I’d play Name That Mammal, but you already know this one:
Hey, it wouldn’t be Halloween without this classic creature of the moon. Wolves are one of the most wide-spread mammals on the planet, they can be found on every land mass but Antarctica. The rarest wolf is the Ethiopian wolf, check them out in this great article by National Geographic.
The wolf has been one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet; myth and legend frequently paint them as ravening beasts, bloodthirsty killers. The supernatural association with werewolves and vampires has only added to the animal’s mystique and fear factor.
Conversely, the wolf has also been revered as a teacher, a pathfinder, and a keeper of wisdom with the admirable qualities of loyalty and strength. They have been powerful totems for cultures around the globe and through history.
The Cherokee tell the following tale:
In honor of Halloween, since it is a time when the Veil thins between the worlds and cycles turn, I’m going to ask you my readers, to feed the good wolf.
You’re out hiking in the woods on a late summer evening. The full moon is rising above the distant hills. You can’t see it, but its brilliant silver light spills between the boles of the trees and the world around you is moving light and shadow. The only sound is the rustle of your feet through the small green plants lining the forest floor and the wind sighing through the branches above you.
Off to your left, a bush shakes violently, and with a spray of leaves a massive creature leaps out onto the path in front of you. It hunches on all fours, before slowly unfolding to a two-legged stance that towers over you. The last thing you see as it lunges at you are its wolf-like jaws parting.
I confess. I love the idea of being a shapeshifter. Seriously, how fun would it be to be able to change into another creature? Better than being dead, and still walking around. If I had a choice between becoming a werewolf and becoming a vampire, well, I’d be werewolf all the way. Frankly I don’t care how lively a vampire is, they’re still just a pretty zombie. Enamored as I am of the werewolf mythos, I have always relegated it to the world of make-believe, or at least that it exists purely on the spiritual realm. But what if it wasn’t?
I found this website, The Beast of Bray Road. Linda Godfrey details on her blog and her websites about large creatures with manlike bodies and wolflike heads in rural Wisconsin and Michigan. Multiple sightings, encounters, even a movie was made about these beasts, and Animal Planet talks about them.
Another version of Bigfoot, right? Possibly. But then again, what is Bigfoot? Lots and lots of theories have been put forth, including that these are dimensional creatures, able to shift back and forth between our reality and others. I find these reports interesting, but I have no definitive views either way. I heard Linda on Coast to Coast one night, and the sheer number of sightings was impressive, reported by people from all walks of life. I do think our world is wider and wilder than most people think, and the idea that these wolf-men might actually exist is absolutely intriguing.
Not long ago, I heard David Paulides on Coast to Coast AM. He was discussing his book, Missing 411, which describes mysterious disappearances from national parks. Mr. Paulides has a long history in law enforcement and investigation, and I listened to him detail case after case of people who have gone missing under extremely unusual circumstances. It was a memorable show, but what really stood out was when he described a little girl who went missing. When she was found told of being carried away by a ‘big wolf’ who ‘picked her up in his arms.’ He ‘gave her berries to eat’ and ‘ate her hat.’ Many of those recovered described similar encounters with large beasts. Again, intriguing, compelling but not definitive. I think I’ll have to pick up Mr. Paulides book and get the full story.
What would you do if you ran into a werewolf? Would you want to be bitten? Do you think it possible that some form of this creature could exist in our world?
I had dreams of writing, even when I worked at the Zoo. Then, I used to think I’d write my memoirs. I figured by the time I’d put in 20 or 30 years I’d have enough memories cached away to make some interesting stories. I even had a title for my autobiography: Dead Mice In My Pocket. Catchy, right? I mean; if you saw that sitting on shelf at Barnes and Noble, you’d pick it up, wouldn’t you?
When you work with exotic animals, you get used to having a lot of odd things in your pockets, dead mice being only one of them.
It was a great career; I had a blast, made lasting friends and have treasured memories. Animal training is every bit as rewarding and heartwarming as it looks on TV. Exotic animals are not pets, but the emotional bonding is the same, at least on this human’s part.
I worked with sea lions, wolves, some big cats, birds of prey, many different types of reptiles, wild dogs, porcupines, and so many more. I get asked all the time, ‘which one was your favorite?’ They all were, for very different reasons.
Akela, the timber wolf, was such a funny pup. We took turns babysitting him off site for a few weeks, before the hospital had room to quarantine him. Those were some rough shifts let me tell you! Daytime TV, a wolf puppy snoozing in my lap, and I’m getting paid? Sweet!
Harpo was the first sea lion I worked with. He was already elderly and blind by the time I started, and he was the one all trainers started on. Harpo was the equivalent of the solid, reliable plug you put first-time horseback riders on; won’t startle, won’t bolt. But he was no push-over, if you weren’t consistent or clear in your training, he wouldn’t work for you. Same with Corky, the harbor seal.
Honda, the small-toothed palm civet. Get it? Honda…Civet… oh well, I didn’t name him. He really was a sweetie, but he bit so many people he intimidated most. I learned from Honda that sometimes the loneliest ones are the ones that look the scariest at first. Honda was a big love once you knew how to work with him, and not let him bite.
Jezebel, my sweet Harris hawk; she was nothing but joy to work with. She came to us a naïve, untrained bird, and became one of our most reliable free-flight birds. I’d go running up to the top of the stadium to catch her as part of the show, a glove on one hand and a dead mouse for her in my pocket. The best part was hearing the squeals as people seated close by watched her eat; she was not dainty and entrails frequently went flying. Nature in action, people, it’s what you came here for.
Every day, I was grateful. “Man, they’re paying me to cuddle a cheetah!” went through my head more times than I can count. I’m still grateful, and yeah, I do miss it. But, right now, I’m content with my dogs, cats and chickens. Oh yeah, and one fish. I tell Max (he’s a Betta. Get it? Betta Max? **sighs**) he’s lucky he’s so small, or he’d get thrown at a sea lion.
Not really, and Max knows I’m just kidding. He’s shaking his fins at me right now.
I was lucky enough to have that dream career. When I was a kid, if you asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always answered, “Animal trainer!” For eight years I lived that dream, and it was glorious. Really.
But what happens when you’ve reached a goal? Do you stop setting them? I loved my job, but I stopped growing, and I needed to get away from an environment that was entirely too comfortable for me. I didn’t think in these terms when I was going through it, but in retrospect I can see that I needed to grow in ways that my animal training career and lifestyle couldn’t provide. So I uprooted and transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, and learned about new goals, and how to grow.
What’s your dream job? Do you have it? Are you seeking it? Have you reached your goals?
I love hearing from you! I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read and comment and I value your insights and opinions.
At first glance, why would anyone want to be a werewolf? Does anyone really want to be able to change their shape, to have to hunt and kill? Common legends do not paint them as very congenial creatures, and how comfortable can it be to grow hair and have to run around on all fours? How many hands up out there? Ok, mine’s one of them. Guilty! But I’ve always found shape-shifting endlessly fascinating.
The origins of the werewolf legend trace back to the ancient world. The Epic of Gilgamesh, out of Sumeria, relates how the hero refused to knock boots with the Goddess Ishtar, because she’d turned a former lover into a wolf. From Greece we have Lycaon, King of Arcadia. The basic tale has Lycaon killing his son, cooking him and offering him up for dinner to Zeus, King of the Gods. Zeus is understandably angered by his host’s menu choice and transforms King Lycaon into a wolf in punishment. I guess the lesson from this is…don’t piss off a deity! It’s from the King of Arcadia that we get the word lycanthropy.
The wolf has had a bad reputation for a very long time. In early European cultures the wolf was a dangerous enemy, a threat to livestock and humans both. Not surprising that someone who did damage to the community would be characterized as a wolf. Werewolf legends abound throughout Europe of men changing into wolves and terrorizing the countryside. Retrospective analyses have offered us a multitude of explanations for this creature, it’s motives and behaviors; ergotism, hypertrichosis, porphyria have all been suggested. Superstition and suspected witchcraft have also contributed. It’s been suggested that the werewolf legend sprang up to explain the actions of serial killers; a supernatural cause to a horrific act would have made sense to religiously bound ideals of the Middle Ages.
How did we make the transition then, from serial killer to superhero? Today, we have Jacob Black, Richard Zeeman and Alcede Herveaux to name just a few. Hundreds of thousands of women now lust for these guys, and yeah, I’m one of them! The literal and virtual bookshelves are crammed with paranormal romance featuring everyone’s favorite shapechanger. Now, they’re devastatingly attractive, powerful men (or women!) who are as irresistible to us as to the heroine (or hero!) of the story.
Obviously, numerous factors have contributed to this change, but as our understanding of wolves and their environment has grown, so has our love affair with the werewolf. It’s only fairly recently that human perception of the wolf has turned. With a better understanding of wolf behavior that has come from research, we now know that, instead of being slavering mindless killers, the wolf is in fact a dedicated family animal. Wolves are loyal, and live in loving family groupings. They act together as a team, cooperating to provide food and protection for their pack. Pack dynamics can be harsh, involving growling, lunging and slashing teeth, but looking closely at these interactions shows that these fierce displays are usually just that, display. Physical conflict is typically brief, and injuries rare. More commonly, pack members are physically affectionate with each other, offering grooming, cuddling and playful behaviors to the members of their pack. Yes, they do kill other animals, but for food, not excessively or wastefully. They do not kill solely for the joy of killing. Seems to me humans could do a little more modeling of their own behavior after the wolf’s.
The modern werewolf has grown to fill a much-loved niche in our world. Striding confidently out from the fearful fringes of superstition, the werewolf has gone from terror-inducing villain to mainstream hero. But, the modern shapeshifter has also allowed us to reconnect with an often-forgotten part of ourselves, the part that is wild and animalistic. In our frenetic, technology-driven world, we often lose sight of the fact that we are natural creatures. A part of us mourns a little when we are cut off utterly from the earth that sustains us and seeks to reconnect with it. And it’s a little bit like rediscovering the divine when you do find it.
The werewolf walks in both worlds, the human and the natural, giving us that outlet, that connection.
I cast the werewolf into the protagonist’s role in my novel, Becoming Pack, to show that humans are inextricably bound to the natural world, and our actions have consequences. We need this bond, to remind ourselves that we are not alone, we do not exist in a vacuum. We require the wild, open spaces and the animals that live there. Evidence mounts on evidence that each ecosystem is linked to the other, what affects one affects the next and damage to one eventually harms all.
The wolf is an icon of how man can affect the natural world. In North America, the wolf was the object of a sustained program of eradication, and they nearly succeeded. It wasn’t until 1973 that the gray and red wolves received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Wolf reintroduction programs began in 1995 in Idaho/Yellowstone. Today, wolf populations are growing, and their resurgence has helped restore their native habitats.
I have a very close bond to wolves; I used to work with them, well, two to be specific. In Becoming Pack, I’ve tried to bring you into the world of the wolf, and what it would feel like to be able to experience the world through the senses of another. Ultimately, that’s what the werewolf protagonist does for us, gives us a glimpse of the natural world through the eyes of one immersed in it.
Who is your favorite werewolf? What’s your fascination with the werewolf mythos? Leave me a comment and tell me about your love of lycanthropy!