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The Wolf God and the Ecstatic Host

Written for Operation Werewolf by Operative 413

Wodan id est furor – Adam of Bremen

There is one true Wolf Cult. It has existed from the beginning. It manifests in different forms throughout the millennia. Yet it always serves the same function. 

Kris Kershaw’s The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-) Germanic Männerbünde gives us a glimpse of the sacred mystery at the cult’s heart. From Greece, to Germania, to India, groups of young men were taken from their homes and initiated into an oath-bound warrior band. They would be dedicated to a specific god. In battle, they were the “highly mobile bands of ecstatic warriors who would fling themselves first into the fray,” the guerillas who would raid and reave.  Yet they would learn also the lore, the prayers, the veda. 

They were outside the protection of the larger tribe and whatever law existed. For this reason, the avatar of the Wolf became universal. The wolf is outside settled life. He represents savagery and viciousness. But wolves also work together. 

“The werewolf life is part of the training of the young warrior throughout the IE [Indo-European] world,” writes Kershaw. The male child symbolically dies, and through a period of trial and learning, prepares for the time when he will be part of the tribe and have a wife, land, and children of his own. 

Yet this wasn’t just physical training. The young men were stripped of their own identity. In masked rituals at certain times of the year, they would rampage through villages and towns, demanding tribute. It was chaotic and destructive, but the people accepted it, because it was thought to bring prosperity for the coming year. In European folklore, this is remembered as the Wild Hunt. We’ll even see degraded remnants of this tradition in a few days, on Halloween. 

What were the youths doing? When they masked themselves, sometimes with ash, they were not “in disguise.” Everyone could recognize them. Yet there were no longer themselves. They were the Ancestors. A young warrior’s physical death is meaningless because in the sacred realm, the only one understood to be “really real and meaningful,” he’s become the Dead. 

More than that, he is one of the Dead who represent the “Immortals, in whom the life-force, that divine spark, is far more potent and efficacious now that they are no longer mortal.” That force, which we understand as strength and vitality, is most apparent in young men. Thus, they carry out this ritual. “Whether the man has died in battle or of old age, he lives on as the warrior in the prime of his youth,” writes Kershaw. 

This belief lives on. Obviously, we think of Valhalla where the heroic dead fight and feast eternally. Yet some Christians also believe that those saved will have perfect bodies in heaven, all imperfections removed. 

Whatever your faith, I ask you to think of the last funeral you attended for one who died in old age. Generally, you don’t dwell on dementia, cancer, or sickness. You remember the dead in his or her prime, full of strength and vitality. 

Having already “died,” young warriors would live forever through their tribe, and thus represented their people’s collective identity. They would throw themselves into battle with ecstasy, without fear, because their temporal existence no longer mattered. They were in an eternal battle to uphold the cosmos and the existence of their tribe. 

It’s easy to see why Odin was patron of such groups. He could raise those dedicated to him to “super-human heights,” but could allow them to be struck down for his own mysterious purposes. Odin was also the god of knowledge, poetry, and inspiration, who would give those dedicated to him verses and songs that hailed strength, beauty, and heroism. 

What a contrast to the stereotypical poets of today, who pen cynical and crippled words that express their disgust at being alive. 

Odin was the collective embodiment of a principle or a group. Some call Odin Herjan, usually translated as “lord” or “ruler.” Yet Kershaw shows it really means he was “the mythical leader and personification of the “herr, the warrior band. He’s a war-god, but of a very particular type. He’s the Wolf God, a Death God, the avatar of an oath-bound warrior band. 

That said, the understanding of Odin changed over time. Kershaw notes that Odin was not always portrayed as one-eyed. “It is in Odin as leader of warriors–in Odin as leader of an army of ecstatic wolf-warriors–that we will find the answer to the puzzle of Odin the one-eyed god.” [Bold text in original]. 

Kershaw exhaustively connects Germanic customs and symbols with those found in India. He links Odin to wolves and dogs and those animals’ symbolic connection with death. He also identifies Odin with aspects of the Hindu deities Rudra and Kali, and a mysterious ritual in which a game of dice would select the leader of a war band. 

Paradoxically, it was the loser of this dice game, the person left with a single token, who became the “Dog, the Leader of the Wild Hunt” or the “Dog of the Wilderness.” The outcast thus became the center. He suggests that over millennia, this developed into our image of Odin as the One-Eyed. 

Of course, with the paucity of sources, we can never know for sure. “Much ancient wisdom concerning both Indra and Rudra must be forever lost to us,” Kershaw writes, which could be said of almost all ancient Indo-European traditions. This shows the foolishness of trying to slavishly “reconstruct” an ancient belief system. At different times and in different places throughout the Indo-European world, people understood the Wolf God differently. 

Yet these same symbols, rituals and archetypes kept emerging. What matters is identifying the common elements that spawned from our collective unconscious. More importantly, one needs to understand why people did these things and why we are still called to them. What eternal truths did these rites symbolize? What living force are we tapping into? Is there some primordial tradition that these names, symbols, and forces represent? 

Ritual and tribal life must be something real, organic, relevant, and dangerous. Otherwise, it’s just playing make-believe. If you’re reading off a script, you’re doing it wrong. 

For this reason, it’s worth considering what Odin represented both then and now. “He never hangs around for years: he is the wanderer, the guest, and always mysterious,” writes Kershaw. This is Grimnir, the Masked or Hooded One. He was a god of thieves and footmen, of berserkers and youthful warrior bands that were not really in the society. Those who march under the banner of the Operation can understand this feeling of being outlaws. Under English common law, the term that meant a person was outside the protection of the system and could be killed was caput gerat lupinum, “may he wear a wolf’s head.”

And yet, as Kershaw notes, the wolf-god Odin and those like him in other traditions can also become a “god of the center.” Odin is the “All-Father,” the lord of Asgard, the god we think of as “head” of the pantheon. 

Thus, we can speak of the Odinic path as encompassing outlaws and kings. The Wolf’s path to kingship is a crooked one. For what is a king but one who has made his own law? And what are we here for if not to become kings by our own hands?

Yet this cannot be done alone. What the modern world lacks more than anything else is initiation, a process by which young people, especially young men, understand their history and identity. There is no trial or challenge that marks the moment of responsibility. There is no tribe, no oath-bound group to hold you to a code of honor.  

Then we wonder why men kill themselves, become addicted to opioids, or disappear into a bottle. Or, arguably worse, we see “men,” including “successful men” with jobs and careers, lapsing into a kind of permanent childhood and obsessing over fandoms, toys, and corporate franchises. 

For men, for those who are something more than consumers, the only acceptable response is scorn and defiance. Yet there must be a way forward. 

This is what we are building with the Wolves and with the Operation. The point is to reconnect with something eternal, to build what needs to exist in this dead world. To offer that initiation, that challenge, and that honor culture. To pick up that torch which has fallen, but which is never extinguished.  

In coming weeks, you will see what we mean. This is about building something real, in this world, today. 

The Hooded One has appeared in many guises, under many names. Now, the Wolf God is showing himself again. He offers a path. But you must take the first step.