Wolf – Totem Animal of the Slavs

Wolf in woods

Wolf and Slavic Mythology

Vuk [vu:k] (wolf) is an old Slavic word. Also a word kurjak (kuryak) is used with the same meaning. Before the coming of Christianity, the wolf was a totem animal in the old Slavs, a mythical ancestor. It played quite a significant role in the Slavic mythology and folklore. The old Slavic religion had many rituals referring to the wolf rituals that protected from the animal but also those referring to the cult of ancestors. The wolf was venerated and feared.

The wolf also had a special place in the pre-Christian religions of other peoples. Many nations considered the wolf as their ancestor, and Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, were fed by a she-wolf. Wolves are also found accompanying mythical Slavic deities. Upon adopting Christianity, folk imagination placed a wolf at the side of the father of the Christian Serbia, St Sava. Wolf, or Vuk is a common name in Serbia. In the ancient times, people believed that whoever had a name of totem animal would be protected from all evil. We can still find such names to be quite common: Vuk, Vukašin, Vu?ica, Vukica, as well as family names: Vu?i?, Vujoševi?, Vukadinovi?, Vu?eli? and so on.

For the Slavic people, wolves are tied up to protection rituals and ancestor worship, being a way to connect the solid reality of this world with the less solid – but no less real – realms of the Otherworld.

One of the Slavic deities who are associated with the Wolf is Horz, who is the god of the Moon. Given the long standing association of wolves with the moon, it should probably not come as any great surprise that a lunar deity would be tied to the spirit of a Wolf. Horz is said to be in control of the space of time between sunset and sunrise – which in the northern lands where most Slavic people live can be an extensive period of time. This makes Horz an important deity in Slavic pantheon. Wolves do a great deal of hunting in the hours of darkness, a time when the moon is the strongest source of light which is why Horz is tied to the powerful and haunting presence of the wolves.

Dazbog is the Slavic sun-deity, and like a good many of the other Slavic deities he has the ability to change his form. He usually changes into the form of a large white wolf. White is the colour most associated with the underworld in Slavic myth, which fits with several other aspects of Dazbog. He is considered to be a deity who protects miners and the dead, and so it is fitting that his alternative form takes the colours which are associated with the underworld.

White wolf

Within the night sky as seen by the Slavic people, there is also a constellation which is known as the Wolf, and their astrology is strongly concerned with the movements of Dazbog – the sun – into and out of this constellation. This helps to explain the overriding power of wolf imagery within the Slavic tribes, in spite of the fact that most of the tribes of Russia identify far more closely with the bear. Having said that, both the wolf and the bear are top predators, and man – no matter where he happens to live – tends to identify with creatures which provide their communities with a threat and the promise of a difficult hunt.

In the prehistoric times, the wolf was the most abundant animal in the world: in all Europe and Asia, all the way to North Africa, as well as in North America. Today wolves are almost extinct but larger packs can be seen in the north, in Siberia and Canada, Mongolia and here and there in east Europe. There were wolves in the Serbian mountains and in Bosnia. Once, when Serbia was covered with vast forests, wolves were abundant. Wolves are predators. It is as big as the largest shepherd dog and may weigh more than seventy kilos. Its fur may range from yellowish to dark grey.

Characteristics of the Wolves

Wolves always hunt in packs and all the pack members participate, although only two or four animals kill their prey. Packs are constantly in search for their prey. A pack is usually led by an alpha female, who invariably mates with an alpha male, the strongest animal of the pack. A she-wolf gives birth to her young in a den that she digs out herself or uses a badger’s of a fox’s den. Young females give birth to between 2 and 4 pups and the older ones have between 4 and 6 young. Wolves are caring parents and are ready to attack a man in order to defend their young.

You can find wolves in a zoo, but above all in numerous tales which cherish the times when wolf was an omnipresent predator, a mysterious forest animal whose howling brings eerie feelings to people sitting by a warm hearth.