(NB: The text of this post was first published in my 'Stories as Medicine' blog which I have discontinued)
The story of the Two wolves, attributed to Cherokees is a popular story about the universal struggle within each of us, between good and evil. It has been, shared several hundred times on Facebook and on psychology sites on the internet. However, there are several versions of it and each gives an interesting insight into how stories can change and co-opted to serve different purposes and take on a life of their own, quite independent of the “medicine” they initially contained.
Here are two versions off a Cherokee website:
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Here is the same story, but it is called "Grandfather Tells" which is also known as "The Wolves Within"An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story.
I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.
But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times." He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.
Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."
Controversy over the origins of the story
The Two Wolves story is NOT a Cherokee story, but was first begun in 1978, by Billy Graham when quoting an Eskimo story in his book The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life and has subsequently been appropriated in several films and stories.
Pavor Nocturnus makes touches on two additional points: the first of Cultural appropriation and the second on the racial stereotypes propagated in some of the visuals accompanying this story. Interestingly, though the appearances of the wolves is not specified, many of the visuals accompanying this story show a black wolf and a white wolf.