Hello my dear friends, how are you? My name is Arith Härger and today I’m going to talk about Indo-European Wolf Rites or Prehistoric Wolf Rites This is not a video only focused on Northern European ancient traditions I’ve extended this subject to other geographical realities You might have noticed that the background is a little bit different this time I’m working abroad so in my spare time I took the opportunity to make a video But that’s not important Well, let’s get started Men’s best friend is the dog, we have all heard that but before it went through the process of domestication humankind lived really close to all sorts of predators either seeking an inattentive lonely human to hunt him down as a source of food or to take the opportunity to steal food from humans Winter was an especially hard time The season which puts to the test the strongest and most intelligent beings of all species Humankind in earlier times struggled to survive during winter not just because food was scarce but the everyday predators were much more ferocious and hungry during this season and became bold coming ever closer to the human communities Most predators during winter either hibernated or were solitary hunters but wolves on the other hand, they hunt in packs and are especially ferocious Let’s not forget prehistoric humans were smaller and wolves were bigger not to mention very intelligent creatures capable of making ambushe with a sense of team-work converging their efforts into a single weapon with one purpose, to successfully outwit and kill their prey So wolves were always a force to be reckoned with Humans had a lot to learn from them Discipline, the success of hunting in packs, their bravery, ferocity, fear and amazement they provoked and even in the distance, in the dead of night, you could not see them but you could hear them howling, marking their presence a constant statement that the land belonged to them and anyone entering their hunting grounds has to be dealt with Humankind in their animistic perspective of the world obviously worshiped what the wolf represented Humans adopted wolf qualities and this can be seen in many ancient cultures In many archaeological findings we have the presence of dogs and wolves either in graves alongside humans or arranged in a clear ritualistic fashion Obviously, like many animals, we have domesticated wolves until we turned them into dogs, and those were a source of food but there are clear differences between dogs and wolves who were consumed and the other remains in graves or in ritual pits Dogs as a source of food were consumed while at a young age and there are clear markings of butchery in their bones But the dogs and wolves deposited in graves with other humans are too old to have been consumed and the bones were cut with tremendous precision and geometrically arranged carefully inserted in graves and ritual pits This shows a clear importance canines must have had to early humans Sometimes the entire animal was deposited, either killed in a ritual or after death deposited alongside other dogs and wolves and humans Let’s take a look at a variety of cultures and myths to try to perceive the importance the wolf had in the Indo-European mind so we might understand why dogs and wolves were sacrificed and deposited with such care on graves and ritual pits Mythologies for a very long time have linked the dog and wolf sacrifice to important ancient Indo-European traditions In the ancient Celtic, Lusitanian, Germanic, Greek, and Indo-Iranian traditions, young men often left their families to form warrior societies These young men would often live on the boundaries between civilization and the wilds who occasionally stole from other human beings, and even killed, behaving just like wild wolves
This was part of their training Ancient Lusitanian tribes from the Iberian Peninsula did just that Warrior elites would live in the wilds and occasionally go on their own into the cities stealing and even murdering, a sort of quick lonely raid, and coming back to the pack with what they could They were thrown into a world of violence, starving, having to fight for survival, behaving like ravaging wolves This sort of behaviour is seen in many cultures, and in Old Norse cultures of course, but we will get to that So these were the sort of elite warriors who were expelled from their social groups and told to raid other communities In the Germanic traditions, these bands of young warriors thought of themselves as wolf packs There is a famous myth about the hero Siegfried who puts on a dog skin to go raiding with his nephew, whom he is training to become a warrior For the Scandinavians, the tale of Sigmund and Sinfjötli who go out hunting and find a place where men dressed with wolf skins are under a sleeping spell These two characters steal the wolf skins and put them on, becoming wolves, and go through all sorts of violent adventures in the form of wolves It’s a tale I speak with a little more detail on the video I’ve made about Werewolves in Norse Mythology you can watch it by clicking on this upper corner A story with connotations to ancient shamanic rituals involving the wolf spirit In the Rigveda, an ancient Sanskrit text composed more or less 3000 years ago young men can only become warriors after sacrificing a dog at a winter ceremony and wearing its skin for four years living like wild dogs, behaving like wild dogs, interiorizing the spirit of the dog and upon their return to the society as a men and as warriors, they burn the skins of the dogs in a ceremony They no longer need to act like the dog, because they became the dog The Indo-Iranian clans of the Haumavarka, which means, the wolves of Haoma who worshiped the wolves and acted like them Haoma is one of the names for the mushroom called amanita muscaria, which is said to have a lot of psychotropic substances and it was used by the shamans since times long forgotten before any historical record, in a time when the human being still lived in caves These mushrooms can lead people to enter in a trance-like state The shamans in their altered states of consciousness can travel into other places far beyond the limitations of the body and can travel in the form of an animal In many cultures, the best spiritual-form to travel was precisely the wolf fast and accustomed to run in several wild landscapes So many clans and tribes worshiped the wolf and it naturally became sacred being This sort of traditions were transformed into tales and legends and later into myths, which were passed down from generation to generation, from place to place all over the world such as the northern European lands, where people worshiped many gods, one of those was Odin who had two wolves called Geri and Freki and of course one of the children of the god Loki, was the great wolf Fenrir and also Garmr the wolf guardian of Hel and the wolves chasing the sun and the moon In the northern European lands, the tales of wolves went further than just being mythological accounts here were the elite warriors called Úlfhéðnar; warriors who went to war, dressed in the skins of wolves, said to be very ferocious and behave like wolves In fact, that is what they were, people in the shape of wolves, who thought that they were wolves themselves and acted like so They were probably psychologically affected by some substance or they went through a very violent training of several years since they were young boys, just like many Indo-European cultures did They were most certainly involved in a wolf cult not only linked to the cult of Odin but quite possibly to an ancient cult of the god Ullr Let’s not forget how the Old Norse treated outlaws, murderers, defilers of temples and thieves
The Norse society ladled such people as Vargr, which means wolf Such people weren’t killed by their actions nor arrested, they had a worse fate they were expelled from the community or the tribe and were left in the wild landscapes, as an animal who now needed to survive alone or in a group of people in equal circumstances just as the wolves do Everyone could kill them, hunt them on sight, with no penalty nor punishment, because the Vargr were no longer humans This sort of law is the remnants of an ancient Indo-European past, where groups of warriors were expelled from communities to live off as wolves, as previously said In many Indo-European cultures from the Eastern frozen steppes all the way to the western Mediterranean shores there were tribes of shaman-warriors, which could take the form of wolves in their trance journeys, and they acted like wolves these shamanic mysteries were preserved as hereditary traditions among some families, which later produced the tales of werewolves being a sort of thing passed down from person to person These shamans at their initiation rites as wolf-warriors, would go into the swamps, and left their clothes behind symbolically this is the abandonment of the human form and their identity as members of a community living now out there, away from the civilized world and learning from the wilds In Arcadia, in ancient Greece, for instance, we have interesting sources reporting shamanic lycanthropy Those initiating in shamanic wolf rituals would do just that, leave their clothes behind, abandoning civilization, symbolically crossing a swamp, a river, a portion of wild land and in the other side they would become wolves the symbolical representation of the altered states of consciousness in shamanism, this idea of another reality were the shaman would take the form of the wolf These people were called wolfmen or werewolves Other examples, the Etruscan tomb paintings represent Hades, lord of the underworld, using a head and the skin of a wolf thus reinforcing the symbolic bond of this animal to death, such as the case of the Norse god Odin, but also to the underworld, the world of the spirits and of the dead, to where such shaman-wolf warriors travelled, it was part of the shamanic lycanthropy rites There are folktales of Gaelic clans from Ireland who had the power to transform themselves into wolves for a period of seven years And if we want to take a look at historical times, closer to us, it’s perceptible that such wolf rites continued to exist in Medieval and Modern Europe During the witch trials of the 15th and 16th centuries in France we were left with the records of wolf-witches and werewolves who were condemned and burned at the stake In the witch trials of the 17th century in Latvia and Estonia there are confessions of people being werewolves confessing that they would gather with other werewolves, and would travel into the underworld to fight against the forces of chaos At what extent these are fantasies produced by the church or by the people being condemned? We will never know What we do know, is that such descriptions have loads of similarities with IndoEuropean wolf rites from a variety of cultures I’ve previously described Getting back to Indo-European wolf rites Young war bands that would go on seasonal raids is so widespread in Indo-European cultures that we must conclude that it must have been a very ancient tradition to have time enough to spread so much into every Indo-European culture and other cultures geographically connected to Indo-Europeans It would seem that these young men became warriors during a mid-winter ritual that involved dog and wolf sacrifices The prehistoric dogs and wolves found in archaeological excavations, the ones sacrificed in ritual, were killed during winter time
Hence the idea of these warrior bands having winter wolf-rites, which can still be seen in mythological accounts and Yule traditions It’s curious because in the ancient Germanic mythologies, the 12 nights of Yule was the season in which wolves became more ferocious because the spirits, ancestors and gods were on the Wild Hunt gathering people and some of those people were either transformed into Wolves or Werewolves In Lithuania it was forbidden to say the word “wolf” during the Yule season because it was the season of the wolf, the season in which the powers of the underworld could be called upon and it was brought by wolves During the 12 nights of Yule in Latvia some of these wolf related traditions survived until the 17th century Farmers and herdsmen would gather and sacrifice a goat as an offering to appease the wolf spirits The importance of this wolf rite, the worshipping of the wolf, may very well be one of the greatest reasons why Indo-European languages and cultures spread so much, so quickly and why we have so many similarities in our cultures, especially when it comes to wolves These prehistoric Indo-European bands of wolf warriors were the reason for the fast territorial expansion of these communities acquiring wealth in the process, but unintentionally spreading their culture and their tales, legends and myths of the wolves So what have we learned today? It would seem our prehistoric ancestors maintained a very close but safe proximity with wolves, progressively domesticating them This bond created a very important relationship between the two species, possibly at first creating tales of how the wolf became a friend and ally useful in hunting and as a guardian of the settlement And then we elaborated this relationship What became crucial for the survival of the early humans beings, it was turned into something sacred Early hunters started to adopt wolves’ behaviours and bands of elite warriors started to be created This led to loads of legends and myths, and obviously, what is sacred, has rituals and ceremonies, and as such it starts to belong to the spiritual sphere The wolf rites and wolf warriors started to have connotations with lupine magic and shamanic lycanthropy Rituals and spiritual performances linked to death, as we can see in the symbolic death of those initiating in such cults leaving their clothes behind, crossing physical boundaries as a metaphor for leaving behind society and embracing the wild spirit, becoming wolves We can also see the association between wolf rites and death in the myths that have survived especially the winter myths, tales and traditions of the Baltic, Germanic and Scandinavian countries And of course the association of the wolf with the underworld and death deities, such as the Etruscan representation of Hades as a wolf the Greek Kerberos, the three-headed hound who guards the entrance to Hades Garmr the guardian wolf of Hel Odin and his wolves; Odin is a death deity, and very similar to Odin, the female Irish version , The Morrigan, a goddess of death and war, associated with the wolf and the dog, and she herself being able to shapeshift into a wolf And the numerous folktales and myths of werewolves, being men who shapeshift into a wolf-like creature with immense strength and ferocity, completely embracing the wild and animalistic characteristics of wolves Alright my dear friends, thank you so much for watching and I hope you have enjoyed this video it’s a little bit different than the usual So . . . thank you so much once again and see you on the next video Tack för idag!