Wolves Like Us

The wolf has long been a symbol of monsters. Hungry, wild, misunderstood. The Big Bad Wolf is stuff of nightmares. Except for when he isn’t, when the story looks at a new perspective. That’s mostly seen in modern adaptations. Wolves in our world get a bad reputation, despite their truth of simply being. They are neither good or evil.

Fenrir is one example of a Big Bad Wolf. It was foretold in Voluspa that he would kill Odin at Ragnarok.
Before the Wolf could fulfill this prophecy, he was tied to a rock in the middle of an island with a magical binding. Some say he was already running wild and causing trouble, others say that he was punished for what he had yet to do. Perhaps both is true. He would still escape this binding when the time comes. Was this an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy? If someone is bound until the end of the world with a sharp object stuck in their mouth, would it not be reasonable to think that they’d want revenge once they became free?

I’m on the side of thinking that it had to happen. Without the binding, he may not have had reason to kill the All-Father. After all, Fenrir was taken to live amongst them before they played “can you break this chain” and left him. He surely knew that it wasn’t going to end well. That’s why he made the deal to let them bind him with Gleipnir only if someone put their hand in his mouth. It’s possible he still held out some sort of hope. “Nobody wants to lose a hand, they won’t keep me tied up if I can’t break this flimsy-looking thing.” Or maybe, it was more like, “If they’re doing this, at least one of them will pay for it here and now.” It could have been both. Regardless of what he must have been thinking, Fenrir still let them tie him up. He chose not to fight the gods at that moment or run away (which would have been a blow to his honor).

Gleipnir represents, to me, a number of things. Betrayal. Fear. Control. The binding of Fenrir isn’t just about trying to stop a prophecy or trying to ensure that it comes to pass. It is about self-control. Keeping one’s own inner monsters in check. A warning not to let fear affect our judgments.

Fenrir used to terrify me. This huge wolf who could devour the world. It wouldn’t be entirely true if I claimed that he no longer does. Now, however, I also see how we all have something in common with him. As humans, we put bindings on ourselves all the time. Some do so more than others. Some take it a step farther and outright deny the darkness they have bound. We often make choices not to harm, whether consciously or not. Society would be much more hectic if we didn’t. And some don’t.

I see Fenrir as a protector and a source of comfort. It sounds silly to think of him like that. This wolf who would destroy is far from being a knight in shining armor, or even man’s best friend. He is a reminder that wanting to harm and doing so are not the same. He teaches us that we have a choice to follow the rules society gives us, and that choice can be difficult.
It is said by some that Tyr was like a father figure to Fenrir. The god of justice looked after the Wolf, and sacrificed his hand for the Wolf to allow the binding. That gives us more symbolism to work with. It may be that Fenrir did not want to harm Tyr, but concluded that it would be necessary. In choosing to allow himself to be bound, his freedom for the hand of justice, Fenrir chose not to cause further harm until Ragnarok.

Despite their bad reputation, wolves have also long been representative of leadership, loyalty, and unity. I feel strongly that this also applies to Fenrir. All of these things include making sacrifices and holding back from personal gains that do not benefit others. As feared as Fenrir is, he plays his role justly in this sense.

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Poetry: Chaos and A Wolf

I may have shared this one on a previous blog, but here we go. Hail to the one with a crooked smile! Hail to the wolf!
Chaos and A Wolf by B.A.McNeely

Chaos made a friend of me
Somewhere in this mind
Sweet words burned through
Fire’s place within my heart
Before long, I drifted down
And promised my Self away
To the one with a crooked smile

A Wolf watched over me
In the darkness where I died
Silent as I rose again
And again, my protector
The chained one held me
Down as I begged to escape
From perils of the wounded room

I give my breath to Chaos
I grant my breath to the Wolf
That they may reach me again
For in burning I have risen
To see a spark of my Self
And in chains I have been rescued
From the monsters inside