The wolf has a wider impact beyond natural history and is an integral part of our cultural landscape. Folklore is a way of communicating real, embellished and fantastic information about the natural world.
The wolf has been associated with both positive and negative traits – often revered as brave, courageous and loyal and perhaps more frequently labelled with darker characteristics, evil and sin. The native American Pawnee, themselves nicknamed the “Wolf People” call the Milky Way, the “Wolf Road.” Meanwhile the character of the ‘big bad wolf’ is a threatening menace in several cautionary European tales.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is some correlation with the context of the societies that these associations have emerged from – with nomadic and hunting societies often revering the wolf as a symbol of strength and guidance and agrarian societies fearing the wolf as a sinister symbol of death, lust or destruction. This is also connected to Christianity- the Bible contains thirteen references to wolves, usually as metaphors for greed and destructiveness.
The werewolf is a widespread concept in European folklore developed during medieval times and there is even a specific term describing a human ability to transform oneself into a wolf and to the act of so doing – lycanthropy (from λύκος lúkos “wolf” and ἄνθρωπος, ánthrōpos “human”)