the wolf spirit animal, and more.
What does a wolf symbolize?
You can read more details about these traits and what they might signify for your own life below.
Wolf Meaning: Loyalty, Family, and Friendship
Wolves love to be with other wolves. They form deep bonds with the other members of their pack and they depend on each other to survive. Wolves put the pack first, above their own interests. This is why you’ll see wolves fall into line to perform the role within the pack for which they’re best suited. Above all, wolves want their pack to thrive.
Wolves put their family first. So, the spirit of the wolf is a reminder to all of us that the greatest gifts in life are your relationships with those you love. The wolf asks: Do you put them first? If you have children, do you put the protection and well-being ahead of everything else? The wolf makes sure that everyone in their family – and this includes close friends – is protected and taken care of.
Wolves rely on each other to survive. They epitomize the concept of 1+1=3. The legend of the lone wolf is a legend because a wolf alone is extremely rare. It’s much more common to see wolves who are part of a cohesive team.
If you are drawn to wolves, you may be inspired to look at the groups of people you work with, socialize with, and even interact with in your community. Do you have the right team around you? Are they supportive and do they inspire you to be your best? We all have to learn to rely on ourselves to some extent. But the wolf spirit animal reminds us to create our own A team if we don’t already have one.
Wolf Symbolism: Protection
While they are naturally friendly and playful, wolves are also the epitome of ferocity if they or their loved ones are threatened in any way. They are extremely protective of their pups, their pack, and their territory.
The She-Wolf Archetype
The term “she-wolf” to describe a protective female is a positive attribute that’s important for many women to embrace. Many women are givers and it’s easy for them to fall into a trap of giving too much and not protecting their boundaries. This is most certainly not the way of the she-wolf.
In fact, the she-wolf is an important archetype for many women to embrace. She reminds you to protect those you love, to stand your ground, and to ferociously protect your boundaries, whether they be physical, financial, emotional, sexual, or spiritual. The she-wolf is the antithesis of being too easy, permissive, and passive.
For men who encounter a she-wolf, it’s not the opportunity to “put her in her place.” Instead, try to understand if she needs space and if her boundaries are being respected. It can also mean that she needs protection, so she can relax and doesn’t have to keep her hackles up.
The Alpha Male Wolf
Men, too, can learn from the ferocity and protectiveness of the wolf. If a wolf suddenly makes himself known to you, whether in real life, the media, artwork, or some other way, it can be a sign that you need to claim your territory. This could be claiming your power over yourself or a situation.
For example, if you’re in an environment or in a personal or professional relationship that is not allowing you to be the alpha wolf, it might be time for you to step up or go find your own territory. The wolf spirit animal may be telling you it’s time you become the leader of the pack vs. the omega wolf.
For men, the alpha wolf can be an important archetype for exerting more protectiveness of those you love and that which you hold dear.
Wildness and Freedom
Wolves are the canines who, unlike dogs, chose not to be domesticated by human beings. Yet, if you know dogs, you know they all carry some wildness in them. Their wolf instincts still course through their veins.
As humans, we used to be wild as well, and that wildness still lurks within us.
If the wolf spirit animal is resonating with you, it could be a sign that you are not allowing your true nature to shine through. Perhaps you feel too restricted by physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual boundaries. The wolf power animal could be the wilderness calling to you. Perhaps it’s time for you to take some risks and to break free of that which is holding you back.
As wild creatures, wolves also represent freedom. If the wolf spirit is resonating with you, it could be time for you to roam and explore – whether it’s physically, mentally, or emotionally. Wolves deserve to have the space to run free, and so do you.
In our highly analytical culture, where we hold mathematical prowess in high esteem and often reward logic over emotional decision-making, we too often judge others (and ourselves) by numbers: income, age, height, weight, and other calculations. In doing so, we have devalued something that’s invaluable and which cannot be scored – and that’s our natural instincts. Our instincts have been perfected by time immemorial. They are in our DNA. They are not something to ignore or override.
Like the wolf, trust your gut instincts.
Because wolves remained wild, they didn’t lose their instincts in the way that we humans have. Instincts can defy logic. They can tell us on a first date, or even in a text message leading up to a first date, whether something is “off” and that we should avoid going on that date. Our instincts can tell us whether we can trust someone, such as whether we should do business with them or allow them to be around our children.
If a wolf appears in your life in some way, it can be a strong signal for you to pay more attention to your gut feelings, whether it’s goosebumps, your hair standing on end, or butterflies in your stomach. Instincts matter. Sometimes we need to be reminded to pay more attention to them.
Wolf Meaning: Endurance
Wolves possess an elegant combination of strength and endurance coupled with grace. They are both lean and powerful. A wolf can run 35 miles per hour when they’re chasing prey. But more often, they lope at 5 miles per hour, which they can do for hours on end. Wolves are suited to their environment, living in harmony with their natural surroundings.
Taking a lesson from the wolf, it might be a time to ask yourself if you feel in harmony in your own body and your surrounding environment. If you feel like you lack strength, stamina, and even grace – why is that? What can you do to change your state? If you feel ill at ease in your surroundings, perhaps it’s time to explore other environments. If you feel ill at ease in your own body, it’s worth exploring what’s hindering your innate capacity to thrive.
Like wolves, human beings are designed to move. We function optimally when we have time to move every day. If you find yourself in awe of the grace and strength that wolves possess, consider how you can cultivate those qualities in your own physical being.
Modern day wolves have evolved to become shy because of human beings. But as apex predators, their natural state is to be confident. Like dogs, they are intelligent and possess an innate curiosity. The wolf spirit animal tells you to not allow learned fears and insecurities to override your natural curiosity. Don’t get caught up in negative thought patterns and emotions that don’t serve you, because there’s a great big world out there, full of curiosities and wonder!
Here’s a video from BBC Earth that shows the natural curiosity of wolves:1
While they are fierce predators, wolves are also extremely social and they love to play. We all have to operate in survival mode at one time or another, but the wolf spirit reminds us that no matter how serious life can be, we should always set aside some time to play and have a good time.
Here’s a video of wolves playing at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.2
And here’s a video of wolves doing something they love to do together: howl.
Wolf Spirit Animal
If you feel a strong connection to wolves, you are not alone. After all, human beings have a special connection with canines. How else did dogs become “man’s best friend”? Dogs are capable of creating incredibly powerful bonds with human beings, and wolves, their wild cousins, have a special appeal to us as well.
In fact, wolves are very much like we are. They love their families, especially their pups. And they love to play and snooze in the sun. They love to sing together too. Yes, wolves are the canines who refused to be tamed, who chose to remain wild and free – and we love them for it.
How do you know if the wolf is your spirit animal?
According to many Native American traditions, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals. Instead, they choose you. This can happen on a vision quest, a meditation, or in powerful experience that affects the course of your life. You may already know the wolf is your spirit animal because of a deep kinship you feel with them. Or, if a wolf suddenly makes themselves known to you, whether in real life, artwork, or the media, it can be a sign that you should learn more about what these wise beings have to teach you.
Learning More About Wolves
While most of us don’t get the opportunity to engage with wolves in the wild, we can still get to know them through the work of artists, filmmakers, biologists, and wolf protection organizations who want to help us understand them better.
Our spirit animals help us to better understand our true natures and that we are all connected. In addition, they can serve as guides for us, helping to better understand ourselves and our existence as we navigate our soul’s journey.
Wolf Power Animal
As the name implies, a power animal can inspire you with their most dynamic traits. So, if you want to transform an area of your life, mediate on the attributes that the power animal represents. For example, you can summon the wolf power animal when you:
- Feel you need to better protect those and that which you love.
- Want to hone your instincts and intuition to make better decisions.
- Would like to improve your social life to attract like-minded people who can inspire and support you.
- Want to improve your relationship with family, friends, and colleagues.
- Feel that your life has become too tame and you need to reconnect with you wild, freedom-loving self.
Wolf Totem Animal
In Native American cultures, animal totems hold the protective powers of the animals they represent. Thus, the wolf totem is a helpful symbol for manifesting more protection, better instincts, and stronger relationships in your life. In addition, the wolf totem is a helpful symbol for breaking free of restrictions on your life, whether they are physical, creative, or financial.
Wolves have inspired people around the world for centuries. Thus, they are important figures in the myths and folklore of many cultures. Here are some of those stories.
Native American Wolf Mythology
While every Native American tribe has their own unique customs and beliefs, one theme that is common to all of them is a reverence for nature and animals. And the wolf, in particular, is considered an extremely powerful being. Native Americans view the wolf as a creator, a guide, and a brother or sister. Some tribes believe that wolves howl at the moon because they are having a spiritual experience and are singing to the gods.
The “Wolf People”
The Pawnee People have such a powerful kinship with wolves that their hand sign for “wolf” is the same as it is for “Pawnee.” Indeed, other local tribes called the Pawnee the “Wolf People.”3
Both the Pawnee and the Blackfoot tribes viewed the appearance and disappearance of the star Sirius, which is also referred to as the Wolf Star or the Dog Star, as a sign that wolves were traveling to and from the spirit world. The Milky Way itself was the path they took, which the tribes referred to as the “Wolf Road.” The Pawnee believe the wolf was the first creature to experience death.4
The Cree tribe, who are from the area that is now North Dakota, Montana, and Canada, believed that wolves traveled back and forth between Earth and the spirit world when the Northern lights shined in the sky.
The Quileute and Kwakiutl, who are coastal tribes from the U.S. and Canadian northwest, believe that human beings descended from wolves.5 Hence, many northwestern tribes depict the wolf on their totem poles to tell the story of their ancestors and protector spirits.
The Ojibwe tribes, who were located in the U.S. Midwest and in Ontario, Canada, saw wolves as extended members of their family. They felt such a connection with wolves that they believed that anything that happened to a wolf would eventually happen to a member of their tribe.
Animal that Looks Like a Dog but Is a Powerful Spirit
The Sioux called the wolf “shunk manitu tanka” or “animal that looks like a dog but is a powerful spirit.”
In Cheyenne medicine, warriors would rub their arrows against wolf fur to bring better success in hunting.
In the U.S. Southwest, the Pueblo tribes saw wolves as one of the six directional guardians. And the Zuni carved stone wolf fetishes, which they used for protection, healing, and in help with hunting.6
Transformation and the Powers of the Universe
Like the Celts, the Navajo view wolves as transformational beings. When the Navajo have healing ceremonies, they call upon select higher powers to restore peace and wellness, and the wolf is one of those higher powers.
Another southwestern tribe, the Hopis, dress as wolf kachinas, or spiritual beings, and carve wolf kachina dolls, which represent the powers of the Universe.
Wolf Meaning in the Bible and Christianity
In Judeo-Christian stories, wolves were often portrayed in a negative light. The wolf was depicted as a threat to the flocks to describe the way the Devil was a threat to mankind. At the same time, Jesus and God were viewed as the shepherds who protected the flocks. This negative symbolism imposed on the wolf has most likely played a role in why wolves are so feared and misunderstood by people to this day.
There is one Christian story that paints a somewhat positive portrayal of the wolf. In the story St. Francis and the Wolf, the town of Gubbio, Italy is being attacked by a wolf. Saint Francis of Assisi, who is living in Gubbio, goes into the hills and asks the wolf to cease harming the townspeople and their livestock. As he was highly tuned into animals, St. Francis learned that the wolf was only attacking the townspeople out of hunger. Thus, he persuaded the townspeople to feed the wolf, and the wolf ceased attacking them.
Direwolves in Game of Thrones
If you’re both a wolf lover and a Game of Thrones fan, you probably loved the direwolves. As guardians of the Stark children, the mystical direwolves were both important characters and symbols in the series. I won’t give anything away, but if you watch GOT from beginning to end, you’ll realize just how symbolic the direwolves were.
Celtic Wolf Mythology
Wolves are portrayed in more respectful terms Celtic mythology. In Irish and Welsh myths, wolves were seen as helpers and guides. One Celtic myth, which is similar to the Roman story of Romulus and Remus, tells the story of Cormac mac Airt, who became an early king of Ireland. In the tale, he was raised by a she-wolf.
In other Celtic myths, people transformed back and forth from humans to wolves. This was most likely one of the precursors to modern day werewolf stories.
Wolf Meaning in Norse Mythology
In Norse mythology, the trickster god Loki and his wife, Angrboda, who was a giant, gave birth to a massive wolf named Fenrir (also called Fenrisúlfr).
Fenrir was said to be so powerful that the Norse gods were threatened by him, so they bound him to a rock with magical chains. However, when the god Try bound him, Fenrir bit off his hand. Yet when Ragnarök (the Nordic Doomsday) came, Fenrir broke free from his chains and devoured the sun. He then went on to attack, kill, and then eat the supreme Norse god Odin. Only Odin’s son Vidar who could avenge his father. He killed the giant wolf by either stabbing him in the heart with a magic sword or tearing his might jaws apart, depending on who is telling the tale.7
Wolf Dream Meaning
Because dreams are so personal to the dreamer, I find it hard to apply specific meanings every time a person dreams of a wolf. However, I do share the belief held by many Native American tribes that wolf dreams can be messages from your spirit guides that they are worth studying. I do believe that our spirit guides are standing by to help us. It’s just a matter of paying attention. They don’t want to get in the way of our free will, however, if we ask for their help, they are willing to do so.
If you dream of a wolf or wolves in distress, you could be picking up signals from real animals. This could be a sign that you should take action in some way in wolf conservation.
Analyzing Your Emotions in the Dream
When analyzing your wolf dream, it’s important is to consider the emotions you felt in the dream, whether it was fear, anger, anxiety, or some other emotion. It’s also important to keep in context how you feel about wolves. For example, wolves can be terrifying to some and friendly or fascinating to others. Your feelings will help you to understand the nature of a matter that you need to address when in your wakeful, conscious state.
Wolf Tattoo Meaning
A wolf tattoo is a powerful symbol that tells the world that you are a protective person of those you love and that you go by your instincts. It can also demonstrate that you value freedom and your inner wildness. While tattoos are personal to each individual, better understanding wolf symbolism and mythology can hopefully imbue your tattoo with greater meaning.
For more details on what this symbol can mean on your skin, be sure to check out my dedicated post on wolf tattoo meanings.
How You Can Help Wolves
Are Wolves Endangered? The answer to that question is that some species are, such as the Mexican red wolf. Yet, even wolves that are not listed as endangered are still threatened. While wolves have made a comeback in some areas thanks to decades of intense conservation efforts, like other apex predators (besides humans), they still face grave threats due to habitat loss and hunting. In the case of the gray wolf of the United States, they now occupy only 20 percent of their historic range and were recently taken off the Endangered Species List, leaving them more vulnerable to hunting and other threats.8
If you feel a strong kinship with wolves, please do what you can to protect them. Below are some organizations that are working to protect wolves:
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center
- International Wolf Center
- New York Wolf Conservation Center
- California Wolf Center
- Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program
- UK Wolf Conservation Trust
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May the wolf spirit protect and guide you.