The story of the Two Wolves is a legend first popularized by Billy Graham in his book The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life. Graham attributed the legend to "an Eskimo fisherman," but it is also sometimes attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people This legend, also known as "Which one do you feed", "Grandfather Tells", "The Wolves Within", and "Tale Of Two Wolves", 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.
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.
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 Inuk 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.'"
- Graham, Billy (1988). The Holy Spirit. Nashville: Word Pub. ISBN 0-8499-4213-6. OCLC 44189410.
- "Cherokee Legend - Two Wolves". Firstpeople.us. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- "Two Wolves - A Cherokee Parable : Pearls Of Wisdom". Sapphyr.net. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- "Native American Indian Wolf Legends, Meaning and Symbolism from the Myths of Many Tribes". Native-languages.org. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- "Which One Do You Feed?". Nativeamericanembassy.net. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- "Tale of Two Wolves - Nanticoke Indian Association". Nanticokeindians.org. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- "Which wolf are you feeding? - Salisbury Post". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
- "Editorial: A message of hope". PostIndependent.com. Archived from the original on 2016-01-26. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
- "Do You Feed the Good Wolf or the Bad?". Huffingtonpost.com. 2015-08-27. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- David G. Allan (January 16, 2017). "Which side of ourselves will prevail?". CNN. Retrieved 2020-08-05.
- "A podcast about feeding your good wolf". The One You Feed. 2013-09-15. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- Author Interviews (2015-05-22). "The Future Is Bright In The Time-And-Space Twisting 'Tomorrowland'". NPR. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- "Tomorrowland (film) - Wikiquote". En.wikiquote.org. 2016-01-24. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
- Daredevil vol.2. #54.
- Vejvoda, Jim (May 17, 2019), John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum Reveals His Real Name, IGN, retrieved 2020-08-05,
During his quest to stay alive after being declared excommunicado by the High Table, John seeks assistance from the Russian underworld. They’re headquartered at a New York theater showing the ballet “Tale of Two Wolves” (because wolves are canines and everything in this franchise comes back to doggos).
- Bisagno, John (1965). The Power of Positive Praying. Xulon Press. p. 55. ISBN 1-59781-421-0.
An old missionary returned to the home of a convert among the Mo Indians. When the missionary asked him how he was doing, old Joe said, ‘Well, it seems that I have a black dog and a white dog inside of me and they are always fighting.’ The missionary asked him, ‘Which one wins?’ and Joe said, ‘The one I feed the most.’
- "The History of the 'Two Wolves/Two Dogs" story".
- Ridenour, Fritz (1969). I'm a Good Man, But... Gospel Light Publications. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-0-8307-0429-3.
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.' There you have it. Which dog are you feeding the most? Many of us seem to keep both dogs quite fat, but hopefully the good dog will eventually win out. Hopefully we will feed the good dog a little more with each passing day and week and year. That's what the mouthful called 'santification' means.
- Godfrey, George (1973). How to Win Souls and Influence People for Heaven. Baker Book House. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-8010-3666-8.
An Indian who was saved expressed this very well. Pointing to his chest, he said to the missionary, 'Ugh, black dog in here. Black dog want to do bad. White dog in here, too. White dog want to do good. These two dogs fight all the time.' The missionary asked, 'Which dog wins?' He replied, 'Ugh, the one I feed the most.'
- Taylor, George Aiken (1975). The Presbyterian Journal. Southern Presbyterian Journal Company.
- Graham, Billy (1978). "The Christian's Inner Struggle". The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life. W Publishing Group. p. 92. ISBN 978-0849900051.
AN ESKIMO FISHERMAN came to town every Saturday afternoon. He always brought his two dogs with him. One was white and the other was black. He had taught them to fight on command. Every Saturday afternoon in the town square the people would gather and these two dogs would fight and the fisherman would take bets. On one Saturday the black dog would win; another Saturday, the white dog would win – but the fisherman always won! His friends began to ask him how he did it. He said, “I starve one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger.”
- Rosen, Eliot Jay (1998). Experiencing the Soul: Before Birth, During Life, After Death. Hay House. ISBN 978-1-56170-461-3.
- Rosen, Eliot Jay (2005). Experiencing The Soul Before Birth, During Life, After Death. Motilal Banarsidass Publishe. ISBN 978-81-208-2768-4.