Two Wolves

The story of the Two Wolves is a popular legend of unknown origin, sometimes attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people that is also known as “Which one do you feed“, “Grandfather Tells“, “The Wolves Within“, and “Tale Of Two Wolves“. It is a story of a grandfather using a metaphor of two wolves fighting within him to explain his inner conflicts to his grandson. When his grandson asks which wolf wins, the grandfather answers whichever he chooses to feed is the one that wins. Variants of the story have been told with dogs instead of wolves.

Here are the some versions of the same story:

The Tale Of The Two Wolves

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

“My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is good. It is: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

A Native American with a wolf

A Native American with a wolf

The Wolf You Feed

An old grandfather was teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“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, 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 grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

But if you feed them right, they both win and so do you.

Grandfather Tells

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.”

Wolf Pack Predator Wolves Nature Wild Animal

Two wolves

The story continues…

However, it doesn’t end there. In the Cherokee world, however, there’s another version of the story

The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:

“You see, if I only choose to feed the Light wolf, the Dark wolf will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and will always fight the Light wolf.”

“But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the light wolf is happy and we all win. For the dark wolf has many qualities — tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking–that I have need of at times. These are the very things the light wolf lacks. But the light wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.”

“You see, son, the light wolf needs the dark wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life.”

“Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance.”

“Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.”

“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”

In media

The story is frequently quoted in various forms in media articles, a podcast called The One You Feed, and was summarized in the 2015 film Tomorrowland. From Wikiquote:

Casey Newton: “There are two wolves” … You told me this story my entire life, and now I’m telling you: There are two wolves and they are always fighting. One is darkness and despair, the other is light and hope. Which wolf wins?
Eddie Newton: C’mon, Casey.
Casey Newton: Okay, fine, don’t answer.
Eddie Newton: Whichever one you feed.
Casey Newton: Good. Eat.

In the 2007 film Pathfinder, the character Starfire, an indigenous American, speaks of the two wolves to Ghost, the son of a Viking, who is adopted into a neighboring tribe:

Starfire: “There are two wolves fighting in each man’s heart. One is love, the other is hate.”
Ghost: “Which one wins?”
Starfire: “The one you feed the most.”

  • In the television series Luke Cage (Season 2, Episode 2, at time-index 48:06) a pastor tells the story of a “Cherokee Legend”, with the metaphor of two wolves fighting, where the boy in the story asks “Which wolf is stronger?” and his grandfather responds: “It’s the one you feed.”
  • In an issue of the Daredevil comic series, the character Echo encounters Wolverine while on a vision quest. He tells her a version of the Two Wolves story he learned from the Chief, albeit referring to them as dogs. Echo then reveals that her late father was the one who originally told that story to the Chief.
  • In Knightfall (Season One, Episode Four, “He Who Discovers His Own Self, Discovers God) Godfrey tells the story to Landry in a flashback.
  • In the BBC series Death in Paradise DI Humphrey Goodman garbles the story in his final episode as he tries to explain his feelings to the woman he loves.
  • In the television series 12 Monkeys (Season 1, Episode 6, at time-index 29:14) Cole tells Aaron the story as he mentions that Cassie feeds the good wolf.

Likely references

The names and phrases from the following are likely referring to this legend:

  • The album Wolves Within by After the Burial
  • “The One You Feed”, the fifth track on the Crown the Empire album The Fallout
  • “The One I Feed”, a charity event put on by the Kirov Academy of Ballet
  • The 11th episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “The Wolf Inside”, is in part about inner struggle
  • Lyrics of “Chemical Prisoner” (2015) by Falling in Reverse: “There’s two wolves battling us all right now / One’s good, the other one’s evil / If you’re wondering which wolf inside will succeed / Simple, it’s the one that you feed”
  • “Feed the Wolf”, the second song on Breaking Benjamin’s 2018 album, Ember.
  • The marquee of the Tarkovsky Theatre in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum advertises a performance titled “A Tale of Two Wolves.”

Versions with dogs

There are similar stories to the story of the Two Wolves that refer to dogs instead of wolves.

The earliest known variation of this story was published by the Baptist pastor John R. Bisagno in the book The Power of Positive Praying (Xulon Press, 1965). In this version, a missionary is told by a Mohave Indian convert named Joe that he has a black dog and a white dog always fighting inside him, and that the dog which Joe feeds the most will win.

In I’m a Good Man, but… (1969), Fritz Ridenour writes: “A supposedly true story from the mission field pretty well sums it up. The missionary was talking to the old Indian about what it was like to be a Christian and the Indian said that being a Christian was like having two dogs inside of him fighting. There was the bad dog (sin) and the good dog (righteousness). ‘Which is winning?’ asked the missionary. ‘The one I feed the most.'”

In How to Win Souls and Influence People for Heaven (1973), George Godfrey recounts a tale where an Indian convert says that in his chest he has a white dog that wants to do good, and a black dog that wants to do bad, which are always fighting with each other. After the missionary asks which one wins, he says that the one that he feeds wins.

In The Presbyterian Journal, Volume 34 (1975), George Aiken Taylor writes: “[…] two dogs fighting in the soul. ‘Which one will win?’ asked the convert. ‘The one you feed the most,’ answered the missionary.”

A later variation of this story was published by the Reverend Billy Graham in his book The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life (W Publishing Group, 1978) about an Inuit with a black dog and a white dog that he used for match fixing by only feeding the one he wanted to win.

The 1998 book Experiencing the Soul: Before Birth, During Life, After Death, by Eliot Rosen, uses the story to conclude the first chapter: “A Native American Elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, ‘The one I feed the most.'”

In the 2003 film The Missing, set in 1885 New Mexico Territory, the following dialogue occurs: “‘Inside you are two dogs. One is evil, the other is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ ‘Which one wins?’ ‘I don’t know. Whichever one I feed the most.'”

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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