Both giantesses and witches used wolves as their steeds; a sign of their ability to control wild and dangerous forces. The wolf-riding woman could do what others could not.
The ambiguity of wolves comes through again in the two groups of humans identified with them: warriors and outlaws. What both groups have in common is bloodshed; the difference is between legitimate and illegitimate violence. (The difference, so to speak, between Oðin’s pet wolves and Fenrir.)
Wolves, as predatory animals and carrion-eaters, had a somewhat grim reputation among the Norse. There was the Fenris Wolf, who would devour Oðin at Ragnarok, and on a more human level, outlaws were called vargr, wolves.
At the same time, though, Oðin had two as pets, and in one Eddic poem he praises the killer wolf Garm as the “best of hounds”. Warriors gave themselves wolf-names, and in addition to the well-known berserker, Úlfhéðnar were men imbued with the ferocity of wolves.
In my next three posts, I will be taking a closer look at the ambivalent mythology surrounding wolves in Norse myth. In particular, I want to look at three aspects of the wolf-mythos:
- Mythological wolves, such as Fenrir and Garm, and their relation to Loki.
- Metaphorical wolves, such as outlaws and warriors.
- Magical wolves, associated with giantesses and witches.
The image of the wolf goes to the heart of the Eddic story of creation and eventual doom, and exposes some of the fractures at the heart of the society the Æsir created. I hope you will enjoy reading these posts. If you find them interesting, please feel free to comment or like them.
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