‘The Tale of Two Wolves’, also known as ‘The Two Wolves Parable’ or ‘The Two Wolves Legend’, is an old Cherokee story that depicts a battle universal to the human condition. Of all the great nations native to the western world, the Cherokee Tribe in particular were known as expert hunters and fishermen, adept practitioners of plant medicine, and skilled storytellers.
Every night, after the days activities had ended, the youth would gather around the main fire for a story before it was time to sleep. The elders of the tribe were very good at enthralling the children – they were colourful in their descriptions and vivid in their delivery. The little ones would sit, wide-eyed in the firelight, listening intently as the storyteller paced, unravelling a welcome spell of timeless wisdom within each of their minds.
Tonight was to be a special story, ‘the legend of two wolves’, as told by the wisest of all the elders, the Didahnvsisgi – the Medicine Man. Earlier that day there had been a bitter fight between two of the children, one of whom had been hurt deeply by the betrayal of one of his closest friends. The old Shaman knew that this was on the mind of all the tribe’s children that night, and in their hearts as well.
“Tonight, I will tell you the tale of the two wolves,” he said. “It is a simple story, yet also one of the most important. There is not one of us that it does not touch, as each of us, all of you–” he motioned to the children “–and even me–” he placed his palm softly against his chest “–carry this tale inside of us, in the form of two wolves.
“I have done some bad things,” he continued. “When I was younger, I hurt some people. I was very jealous, sometimes, of things my friends could do, or things they had, or of others who liked them and did not like me as much, so I hurt them, in my own way. I gave them some of the pain that I was feeling, and they were angry, and we fought.”
The children listened quietly.
“So too have I been hurt,” he continued. “When I was younger, I had some friends who were very jealous of the things that I could do, or that I had, or of others who liked me more than they liked them, and so they hurt me, in their own way. Because of this I was very angry, and we fought.
“After a time I came to sense that there was something deeper going on inside of me, a battle between two of nature’s greatest hunters – a battle spelled out in the tale of two wolves. One of these wolves was evil – it was jealousy, anger, greed, resentment, inferiority and lies. The other was good – it was joy, peace, love, hope, humility and truth.
“Once I realized this, I began to see that it was happening in all of my friends as well, and every person in the tribe. So too is it happening inside all of you. Every day, these two wolves of legend are fighting inside as you play with each other and do your duties. Every moment, they are battling.” He turned his back to the children, peering into the darkness. “But you will find, little ones, that over time, only one will win.”
The old Shaman went silent then, the fire crackling at his back, the children peering on. After a time, they began to grow restless. They knew they were not supposed to interrupt, but they just couldn’t contain themselves. Finally one of them cried, “Which one wins, Didahnvsisgi? Which one?!”
The Medicine Man turned back around, peering into the eyes of the youth that were the future of his tribe. “It is quite simple, really,” he said, a smile beginning to form at the corners of his mouth, “In the tale of two wolves, the one that forever wins, is the one you feed.”