Recently I attended a catholic retreat in a Benedictine mountain monastery. The theme was: The wolf in us. We discussed the archetypes and myths of the wolf, a topic I had explored in great length before, their archetypes here and here. The point was raised, that the wolf represents greed, one of the seven deadly sins. What was interesting, however, was at some point the monk, an American Swiss, who can flawlessly yodel, let us howl like wolves. A quite devoted group of catholics from all walk of life became a wolf pack. My experience during this long Whitsun weekend with an intimate and less organisational approach to spirituality is what I want to write about. Because, as I see it, the wolf in us, seen from a Jungian view, is our untamed shadow, but also a great source of energy. This article is so the third in cycle of the archetype of the wolf, a personal defense of the wolf from German romanticism (or if you want from Rousseau’s nobel savage) and includes some of my unsystematic associations. Nature never deceives us; it is always we who deceive ourselves – the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio
The monk told us on the first day the most famous story of St. Francis is when he tamed the wolf that was terrorizing the people of Gubbio. While Francis was staying in that town he learned of a wolf so ravenous that it was not only killing and eating animals, but people, too. The people took up arms and went after it, but those who encountered the wolf were killed. The villagers became afraid to leave the city walls.
Francis took pity on the people and the wolf as well and decided to go out and meet the wolf. He was desperately warned by the people, but he insisted that God would take care of him. A brave friar and several peasants accompanied Francis outside the city gate. But soon the peasants became terrified and said they would go no farther.
Francis and his companion began to walk on. Suddenly the wolf, jaws wide open, charged out of the woods at the couple. Francis made the Sign of the Cross toward the wolf who immediately slowed down and closed its mouth. Then Francis called out to the wolf: “Come to me, Brother Wolf. I wish you no harm.” At that moment the wolf lowered its head and lay down at St. Francis’ feet, meek as a lamb.
St. Francis explained to the wolf that he had been terrorizing the people, killing not only other animals, but humans as well. “Brother Wolf,” said Francis, “I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past wrongs are to be forgiven.”
The wolf showed its assent by moving its body and nodding its head. Then to the absolute surprise of the gathering crowd, Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. As St. Francis extended his hand to receive the pledge, so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into the saint’s hand. Then Francis invited the wolf to follow him into town to make a peace pact with the townspeople. The wolf meekly followed St. Francis.
By the time they got to the town square, everyone was there to witness the miracle. Then he offered the townspeople peace, on behalf of the wolf. The townspeople promised in a loud voice to feed the wolf.
Then Francis asked the wolf if he would live in peace under those terms. He bowed his head and twisted his body in a way that convinced everyone he accepted the pact. Then once again the wolf placed its paw in Francis’ hand as a sign of the pact.From that day on the people kept the pact they had made. The wolf lived for two years among the townspeople, going from door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one hurt it. When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were sad.
Owning a Labrador, actually I thought during the session the wolf in me says; Come to me, Brother. My Labrador retrievers never fails to amaze me when he puts his paw in my hand. Which he does at least every morning, when I come down to the basement giving him his two pieces of a treat. Labs are known for their voracious appetites and mine seems always hungry. Apollo, thats his name, will never turn down food except when not feeling well (or one rare exception italian Rucola salad). His the most negative behaviors that need to be curtailed is begging while I cook, making long faces and pleading eyes. But is he or the wolf a symbol of greed? I think not. More a symbol of bonding. Both have developed the emotional need to constantly interact with the other members of the “pack”.
The (human) wolf pack
Most of us in the group of 15 knew the open-minded monk (who is priest and psychoanalyst) and each other, from past exercitation – but wolf howling created an extra physical and psychological experience of belonging and trust. As did two days of long mountain hikes, where we held a proper holy masses, one time on a wide mountain meadow and on the next day in three parts in two different churches and one capella. Again the experience was quite unique. Like wolves we roamed “our territory” with a resident monk, who explained us that most of this Tirol territory with its 20 high mountains still has been owned by the monastery in which we stayed. That opened many doors in this countryside area.
We hiked up a waterfall which carved out a deep canyon in limestone (called wolf gorge / Wolfsklamm). The Wolfsklamm in Karwendel impressed the nature lover with thundering waterfalls, emerald green pools and a rising spray creating rainbows. The strong spring floods, the roar of the stream lead up to the monastery of St. George mountain pilgrimage. We walked further in the nature reserve Karwendel. Just before reaching the Stall Alm, we reached a wide alpine meadow for the open air mass. The monastery of St. George – St. Georgenberg – was a mountain hermitage, which was first mentioned in 950 for the first time in writing. St. George Berg, is the oldest place of pilgrimage throughout the Tyrol. The monastery still exists, it is a place of power and offers personal retreats. We stayed this year down in the large monastery in Fiecht.
While I walked up against the current of the water, I could not help but seeing in the water flow a symbol of going back in (my life) time. I saw blocks and trees in the rapid water, going up river water the water was calm. You never now what the future holds for oneself down the river. I imagined a wolf pacing up the stones. Time is rapid water.
There is eternal timeless truth within our universe which expands since 13.8 Billion years. To the Hindus this is just on of many Shiva’s dreams, a representation of the creation of the universe at the beginning of each cosmic cycle – a reminder that the universe now newly created… will billion of years from now will be utterly destroyed or vanish. Creation. Destruction. But the the deep canyon also reflects the eternal truth and overall time. At least within the realm of one of Shiva’s dreams.
Now back to the real wolves an wolfs howl. The groups conclusion was, that wolves and people did not get along well because their social behaviors is so similar. To find the wolf in us we imitated how it would be like wolves. That means, observing like they walk and how they use several forms of verbal communication, including high-pitched-barks, yips, whines, whimpers, and howls. Like my Labrador dog also wolves whine and whimper as indication of either physical or emotional discomfort or if they are hungry. A yip might be heard when a Wolf is suddenly frightened or hurt during play or ritual combat. Barks or woofs are generally short and warn against the approach of intruders or to attract the attention of another Wolf within visual range. Of all the sounds, none are as famous, haunting, or beautiful (and frightening) as a Wolf’s howl. Wolves howl also alone or together for a variety of reasons. To notify other Wolves of their whereabouts; such as when they wish to attract a mate, rally the pack together for the hunt, when distressed, during or after playing and other social interactions, and often just for the fun of it.
I have to admit it was fun to howl in a group, and actually the famous Bavarian or Tirol yodel may be a reminiscences of the lone howling (don’t try that in an urban environment):
- Find a wide open space – opportune locations include fields, meadows, rolling hills, and/or the privacy of your own (large) backyard.
- As the power rises within you, gather strength from your diaphragm and inhale deeply.
- Exhale with force and feeling as you make an oval shape with your mouth.
- During exhalation, let out a piercing and mournful cry,(also known as a “howl”) keeping your mouth in an oval shape
- Let the howl resonate for seconds, gradually reducing inflection and fading out.
- You can tell what a howl means by its pitch and strength. The longer the lasting, the more strength of the emotion. The higher the pitch, the happier the feeling. Quieter sounds mean more bland of an emotion.
- Repeat if desired, until all frustration is let loose. Once howling has ceased, reflect on your wolf experience,It is better to do this with friends if your personality is like a “pack wolf” but if you’re a lone wolf..try doing it yourself. One howl a day keeps the doctor away.
Howling sessions among multiple Wolves generally begin as a series of short yaps, then howls that last from less than a second to longer than ten seconds. During the howl the voice may maintain a single tonal quality or cascade from high down to low and then back up to high. Group howls can take on a truly frenzied quality, and two or three howling Wolves can sound like a dozen or more. Larger Wolves tend to have a lower sounding howl. A Wolf’s howl can be heard for up to ten miles under optimal conditions. Wolves can howl while standing, sitting, or laying down. Wolves do not howl at the moon as so many people like to romanticize, studies have shown no correlation to (Wer-)Wolves howling and lunar phase; Wolves just love to howl, period.
Rousseau, said also once, the world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless, which I would translate in C.G.Jung’s claim, the religion is out of scope of the temporal world but the desire for it is in every men. By chance I talked one time with the monks about the new pope Francis I and the pentecostal movement. The question was what can we use as catholics from “charismatic techniques” learning from the competition. I got mixed responses. A pragmatic response was, they spread the gospel, that is good. But not following liturgy literally raises also eyebrows. Once during dinner the head of the monastery greeted us and when we discussed our “three church mass” asked us quite ironically, he sure hopes we had celebrated catholic. It occurred to me then that our weekend experience was quite closer to the bible than to conservative church rituals and in a way proper catholic with some little charismatic sprinkles very appropriate to the special liturgy of Whitsun. We sung to the guitar every night after dinner and during the retreat sessions. The world of spirituality is boundless indeed.
I’m not very familiar with the pentecostal churches (outpacing in Africa and South America any other religion) but I have written a bit about them consider them historically interesting. Some have very charismatic leaders where everyone is memorised by their voice. The music, speaking in tongues etc puts people into a trance-like state where they are open to suggestion. Any person should know, who plays music to evoke the mood, to evoke emotion, to enable free thinking. Are they the wolves in sheep clothes, or allies? There seemed to be a psychological connection between our howling in the group and the pentecostal trance – at least this was a Whitsun weekend. I know it is a clumsy, if not even an offending comparison, but I am suspicious of group experiences. Furthermorehowling with wolves is a not well-meaning proverb.
Paul warned us that grievous wolves in sheep’s clothing would come into the Church. We know that in the history of the Church many wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing have devoured the flock. Today in our time there are many breeds of wolves in sheep’s clothing work in temporal institutions and religious organizations churches and ideologies dressed up as religions that are decimating the flock like never before. But is it? The writer and respected professor of history and religious studies Philip Jenkins who is also the author of “The Lost History of Christianity argues that the rapid growth of Christianity around the world (both within and alongside existing traditions) will literally reshape the world, with possible religious and geopolitic conflicts. Jenkins observes that especially Pentecostalism, mainly a protestant renewal movement within Christianity (German: Pfingstler, Pfingstkirche, Pfingstbewegung), is steadily winning millions of follower in Latin America, South America, Africa, India, Malaysia, China, and Eastern Europe, including Russia. There is even a Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which pope emeritus Benedict XVI once praised highlighting its positive contribution. According to the U.S. urban specialist Mike Davis “Pentecostalism is the largest self-organized movement of urban poor in the world”. Are they a wolf’s pack in a good sense to defend persecution, or wolves in sheep clothes? Can learn Christians from wolves – giving the bad rap they have within the bible? I think, yes we can.
The perils for Christians today are real. In the very monastery a young christian refuge from South Sudan had one time dinner with us on Sunday. He told us his story. His whole family and all relatives had been killed. He was assaulted as kid from the militias with machetes and survived just because he protected his head with his hand stopping the machete with his wrist. This cost him half of his hand and he was left for dead in a pool of blood. His journey went then on through Tchad, Libia often helped by Christians and lastly via a cargo ship to Europe. I saw this boys smile and his hand, who lives now with kids mainly from Afghanistan in a sort of foster home until he is 18. I believe his story. Persecution and poverty of which so much are made in the New Testament literature is very much the context of the majority of today’s southern Christians (not to mention those who await their moment a half-century hence). However, for whatever reason, Western investment in missions has been cut back dramatically at just the point it is most desperately needed, at the peak of the current surge in Christian numbers from self-centered European clergy. According to Philip Jenkins: “For the average Western audience, New Testament passages about standing firm in the face of pagan persecution have little immediate relevance…. “Millions of Christians around the world do in fact live in constant danger of persecution or forced conversion, from either governments or local vigilantes.”
When he says, “Looking at Christianity as a planetary phenomenon, not merely a Western one, makes it impossible to read the New Testament in quite the same way ever again”, he has a particular strong point pointing out the Book of Revelation. and that nevertheless, “Christianity is flourishing wonderfully among the poor and persecuted, while it atrophies among the rich and secure.” We could learn from the wolves breathtaking ability to bundle strength in a pack.
„lupus est homo homini, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit.“ The phrase is sometimes translated as “man is man’s wolf” or “man is a wolf to his fellow man.” It is widely referenced when discussing the horrors of which humans are capable. But that Man to me is an errant Wolf not the Wolf an errant Man and I dislike Hobbes’s observation, claiming that all human are always inherently selfish.
Yes, there have never been so many human wolves in sheep’s clothing attacking from so many directions. With mass media the grievous wolves in sheep’s clothing have access to many sheep and they are fleecing the flock like never before in history. Some prosperity confession and temporal (taxing) powers teach sheep that coming to the Great Shepherd is to partake in the abundant life that will be provided for them while they are still on the hoof. To become a partner in this abundant lifestyle sheep just need to send them a hundred pounds of wool each month (or a one time annual gift of a thousand pounds). In return, these wolves will send the sheep a collector item bell to wear around their neck to remind them how much they enjoyed being fleeced. But are they wolves?
I agree with the idea being that Greed is a powerful, vicious force and a deadly sin. It is shameless in what it wants and how it takes it. Greed, bites down hard and shakes and tears into things, it is untamed and straightforward and devours all it can. While a greedy person may come off as wolfish, the actual feeling that one gets while in the grip of being greedy is unlike a wolf on the hunt. Pigs are better used to describe the so-called and admired star investors who shape our world today. Wolves in traditional symbolic meanings may differ from how an actual wolf behaves. Even the wolf of Gubbio was just hungry. I came to the conclusion after this retreat we were howling after what we lost, the connection to an untamed dangerous nature and the dream of the nobel savage.
Many miles mankind went
To reach this point
They went to seek what they lost
What they lost before time
Before the first rays of light
When men settled down more domesticated than their dogs
Men, they the warriors they once were
They dedicated their existence to explore
And to follow
Eternity and enlightenment
Men, they the thinkers they were
ended up trivialized
In a never-ending maze of
Wolves so many lifetimes before
Had reached those points
Made the right decisions
And so many lifetimes to go
Greed and darkness
But Men still see only pieces of the
They – the wolves they were
Are now a never-ending maze of emptiness and
The wolf their symbol for this major sin.
Really? The Dow Jones is up.
But the lone wolf still howls.
And avoids men.
Back in Munich, during a visit of the newly opened Lenbach House, I came across a of this exuberant painting by the German painter Franz Marc (1880-1916.) Marc’s paintings of animals, mostly horses, had fluidity, grace and deep emotion. In 1911, Franz Marc, along with August Macke and Wassily Kandinsky, founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). They were a diverse group stylistically, but they held common beliefs in the spiritual nature of art, the link between visual art and music and the symbolic use of color to depict emotion. Sadly, Marc was killed by a shell splinter to the head in the Battle of Verdun in his twenties where people killed each other in the millions.