In Japan, grain farmers once worshiped wolves at shrines and left food offerings near their dens, beseeching them to protect their crops from wild boars and deer. Talismans and charms adorned with images of wolves were thought to protect against fire, disease, and other calamities and brought fertility to agrarian communities and to couples hoping to have children. The Ainu people believed that they were born from the union of a wolflike creature and a goddess. Source: Walker, Brett L. (2005). The Lost Wolves Of Japan. p. 331. ISBN 0-295-98492-9.
The above practices merged with ta’asobi rituals associated with rice planting and the god of the rice field, and as a result the wolf messenger or wolf deity became conflated with folk beliefs about the Sarutahiko Okami, god of the crossroads, see Sarutahiko Okami – Monkey or Wolf Guide-Deity. While legend tells that Prince Yamatotakeru was guided by a wolf once when he lost his way during one of his campaigns, which has shades of the following Ashina (as well as Uighur) legend:
“The Turki, one branch of the Hun people，took the wolf as their ancestor．In Turki annals，Zhou classics, it was recorded that the Ashina tribe people were killed out by neighboring kingdoms，with only one ten-year-old boy survivor, who was saved by a she-wolf．The wolf brought him up and mated him．The enemy kingdoms heard of this，endeavored to kill him and the pregnant wolf．The last Turki didn’t survive this crisis，but the wolf did，as well as their ten offspring． The wolf escaped to the caves in the mountain north to the Nanchang Kingdom，and gave birth to ten boys．They prospered and took wolf as their totem．And in the legendary story of Cham Wukesi，there was a god wolf who guided the way in the marching，and helped the army win the war.
In Yuan secret history，there was a record that the Mongolians were descendants of a god wolf and a white deer. The two of them marched over the Tengjisi River to the headstream of the Wo’nan River, and gave birth to Batachihan．In the following centuries，the descendants of Batachihan prospered into a greatnation，claiming the whole Eurasia as their territory.
In Angenanfu，a Uiguri folk epic，there is a god wolf named Botanyouna，who guided their ancestors out of the mountains，and persuaded a blacksmith to lead 100，000 soldiers to defeat the enemies．Uptonow，the Uigur people still take wolf as a symbol of bravery, and when a boy is born，they would like to say they get a wolf cub”．– Teng Yong Qing’s “Legend of the ‘’wolf’’：Probing into its cultural images” pp. 66-67, US-China Foreign Language，ISSN 1539-8080，USA Mar．2008，Volume 6，No．3 (Serial No．54)
The Mitsumine Shrine Museum, according to Daruma Pilgrims in Japan is the main shrine which venerates the wolf as messenger of the mountain kami god:
“The messenger of the Gods from Mitsumine Shrine is the Japanese Wolf, kami no tsukai, ookami, 「神使: 狼 おおかみ」.
The wolf is often symbolically linked with mountain kami in Shinto (the most famous example being the wolf kami of Mitsumine Shrine in the town of Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture).
Interesting is a report by Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843) in one of his lectures on “the Superiority of the Ancients”.
In the Ômine and Mitsumine mountains, he avers, “there are many wolves which are called the messengers of the gods of the mountains, and people from other parts of the country come and, applying through the guards of these mountains, choose and borrow one of these wolves as a defence against fire. That is to say they only arrange to borrow it and do not take a wolf to their place. And from the day of borrowing they offer daily food to the spirit of the wolf.
But if through neglect several days pass without food being offered then the wolf chosen becomes thin, emaciated, and weak. There is a case where a man I know borrowed a wolf and neglected to offer food for four or five days, and misfortune came to him from that source and he was fearfully surprised.”
Source: Wolves, Ookami, By ROWAN HOOPER
“Prior to the Meiji Restoration (1868), Japanese worshiped this canine, whether wolf or mountain dog. The Shinto shrine Mitsumine Jinja was of particular importance in wolf worship and has been associated with both Shugenoo, or traditions of mountain asceticism, and wolf iconography. Mitsumine Jinja stands near the village of Ootaki, in Saitama Prefecture.
The main gods worshiped at the shrine are Izanagi and Izanami, two powerful deities who feature in the Japanese creation myth. Tradition holds that the shrine was built by none other than Prince Yamatotakeru, the legendary unifier of Japan, who, during pacification campaigns in central Honshu, wandered astray of the Karisaka mountain-pass road.
The prince found himself lost until a white-wolf god led him out of the mountains, hence the shrine’s connection with wolves.
Later the prince’s father, the legendary twelfth emperor, Keikoo, retraced his son’s route through the mountains during an imperial tour. According to tradition, after climbing the mountains, the views of the three peaks of Kumotori-yama, Shiraiwa-yama, and Myoo-ga-take so stunned Keikoo that he bestowed on them the name Mitsumine-guu, the “shrine of the three peaks.”
Over time the three peaks became objects of worship. Spring thaws caused swift and pure rivers to flow from the mountains and, not surprisingly, local farmers revered the mountains in their agrarian traditions.
Today Mitsumine Jinja sits at about 1,080 meters, on the northwestern slope of Myoo-ga-take, having been moved there from Kumotori-yama after the Meiji Restoration.
and other iconography, ranging from statues to hanging-style prints, were distributed at Mitsumine Jinja. The great majority of these images feature two wolves facing each other. The wolf on the right usually has its mouth open, symbolizing a, or the sound of an open mouth, and iconographically representing the first letter of the ancient Siddhamatrika script used to write Sanskrit.
See a report by Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843) in one of his lectures on “the Superiority of the Ancients” where he states:
In the Ômine and Mitsumine mountains, he avers, “there are many wolves which are called the messengers of the gods of the mountains, and people from other parts of the country come and, applying through the guards of these mountains, choose and borrow one of these wolves as a defence against fir.
The Shinto shrine Mitsumine Jinja sits imposingly at about 1,080 meters, on the northwestern slope of Myoo-ga-take, and was of particular importance in wolf worship and has been associated with both Shugenoo, or traditions of mountain asceticism, and wolf iconography. Mitsumine Jinja stands near the village of Ootaki, in Saitama Prefecture.
The main gods worshiped at the Mitsumine shrine are Izanagi and Izanami, two powerful deities who feature in the Japanese creation myth. Tradition holds that the shrine was built by none other than Prince Yamatotakeru, the legendary unifier of Japan, who, during pacification campaigns in central Honshu, wandered astray of the Karisaka mountain-pass road.
The prince found himself lost until a white-wolf god led him out of the mountains, hence the shrine’s connection with wolves.
Later the prince’s father, the legendary twelfth emperor, Keikoo, retraced his son’s route through the mountains during an imperial tour. According to tradition, after climbing the mountains, the views of the three peaks of Kumotori-yama, Shiraiwa-yama, and Myoo-ga-take so stunned Keikoo that he bestowed on them the name Mitsumine-guu, the “shrine of the three peaks.” Over time the three peaks became objects of worship. Local farmers revered the mountains in their agrarian traditions.
The Ainu, the indigenous inhabitants of Hokkaido, knew the Hokkaido wolf as the high-ranking god Horkew Kamuy. In Hokkaido’s Tokachi and Hidaka regions, there flourished versions of a myth about a white wolf that mated with a goddess, or sometimes a Japanese court lady, and the offspring from this union became the ancestors of the Ainu people.
Several regional versions of this origin myth exist, and some feature a white dog rather than a white wolf. The difference between wolves and dogs appears to have been less important to the Ainu, since both wolves and dogs inhabited much the same space in their classifying imagination.
One version of this myth from Shizunai, in the Hidaka region, explains that the god of the mountain Poroshiri-dake, Retaruseta Kamuy (the white-wolf god), could not find a auitable mate, even though he searched the entire island. So Retaruseta Kamuy summoned his divine powers, seeing all the way to lands across the seas, and in time spotted a mate in a distant country. Again drawing on his divine powers, he coerced the woman to get in a small boat, cross the seas, and once on the island become his wife. From this union, it is said, the Ainu people were born.
This rings a bell for most, because the wolf-suckling story is very similar to the familiar Romulus and Remus myth of the founding of Rome( see statue below).
The wolf holds great importance in the cultures and religions of the nomadic peoples, both of the Eurasian steppe and of the North American Plains. In many cultures, the identification of the warrior with the wolf (totemism) gave rise to the notion of Lycanthropy, the mythical or ritual identification of man and wolf. (The wolf in the Scandinavian tradition as either representing the warrior or as a symbol of Odin, sometimes combined with the Christian symbolism as the wolf representing evil or the devi.)
Turkic (Asena/Ashina) and Mongols:
In the mythology of the Turkic and Mongolian peoples, the wolf is a revered animal. The shamanic Turkic peoples even believed they were descendants of wolves. The legend of Asena is an old Turkic myth that tells of how the Turkic people were created. In Northern China a small Turkic village was raided by Chinese soldiers, but one small baby was left behind. An old she-wolf with a sky-blue mane named Asena found the baby and nursed him, then the she-wolf gave birth to half-wolf, half-human cubs, from whom the Turkic people were born. Also in Turkic mythology it is believed that a gray wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland Ergenekon, which allowed them to spread and conquer their neighbours. In modern Turkey this myth inspired extreme-right nationalist groups known as “Grey Wolves”. As with most ancient peoples’ beliefs, the wolf was thought to possess spiritual powers, and that parts of its body retained specific powers that could be used by people for various needs.
In the Secret History of the Mongols, the Mongol peoples are said to have descended from the mating of a doe (Gua maral) and a wolf (‘Boerte chino’). In Modern Mongolia, the wolf is still seen as a good luck symbol, especially for males. In Mongolian folk medicine, eating the intestines of a wolf is said to alleviate chronic indigestion, while sprinkling food with powdered wolf rectum is said to cure hemorroids. Mongol mythology explains the wolf’s occasional habit of surplus killing by pointing to their traditional creation story. It states that when God explained to the wolf what it should and should not eat, he told it that it may eat one sheep out of 1,000. The wolf however misunderstood and thought God said kill 1,000 sheep and eat one. (Source: Wolves in folklore, religion and mythology)
The Grey Wolf Legend
The wolf is a common motif in the foundational mythologies and cosmologies of peoples throughout Eurasia and North America (corresponding to the historical extent of the habitat of the gray wolf). The Wolf symbolizes honor and is also considered the mother of most Turkic peoples. Asena is the name of one of the ten sons who were given birth by a mythical wolf in Turkic mythology.
The legend tells of a young boy who survived a battle. A she-wolf finds the injured child and nurses him back to health. He subsequently impregnates the wolf which then gives birth to ten half-wolf, half-human boys. One of these, Ashina, becomes their leader and instaures the Ashina clan which ruled the Göktürks and other Turkic nomadic empires. The wolf, pregnant with the boy’s offspring, escaped her enemies by crossing the Western Sea to a cave near to the Qocho mountains, one of the cities of the Tocharians. The first Turks subsequently migrated to the Altai regions, where they are known as expert in ironworkers, as the Scythians are also known to have been.
The Ergenekon legend tells about a great crisis of the ancient Turks. According to legend, after a big defeat the Turks settled into a very inaccessible valley called Ergenekon, led by a wolf. But after many generations this valley would be too narrow for all these people and they are looking for a way to leave this valley. They forged and melt a mountain of iron ore, and returned to form the Göktürk empire.
Japanese wolf traditions are possibly descended from early lineages from the continental steppe nomadic Asman-Ashina-Wusun-Xianbei and Iranian-Saka-Scythian and/or Turkic-Mongol having contributed their gene pool and influences. The Wusun were also connected with the Ashina and Gokturks (see ensuing section below).
The article Why Soma and Sake are both the drink of the gods traces Japan’s ancient connections with the Saka-Ashina people:
Ashina, who are known as the Tribe of Wolf, and to have emerged from Xinjiang into the Altai Mountains, in 12-13 centuries among the Mongolian tribe Chonos, to whom according to legend, the Wolf was supposed to be sacred. Ptolemy (VI, 14, 177 CE) knew an Asman tribe, located east of the Volga who were said to have descended from a leader who had been left in the wild, miraculously saved from hunger by suckling from a she-wolf…the Chinese Han records described them as occupying land that previously belonged to the Saka (Sai). Early Khazar rulers came from the Ashina tribe, out of which the ruling dynasty of the ancient Turks also rose to prominence in the mid-6th century.
The Ashina clan were considered to be the chosen of the sky god Tengri and the Türks venerated their ancestors, annually conducting special ceremonies at the ancestral cave from which they believed the Ashina had sprung. Yet, despite the supreme deity of the Turks was Tengri, the sky god, it was the cult of the wolf that was politically far more important. The Ashinas dynasty named the state they established as Kök-Türk. Asena (Ashina Tuwu) according to tradition is the wolf mother of Bumin, the first Khan of the Göktürk. The recent re-reading of the Bugut inscription, the oldest inscription of the Ashina dynasty, written in Sogdian, by a Japanese team of philologists has proven that the name, known only with the Chinese transcription of Ashina, was in fact Ashinas. It is in fact known in later Arabic sources under this form the term bori, used to identify the ruler’s retinue as ‘wolves’, probably also derived from one of the Iranian languages” (Carter Vaughin Findley).
Turk and Mongolian wolflore:
In Turkic mythology it is believed that a gray wolf showed the Turks the way out of their legendary homeland Ergenekon, which allowed them to spread and conquer their neighbours. Turkic shamans believed they were descendants of wolves.
The legend of Asena is an old Turkic myth that tells of how the Turkic people were created. In Northern China, a small Turkic village was raided by Chinese soldiers, but one small baby was left behind. An old she-wolf with a sky-blue mane named Asena found the baby and nursed him, then the she-wolf gave birth to half-wolf, half-human cubs, from whom the Turkic people were born.
The legend tells of a young boy who survived a battle. A she-wolf finds the injured child and nurses him back to health. He subsequently impregnates the wolf which then gives birth to ten half-wolf, half-human boys. One of these, Ashina, becomes their leader and installs the Ashina clan which ruled the Göktürks and other Turkic nomadic empires. The wolf, pregnant with the boy’s offspring, escaped her enemies by crossing the Western Sea to a cave near to the Qocho mountains, one of the cities of the Tocharians. The first Turks subsequently migrated to the Altai regions, where they are known as expert blacksmiths, as the Scythians are also known to have been The legend tells of a young boy who survived a battle. A she-wolf finds the injured child and nurses him back to health. He subsequently impregnates the wolf which then gives birth to ten half-wolf, half-human boys. One of these, Ashina, becomes their leader and installs the Ashina clan which ruled the Göktürks and other Turkic nomadic empires. The wolf, pregnant with the boy’s offspring, escaped her enemies by crossing the Western Sea to a cave near to the Qocho mountains, one of the cities of the Tocharians. The first Turks subsequently migrated to the Altai regions, where they are known as expert blacksmiths, as the Scythians are also known to have been (Source: Christopher I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present, Princeton University Press, 2011, p.9)
The Tibetans attribute their Grey Wolf traditions to the Mongol royal house, and not the Tibetans, see Mynak R. Tulku, “Grey wolf in Tibetan tradition,” Bulletin of Tibetology 1967 No. 2, or the Notes on The Grey Wolf Symbol, via Digital Himalaya:
“The Grey Wolf legend is of Mongol origin rather than Tibetan, although the Mongol historian Ssanang Setzen makes the Mongol royal house spring from that of Tibet. The ruler of Tibet, Dalai Subin Aru Altan Shireghetu, was murdered by his minister Longnam who usurped the royal power. The murdered king had three sons, one of whom was called Sha-za-thi (flesh-eater). When the Mongols took over this legend they made the name Sha-za-thi into Bortechinua, which means the grey-blue wolf. This son went and settled near Lake Baikal, becoming ruler of the Bede people. He took a lady from the Gongbo people named Goa-maral (bitch-woman) to wife and this helped the growth of the legend that the Mongols were of wolfish nature. Klaproth says that the Mongol Lamas wished to flatter their royal house by tracing their lineage to Tibet, a country more advanced in culture and religion. (See Howorth: History of the Mongols, pp. 32-34)
The story of the wolf also occurs in Chinese sources and the murder of Dalai Subin is confrmed by Tibetan chronicles. Apparently the ancestors of the ancient Turks were massacred by a neighboring tribe, all but a child 10 years old whose hands and feet were cut off. He was nourished by a wolf, which protected him from enemies by hiding him in a cave. The female wolf bore ten male cubs who gave their names to their families. The child, named Asena (or Asena), became their chief. (This is the most popular version of the legend)”.
“Thus the grey wolf (bozhurt) became an omen of happy import among the ancient Turks. The emblem ppeared on the standards of the Huns and the Ulghurs. The Oguz branch of the Turks was said to have been guided by a wolf on their migrations and in the early epic of Oguz Kagan, the latter is said to resemble a wolf physically. The wolf device does not seem to have been used as an emblem for some time after the Turks became Muslims–probably because of religious scruples–out it was revived by Ataturk”.
From the above comparative survey of wolf superstitions, including half-wolf-half-human legends and royal genealogies, and beliefs in shapeshifters, we see that the belief in ancient times spanned five continents, was pan-Eurasia, and that while Chinese and Japanese beliefs could be traced to Iranic and/or Mongol-Turk interactions, the beliefs dominated the Indo-European-Iranian mythical landscape and thinking which suggests to us that Caroline Taylor Stewart, writing in 1909 was not far off from the truth, with her conclusion in The origin of the wolf superstition:
“The werewolf superstition in Europe arose probably while the Greeks, Romans, Kelts and Germanic peoples were still in contact with each other, if not in the original Indo-Germanic home, for they all have the superstition (unless, as above, we prefer to regard the belief as arising in various localities in process of psychical development under similar conditions ; namely, when people still lived principally by the chase. 26 ) Probably the primitive Indo-European man before and at the time of the origin of the werewolf superstition, was almost helpless in the presence of inexorable nature. This was before he used metal for weapons. The great business of life was to secure food. Food was furnished from three sources, roots, berries, animals, and the most important of these was animals. 27 “
Sushen or Jurchen-Tungusic tribes:
For others, Sushen was an ancient ethnic group or people who dwelt in northeastern part of China and the Russian Maritime Province, in the area of modern Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, active during the Zhou Dynasty period. They are believed to have been the ancestors of the Jurchen, and subsequently of the Manchu, Nanai and many other Tungusic peoples. Former Dr. Zhu Xueyuan derives the name from the related Manchu word Aisin and the early tribe Wusun (Asin or Osin) pronounced earlier in archaic Chinese, a group of people which he highly considered as a Tungusic people. Zhu asserted that the Xiongnu’s tribe Juqu was evidently related to Juji (old pronouncing of Jurchen), and that the Yuezhi was belonged to another Tungusic tribe named Wuzhe, which could all ultimately traced back to the roots of Sushen. According to Guoyu and Shanhaijing published in the Zhanguo period (476–221 BCE), Sushen was the name of the tribe who lived in Shandong and border of Liaoxi area, and the ancestors of the Mohe or Malgal people.
A related nomadic steppe people called ‘Wusun’ (probably pronounced o-sen or us-sen) are to be noted here because their name means ; literally “Grandchildren of The Crow”Wu = ‘crow’ or ‘raven’ + Sun = ‘grandson’ (Chinese: 烏孫) . Wusun legendary ancestral history claims that they are descended from an infant son, abandoned in the wild, miraculously saved from hunger by suckling from a she-wolf, as well as by being fed meat by ravens. This ancestor myth is shared by the ruling Ashina clan of the Göktürks (Asena legend), and many other Eurasian peoples.
According to Wikipedia’s entry on The Wūsūn, they were
“either an Indo-European speaking or Turkic speaking    nomadic or semi-nomadic steppe people who, the Chinese histories say originally lived in western Gansu in northwest China, near the Yuezhi people. After being defeated by the Xiongnu (circa 176 BCE) they fled to the region of the Ili river and (lake) Issyk Kul where they remained for at least five centuries and formed a powerful force.
They are mentioned in Chinese historical sources in 436 CE, when a Chinese envoy was sent to their country and the Wusun reciprocated. Their later fate is connected with the Turkic Kaganates and the sudden reversals of fortune that fell on Central Asia and, specifically, the Zhetysu area. Considerable traces of their impact on surrounding peoples and events were left in Persian, Muslim, Turkic, and Russian sources extending from the 6th century CE to the present. The modern Uysyn who number approximately 250,000 people, are regarded by some as the modern descendants of the Wusun. The Uysyn have two branches, Dulat and Sary Uysyn (“Yellow Uysyn”).” [Usysn live mostly in modern-day Kazakhstan today, but an Uysyn diaspora also exists in modern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.]
Another Wikipedia entry on the Uysyn traces their origins in the Xiongnu, their historical migrations, and their connections to the Ashina Turks, Rouran-Tuoba, Mongolic Xianbei as well as to the Saka tribes:
Chinese records first mention the “Ushi” in Andin and Pinlian (modern Pinlian and Guüan in the Peoples Republic of China), between the Lu-hun and Kuyan tribes. The transcription of Ushi means “raven generation”, and is semantically identical with U-sun – “raven descendants”. The presence of a raven as clan totem among the ancient Usuns is beyond doubt. In Usun legend, the ancestors of the Usuns were a raven and a wolf. This is reflected in the Usun-Ashina (Oshin) tamga with an image of raven.
The first historical records concerning the Wusun name them as a separate and distinct tribe of the Xiongnu confederacy, living on the territory of the modern province of Gansu, in the valley of the Ushui-he (Chinese Raven river). It is not clear whether the river was named after the Usun tribe or vice versa.
To the west the Usuns bordered Kangju, located in modern Kazakhstan. It was twice as weak as the Usuns, and served as a buffer between the Xiongnu and the Yuezhi. To the south of the Usuns was Sogdiana, which then consisted of 70 sovereign mini-states. East of the Usuns towered the Xiongnu state.
Early in their history, the Usuns migrated in three stages, lasting near two hundred years. The first exodus from Shaanxi to Tsilyan-shan in around 410 BC was forced by the Yuezhi. Between 410 BC and 177 BC, the Usuns were vassals of the Tocharic Yuezhi coalition.
The second migration in about 178 BC, was connected with the Xiongnu prince Modu Chanyu’s campaign against the Yuezhi, and resulted in the reconquest by the Usuns of their Sichen homeland.
The third migration in c.160 BC was a deliberate displacement by the Usuns of the defeated Asii from their temporary residence in Zhetysu. In 160 BC, after the death of the Hun’s supreme Chanyu Laoshan (173-161), the Usuns separated from the Xiongnu and migrated to the region of the Ili River and Issyk Kul (Lake Issyk), established their independence, and formed a powerful state in the Zhetysu area. Chinese historical annals offer a demographic description of the Usuns at that time, stating that they numbered 630,000 people and 120,000 families.
In 5 BC, during the reign of Uchjulü-Chanyu (8 BC – AD 13), the Usuns attempted to raid Chuban pastures, but Uchjulü-Chanyu repulsed them, and the Usun commander had to send his son to the Chuban court as a hostage. The forceful intervention of the Chinese usurper Wan Man and internal strife brought disorder, and in 2 BC one of the Usun chietains brought 80,000 Usuns to Kangju[Sogdiana], asking for Kankalis help against Chinese. In a vain attempt to reconcile with China, he was duped and killed in AD 3.
The Usuns left multiple diaspora islands along their centuries-old trek. As a rule, part of a tribe remained in the old habitats and later on participated in new ethnic unions. Usun principalities are known in the Ordos Desert. Separate Usun princedoms existed for a long time in the Khangai Mountains and along the Bogdoshan ridge.
In the 2nd century AD, after disintegration of the Xiongnu confederacy, the hegemony over the nomads of Zhetysu and Xinjiang passed to the Xianbei people. Before 160 CE the Xianbei, linguistically Tungus or Mongolian with strong Turkic admixture, were politically amorphous, and for centuries were controlled by the Xiongnu. Between 155 and 165 CE, the Xyanbei chieftain Tanshihai took over the Xiongnu empire. Resisting Xiongnu were displaced to beyond Tarbagatai, the Dingling were displaced to beyond the Sayans, and the Usun and Chuban in Zhetysu were brought under Xianbei control. This lasted through the 2nd-4th century CE.
In the 4th-6th century CE the Rouran took over control of the Eurasian steppes. In 436 CE the Rouran dislodged the Usun to the Tian-Shan mountains
With the rise of the First Turkic Kaganate in 552 CE, the Usun fell into the newly formed state, ruled by the same royal Ashina clan on the male side, and by the Ediz Katun clan on the female side.
After the Turkic Kaganate split into the Western Turkic Khaganate and Eastern Turkic Khaganate in 603 CE, the Usun remained in the Western Turkic Khaganate, ruled by the Kagans from the Ashina clan. At the beginning of the 7th century CE the peoples of the Western Turkic Kaganate separated into two groups, divided by the river Chu: to the west lived the Dulu, and to the east lived the Nushibi. … The Dulu were the ancestors of the Dulat, nowadays the most numerous and strongest clan of the Uysyns. Next to the Dulu, the Chinese chronicles mention the Chuban, in which name another clan of the modern Uysyns, the Suan is recognized.
The kaganate was overrun by Chinese forces under Su Dingfang in 658-659, bringing the Usun under direct Chinese control for nearly half a century, amassing detailed information in the Chinese annals.
Centuries after the migration of the main masses of the Usun population west to Zhetysu, the name Usun appeared again in the east in the text of the monument to the Turkic prince Tonyukuk, in the description of the new pastoral routes of the eastern Turks: “I brought troops to the cities of Shantung (“Mountainous East”) and to the sea river (Huang He). They destroyed twenty three cities and remained to live in the land of the Usyn union (“Usun bundatu yurt”)”. The text allows to locate the “Usun bundatu yurt” on the northern branch of the Huang He in the Sichen area, and another group in Ordos, noted by many medieval and modern authors. Remains of the ancient Usuns of northern and northwestern China continued their existence for a long time in separate Usun princedoms in Khangai and in Beitin-Bishbalyk.
After restoration of the Turkic Kaganate in the 682-745 period, usually referred to as the Second Turkic Kaganate, the Usuns again were incorporated into the kaganate. At its dismemberment the Usuns fell under the Uyghur Khaganate (745-840 CE). After the fall of the Uyghur Khaganate at the arms of the Kyrgyz in 840 CE, the Usun were squeezed out of Zhetysu by the victorious Kirgiz, and were incorporated into the Kyrgyz Kaganate. The Kyrgyz Kaganate maintained its dominance for about 200 years.
In the 12th century, as a result of the rising Mongol expansion, the Kyrgyz domination shrunk, and with the rise of the Mongol Empire early in the 13th century the Usun fell under Chingisid rule.
In their westward advance in the 1253-1254, the Hulagu army passed through Zhetysu, and the Persian historian Rashid-ad-din (1247–1318) wrote his “History of the Mongols” from the words of the Mongols who in 1255 came to Persia with the Hulagu-Khan, indicating that at that time the Uysyn lived in the mountains near the river Chu. Rashid-ad-din calls the Uysyn Uyshun, they were Chagataid subjects. Nowadays one kishlak in Tashkent province is called Uyshun, as Uzbeks and Karakirgizes pronounce Uysyn, its inhabitants claim they are Uysyns.
The Han Chinese:
The Chinese tradition of the Canis major in the skies was probably a legacy from interactions with the Persian magi or Iranian astronomers, for they had a belief in the Heavenly Dog or Tian-kou, as well as from ancient interactions with Mongolic and Turkish nomads. The tengu of Japanese folklore is said to be derived from the tiangou, although we maintain here that the tengu which is usually depicted as a bird, or man with a long nose and other bird-like characteristics, has a different provenance from a raven rather than from a dog.
Chinese immortal, Zhang Guo shooting at a tiangou
From their interactions with the Northern nomadic tribes, they also inherited werewolf folklore.
The Chinese also have their werewolves called “langren”, as well as a popular fairy-tale called The Wolf of Zhongshan that originally appeared in the Hǎishuō Gǔjīn as an anonymous text with no known author, although it has generally been attributed to Ma Zhongxi (马中锡) (1446-1512). It is a morality tale about ingratitude begetting its just desserts, that veers away from the others under consideration here, more akin.
West of the Altai and Western Asia:
Which brings us back to Rome’s Romulus and Remus. Roman: The Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus. Musei Capitolini, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome.
According to the Roman tradition, a wolf was responsible for the childhood survival of the future founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus — The twin babies were ordered to be killed by their great uncle Amulius. After being placed on the banks of the Tiber river, a flood, rose and gently carried the cradle and the twins downstream, where they were adopted by a she-wolf known as Lupa in Latin, an animal sacred to Mars. As a consequence, the Italian Wolf is the national animal of the modern Italian Republic.
According to “Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folklore” by Walter K. Kelley , the origin of the werewolf tradition is in the lands of Arya, that “there is no European nation of Aryan descent in which it has not existed since time immemorial, or the germs of it more or less developed must have been brought by them all from Arya…It was also a primeval notion that there were dogs and wolves among the dwellers in hell. and Weber who has shown this was entertained by the early Hindus” (p. 242-243).
Below we examine more versions of wolf legends and myths from Indo-European lands.
Once upon a time there was a youth who used to herd buffaloes; and as he watched his animals graze he noticed that exactly at noon every day a she-dog used to make its way to a ravine, in which there were some pools of water. This made him curious and he wondered to whom it belonged and what it did in the ravine. So he decided to watch, and one day when the dog came he hid himself and saw that when it got to the water, it shed its dog skin, and out stepped a beautiful maiden and began to bathe. And when she had finished bathing she put on the skin and became a dog again, and went off to the village. The herdboy followed her and watched into what house she entered, and he inquired to whom the house belonged. Having found out all about it, he went back to his work.
That year the herdboy’s father and mother decided that it was time for him to marry and began to look about for a wife for him. But he announced that he had made up his mind to have a dog for his wife, and he would never marry a human girl.
Everyone laughed at him for such an extraordinary idea, but he could not be moved. So at last they concluded that he must really have the soul of a dog in him, and that it was best to let him have his own way. So his father and mother asked him whether there was any particular dog he would like to have for his bride, and then he gave the name of the man into whose house he had tracked the dog that he had seen going to the ravine. The master of the dog laughed at the idea that anyone should wish to marry her, and gladly accepted a bride’s price for her. So a day was fixed for the wedding and the booth built for the ceremony, and the bridegroom’s party went to the bride’s house, and the marriage took place in due form, and the bride was escorted to her husband’s house.
Every night when her husband was asleep, the bride used to come out of the dog’s skin and go out of the house. And when her husband found out this, he one night only pretended to go to sleep and lay watching her. And when she was about to leave the room he jumped up and caught hold of her and seizing the dog skin, threw it into the fire, where it was burnt to ashes. So his bride remained a woman, but she was of more than human beauty. This soon became known in the village, and everyone congratulated the herdboy on his wisdom in marrying a dog.
Now the herdboy had a friend named Jitu, and when Jitu saw what a prize his friend had got, he thought that he could not do better than marry a dog himself. His relations made no objection, and a bride was selected, and the marriage took place, but when they were putting vermilion on the bride’s forehead she began to growl; but in spite of her growling they dragged her to the bridegroom’s house, and forcibly anointed her with oil and turmeric. But when the bride’s party set off home, the dog broke loose and ran after them. Then everyone shouted to Jitu to run after his bride and bring her back, but she only growled and bit at him, so that he had at last to give it up.
Then everyone laughed at him so much that he was too ashamed to speak, and two or three days later he hanged himself.
Source: Cecil Henry Bompas, Folklore of the Santal Parganas (London: David Nutt, 1909), no. 85, pp. 254-256.
From the preface: “The Santals are a Munda tribe, a branch of that aboriginal element which probably entered India from the northeast. At the present day they inhabit the eastern outskirts of the Chutia Nagpore plateau…. The Santal Parganas is a district 4800 square miles in area, lying about 150 miles north of Calcutta.”
In the Rig Veda, Rijrsava is blinded by his father as punishment for having given 101 of his family’s sheep to a she-wolf, who in turn prays to the Ashvins to restore his sight. Wolves are occasionally mentioned in Hindu mythology. In the Harivamsa, Krishna, to convince the people of Vraja to migrate to Vrindavan, creates hundreds of wolves from his hairs, which frighten the inhabitants of Vraja into making the journey.Bhima, the voracious son of the god Vayu, is described as Vrikodara, meaning “wolf-stomached”.
Caucasian: In Chechen (and generally also Ingush) lore, wolves are almost always portrayed in a positive light, either as an equivalent for the nation, or as the loving “Wolf Mother”. The Chechen people are symbolically said to be variously related to wolves (not in a serious way, but in an either symbolic or joking manner), probably in relation to the “Wolf Mother” legend. Hence, characteristics of the wolf are also frequently compared to the Chechen people in a poetic sense, including the most famous line that members of the Chechen nation are “free and equal like wolves”. Given this reverence for the wolf, it is easily the most common symbol used by Chechen nationalists.
Wolf clans are often equated to Chechen teips. The wolf for Chechens is not only the national animal, but also the national embodiment, and the wolf is frequently used to show pride. It is notable that the equation of “wolves = Chechens” also in some ways relates to the Chechen character, as it reflects the way Chechens see themselves (and to a degree, how others see them): intelligent, organized in clans, loyal, and brave.
The point of Chechens being “related” to wolves even goes to the point of the national founding myth- Turpalo-Noxchuo, the “founder” of the Chechen nation in legend, was raised by the Wolf Mother. It is also said that Chechens are descended from Turpalo-Noxchuo and the Wolf Mother like “sparks off steel”
There was an enchanted mill, so that no one could stay there, because a she-wolf always haunted it. A soldier went once into the mill to sleep. He made a fire in the parlor, went up into the garret above, bored a hole with an auger in the floor, and peeped down into the parlor.
A she-wolf came in and looked about the mill to see whether she could find anything to eat. She found nothing, and then went to the fire, and said, “Skin down! Skin down! Skin down!” She raised herself upon her hind-legs, and her skin fell down. She took the skin, and hung it on a peg, and out of the wolf came a damsel. The damsel went to the fire, and fell asleep there.
He came down from the garret, took the skin, nailed it fast to the mill-wheel, then came into the mill, shouted over her, and said, “Good morning, damsel! How do you do?
She began to scream, “Skin on me! Skin on me! Skin on me!” But the skin could not come down, for it was fast nailed.
The pair married and had two children.
As soon as the elder son got to know that his mother was a wolf, he said to her, “Mamma! Mamma! I have heard that you are a wolf.”
His mother replied, “What nonsense are you talking! How can you say that I am a wolf?”
The father of the two children went one day into the field to plow, and his son said, “Papa, let me, too, go with you.”
His father said, “Come.”
When they had come to the field, the son asked his father, “Papa, is it true that our mother is a wolf?”
The father said, “It is.”
The son inquired, “And where is her skin?”
His father said, “There it is, on the mill-wheel.”
No sooner had the son got home, than he said at once to his mother, “Mamma! Mamma! You are a wolf! I know where your skin is.”
His mother asked him, “Where is my skin?”
He said, “There, on the mill-wheel.”
His mother said to him, “Thank you, sonny, for rescuing me.” Then she went away, and was never heard of more.
“The She-Wolf” is, of course, a variant of the many werewolf legends that exist throughout Europe. Link to additional werewolf legends.
The Werewolf Wife (by A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz)
In Caseburg on the island of Usedom a man and his wife were cutting hay in a meadow. After a while the woman told the man that she was uneasy and could not stay there any longer, and she went away. Earlier she had told him that if a wild animal were to come upon him he should throw his hat toward it and run away, and then no harm would come to him. The man had promised her that he would do this.
After the woman had been away for a while, a wolf swam across the Swina and approached the harvesters. The man threw his hat at it, which the beast immediately ripped into small pieces. Meanwhile one of the workers crept up to the wolf with a pitchfork and stabbed it to death from behind. Instantly it was transformed. They were all astounded to see that it was the farmer’s wife that the worker had killed.
Today the island of Usedom lies mostly in German, partly in Polish territory. The straight of Swina separates the Polish portion of Usedom from mainland Poland.
Source: A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz, Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1848), no. 22, pp. 18-19.
The Werewolf: Another (German) Legend (by Karl Lyncker)
A married couple in Hessen lived in poverty. To the husband’s amazement, the wife nevertheless was able to serve meat for every meal. For a long time she kept it a secret where she got the meat, but finally she promised to reveal it to him, under the condition that he not call out her name as it was happening. Together they went to a field where a herd of sheep was grazing. The woman walked toward the sheep, and as she approached them, she threw a ring over herself and instantly turned into a werewolf. She fell upon the sheep, seized one of them, and fled. The man stood there as though petrified. However, when he saw the shepherd and the dogs running after the werewolf, thus endangering his wife, he forgot his promise and called out: “Margaret!” With that the wolf disappeared, and the woman was left standing naked in the field.
Source: Karl Lyncker, Deutsche Sagen und Sitten in hessischen Gauen, (Cassel: Verlag von Oswald Bertram, 1854), no. 163, pp. 107-108
A Witch as Werewolf (by Karl Bartsch)
Once a witch was crossing a field in the form of a werewolf in order to bewitch a farmer’s cows. Her husband came upon her, and when he saw the wolf, he was afraid that it might be his wife, so he called out, “Marie, Marie, what are you doing here?”
This frightened the woman, who turned herself back into her human form. But even as the man approached her, long red hair was still hanging from her neck and breast, and her eyes were still glowing like wolf’s eyes.
Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), v. 1, no. 185, pp. 150-151.
Bartsch’s source is a “Frau H.” from Wustrow.
The Saxons called the Gallows the Wolf-Tree, and wolves were hung beside thieves and robbers – Curiosities of Indo-European Traditions and Folklores (p.256)
The pan-Germanic tribes of Europe have a wolf-associated deity called Wodan a word that emerged from the Proto-Germanic period word *Wōđanaz c. 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. During the Migration Period, c. 3rd to 7th centuries, Wodanaz became Woden, Wodan and the earliest records of the name Wodan date to the 6th-century Hiberno-Scottish mission. Some German sacred formulae, known as the “Merseburger Zaubersprüche” (“Merseburg Charms”) were written down in c AD 800 and survived to the present time. One (this is the second of the two) describes Wodan in the role of a healer.
In the Proto-Norse the equivalent was *Wodinaz. During the Viking Age, c. 8th to 12th centuries: Scandinavian Óðinn emerged when in Old Norse the word-initial *w- was dropped before rounded vowels and so the name became Óðinn). Adam von Bremen etymologizes the god worshipped by the 11th-century Scandinavian pagans as “Wodan id est furor” (“Wodan, which means ‘fury'”).
Old Norse had two different words spelled óðr, one an adjective and the other a noun. The adjective means “mad, frantic, furious, violent”, and is cognate with Old English wōd. The noun means “mind, wit, soul, sense” and “song, poetry”, and is cognate with Old English wōþ. In compounds, óð- means “fiercely energetic” (e.g. óð-málugr “speaking violently, excited”). Both Old Norse words are from Proto-Germanic *wōþuz, continuing Pre-Germanic *wātus.
It was common, particularly amongst the Cimbri, to sacrifice a prisoner to Odin prior to or after a battle. Though long considered to be a Germanic tribe, genetic studies seem to prove a Celtic descent of most inhabitants in the region, a theory that is reinforced by the Gaulish toponyms such as those ending with the suffix -ago < Celtic -*ako(n). Cimbrian town Asiago is clearly the same place-name as the numerous Azay, Aisy, Azé, Ezy in France, all from *Asiacum < Gaulish *Asiāko(n).
A possible, but uncertain, cognate is Sanskrit api-vat- “to excite, awaken” (RV 1.128.2). The Proto-Indo-European meaning of the root is therefore reconstructed as relating to spiritual excitation. The Old Norse semantic split is reflected in Adam von Bremen’s testimony of the synchronic understanding of the name as “fury”, rather than “poetry” or similar.
Úlfhéðnar are sometimes described as Odin’s special warriors, with the pelt from a wolf and a spear as distinguishing features. The Úlfhéðnar (singular Úlfhéðinn), mentioned in the Vatnsdœla saga, Haraldskvæði and the Völsunga saga, were said to wear the pelt of a wolf when they entered battle. These Norse warriors were also known as Berserkers (or berserks) who are reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk.
Wuodan was the chief god of the Alamanni, his name appears in the runic inscription on the Nordendorf fibula.
“Odhin” (1901) by Johannes Gehrts. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241) wrote the following description of berserkers in his Ynglinga saga:
His (Odin’s) men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them. This was called Berserkergang.
The Scandinavian Óðinn emerged from Proto-Norse *Wōdin during the Migration period, Vendel artwork (bracteates, image stones) depicting the earliest scenes that can be aligned with the High Medieval Norse mythological texts. See more on Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Scandinavian legends of descent from Wodanaz/ Wodan / Woden/ Wodin/Odin (chief god of the Germanic pantheon) below:
The Anglo-Saxon tribes brought their pagan faith to England around the 5th and 6th centuries and continued in that form of worship until nearly all were converted to Christianity by the 8th century. The Anglo-Saxon kings claimed descent from Woden. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Historia Britonum, Woden had the sons Wecta, Baeldaeg, Casere and Wihtlaeg, who in turn were ancestors of the royal houses of the Heptarchy. Other manifestations of Woden in England are confined to a scattering of place-names and an even smaller number of literary mentions in the Old English poems Maxims I (line 132) and in the so-called Nine Herbs Charm (line 32)….
Depictions of warriors in the 6th to 7th century, performing a ritual dance show one dancer in a wolf-costume and another wearing a helmet with two birds’ heads (in Anglo-Saxon iconography, two dancers with such helmets are attested on the Sutton Hoo helmet, but not the warrior in wolf-costume). Both figures are armed with spears and swords. The scene is mostly associated with the cult of Wodan/Wodin. The horned helmet has precedents in similar ritual dances in depictions dating to the Nordic Bronze Age, but the re-interpretation of the “horns” as birds of prey appears to be a development original to the 6th century. The twin dancers may correspond to the twin sons of the sky-god, known to Tacitus as Alcis. With the rise of the cult Wodan/Wodin in place of Teiwaz in the course of the Migration period, Tyr ultimately became a son of Odin in Eddaic mythology (and both Tyr and Odin remain associated with wolves). The two birds’ heads on the dancers’ helmets have a parallel in the two ravens of Eddaic Odin, Hugin and Munin.
Another recurring scene shows a warrior fighting two wild beasts (wolves or bears, compared to the Eddaic Geri and Freki). Thus, Spiedel (2004) connects Geri and Freki with archaeological finds depicting figures wearing wolf-pelts and frequently found wolf-related names among the Germanic peoples, including Wulfhroc (“Wolf-Frock”), Wolfhetan (“Wolf-Hide”), Isangrim (“Grey-Mask”), Scrutolf (“Garb-Wolf”) and Wolfgang (“Wolf-Gait”), Wolfdregil (“Wolf-Runner”), and Vulfolaic (“Wolf-Dancer”) and myths regarding wolf warriors from Norse mythology (such as the Úlfhéðnar). Parallels in the 6th- to 7th-century iconography of Vendel period Sweden (Öland; Ekhammar), in Alemannia (Gutenstein; Obrigheim) as well as in England (Sutton Hoo; Finglesham, Kent) suggest a persisting “pan-Germanic” unity of a wolf-warrior band cult centered around Wodan/Wodin in Scandinavia, in Anglo-Saxon England and on the Continent right until the eve of Christianization of England and Alemannia in the 7th century.
Wolf-headed warrior, Vendel era bronze plate found on Öland (late 6th-century Sweden)Spiedel, Michael (2004).
Norse legends or mythology prominently includes three malevolent wolves, in particular: the giant Fenrisulfr or Fenrir, eldest child of Loki and Angrboda who was feared and hated by the Æsir, and Fenrisulfr’s children, Sköll and Hati. but… the wolves Geri and Freki were the Norse god Odin’s faithful pets who were reputed to be “of good omen.” However, the wolves were also considered to be more than beasts, but mythical beings:
“This is why Geri and Freki, the wolves at Woden’s side, also glowered on the throne of the Anglo-Saxon kings. Wolf-warriors, like Geri and Freki, were not mere animals but mythical beings: as Woden’s followers they bodied forth his might, and so did wolf-warriors.” — Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan’s Column to Icelandic Sagas. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31199-3, 24—28).
The wolf in the Scandinavian tradition as either representing the warrior or as a symbol of Odin, sometimes combined with the Christian symbolism as the wolf representing evil or the devil.
Unlike fox and bear, the wolf has always been feared and hated in Finland, and wolf has been the symbol of destruction and desolation, to the extent that the very name of wolf in Finnish language, susi, means also “a useless thing” and the by-name hukka means perdition and annihilation. While bear has been the sacred animal of Finns, wolves have always been hunted and killed mercilessly. The wolf has been represented as implacable and malicious predator, killing more than it manages to eat.
Baltic: According to legend, the establishment of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius began when the grand duke Gediminas dreamt of an iron wolf howling near the hill.
Alaskan Inuit: Wolves were generally revered by tribes that survived by hunting, but were thought little of by those that survived through agriculture. Some tribes, such as the Nunamiut of northern and northwestern Alaska and the Naskapi of Labrador respected the wolf’s hunting skill and tried to emulate the wolf in order to hunt successfully. Others see the wolf as a guide. The Tanaina of Alaska believed that wolves were once men, and viewed them as brothers
The Christian symbolism where the wolf represents the devil, or evil, being after the “sheep” who are the living faithful, is found frequently in western literature.
In Canto I of Dante’s Inferno, the Pilgrim encounters a She-Wolf blocking the path to a hill bathed in light. The She-Wolf represents the sins of concupiscence and incontinence. She is prophecised by the shade of Virgil to one day be sent to Hell by a greyhound.
In the Cardinal directions of the Plains Indians, the wolf represented the west, while for the Pawnee, it represented the southeast. According to the Pawnee creation myth, the wolf was the first creature to experience death. The Wolf Star, enraged at not having been invited to attend a council on how the Earth should be made, sent a wolf to steal the whirlwind bag of The Storm that Comes out of the West, which contained the first humans. Upon being freed from the bag, the humans killed the wolf, thus bringing death into the world. The Pawnee, being both an agricultural and hunting people, associated the wolf with both corn and the bison; the “birth” and “death” of the Wolf Star (Sirius) was to them a reflection of the wolf’s coming and going down the path of the Milky Way known as Wolf Road.
Wolves were not always portrayed positively in Native American cultures. The Netsilik Inuit and Takanaluk-arnaluk believed that the sea-woman Nuliayuk’s home was guarded by wolves. The Naskapi’s believed that the caribou afterlife is guarded by giant wolves that kill careless hunters who venture too near. The Navajo people feared witches in wolf’s clothing called “Mai-cob”. Wolves were feared by the Tsilhqot’in, who believed that contact with wolves would result in nervous illness or death.
Beyond the above wolf-associated peoples, read more details about the Iranian ancient identification with wolf totems, a fuller treatment is given in a survey of many more Roman, Germanic and Slavic legends at Descent from Wolves – Wolf Tribes of the World.
To read more, see Descended from Wolves: Wolf Symbolism around the World