Today I chose to depart from the Baltic Sea and return to the Balkan region to visit one of the most beautiful countries in my neighbourhood. Our destination is Croatia, in the company of a tale of wolves, transformations and a son’s love.
The White Wolf
Imagine an old mill, standing alone, abandoned. A young man returns from one more war and the mill is almost singing a song for him, a tempting call to become alive and useful again. The young man listens and begins to ponder. What if this is a sign that now it’s the time to settle?
And thus, the young man starts working and the villagers are watching him cautiously.
-You should be careful, they say.
-Careful? Of what?
-The big white wolf that haunts the mill.
But the young man isn’t afraid of wolves and he’s certainly not afraid of ghosts. He’s fought in battles, he has killed and has watched others kill. He has seen and done terrible things. What can possibly frighten him more? The night falls and the moon is shining over the mill. It is the time of shadows and the time when a white wolf appears in the woods by the mill stream.
The young man raises his gun and aims when suddenly the wolf skin falls off and a beautiful woman is standing there. She steps into the mill stream and he is watching her, transfixed and unseen by her. Since that night, the young man works harder and harder until the mill is finished, One night, he decides to free the girl from what he perceives to be a spell. He seizes her wolfskin, nails it to the mill wheel and sets it turning. She doesn’t say a thing, she doesn’t utter a single word, she doesn’t cry. And he takes her silence for consent…
Eventually, they have a child. A clever and brave boy. And very inquisitive. His mother has never spoken, he has never heard her voice. He only sees a deep sadness in her eyes. And then he starts listening to the villagers and it doesn’t take long for him to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
It is now the middle of the night. The miller wakes and feels his heart heavy. He sees the mill wheel is still, the skin nowhere to be found. The only thing he sees, aided by the bright moonlight? Two white wolves running away. The miller has lost everything. Now, he wanders from war to war, seeking someone to end his life…
This sad, haunting tale makes use of the concept of the animal bride who is tricked by a young man and freed by her children who follow her to her own realm. The wolf has been a popular icon in numerous traditions. In Slavi mythology, it is associated with the god Veles, the god of earth, waters, the underworld, magic and medicine, and stands as a symbol of the power and freedom of the wilderness. In many countries, the wolf stands for fearlessness and independence
*This myth can be found in the collection The House of the Cats written by Maggie Pearson, and in almost every volume of Slavic fairy tales.