Most traditional belief systems had conventions framing the depiction of their gods, and Norse mythology was no different.
Its chief deity, Odin, was often portrayed sitting on a throne, spear in hand, surrounded by his ravens and wolves.  Moreover, these embellishments were imbued with meaning and weren’t merely cosmetic.
Odin is usually depicted with wolves because the Norse myths portray the wolves Freki and Geri as his earliest companions and most loyal guardians.
Wolves were also seen as embodying many of the virtues the Norse most admired, such as loyalty and courage.
Depicting Odin with wolves associated him with such qualities. This article will explain the association between Odin and his wolves in more detail.
It will also describe other famous wolves from Norse mythology and consider what wolves meant to the Norse.
Also, see Why Is Odin Depicted with Ravens? to learn more.
Freki and Geri: The Importance of Odin’s Wolves
According to the Norse myths, the chief Norse god Odin was a bit of a wanderer and seeker.
Seeking wisdom and adventure, Odin routinely drifted far from home on his travels, often with no one else for company.
Eventually, he became so lonely on the little walkabouts that he created two wolves—Freki and Geri—to accompany him. Thus, Freki and Geri were Odin’s oldest companions.
The wolves accompanied Odin on all his adventures and even fought beside him in battle.
They stayed close to Odin at all times and guarded him against all threats, including other hostile gods.
The two wolves took turns performing their duties so that Odin was never unprotected. They even slept one at a time so that both were never asleep at the same time.
Thus, they are depicted as brave and loyal and are usually shown sitting at Odin’s feet.
Besides being known for their bravery and loyalty, Freki and Geri are also known for their voracious appetites.
Their fondness for meat is even written into their names—Freki, meaning the ravenous one, and Geri, the greedy one. 
Feeding Freki and Geri turned out to be such a logistical challenge for the hapless god that he had to create two ravens—Huginn and Muninn—to solve the problem for him.
Ultimately, all four creatures came to be associated with the god. This is why he is often depicted surrounded by two ravens and two wolves.
Other paraphernalia associated with the god include his crown, his throne, and his spear.
Other Famous Wolves in Norse Mythology
Freki and Geri aren’t the only notorious wolves in ancient Norse mythology, however. 
Curiously, many of the other wolves in Norse mythology emphasize the less admirable and more terrifying qualities that wolves seemed to embody for the Norse.
The giant wolf Fenrir was one of the most terrifying monsters in all of Norse mythology.
The son of Loki with the giantess Angrboða, he had been bound to a rock on an island in the strait between Denmark and Sweden to prevent him from attacking the gods.
It was prophesized that Fenrir would break free from his chains at Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. On the plains of Vigrid, he would join the forces of chaos in their war with the Aesir gods.
Before the battle was over, he would kill Odin.
Skoll and Hati
Like Fenrir, the wolves Skoll and Hati also had a strong association with the end times. Skoll chased the sun, and Hati chased the moon.
On Ragnarok, they would succeed in their mission, swallow the sun and the moon and plunge the world into darkness, heralding the beginning of the end.
What Wolves Symbolized for the Norse
Even a brief survey of Norse myth suggests that wolves symbolized contradictory qualities for the Norse. They could be brave and loyal, signifying the highest Norse virtues.
Or they could herald chaos, violence, and the end of the world.
Odin’s Association With Wolves
Odin, the chief deity of the Norse pantheon, is also one of its most enigmatic characters.
Split into two tribes—the Aesir and the Vanir—most of the other Norse gods have well-defined attributes that place them clearly in either camp.
Aesir gods and goddesses rule domains traditionally considered masculine, such as war, hunting, thunder, lightning, etc.
The Vanir, on the other hand, oversees classically feminine realms—nature, fertility, the harvest, magic, etc.
Unlike the other gods, Odin spans these areas of specialization. He is the god of war, death, and hunting. But he’s also responsible for poetry, magic, and prophecy.
This makes him both masculine and feminine at the same time. 
Seen against this backdrop, Odin’s wolves emphasize what were seen as his more masculine virtues. They showcase his abilities as a fierce warrior and a wise and loyal leader.
These were some of the virtues the Norse culture held dearest.
Notably, Odin’s wolves, Freki and Geri, sit at his feet in the great hall of Valhalla, where only the bravest Norse warriors are admitted after their deaths.
They were believed to be helpers of the Valkyries, the female spirits charged with screening Norse warriors who had fallen in battle for entry to Valhalla. 
The two wolves were believed to be responsible for carrying those who were granted entry to Valhalla off to Odin’s grand hall.
It is probably for this reason that the Norse viewed sighting a wolf on a battlefield as a lucky omen.
Wolves Also Had Darker Connotations for the Norse
Of course, wolves also had darker connotations for the Norse.
Characterizations of Fenrir, Hati, and Skoll, suggest that the Norse also saw wolves as agents of chaos and violence.
The roles these characters play at Ragnarok emphasize these qualities. For added emphasis, Odin meets his end at the paws of a wolf, Fenrir.
While these qualities seem to contradict the portrayal of Odin’s loyal companions, they are consistent with wolf depictions in other cultures throughout history and with the behavior of the wild wolves that inspired them. 
Wolves are both intelligent animals and violent predators. When humans anthropomorphize them, they see much to admire.
Besides being powerful and brave, wolves are social animals loyal to their packs.
However, wolves are also violent predators. Coming face to face with one in the wild can have devastating consequences. The Norse knew this.