What are the evil origins of 3:00 am?
March 6, 2010 2:21 AM   Subscribe

Looking for real citations about the folklore behind "the hour of the wolf".

Working on a research paper. I'm aware the the hour of the wolf is considered to be 3:00 am, and is referenced several times throughout popular media as an evil hour (the Bergman film, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Emily Rose, etc.) for various reasons. I'm sure that at one point while researching this in the past, I found credible sources tying the idea to pre-industrial sleep patterns when people would sleep in shorter cycles and often be awake at this hour, left alone with darkness and their own thoughts. Now, I find bupkis. It seems to be one of those things that just became a collective idea, but I'm almost sure I've seen citable material on this. Hive mind, can you help me get to the bottom of this cultural notion?
posted by Roman Graves to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard it referred to as "the witching hour", and in the crazy-ass demonology books my high school's library had for no justifiable reason I can conceive of (I assume that Rupert Giles transferred to Sunnydale from my high school), it was asserted to begin at 3 AM, because it was the opposite of 3 PM, which it was claimed was the hour of Christ's death.

I can't for the life of me remember any of the titles of the books, but maybe that information will help.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:36 AM on March 6, 2010

Wiki says the hour of the wolf has origins in Swedish and Finish folk religion. (There are articles in both these languages, but I can't read either of them.) Wolves were important in Scandinavian pagan mythology, and were supposed to have a special relationship with the volvas - female shaman, a.k.a. "witches." That might be a place to start.
posted by nangar at 6:49 AM on March 6, 2010

A little more on Völvas. Googling völva + wolf pulls up a bunch of stuff some of which might be relevant.
posted by nangar at 7:27 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I normally hear "witching hour" as meaning midnight, but I don't doubt there are other uses.
No snark intended, but nowadays two am is a common bar-closing time, and I imagine there may still be a lot of mischief going on around three in the morning.
posted by zoinks at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2010

A book I read recently on the current head of the Orthodox Church in Russia mentioned that the KGB (and one presumes, their successor agency the FSU) preferred to initiate paramilitary assaults at 0300 because most people's biological cycles are at their lowest-energy points. People (if they're awake) tend to be tired, groggy and, sleepy, and least able to defend themselves from attack. Those asleep tend to be deeply asleep.

On the pop culture front, Babylon 5 had an episode titled "Hour of the Wolf" which starts with an ethnically Russian character awake at 0300, depressed, and worried, remembering what her father told her about the HotW.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:38 AM on March 6, 2010

Seconding "the witching hour" as being midnight, if only because DC comics always said so.

Also, the demonology aspect is something that only recently came to my attention; I'm totally guessing, but I'd expect Ed and Lorraine Warren to have popularized the notion.
posted by kimota at 1:30 PM on March 6, 2010

Oh, yeah, that's definitely a possibility- the Warrens published a bunch of awful pop demonology books back in the day.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:33 PM on March 6, 2010

In Dutch the hour of the wolf is the hour night turns into dawn, where the dream meets reality and anything is possible. Depending on the season 3 a.m. isn't far off I guess.
posted by charles kaapjes at 1:59 PM on March 6, 2010

Simon R Green references 0300 in the Nightside books as 'when more people are born and more people die'. Not scientific or researched, but another reference.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:53 PM on March 6, 2010

Best answer: This is from Barry Lopez's Of Wolves and Men:

From classical times he [the wolf] had been a symbol of things in transit. He was a twilight hunter, seen at dawn and dusk. [...] The link between the wolf and a period of halflight—either dawn or dusk, though dawn is more widely known as the hour of the wolf—suggests two apparently contradictory images. The first is the wolf as a creature of dawn, representing an emergence from darkness into enlightenment, intelligence, civilization. The second is a creature of dusk, representing a return to ignorance and bestiality, a passage back into the world of dark forces. Thus, in the Middle Ages, the wolf was a companion to saints and Devil alike. His howl in the morning elevated the spirit. Like the crow of the cock it signaled the dawn, the end of night and the hours of the wolf. His howl at night terrified the soul: the hours of the wolf (famine, witchery, carnage) were coming on. The association is old enough to have been the basis for the Latin idiom for dawn, inter lupum et canem, between the wolf and the dog. Darkness and savagery are symbolized in the wolf, while enlightenment and civilization are symbolized by the tame wolf, the dog.

I also recall—though I can't seem to find anything on the net to verify my memory—that some people in Medieval Europe had a name for each of the hours of the day, and the hour of the wolf was one of them.
posted by paulg at 10:03 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I poked around a bit more and tried searching Swedish and Finnish web pages with Google translate. Most references are to diurnal cycles and sleep, a troll metal band, Bergman's movie ... Nothing to suggest that my idea that it might have something to do with völvas is anything more than speculation on my part.

The only thing useful I got was that vargtimmen (wolf time) seems to be the conventional Swedish term for the wee hours of the morning, and it starts at 3:00 am and runs till pre-dawn.

It seems like paulg's got it, backed up by charles kaapjes. (Lopez is a good source, by the way. I haven't read Of Wolves and Men, but his books are very well researched.)

I'll note that in pre-Christian Scandinavian mythology the sun and moon were discribed as chased through the sky by wolves. Wolf time precedes dawn. It makes sense and matches what Lopez was saying.

I'll add that I live on the eastern edge of cayote range in North America. You can sometimes hear them howling in the morning before dawn. It seems appropriate.
posted by nangar at 5:47 AM on March 7, 2010

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