Edwin Wollert / Education Coordinator / Wolf Song of Alaska
It has been close to a full decade now since Clarissa Estes initially published her bestseller, Women Who Run With the Wolves, regarding traditional feminine archetypes which have largely been ignored or forgotten in contemporary times. The emphasis in this book and others like it has been the incorporating of the traditional wild woman motif into modern industrialized life. This broad theme of reconnection has hardly been limited to contemporary working women, but has also been emphasized for different cultural groups, as well as for men.
And yet, Estes chose wolves specifically, while other writers working in the same vein have used either other wild species or mythological figures for their inspirations. This current article is not intended to serve as a book review, but rather to consider another more recent use of wolves as modern symbol. In our 15 years so far, Wolf Song of Alaska has considered wolves as they appear symbolically and metaphorically in a wide variety of fields, such as history, religion, literature, heraldry, warfare, science, and the visual arts. And now here is a newer example tracing its roots to a quite ancient one: the wolf as spiritual guide, able to remind one of her uncivilized roots, involving feelings of passion, freedom, lack of control, release from daily considerations.
Indeed, who would not want to feel one's paws loping over a damp forest floor, warm breath steaming from one's mouth, with hardly a care in the world other than pursuit of food, pleasure, or a mate? Estes does not often speak of such crude images in her text, but a key feature of her work is a discussion of restoring the vitality of the ancient archetypical images. Symbolism is potent, speaking a language which is more universal and which transcends logic, and can be used for good or ill intent, and the wolf remains a symbol of malicious evil to some, a sign of untamed freedom and social cooperation to others.
So where do the werewolves fit into all of this? Not long after the preceding book gained such positive reviews, Pam Keesey edited a fiction anthology about Women Who Run With the Werewolves. This book, probably as no surprise, is more about the horrific nature of the wolf symbolism, and uses lycanthrope stories to consider women's wildness, capacity for compassion as well as cruelty, and simple sexuality. Like vampire stories, werewolf tales are superficially about bloodlust and murder and lifelong curses. With a deeper look, however, such stories also reveal not just hidden mythology but non-literal cravings as well.
This article is certainly not suggesting that modern women wish to go out and devour those who have wronged them in the past, but it does suggest that the use of both the wolf as well as the wolf-human hybrid monster can be transformed into tools of reflection on women's contemporary social condition. A huge part of the appeal, again, is the simple escape from constricting ties. Commitments to work, family, friends, and society at large are not monstrous and they do not have to be domineering, yet a key feature of modern feminism lay in emphasizing the emotional need to feel in control, to be wild and free, to single-handedly determine the course of one's own path. This is why many women choose to run with the wolves, as well as with the werewolves; the important part is the ability to choose itself.