I think I was five when I first met the wolf. That is my first recollection anyway. I did not know he was a spirit ally and I did not know that I was five. These two discoveries were retrospective and it is only in relatively recent years that I have learned the significance of those early encounters.
I had a reoccurring dream as a child. It was more a nightmare really, as I recall it scared me and frequently woke me up in a state of fearful panic. I am not sure how long it went on for only that it must have been quite a long time as it is securely latched into my memory in full Technicolor detail and I can call upon the feeling of it with extreme ease. I had other dreams and sensations from around that time that felt as real as my waking moments but it is the one with the wolf that caused the biggest stir and resonates deeply with me forty years later.
I am in a field. The clay on the ground is hard, dry and uneven, like it was ploughed a long time ago and then abandoned. It is difficult to walk on the ground without tripping or going over on an ankle. I feel alone but I am not on my own. My mother is with me and she is desperately trying to push the old, brown, silver cross pram. My toddler sister is sitting on top of the pram and in the pram is a, newly born, baby brother. I am five and a half years older than him. I am not sure what we are trying to run from but I am scared and I am aware of a sense of extreme urgency. I can hear growling and snarling behind me but I am afraid to look. My mother is screaming at me to hurry and to find the way out of the field but all the way around the field, all I can see are tall, thorny hedgerows that I knew as May bushes. They are insurmountable. After much panicked searching and feeble attempts to run over difficult, uneven ground, I locate a gate and on the other side of the gate is a laneway. It is an old red and rusted, metal gate. I reach the gate and the others are with me, following me closely. A sense of relief begins to flood through me as, it seems, we are finally almost out and free. Alas, just as I locate the latch to open the gate a wolf appears on the other side. He looks to be snarling and I can see his teeth. I am terrified. I wake up.
I am not sure how many times I had this dream or how many years it continued besides the fact that it is incredibly familiar and remained always within my conscious awareness as familiar as a living memory might be. I carried with me an innate and intense fear of wolves from that time. The fear extended to dogs most especially dogs that bore even a slight resemblance to a wolf. It was not something I spoke about much throughout my life but it stayed there as a background memory. A factual type of memory like a childhood holiday or accident might be stored. There was an awareness of it as opposed to it being a constant or obsessive thought.
Fast forward to my early thirties and I found myself in a psychiatric hospital, in dire straits, being treated for, among many labels, complex Post Traumatic Stress disorder from childhood trauma. I was working through memories. I was making disclosures it seems although at the time I was not aware that talking something out was disclosure making with far reaching implications. I was merely trying to make sense of what I was feeling. Old memories of sexual abuse were presenting in ‘flashback’ form and I was working to put a narrative and time frame on it. Some memories were time specific; such as Hurricane Charlie screaming in the background in 1987 but I was unsure as to when it had first begun or what age I was. Throughout this process, of trying to remember, the dream returned. With the details of it back in the forefront of my conscious memory I remember drawing it, or trying to draw it; the rusty red gate, the high hedges, the uneven ground and the teeth on the wolf. I did not know how to draw the panic. I spoke it through with doctors and therapists and everything began to point towards the probability that the dream began when the abuse began and was perhaps a child’s way of trying to process what was occurring. Another theory was that it was a subconscious manifestation of fear that was being lived through in my waking life. I recall feeling so hard done by with the realisation. Not only had my waking life become disrupted and unsafe but the wolf had come and wreaked havoc on my sleep time too. I began to fear and dislike wolves even more intensely. The dream went away again after statements were made but, as always, remained as a background memory.
Fast forward another few years to age 39 and I find myself at a shamanic workshop in Dublin. I was in what I now recognise as a type of ‘healing crises’ and was simultaneously breaking down and breaking through. I was in a constant dream-like state with wildly fluctuating moods and energy. I was semi wild and completely ungrounded spending most of my time in conversation with spirit to the complete neglect of my physical self. The medical profession later called this state ‘dysphoric mania’ but all I knew is that I had suddenly and drastically blown wide open and a veil had lifted. It was an ‘insane’ and crazily intense time. What had previously been invisible and in shadow was now as visible and tangible as a nose on a face. At the workshop I had my first experience of the shamanic journey. I remember vividly the, almost, ‘free fall’ into the lower world and the freedom of discarding my physical body and all its ailments. Down and down I went feeling freer with each spiral. As I continued to travel downward a companion joined me.
It was the wolf. There he was, the wolf from my dreams, the wolf of my nightmare, the wolf I had feared all those years. In that moment I unequivocally understood him to be my spirit ally who had come, all those years ago, not to scare and attack me, but to protect me. In that moment I understood that I had never been alone; not in any true sense, and that all that had happened had been part of something so much bigger than my human brain could comprehend. The joy, gratitude and love in my heart were all consuming and tears streamed down my face. We continued to spiral downwards together and I then took on the form of a wolf, a female wolf. We combined and spun and became one; almost like a yin-yang symbol. I never wanted that journey to end. I had never felt a belonging or an acceptance like it.
Trying to explain what had happened was next to impossible and, in hindsight, I imagine I may have sounded quite hysterical. I did not go any further on my shamanic journey with the people I met that day, for many reasons, but I remain ever grateful for the space they held that allowed me to meet this ally, in that way, and for the knowing and insight I gained that day.
Circumstances removed me from all manner of spirituality then for another number of years but the dog fear and the wolf fear dissipated. Fast forward to 2021 and I find myself in Mayo signed up as a shamanic student. On that first day, when I entered the lower world, there he was, the wolf, patiently waiting for me.
He has not left since.
He never did.
I pay attention now.