The wolf is one of the most respected and feared animals in all of the world--some parts respect them more than others. This is apparent in North America, where the grey wolf (timber wolf) has almost disappeared entirely from the continental United States, apart from small parts of the Northern Rocky Mountains and wooded areas around the Great Lakes region. These days, most wolves in North America live in Canada, avoiding people as much as possible.
Wolves still inhabit parts of Europe, although, there too, they were almost eradicated by the end of the 1800s. What the Europeans did not know about wolves is that they are actually very friendly, social, and intelligent animals. The whole pack cares for the cubs as they grow, and wolf fathers are very devoted and gentle to their young. Wolves are also ritualistic, like humans. Their social behavior is based upon a hierarchical structure, with an alpha male and alpha female. They also mark off certain territories as sacred.
Many peoples throughout the world respected and thought very positively of wolves. Among the various peoples and tribes of North America, wolf represents not only creation, but also death and rebirth. Wolf is also seen as a teacher-animal to the peoples of California and the Great Plains. They saw the wolf retreat into the mountains and hills to get away from humans, and made the connection between wolves and high places (in other words, spirit). In the Lakota language, the word for wolf, sunkmanitu, means “divine dog.”
In western Europe, wolves were not seen as positively. In both German and Norse mythology, wolf was a symbol of destruction and death. Vikings saw wolf as a representation of Fenris (their Chaos), who would bite through his chains and consume the sun at the end of time. In an unusual story exhibiting the wolf’s loyalty, in Great Britain, Merlin in his time of madness is kept company by a she-wolf, who stays by his side until he becomes well again. Romulus and Remus, the famous twins in pre-Roman times, were said to have been raised by a she-wolf--even suckled by her.
Wolves are respected nearly everywhere except Europe, where they are instead feared. They are seen as teachers, instructing us in our daily lives and all the troubles that go with them. The lessons wolf teaches are not always easy to swallow, but nevertheless necessary. Wolf is a symbol of guardianship, ritual, loyalty, and spirit. Wolf has the ability to make quick and firm emotional attachments, and often need to trust their own instincts. Thus they teach us to do the same, to trust our hearts and minds, and have control over our own lives.
Information from Ted Andrews's Animal-Speak, Jessica Dawn Palmer's Animal Wisdom, and Steven D. Farmer's Power Animals.