The story of the two wolves

Since some of you like tracing first references of things, I want to alert you to an interesting development in the comments thread of a recent post. Amanda posted a comment in which she said she had been powerfully moved by the native American story of the two wolves, a good one and a bad one, who are fighting; the one you feed the most is the one who wins the fight. I like that story, too, and Amanda’s comment got me wondering which Native people the story came from; the earliest printed reference I could find for the story was a 1964 book on Christian prayer which attributed the story to the Mohave people; in that version, it’s two dogs who are fighting, not two wolves. Then Erp got in the act, and found the story in a 1914 Bible commentary, where the story was attributed to “an Indian.”

Now I’m really interested in this question. If you can find an earlier printed reference to the story, I’ll send you a fair trade chocolate bar, in addition to which you get bragging rights.

And thanks, Amanda, for starting us off on this interesting quest.

2 thoughts on “The story of the two wolves”

  1. I think it might be a bit tricky since, given the earliest known reference, earlier references are probably in that pool of late 19th century sermons most of which are not online and many never written down or since lost. The best bet might be Salvation Army and Plymouth Brethren material given the writer’s background (he was never in a seminary). Personally I would want to check the 1914 reference with a hard copy source.

    Your chocolate bar is probably safe (allegedly the earliest chocolate bar is 1847 by Fry’s; however, I have my doubts [the main source for the story seems to be Cadburys which took over Fry’s in the early 20th century]).

  2. The two wolves stories reminded me of a Buddhist story about fear. Here’s the version told by Pema Chodron:

    “Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ”

    – Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

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