The Symbolism and Meaning of a Wolf Tattoo


The wolf is an awesome animal that can strike fear into hearts or generate awe. This magnificent creature has long been thought to be the original ancestor of the modern dog. Many people think that at some point in human history tens of thousands of years ago, some wolves decided to co-exist with humans for the benefit of food. The rest, as they say, is history.

Despite the possible tie with dogs, wolves represent many things and have deep symbolism across a range of cultures around the world. As far as a tattoo is concerned, a wolf can make for an awesome subject.

A Native American Icon

One thing that humans have done through the ages is use symbolism to attach greater meaning to themselves or give themselves more power. Through the power of sympathetic magic, wearing animal skin or jewelry consisting of bones from an animal, for example, was thought to confer special powers on the wearer.

The wolf has many meanings and may be strongly associated with:

  • Fearlessness
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Courage
  • Family values
  • Loyalty
  • Survival

The wolf has special meaning for Native Americans in particular. They have long been regarded with great reverence. For the Native American, the wolf hunting pack was fearless, was powerful, and represented survival.

The close bond that wolves develop with each other in their packs also represents tight family values. For Native Americans, the wolf was a guiding symbol. Calling on the Great Wolf animal spirit and using animal totems, the wolf was seen as important in guiding people through their lives.

Much the same as modern dogs of today, wolves are intensely loyal to their pack-mates. This sense of loyalty is powerful and for the Native American, the wolf has many positive qualities.

The Primal Power of Fear

Some people have also seen wolves as symbols of fear and predation. Early Christians in Europe often regarded wolves as a symbol of fear and evil. Their predatory instincts were seen as something negative. The Calvinist settlers in North American had the attitude that nature was cruel and contained a natural evil that was in opposition to Christian people.

Thus, the wolf came to be seen as a symbol of fear, power, predation, and evil. Though this interpretation seems a world away from the positive connotations that Native Americans attached to the Great Wolf spirit, there is still the pervading sense that wolves are a powerful symbol, whether for good or bad.

The Idea of the Lone Wolf

There is also the idea of the lone wolf that has strong appeal for many people with independent minds. In this context, the wolf is seen as the ultimate survivor going it alone.

Though wolves have strong pack instincts and hunt in packs, the lone wolf is a wolf that has been driven from a pack. They live and hunt alone. They are the great survivors, driven away from their pack-mates and having to do everything alone.

The lone wolf is normally an older female who has been driven away by a breeding male because she is too old for reproductive purposes. These wolves live and hunt alone.

Interestingly, because they do need to survive on their own rather than depend on their pack-mates, lone wolves often develop higher levels of aggression and predatory instinct. They are often more cunning and intelligent too, and thus far more dangerous than regular pack wolves.

To many people, the idea of the lone wolf represents their strong sense of independence. The lone wolf may be important to them because they are also fiercely independent and intelligent.

The Wolf as a Mythical Creature

We should also never forget that the wolf enjoys a long history in our tales and stories. From the cunning and smart wolf in Little Red Riding Hood to the image of the werewolf, the wolf has long been fertile ground for fantasy and myth.

The Native Americans, for example, believed that the spirit of the Great Wolf could transform into a person. And the idea of the werewolf — a magical wolf and human hybrid — finds its genesis in the story of Romulus and Remus, the founding myth of ancient Rome and the Roman Empire.

All you need to do is think about the wolf in our movies and TV series to understand just how enduring the wolf is as a symbol in our culture. There’s the comical and cute werewolf from Teen Wolf or the scary werewolf from An American Werewolf in London.

The Story of Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus were twin boys. Their uncle, King Amulius, thought they were a threat to his position and ordered them to be exposed to the elements on the banks of the Tiber River. Fortunately, they were saved by the Father of the River, Tibernius.

There are many stories associated with Romulus and Remus but the most famous one depicts them being fed and suckled by a female wolf, possibly a lone wolf. This image of them being fed by the wolf has been passed down through history and forms one of the most enduring images of ancient Rome.

In this context, the wolf represents a life-giving force, survival, loyalty, and protection. It’s no wonder that the wolf became one of the most important symbols of the Roman Empire for centuries and featured as part of their military symbolism.

The Wolf in the Modern World

Despite the fact that our clearing of traditional wolf habitats means that wolves no longer are the feared animals they once were, the wolf still retains significant meaning today. Stories and meanings have been passed down through human history across a range of cultures and empires.

Why Should You Get a Wolf Tattoo?

Esthetically, a wolf tattoo can take many forms but it is always eye-catching. Even those who are not aware of the mythical history of wolves or their symbolism are often struck by the beauty and majesty of a well-done wolf tattoo.

So, why should you think about getting a wolf tattoo for yourself? If you’re strong of mind, fiercely independent, and a survivor in life, the idea of the lone wolf holds special appeal. The lone wolf is a potent symbol of survival in a modern age where life can be tough for many, and where going your own way is often undervalued.

A wolf tattoo can also symbolize your special relationship with friends and family. The loyalty of the wolf to the wolf pack has been a powerful symbol throughout history. Native Americans recognized the positive attributes of the wolf and saw it as a great symbol for family and community as well as a guiding force.

It is also entirely possible to see the wolf as a symbol of fear, power, and strength and this may appeal to those who have a special affinity for the darker sides of life. In this context, the wolf may even serve a dual-meaning for some people, or a different meaning at different times of life. Perhaps it represents strength or power or predation early in life, but then becomes a symbol for loyalty and family values later in life.

What is clear in all cases is that the wolf remains a powerful symbol across time and space. It is an iconic symbol that is infinitely flexible in terms of a personal tattoo. Whether cute, scary, or traditional, the wolf is an eye-catching motif that will stick in the minds of those who see it.

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