Science

When Norse mythology and Viking legends give pride of place to wolves

Fascinating, frightening, the wolf has been revered and stalked by turns. The exhibition “Wolf stories: portraits, myths and symbols“which takes place from June 5 until October 24, 2021 at the Fabrique des Savoirs in Elbeuf,”wide breaststroke“, as emphasized by its commissioner, Jérôme Tabouelle.”We wanted to question the wolf again as a presentation medium“, he continues. And representations, the canine has a multitude, negative as positive. For example, Geri and Ferki, the wolves lying at the feet of the god Odin, whose story is told in the new exhibition.

Geri and Ferki watch over the dead

Odin is a one-eyed and cruel Norse god. If the success of the series Vikings brought it to light, its relationship to wolves is not always mentioned. However, he is sometimes called “god of wolves”. Thus, the pen drawing by Johannes Gehrts (1855-1921), “Odin and his wolves“, represents him on his throne in the palace of Valhalla – where warriors who died as heroes stay eternally – with two wolves at his feet: Geri and Ferki. The two canines watch over the dead. Scandinavian mythology includes another wolf of the dead. Importance: Fenrir, the son of Loki, the terrible evil god. During Ragnarök, the prophetic end of the world, the giant Fenrir, terrible adversary of the gods, will have to destroy Odin. Moreover, legend has it that he had a offspring with the giant Iardnvidia: Sköll, the black wolf (“repulsion”) and Hati, the white wolf (“hatred”).

Johannes Gehrts, Odin and his Wolves, illustration from the book by Felix and Therese Dahn, Walhall: Germanische Götter – und Heldensagen, Leipzig, 1901. (c) All rights reserved

A symbol of power

Among the Celts, the god Lug is also often represented in the company of two wolves. As the exhibition emphasizes “Wolf stories: portraits, myths and symbols“, the canine is a symbol of power, fertility but also of the strength of nature. The warriors who go into battle wear it as a totem on their helmets. Thus, the image of the wolf in the various mythologies is extremely changeable: l he cruel animal for some is an inspiration for others.

The famous metamorphosis into a werewolf

During the 12th and 13th centuries, various stories written, in verse or fable form, tell one of the most famous myths today: that of the metamorphosis of men and women into werewolves. The stories tell the story of humans changing into wolves on full moon nights. Later, trials are held to confront these men and women. If in the 18th century there was no longer a pyre, malformations and mental illnesses remained in the eyes of the population as punishment. “Children who had significant hairiness or any deformity were under a curse and this lasted for a very long time, remarks Jérôme Tabouelle, curator of the exhibition “Wolf stories: portraits, myths and symbols“. Then during the 70s, some people took themselves for werewolves but this phenomenon could be due to the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances.“.

Illustration of a transformation into a werewolf visible at the exhibition “Wolf stories: portraits, myths and symbols”. Credit: Anne-Sophie Tassart

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