A wolfbrother is a person who develops a relationship with wolves and some wolf-like characteristics. All known humans with this ability are male, but females can have this ability and would be referred to as wolfsisters. The term for this ability regardless of gender is wolfkin.
Not much is known about the origins of the condition except that it is "older than the One Power", likely dating back to a much more primitive man. Stories of men running with wolves are older than the Age of Legends. Some wolves claim to have memories of their ancestors running and hunting together with men. Soon they will run with men again, to the Final Hunt. When Perrin meets the Green Man at the Eye of the World, he says "A Wolfbrother! Do the old times truly walk again then?".
It is not possible to say, unlike in the case of channelling, that it is a genetic trait. Robert Jordan has stated that those who are wolfbrothers will be so in future rebirths as the Wheel of Time turns, but it depends on whether that Age supports the ability being able to manifest itself. For the duration of the Third Age, for example, the ability seems to have been largely suppressed. For this reason, even if we assume that the direct ancestors of known wolfbrothers carried such a gene, it may be possible that it would never have shown itself.
Wolfbrothers have an array of special abilities, which include:
- Psychic communication: With more than one wolf or wolfbrother over a large distance.
- Psychic location: He can tell how far away wolves and other wolfbrothers are.
- Better vision: This includes both being able to see farther in normal conditions and being able to see in the dark.
- Augmented sense of smell: Not only is his sense of smell extremely sensitive, but he can smell things that would not logically have an origin such as human emotions and other states such as distrust or madness.
- Connection with Tel'Aran'Rhiod: The abilty to enter the Dreamworld in his sleep and in the flesh. The latter seems to require channeling in other humans.
- Prophetic Dreams: Distinct from the Dreamwalking ability, he also has abilities similar to a Dreamer in that he has dreams that predict the future. It is not clear whether this is strongly connected with the wolfbrother ability and something which all wolfbrothers (and possibly wolves) possess, or something more unique to Perrin.
The triggering event for a man or woman to become a wolfbrother or wolfsister seems to be coming into the close proximity with wolves with perhaps the additional qualifier that the wolves accept the human enough to make psychic contact.
Perrin was 19 at the age he became a wolfbrother, while Elyas did not become a wolfbrother until much later in life (he appears in New Spring at age 35 and has not yet become one). Neither Noam, nor his brother Simion, have any description that might indicate what age Noam's transition occurred. Based on this, it does not seem dependent on age as the onset of channeling is. We do know, however, that Perrin's eyes transform to their wolf-like yellow a day or two after he talks to wolves for the first time but that meeting Elyas seemed to have no immediate effect. Perrin's acceptance by the wolves was made easier by the fact that he had the presence of Elyas who could vouch for Perrin and introduce him to his "friends".
Robert Jordan has said that the abilities of Wolfbrothers are inspired by "Any number of myths from Europe, North American Indians, and the Australian aborigines", without specifying which. We detail some of these myths here,
Tales of men being able to transform into wolves are at least as old as the classical Greek period.
The myths persisted through the Roman era and the Middle Ages, mainly in Germanic traditions, but in many other cultures both in Europe and elsewhere. In countries without wolves, another animal such as a hyena or tiger fulfilled a similar role.
Werewolves were said to have animal-like traits, even in human form, such as eyebrows that join in the middle, curved fingernails, low-set ears and a swinging stride. Perrin's tell-tale sign is his startling wolf-like eyes. In some stories, the werewolf's soul can leave his body and devour his victims, similar to the out-of-body experience of entering the Dreamworld as a wolf, if not exactly to prey on humans! Werewolves could also be subject to witch-trials and an accused could be blamed for all sorts of ill events and working in league with the Devil. The Whitecloaks, parallels of the Inquisition, similarly treat Perrin's wolfbrother ability as evidence he is linked to the Dark One.
The Wild Man, also known as a woodwose, is a recurring figure mythical figure that appears in the artwork and literature of medieval Europe. He is usually depicted as covered in hair and armed with a long club and lives isolated among the forest and in the wilderness, far from the company of men. They are considered more animal than human in the same way as a satyr. The concept of a part-animal recluse has a bit more in common with Elyas than that of the werewolf. Although Elyas is not covered in hair, he is clothed in animal furs, has a long and wild beard and lives an isolated life.
Many cultures throughout the world practice or have practiced shamanic beliefs. While it is an umbrella term, some common features include the ability to divine the future, the use of a spirit guide (commonly in the form of an animal), the ability to enter and communicate with the spirit world in a quest for answers, the use of trances and the ability to leave one's body. All of these are shown in Perrin's wolfbrother abilities where Tel'aran'rhiod can be interpreted as the "spirit world".
The Viking Úlfhéðnar or "wolf warriors" wore the skins of wolves and were renowned to be savage in battle. They are one tradition of the Viking Berserker.
The broader concept of wolf warriors, where warriors develop a special kinship with the animal, occurs among Indo-European, Turkish, Mongolian, and Native American cultures. While these cultures adopted the behaviour in order to bestow upon themselves some of the animal savagery in battle, Perrin is more literally possessed by the spirit of the wolf.