I don’t remember the last time, before the other night, that I tuned into public television. As it so happened, I was setting the DVR to record the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon, which aired this year exclusively on public television because Apple bogarted the broadcast rights, and I noticed the program airing directly before good ol’ Chuck. It was a special about Christmas celebrations along the Danube. The connection to vampire country was enough get me to record that one as well, and it was while watching this short program that I learned about the Wolf of Passau.
Passau, Germany was one of the towns along the shores of the River Danube profiled by the show. The patron symbol of the city is a wolf, and the image of this totem appear all over the place, literally. The wolf has been synonymous with the city for so long that historians can’t be sure when it was first adopted. During the Renaissance, Passau was renowned for the quality of the swords produced there, and blacksmiths started stamping the blades of all the swords they created with the image of the Passau Wolf. It was believed that the image conferred success and even invulnerability to the wielder of the sword, thus increasing the value of the blades crafted in Passau. This sort of totemic revering of the wolf harkens back to the pagan Dark Ages and the reverence paid to the wolf by the Vikings, and even earlier.