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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 08 Jan, 2006 8:30 pm    Post subject: Big bad wolf and heraldry ?         Reply with quote

Browsing through an article in a French magazine about the wolf in medieval Europe I read that the wolf and wolfpacks were highly feared in the medieval world, as well a general fear of the dark.

The glowing eyes of the wolf in the dark and an association with the devil and evil in general made the wolf hated and feared: Killing a wolf brought joy to the medieval heart according to this article. ( Will have to go back and buy the magazine.) Today scientists believe that wolves won't normally attack humans: At least that is the modern " ecologistical "
spin. Maybe medieval people were just not as enlightened as we are today ? Or maybe wolves when in large and numerous packs were much more bold, aggressive and dangerous when in competition for food with humans and would not shy away from eating the occasional peasant who got lost in the dark at night "alone " ! ( Little Red Riding Hood ! ?? )

Wolves were hunted down mercilessly and maybe the survivors were the one who learned to fear and avoid humans: Thus the modern theory that wolves don't attack humans.

In discussions with Russ Ellis about a custom scabbard for the Tritonia I just ordered from Albion I mentioned that I sort of like the wolf as a decorative motif that might be added as decoration on the scabbard. http://www.tritonworks.com/

What was surprising was that Russ mentioned that metal decorative elements using the wolf were hard to find for some reason ?

After reading this article I wonder if the wolf might have a lot of negative connotations in heraldry that I am not aware of.

Being somewhat of a sarcastic contrarian I can actually see this as a plus. Razz And being lefthanded " sinister " I would have been considered dammed in any case or at least looked at in a very negative way: Might as well choose to revel in it and use the wolf as a symbol !

The wolf could be a good emblem for a mercenary band ?

In any case, I would like to get some feedback by those who have knowledge of heraldry to see if there is anything to my
assumptions. I am somewhat more partial to a very early heraldry before it became codified with a lot of rules and meanings and associated with specific noble families: Sort of when one was free to choose any symbol that seemed
" cool " at the time.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Sun 08 Jan, 2006 8:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My mother's maiden name is Musto, and Anglo/Norman name meaning "from the great well". The coat of arms for my grandfather's particular flavour of Musto is a black wolf argent on a red background.
I don't have a picture on me at the moment unfortunately.
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Sam Barris




Location: San Diego, California
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PostPosted: Sun 08 Jan, 2006 8:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Different cultures see certain animals in different ways. Cats were hated and feared by the same Medieval Europeans that hated wolves, to the point that they were sometimes killed on sight as a matter of policy. Yet cats were revered in ancient Egypt.

Medieval types had a lot of bizarre superstitions, many of which centered around night, darkness, the Devil and glowing eyes. Animals like wolves caught quite a bit of negative (and undeserved) press because of it. As far as their reluctance to attack humans, I think that's just the natural caution of the species. It may have to do with human hunters, but I like to view it as professional courtesy between fellow predators. Big Grin

To get good wolf motifs in European art, you'll have to go the Celtic or Norse route. Pre-Christian Europeans seemed to be rather fond of wolves, dancing in the woods at night and other things that tended to be rejected by their baptized progeny. Also, cultures with a heavy streak of defiance in them, especially if they had a history of being oppressed, seemed to appreciate wolves as symbols. There is a great Irish depiction of a wolf with one paw wrapped around a sword, a broken collar around its neck and the other paw on top of a broken crown. I have a pin of it somewhere.

But as far as the Medieval period? I think you'll find most depictions of wolves to be negative ones, unless some like minded soul took one for his sigil.

Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides
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John Cooksey




Location: NW Ark
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PostPosted: Sun 08 Jan, 2006 9:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wolves really are not that dangerous to humans, unless they are starving. They, being clever hunters, tend to go for the old, weak and the sick (easy prey), and not large, healthy, dangerous animals (many exceptions to this rule, of course). Large bodied predatory omnivores with fire and sharp sticks are definitely off the menu. [smile]

I think the strong fear of wolves (and other natural predators) during the medieval period probably resulted partly from the dark age "siege mentality", when the hybrid Latinate cultures felt that everything outside the safe and sown was a threat. And wolves stay a long way from walled towns and sown fields, unless really hungry.
Plus, the wolf is a fairly negative totem for Germanics, being associated with the Fenris wolf, and thus easily assimilated with Dark Age Christian ideas of evil and ungodliness.

We here in NW Arkansas don't have true wolves anymore, but we do have large (60-80 pound) coyotes, which are actually (genetically speaking) wolf/coyote/domestic dog hybrids.
Genetically, of course, all dogs, wolves, and coyotes are really the same biological specias (at least as far as reproduction goes), and the difference between true wolf and large coyote is sometimes hard to determine, even for canid specialists.
I have encountered numerous large wild canids, and never felt threatened (never a true pack, though). I always enjoy their nightly serenades. [smile]
Of course, I have encountered "non-indigenous" mountain lions, too. Not got et yet.
The escaped lions from a nearby "refuge" might have been another story (or lack thereof) . . . . .

I didn't surrender, but they took my horse and made him surrender.
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Eric Nower




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 4:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

John Cooksey wrote:
Wolves really are not that dangerous to humans, unless they are starving. They, being clever hunters, tend to go for the old, weak and the sick (easy prey), and not large, healthy, dangerous animals (many exceptions to this rule, of course).

We here in NW Arkansas don't have true wolves anymore, but we do have large (60-80 pound) coyotes, which are actually (genetically speaking) wolf/coyote/domestic dog hybrids.


Not to get to far off topic... Here in Central NY we have pretty much the same thing, We call them Coye Dogs. Not really very dangerous unless its hunting season and you have deer scent on.....Better to be safe than sorry. They think your a deer when you got that stuff on Eek! The NY DEC is starting to reintroduce the wolves to the Adirondacks a little at a time.

May God have mercy on my enemies, for I shall have none.
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Helen Miller




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 5:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting topic Jean. A long time ago in Spanish class I actually did a report on wolves and how Medieval Europe viewed the wolf. To make a long story short wolves were feared for superstitious reasons because people back then believed in lycanthropy or the belief in werewolves.

In regards to your heraldry question wolves were certainly used. You might want to check out some information on the Great Roll which depicted wolves. I'm not sure if it was the first use of wolves in heraldry. Any one know?

Have you tried the book Heralds and Heraldry in the Middle Ages? I think it's from Oxford Press, you can get it in the public library. It's been awhile...
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 6:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Plus, the wolf is a fairly negative totem for Germanics, being associated with the Fenris wolf, and thus easily assimilated with Dark Age Christian ideas of evil and ungodliness.


That's not necessarily the case Happy
My first name refers to the two wolves which used to accompany Wodan/Odin. In pre-christian Europe the wolf was respected and feared at the same time.
Of course lots of people were afraid of werewolves (wer = man), but it appears that they were even more afraid of vampires and zombies Laughing Out Loud
During the 20th century lots of well-preserved corpses were found in (former) swamps in Germany and Denmark. Most of them were tied up with strong ropes and impaled through the heart with a wooden peg Eek!
(Due to the often almost perfectly preserved bodies It took the police quite some time until they realized that these people were killed long before our time Cool )
Over 1000 swamp corpses have beend found so far in Northern Europe.......still counting.
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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 6:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes it's a mystery to me as well, all sorts of animals are used in heraldry, escallops, tridents, bears, hounds, griffins, leopards, lions, unicorns, even rabbits and hares. Wolves one would think would have been as common as anything else and period artwork was not lacking:



However I've noted a notable lack of things suitable for medieval adornment as far as wolves go. Why? I'm not sure I've a couple of theories... 1) I'm not searching for the right things. 2) Modern manufacturers are to busy focussing on things like lions and dragons????

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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 6:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another one for fun this one is an eagle...



All sorts of interesting things can be found in old bestiaries...

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 6:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Helen;

Thanks for the information and I haven't been very interested in the minutia of heraldry so far: One of the neglected aspects of my historical readings.

If you still have that report it might make an interesting feature article if reworked a bit for use here: Borderline off topic but maybe you could P.M. Nathan about it if you are open to " volunteer " to become a contributor.

If you have some interesting material on this or other historical subjects there is no harm in asking if it would work here

General note to everyone Nathan doesn't bite: If he can or cannot use something he will tell you and it can be fun !
Don' t be shy. I know it took me a month to get up the nerve to offer a contribution: Fear of commitment. Eek! Laughing Out Loud


Back to heraldry: I guess my reluctance in getting interested is that in it's present form heraldry seems very very structured and has evolved into almost a language were everything you choose has very specific meanings.

Cobbling together some symbols, bars, colour without some knowledge should produce some very funny results when seen by experts in heraldry. With early period stuff I perceive more room to create your own symbols having personal meaning. But even then choosing a wolf, a boar, dragon or eagle probably had what are for me a complete " No Knowledge Zone ".

Hmmmm ..... A basic Heraldry for Dummies feature might be very useful. Laughing Out Loud

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D. Rosen





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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A whole catalogue of international civic heraldry FEATURING WOLVES! Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin

http://www.ngw.nl/themes/wolven.htm
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James Holczer




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In medieval and renaissance Europe, wolves were looked upon not only as competitors but as evil emissaries of the devil. It was the church that was responsible for demonizing creatures such as the cat and the wolf. Because a supersistious populace fearful of the minions of the devil, is a populous that would more than likely turn to the church for protection. I don’t think many people today realize just how important the salvation of your immortal was to the people of medieval Europe. The belief in the after life dominated their everyday living and fear of going to hell was very, very, real to them. We all know that the Catholic Church of medieval Europe was expert at exploiting these fears. The church used the general populace’s fear of going to hell to hold sway over the entire Christain population of Europe. This way they could wrestle a measure of control away from the European kings and monarchs. At least that’s what popular history tells us.

As for the Heraldry aspect, think about it. In a world were excommunication was considered a fate worse than death, would you want your families crest associated with a creature that the church claimed was evil? Probably not.
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R. D. Simpson




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Holczer wrote:
In medieval and renaissance Europe, wolves were looked upon not only as competitors but as evil emissaries of the devil. It was the church that was responsible for demonizing creatures such as the cat and the wolf. Because a supersistious populace fearful of the minions of the devil, is a populous that would more than likely turn to the church for protection. I don’t think many people today realize just how important the salvation of your immortal was to the people of medieval Europe. The belief in the after life dominated their everyday living and fear of going to hell was very, very, real to them. We all know that the Catholic Church of medieval Europe was expert at exploiting these fears. The church used the general populace’s fear of going to hell to hold sway over the entire Christain population of Europe. This way they could wrestle a measure of control away from the European kings and monarchs. At least that’s what popular history tells us.

As for the Heraldry aspect, think about it. In a world were excommunication was considered a fate worse than death, would you want your families crest associated with a creature that the church claimed was evil? Probably not.


I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of the medieval Church. Remember, most priests were little more educated than the peasantry (many of them were even illiterate) and thus prone to honest superstition to the same degree as the peasantry. And, also, remember that clergy fervently believed in heaven and hell, and believed that the Church was the only way to get to heaven or avoid hell. Thus, even if the Church did intentionally foster fears among the peasantry in the way you describe (and I'm not at all convinced that it did) it would have been for the sake of assuring that as many people as possible avoided hell.

As to your suggestion that the wolf would have been avoided in heraldry because it was a symbol of evil, I don't think your argument stands up. After all, the dragon seems to have been a very popular symbol in heraldry, and it was an even greater symbol of evil than the wolf within Christianity.


Last edited by R. D. Simpson on Mon 09 Jan, 2006 1:17 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 12:09 pm    Post subject: On the other hand...         Reply with quote

Wolves may have been viewed as dangerous because maybe, long ago, they were dangerous. These are animals that can take large prey and there is no reason to assume that humans were always off the menu.

It is not accidental that many species were removed by our ancestors.

When Ohio was settled, very detailed records were kept at county level that were eventually published as county histories by the Ohio Historical Society (years ago). Sometimes these can be found and they are great references. There are accounts of predators taking people in these records (probably because they are were considered exceptional).

The accounts regarding wolves specifically are rare and usually occur in hard winters, but they are documented. Individuals or small groups of people without firearms were considered to be especially vulnerable to wolves in the winter. Attacks on livestock are much more commonly noted, which if you think about a subsistance agrarian economy, can be just as bad as an attack on a person.

Although this is pure speculation on my part, I think man exerted heavy selective pressure against predators that did not fear man, at least in the US. Killing the most fearless and agressive members of a given species, and general population reductions, might explain why so many predators are less feared by man today (I'm sure understanding makes a difference too).

*Edited to fix some spelling and sentence structure.

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Last edited by Joe Fults on Mon 09 Jan, 2006 8:20 pm; edited 1 time in total
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James Holczer




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 1:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

R. D. Simpson wrote:
[quote="I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of the medieval Church. Remember, most priests were little more educated than the peasantry (many of them were even illiterate) and thus prone to honest superstition to the same degree as the peasantry. And, also, remember that clergy fervently believed in heaven and hell, and that the Church was the only way to get to heaven or avoid hell. Thus, even if the Church did intentionally foster fears among the peasantry in the way you describe (and I'm not at all convinced that it did) it would have been for the sake of assuring that as many people as possible avoided hell.

At to your suggestion that the wolf would have been avoided in heraldry because it was a symbol of evil, I don't think your argument stands up. After all the dragon seems to have been a very popular symbol in heraldry, and it was an even greater symbol of evil within Christianity.



While I agree with the premise that the average medieval priest was probably just as illiterate and superstitious as the general population. It cannot be denied that the medieval church of Roman was not only a spiritual force but a political power as well, perhaps even more so than it is today. A superstitious priest who would blindly defend the church’s belief system would make for an excellent a pawn in the political process and would only further the church’s political ambitions. The fact of the matter is that a frightened, ignorant, wanting populace is much easier to control through religious zealotry than through the use of logical reason. Lets not forget that throughout history politics has always been perverted from a desire to help govern society to a desire to garner power and control.

I admit that my theory about the wolf and its heraldic uses does have holes in it. But for whatever reason I don’t think we can find another creature in the natural world that has been quite as demonized as the wolf, at least not here in the west and it seems that most of these fears stem from medieval society.
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Sam Barris




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

R. D. Simpson wrote:
As to your suggestion that the wolf would have been avoided in heraldry because it was a symbol of evil, I don't think your argument stands up. After all, the dragon seems to have been a very popular symbol in heraldry, and it was an even greater symbol of evil than the wolf within Christianity.


Except that dragons aren't real, which means they clean up better for the stories. Wolves were and are very real, and if you're already convinced that the night is the Devil's playtime, then hearing a pack howl in the darkness would probably be quite unsettling, especially if you have a flock of sheep or herd of cattle to protect. You have both a spiritual and a practical motivation for hating wolves. The two together is a powerful thing.

The positive use of dragon images in Arthurian myths like the Vulgate Cycle might have also helped to rehabilitate the dragon, while the wolf remained the thief in the night, coming for your lambs and your children.

It's kind of interesting, though, that Medieval bestiaries speak of mythical animals and real animals side by side with no lines drawn to seperate fantasy from reality. The skitalis and basilisk will be right there next to the white-tail deer and the red squirrel. Interesting reading.

Another curious thing is the fact that even modern humans harbor irrational hatred of wolves, and many political activist groups seek to undo what has been accomplished in returning them to parts of the wilderness where they were previously exterminated. Some arguments come from ranchers and are quite logically put, if still incorrectly held. Others come from crazy big game hunters who are convinced that returning wolves to the wild will mean the immediate extinction of deer and elk. Funny people, those.

Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides
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R. D. Simpson




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 1:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Holczer wrote:
The fact of the matter is that a frightened, ignorant, wanting populace is much easier to control through religious zealotry than through the use of logical reason. Lets not forget that throughout history politics has always been perverted from a desire to help govern society to a desire to garner power and control.


I'll keep my reply brief, as it is off topic:

I don't dispute that superstition is a very effective means by which to controll and uneducated populace. I simply wonder whether the Church's ecouragement of superstition was an intentional act of control, or whether it may rather have been a byproduct of the rampant superstition that existed within the hierarchy of the Church itself.

Niether do I dispute that power hungry individuals existed within the Church hierarchy. My issue is with the assumption that the Church hierarchy as a whole hungered after power as an end in itself, rather than power as a means to better humanity. I think the motives of the Church and of the individuals of whom its hierarchy was composed were much more nuanced than is admitted in popular histories.
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Addison C. de Lisle




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 3:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Funny, I asked Russ the same question about the availablity of wolf metal accents before I decided to make my own scabbard. I may yet rechange my mind...

I am not going to address the church motives topic, as it is off-topic and may not turn out well, no matter which side "wins" the argument.
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Greyson Brown




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 7:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't have any knowledge of what it is supposed to mean, and I can't believe it took me so long to remember, but I just realized that I do know the Davis (of Kent county, as dealt with in The Davis Geneology by Arthur Fox-Davies) coat of arms to be Ermine, a wolf salient Sable. Which is to say, a black leaping wolf on an ermine field. May not really be what you are looking for, but it might give you a starting place.

-Grey

"So long as I can keep the path of honor I am well content."
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:02 am    Post subject: wolf motif decorative mounts         Reply with quote

A lot of Ontario SCAdians are into the wolf motif as part of the regional identity. I know Kes Smith at Fettered Cock Pewters has made a number of different molds for them. There is at least one offering at the bottom of this page. http://www.fetteredcockpewters.com/page_belt_mounts.htm

Kes is great to deal with. She's been making this kind of thing a long time. She probably has other things which will work for your scabbard project.

Cheers!
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