Resolving The Conflict of Internal Forces: The Real Cherokee Legend of the Two Wolves
Updated: Jan 31
Known for their cultural wealth, language, and traditions, the Cherokee Indians are one of the most impactful native cultures in the Western world. They were one of the “Five Civilized Tribes.” Their rituals and mysticism still fascinate and inspire our lives. Many of their stories were collected in interesting books like Cherokee Clans by Professor Panther-Yates. As part of their immortal legacy, the Cherokee Legend of The Two Wolves is one of the most profound, in my opinion - my favorite by far! The story is told as a wise lesson from an old man to his grandson... He explains that a terrible battle between two wolves is unleashed every day inside the hearts of all men. Every human is now relating to this greatly and adopting healing through Shadow Work.
These two animals symbolize two opposing forces. One is evil, the old man tells his grandson. It is anger. It is envy, greed, arrogance, and even sadness. It’s the feeling of inferiority and the ego. The other force is kindness, joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, compassion, and of course, peace. When the young Cherokee asked his grandfather which wolf is going to win that battle, in most versions, he responds: the one you choose to feed will win. Powerful..... Right?
However, there is another version, more essential to wholesome living, not just survival. It is where the old Cherokee warrior tells his grandson that BOTH MUST WIN. Because the battle is not a matter of strength, but of balance. It's actually a beautiful dance of the dark and light wolf, not a battle at all. We have to feed both wolves because WE NEED BOTH. We must love and guide them both along the right path… Do not feed only one wolf: they must both be present and TENDED TO EQUALLY. The shadow parts of ourselves need the most love. We must not reject or suppress any parts of ourselves. We must get curious about the dark wolf, and ask what it needs.
It's not a secret that life can be like a roller coaster. One day up, the next, down.... on a whirlwind ride of feeling our own emotions, and taking on others. We must learn to discern what is ours and create healthy boundaries so as to not absorb too much of what is not. There are moments when we experience pure bliss and moments when, without knowing why, adversity, sadness, anger, and despair flood in. Life is a flow of feeling happy, sad, benevolent, or brutal. Humans must learn to not become their emotions, but practice witnessing them. Men and women weave complex stories of love and hate and live from those stories. Many do not know how to cope with loss and pain. They sling around labels, and names and shame each other, pointing fingers without taking any accountability. There are always two opposing forces that we’re not completely able to control... They fight fierce internal battles.
This Cherokee legend of the two wolves explains that it’s not about feeding a single wolf and starving the other. Humans are essentially made of a yin and yang, light and dark, cool and hot, masculine and feminine. It’s a duality where, far from suppressing or hiding a part of us, we must take it into account, make it visible and control it in order to live in balance. We must train the two to dance... to unite them, with peaceful practices of witnessing each other with compassion and respect. Learning to Accept & Integrate Your Shadow is a big step in this healing work.
It's all about finding internal harmony. The old warrior tells his grandson that if he chooses to only feed the white wolf, the black wolf will hide in every corner and stalk him whenever he sees him weak or off guard. The shadow self will attack, without permission, with vengeance.
The old warrior says we should not belittle that animal that is dark as night. Because whether we believe it or not, the black wolf also has many good qualities: determination, tenacity, courage, strategic thinking… Some are virtues that the white wolf lacks. Feeding both lets us take advantage of the best of each. It enhances their best version, identifies their needs, and trains them to live in harmony.
Let’s not starve our fears. Let's not starve our insecurities. It’s always better to recognize them, understand them and transform them. Let’s not starve our anger, our spite our sadness. Let’s not corner them; may we hear what they need to say. They can give us valuable lessons on how to be a little better each day. We must honor both.
As we can see, the Cherokee legend of the two wolves teaches a valuable lesson about balance and emotional management. We learn that distributing forces intelligently, feeding both wolves, will give us a better life. Thus, we can all live at peace with one another. Each must do their own work. This is THE WAY.