Archive for the ‘animal guides’ Category

A Druid Way’s Guide to Guides   Leave a comment

One of my best teachers is in fact a high school teacher and an administrator, and — out of long personal experience — no fan of committees and their guidelines. “Is it a guideline, or a line to my guide?” he likes to ask. Does it get born and die on the page, like most administrator-ese, or is it a living thing, helping me connect to what matters?

at-ease

A case in point is the funny little post “Pillbug“, about — among other things — the experience of connecting with an animal guide. I first wrote it in March 2017, and it went the way of many of my posts, with a brief flurry of interest when I posted it, and then the usual precipitous disappearance into the group anonymity of most other posts here. But a few of you must be reading backwards, or telling each other about that particular post, or both. Because around 5 months ago, Pillbug started enjoying a second life, with several hundred views, more than after it was first published here. Why? (Take a look at it, if you haven’t already.)

I know the subject of guides and other non-human — or often non-physical — helpers keeps on rising into our group awareness. A blogpost, a forum question, and we’re off again.

The topic’s a perennial favorite, and in our skeptical age we often psych ourselves either into complete rejection of such things, or else we run whole hog in the opposite direction, with uncritical acceptance of our more interesting experiences. No halfway for us!

John Beckett’s current post, “Run Rabbit Run — An Augury For One” takes up the subject as well. He approaches many of the same issues I have [see here, here, and here, among others] — no surprise, because we’re all walking a path, and our paths constantly intersect — an opportunity for rich exploration, if we only see and take it, rather than being affronted by difference, challenge, change, otherness. You might find his perceptions a useful counterpoint to other things on the subject you’ve encountered. If so, tell him! Leave a comment on his blog. Help him keep writing his useful guide, based on his experiences.

As I wrote elsewhere, paraphrasing Mara Freeman:

Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

So much of our training — maybe all of it — is training in listening, in paying attention. Often we’ve learned the lesson by school age, where teachers call us back from daydream to “pay attention” — and we are, just not to them!

I wrote in “Hunter, Hunted: Animal Guides, Denial, Persistence“:

As I look over these notes, several points stand out.  (I’ll put them in first person and speak only for myself, not to presume too much about who you are, or what your experience may be.)  First, to my mind, is the desire (I don’t know how else to put it) of the Other — Spirit or spirits, guides, deities, totems — to connect with me.  Second I must concede my own obliviousness.  I ask for help, or a “sign,” but even when it lies down in front of me and trips me up, I STILL manage to ignore it.

Next is the likelihood that once I start looking, coincidences begin stacking up until it’s clear there’s more than coincidence going on.  Common themes emerge.  The animal I seek is also seeking me — in dreams, “accidents,” images, unaccountable emotional reactions to seemingly “unimportant” things -– in all the different ways it can reach me, in case one or more channels of communication are blocked (usually on my end).

Animal images in poems also cry and echo for the nerd-Bard that I am.  We repress the animal guides in and around us, so that like other repressed things, they eventually spring, animal-like, into our psyches elsewhere, in sometimes strange and nightmarish images, in art, dream, eventually, even, in national obsessions and pathologies.  If they pool and accumulate enough cultural energy, they manifest in personal and societal outward circumstances, in political and cultural movements, in wars and other conflicts.  Think of W. B. Yeats’ apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming,” which famously ends “what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Or consider Philip Levine’s “Animals are Passing from Our Lives” in the voice of a pig approaching its slaughter.  Apocalyptic and angry poems like these, like most art, aren’t “about” only one thing.  Run them to earth and they keep meaning something more.  We use animals (animals use us!) to communicate what we sometimes cannot say directly. Among all the other things they do, animals help us express that deep love, that bitter grief, anger and darkness, comfort and healing, that simply may not be able to manifest in any other way.

There’s a fine Old English proverb (from the collection of 46 Durham Proverbs, if you’d like to know) that I keep encountering: Ciggendra gehwilc wile þæt hine man gehere. “Everyone that cries out wants to be heard”, as I render it here. Literally, “Of-the-criers, each wishes that him someone hears”. I know that I want to be heard. Who doesn’t, after all?

Or to take a somewhat different context, “Only connect,” says a character in E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End. “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer”. The prose of our daily lives, the passion of those moments when we’re lifted out of ourselves and we say this! This is what I’ve wanted!

camellia

“And the fire and the rose (or camellia) are one” — T. S. Eliot

Yes, we live in fragments. The commonest complaint in the West is often, ultimately, loneliness — loss of connection, fragmenting of our bonds with the cosmos, to the point where we sometimes feel like an abandoned “bag of skin”. But when I think how the whole rest of the universe is talking, that’s a lot of hearing that things ask of us. Am I myself talking too much to hear them? Can I pare back my chatter, save my speech even a little more for what matters, fast a little from running at the mouth, and begin to attend to all the other things that are talking too?

And rather than waiting on someone else to connect with me, can I be the connector? Isn’t that one thing that Druidry calls us to do? It gives us tools to help us do what we’re made to do — and it launches us into a talking world to listen at least as much as to talk.

The prayer of St. Francis might just have something to say to this:

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

If I want to experience eternal life in this moment (the only place in this busy, brief, uncertain and intense mortality where I can), I’ve got a guide here. This isn’t just “Christian” morality, as though there can be different kinds of morality. The uni-verse is a “one-turning” and it is what it does, it does what it is. St. Francis’s words aren’t something to believe, but to try out. Quite simply, do they work? Is he offering a powerful spiritual tool here, equivalent to burning cedar, invoking the Elements, divining for job opportunities, working magic to heal? (The modern neo-Pagan movement has delved and mined and workshopped and practiced every spiritual tradition on the planet except the one the West has known for two thousand years. How have I been depriving myself of wisdom in my backyard, along with the moles and bull hornets, the woodchucks and clover and hemlocks?)

In this post so far I’ve come at the matter of guides obliquely, which I find is my default way of feeling my path into understanding. I’ve left clues and approaches, words and feelings, tangents and directions to explore.

I could chart it and number it and lay it out — and ask if you’d like me to do so in a subsequent post, and I will — but then, without great care on my part, it can slide perilously close to the administrator-ese my teacher so dislikes. Read the posts, including John’s, ask your own questions as clearly as you can, and see if I or John or the grass and rain and birds out your window have something to say to you that you might want to listen to. And listen to yourself most of all, that deep self, not the selfie-Facebook-chatty self, but the one who’s been deep within you since you arrived here, however many years ago that was, the one that whispers in dream and awake, that knows where you’re going before you arrive, and has something worthwhile to say on the way to every destination.

And may you know the blessings scattered all along your path, the one you are walking right now, and recognize them and share them and find in that sharing the solace and heart’s healing we all seek.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 7   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

The final post in this series encompasses four cards — The Moon, the Sun, The Judgment and The World.

In spiritual traditions that focus on the inner journey and provide recognizable descriptions to note along the way, the Sun and Moon worlds can be markers of non-physical travel. Of course, we can understand the entire Major Arcana in similar terms — signposts of the journey of the Fool on the way to wisdom.

The MOON

18-MoonWhile different creatures may appear on this card,  The Moon itself suggests latency. This is a realm or stage of potential, of possibility not yet manifest in the physical world. On this traditional card, 15 yods (the Hebrew y: Hebrew letter Yud Rashi.png) appear beneath the Moon — a source of perplexity and confusion on numerous Tarot forums.

While anyone exploring the Tarot discovers that a wealth of symbolism and figurative meaning flourishes around each card (yod begins Hebrew words like yad “hand” and Yahweh “God”), one simple explanation is that the full moon typically appears 14 to 15 days after the new moon each month.

If you’re like me, you may persist in thinking the full moon stands at the end of the lunar cycle rather than at its middle, so part of the meaning for me of the (full) Moon is precisely that cyclical flow of energies in the physical world. Completion of one cycle flows endlessly into the next. (You can also contemplate links to other cards which feature yods. In the Major Arcana, that includes the Tower.)

The Seeker arrives at Moon consciousness and benefits from its fullness, you could say, but this stage, like all the others, is a way-station and not a final destination.

What potentials lie in me that I may not recognize, but can manifest? What fullness or completion in my life indicates not a final arrival, or an opportunity to slip into passivity or lethargy, but a chance to initiate a new cycle? How can I take advantage of a crest in energy to launch this new venture, rather than waiting till the energy subsides, and change is harder to bring about?

The SUN

19-SunUnlike the Moon, the Sun features a human figure, naked and on horseback, with arms spread wide. Four sunflowers rise from what looks like a garden wall — the four elements under the light of the Sun. If we choose to call this mounted figure the Seeker or Fool, you might also choose to note that nothing is hidden — all is touched by the solar light, 11 straight sunbeams and 10 rippling ones for a total of 21, suggesting the final card of the Major Arcana, the World.

Arranging the cards in 3 rows of 7, with the Fool outside this structure as the Cosmic Traveler through its realms, the Sun is a harmonic of 12, the Hanged Man, and of 5, the Hierophant. Unlike the Moon, the Sun is indeed constant, unchanging, though mist or clouds may still interpose themselves and obscure its light. But this apparent stability and constancy is still not the end of the cycle, let alone any final arrival, but simply another stage. The illuminated human self relies on the power of its animal nature — is “naked to its influence” — yet does not need to “control” it; it holds no reins, nor requires any bit and bridle. The “horse knows the way to carry the sleigh” of the Chariot, which ends the first row of the work of the Self (and which incidentally is adorned with stars and moons). It also depicts the completion begun with the Hanged Man, whose inversion of values, or comfort with abandoning convention, has now borne fruit.

What discoveries am I “riding openly”? What does my “illumination” actually illuminate? What am I now strong enough or wise enough to invite wholeheartedly into my world or my consciousness?

JUDGEMENT

20-JudgementIf the Sun reveals all things, or signifies attainment of a certain degree of illumination, we can see Judgement echoing the Christian end of time and the resolution of events launched at Creation. Figures rise from graves or caskets at the blast from the angelic trumpet.

The sound of the awen helps us cast off deadness, old forms and scripts of action and consciousness, and enter a new creative cycle. We may feel spent from our previous efforts, and even enter a kind of death, but what is enduring in us, what we are made out of, does not abandon its nature. It cannot die, but simply changes form, entering the earth, the Underworld, the Otherworld, to rise again, reappear, re-seed itself, take new forms and shapes.

We may presume, if we even believe in any kind of immortality, that our human personalities will endure. But I find it highly unlikely that my love of raspberries, my preference for wearing greens and blues, my stubborn preference for Birkenstocks over formal footwear, even when a workplace or ceremonial dress-code demands shoes, will persist into another incarnation. Add up such minutiae of a life and you do not capture what is best and most valuable in a person, however quirkily dear and familiar such things may turn out to be for those who remember them. A few such energies may have arisen from past-life choices and experiences, or prodded me further along the Spiral, and these, if pervasive enough, may leave traces that endure into another incarnation.

What of my own judgement? What discernment or powers of discrimination have I acquired? How have I (not) deployed them? What judgments of others do I allow myself to be subject to or to shape me or my experiences?

The WORLD

21-WorldIn the Christian worldview, Judgement is the precursor to Heaven or Hell. For the Tarot, though, neither of these follows. Instead, we encounter the World. Is it the same World as in the beginning, or the place where we Fools find ourselves?

In those famous Zen terms, before enlightenment, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. At enlightenment, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. Something has shifted, but in the end only each individual can truly say what it is. After enlightenment, though, it’s important to continue along the way, and not be stopped by a false sense that with illumination or attainment of a degree of wisdom, life somehow stops or should cease to be life; mountains are again mountains, and rivers are again rivers. We emerge, as the Tarot has been hinting to us repeatedly, on another arm of the Spiral.

We see in this traditional card the four figures of the Gospel authors or Evangelists of the New Testament, three animals (eagle, lion, ox) and a human. (Many days, that seems to me the most accurate characterization of the experience of being human!)

As I wrote in Part 1:

So important is the animal accompanying the Fool from the outset that almost every deck includes some creature accompanying the human figure of the Fool.

Whether we see this as our animal inheritance, part of our make-up as a physical being with age-old drives and instincts, or as a guide or companion distinct from us, the dog (or three birds in the Arthurian tarot) is with us from the beginning.

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Where (I ask the wise beasts of my life) where would you like to go next on our journey?

 

Omens, Signs, Friends Visiting   Leave a comment

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I practice two distinct spiritual paths. One of the teachings on the other path concerns waking dreams. “A waking dream is something that happens in the outer, everyday life that has spiritual significance”, writes one of my guides on that path. And the crucial point, for me, is that I can perceive that significance. Or miss it. Or call it coincidence, or something else.

In her post “The Reality of Omens“, Druid Life blogger and author Nimue Brown writes,

When looking for omens in the world around us, it is necessary to consider how reality works in the first place. One of the things I have rejected outright is that other autonomous beings could show up in my life as messages from spirit – because the idea that a hare, a sparrowhawk, or some other attention grabbing thing could have its day messed about purely to try and give me a sign, is profoundly uncomfortable to me. I have something of an animist outlook, and I do not think the universe is *that* into me.

Brown’s caveat rings true — we can safely pare the human ego down, without fear it will crumble and disappear. Unlike the average toddler, most adults handle reasonably well the discovery that they’re not actually the center of universe.

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But as a fellow semi-animist, I’d not separate “spirit” from what you and I and other things are doing every day. “Spirit” isn’t a thing that stands apart from what it inhabits — it’s not a bearded Jehovah lounging in the heavens, lording it over the rest of the cosmos, twitching the puppet-strings to get his way with us. Spirit permeates things — it’s what peeks out when you look in the eyes of a dog or bird or bug, or into the heart of a flower. It’s what gives waves their curl, or cumulus clouds their cotton-like billow, or your jogging neighbor the will to keep at her four-mile routine, in spite of December sleet. Spirit makes things thing-ly — how else can I detect its presence? Ever seen it hanging out all by itself? Pay attention and I can notice now more, now less. But never apart from the things it’s been doing all along, like you and me and the grass growing tall in the back lawn where I haven’t mowed it at all this year.

The skies cloud over, the temperature drops and a wind kicks up. Is it an “omen”? No — but these things do carry meaning to anyone paying attention. It’s probably going to rain soon. That particular kind of omen we call a “no-brainer” (though humans still manage daily to ignore even obvious omens). As part of the universe where a local storm is brewing, I can pick up on other things spirit is doing, or I can ignore them. The universe “isn’t that into me”, but it is in fact *in* me, and in you too, and we’re both in it.

So I prefer to see “omens” and “signs” as friends visiting. Spirit is simply flowing. One of its flows is you, another is me, a third is the car pulling into the driveway with S. at the wheel, “just stopping by” on her way home after shopping. If I gain insight or wisdom or a nudge to do something, or a burst of gratitude from that visit, then I’m paying attention in some way, and I’m being me, with my own unique responses to what spirit’s always doing all around and in me.

Rather than worrying overmuch about whether it was a sign or an omen or simply another wave in the ocean of spirit manifesting everywhere and everything, why not measure its effects? Is my life deeper, richer? Are the lives of others made richer and deeper? Is that enough, without checking the box labeled “omen” or “not omen”?

But what of the autonomy Brown names as part of her animist understanding of the uni-verse, the “one-turning”?

The idea that “other autonomous beings could show up in my life as messages from spirit – because the idea that a hare, a sparrowhawk, or some other attention grabbing thing could have its day messed about purely to try and give me a sign, is profoundly uncomfortable to me”, she notes.

But she and the many other beings in her life can be and are many things at once. And so are you and I. Like spirit in us and all around, I am many things at once. I am not “purely” anything, but delightfully mongrel. I’m an incarnate human, and also a Vermonter, a husband, a blogger, an aging white male, a person alive in the 21st century, an American, the son of two parents who both lost fathers while still in their single-digit years. I am a manifestation of spirit, a homeowner, a Druid, a teacher, a conlanger, a portal of Mystery, and so on. (Maybe the problem isn’t labels by themselves, but that we never use nearly enough of them. Scatter them like seed. Each is — not a limit — a possibility.) Each of these features opens access points for spirit to reach other beings, while leaving me with the same freedom as other “autonomous beings”. Spirit does “overlap” and “interconnection” really well.

My individuality and freedom are what spirit uses to connect with all other free and individual things. Spirit as the whole, the universe, seems to “love” individuals — that’s why there are many of us, rather than just two or three. Spirit as “one thing” interconnects and links all things, all these other “one things”.

So when a crow flies overhead while I’m checking the squashes in the garden, the crow is a crow and a friend visiting and a reminder, if I’m listening, of animal intelligence and and and.  Its appearance and my awareness meet, for whatever comes from that meeting. Omen, sign, friend visiting, reminder of crow wisdom to fly over things before I decide to land on them, spirit guide — because spirit is always sparking the beings it pervades — to eat, fight, flee, love, mate, birth young, flower, fruit, grow old, die, return, become, become.

And the crow also discovers and learns something. Here’s a human that does not aim a gun at me as I fly over. Here is a water supply, a pond I can drink from. Here are trees to roost in, good cawing branches to talk to the rest of the flock, food sources to peck at in the scraps and compostables that get put out almost daily. And a hundred other crow things I don’t know about, without shapeshifting to Crow, or crow to me.

Brown goes on to make a key observation about our attention:

I can however read something into my behaviour at this point. I was in the right place at the right time, and I think that tells me something about my relationship with the flow. I take exciting nature encounters as good omens not because I think nature is bringing me a special message, but because it means I was in just the right place, at exactly the right time, looking the right way and paying attention. That in turn means I am in tune, and would seem to bode well for anything else I’m doing.

I simply take “encounter” as “message”. Humans are meaning-makers — it’s what we do. Any omen is an amen, an awen, a chance, a doorway. Will I walk through it? Or will I see how spirit walks through it — to me and to everyone and everything else? And as these things happen, can I catch the Song that is always singing, just at the borders of hearing?

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Article in today’s New York Times: “What does it mean to be human?” touches on some of these matters.

Pillbug (Armadillidium vulgare)   2 comments

[Updated/edited 24 May 2019]
pillbugAlmost everyone, city-dweller or rural resident or lifelong suburbanite, has met them, and has a name for them. Also known as the roly-poly, woodlouse, or doodle bug, the pillbug is perhaps the most innocuous non-mammal children encounter. Certainly it’s safer than the family dog or cat. It doesn’t bite or carry disease, and is left without any defense other than “conglobation” — doing that “armadillo thing” that gives it the first half of its scientific name.

So I’m still repeating “armadillidium vulgare” (ar-mah-dil-LID-ee-um vool-GAH-ray) to myself every hour or so, just for the pure fun of the name, since yesterday morning when I did some research to learn more about the little creatures. Why? That’s less interesting to me right now than the pillbug itself, but I’ll explain the reason in a bit. (If you’re just skimming, in a hurry, and want to arrive at what you imagine is the “Druidic payoff” straightaway, go to the final section of this post.)

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pillbug-curlA native European, the pillbug has spread to North America and the rest of the world, where it flourishes in damp and shady environments. If you’ve encountered them, you most likely did so when overturning a garden pot or stone or board in a woodpile. Pillbugs actually aren’t insects, but crustaceans, most closely related to crabs and crayfish. They breathe through gills, and unlike the vast majority of species with iron-based blood, pillbugs use copper — hemocyanin rather than hemoglobin, for the nerds among us — an ancient alternative oxygen-bearing respiration system, making them literal “blue-bloods”.

Pillbugs recycle body wastes, can absorb water at several locations along their body, and carry their young in a belly pouch called a marsupium — if that makes you think “marsupial”, like a kangaroo or possum, you’re not so far off track.

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Which brings me to “why the pillbug as a blogpost topic?”

Workshop 5 at the recent Gulf Coast Gathering in Mandeville, LA, focused on spirit and animal guides. Here’s Lorraine leading the workshop, her own cat guide prominent on the t-shirt she’s wearing:

lorraine-wkshp

photo courtesy Kezia Vandilo

As often happens during guided meditations and visualizations, I work on patience. Whether or not anything “comes through”, the practice itself has value. It builds energy and receptivity to things outside the “enchantment of the apparent world” as OBOD rituals put it. Lorraine asked us to travel with our guide to a clearing where we could encounter a new helper.

Nothing … nothing … nothing. My boar guide, happy to explore the Louisiana woods, kept away. Or at least I experienced no trace of him. Instead, inner mist, overcast gray, drowsiness … Then, almost at the end of the visualization: pillbug! I swallowed my laughter. My amused surprise at the unexpectedness of this particular animal guide disturbed its inner form not at all. I’m small, but like all things I have my dignity, I seemed to hear. Pay attention.

As I wrote here a little over a year ago,

When something like this grabs me, I start trying it out, trying it on for size. What does my spiritual path do with it? Does it stir me, even — or especially — if I resist it? (I’ve found that’s one good test for the value of my path, too.) Do I want its insight with me over the next meters and miles, minutes or months? Is there a place for it in my backpack or tool-kit? If so, what? If not, why not? … Why has it arrived on my doorstep at all? Has it come to me now, or in this particular form, because I’ve already rejected it at least once?! Will I at least remember to write it down in my journal, so when it knocks me upside the head again, sometime in the future, a review of what I write today will help the lesson sink deeper, enough that next time at least I’m able to act?

I’m a Druid so also I count the non-human world among my teachers. That doesn’t mean I have to stay in class, or stick with the same teacher. It means, if I need to, that I can learn and move on. It means — thank the gods! — I have many teachers. It may well mean, if I really need to learn something, that the classwork I don’t finish here may reappear somewhere else, in another class, on another arm of the spiral. But it also means I can call on teachers I adore and who support me to help me with teachers who challenge me, rub me the wrong way — teachers who don’t make it easy …

So what do I take away from this encounter, this new guide? Stay small and inconspicuous? Keep to the undersides of things? Protect my belly and curl my back against trouble?

Or maybe pay attention to things that may seem too small to deserve your notice. Disdain nothing that can teach you. (And what can’t teach me, after all? Only what I ignore …)  Stay flexible enough to adapt, to bend. Keep in touch with the earth. Know that my dignity and worth don’t depend on anyone else. My value in a supersize culture has nothing to do with quantity but with quality. And, always, listen.

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Images: pillbug; conglobating pillbug.

A One-Winged Dragon   4 comments

9dragSo my Druidry goes to work and I find out, a little more, what it can do.

This last September, when my wife and I were visiting friends on our way to the 2014 East Coast Gathering, we stopped in at a community antique shop. Normally I don’t visit such places, but this one, run as a non-profit, drew us in. Though my wife didn’t find the odd weaving item she’s perpetually on the lookout for, shuttle or reed or bundle of heddles that she can often locate used, I met a dragon.

I say “met” because elemental encounters with beasts like dragons are gifts to celebrate. But was this draig-athar, the air dragon I first took it to be? Or maybe draig-teine, the fire dragon? Oh, too much mind, not enough listening.

airdragThe right wing was missing. I picked it up. Heavy as earth, and earthbound with that missing wing — probably brass, that fire metal composed of tin — and copper, a water metal. As a candle-holder, also linked with fire. All of them mined from earth. All four elements in one. Candle holder on the top of the head … in Chinese dragon lore, the dragon possesses a chimu, which enables it to fly. As the Han Dynasty scholar Wang Mu observes of the dragon: “Upon his head he has a thing like a broad eminence (a big lump), called chimu. If a dragon has no chimu, he cannot ascend to the sky.”

Let go of labels. But fly without one wing? Transmute! There was my augury, if I wanted one. Don’t let mere appearances decide your reality. Or, to make it short and sweet — fly anyway.

Five dollars lighter (paper standing in for coin — metal again), I carried the dragon from the shop to our car.  Back in Vermont, he (she?) sits facing west on a window-sill near where I’m clearing a space for an altar. Just out the window is a thermometer. In other words, there’s enough symbolism here to keep me busy with metaphors and correspondences till both dragon and I dissolve into our component elements, the life force binding us long ago withdrawn.

Fly anyway.

Struggling with diet and energy levels and an ornery GI tract still sorting itself out after radiation for a prostatectomy? Fly anyway.

A Druidic invitation to see possibility in limitation — the only place we find it. Fly anyway.

bdrag2

A one-winged brass dragon

What I want: “a return to how things used to be.” But what do I need, apparently, among other things? Greater compassion for myself, for others dealing with the body’s trials and challenges. Patience with changes already set in motion. Definitely a stronger capacity not to let mere appearances decide my reality.

That’s all you got?

No. But it’s more than I had.

A fair trade?

Wait and see.

Really? “Wait and see”?!

Can you imagine the missing wing — see it there, mirroring the left one, ready to sweep wide and catch the wind?

Yes, but– 

So just because you can’t fly in one place, you stop flying in all the others?! Choose again. 

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Images: dragon from the Nine Dragons scroll; air dragon from the Druid Animal Oracle — image by Will Worthington; the brass dragon.

Hunter, Hunted: Animal Guides, Denial, Persistence   1 comment

[A version of this post appeared in my column in the online Druid magazine Amethyst. My thanks to the editors for providing their well-edited forum for OBOD’s East Coast Gathering (ECG) community.]

I offer this post on the chance it may prove useful if you’re grappling with some aspect of animal guides, power animals, personal totems — the usages and terminologies haven’t settled down yet.

Last September, as I sat engrossed in the ECG 2013 workshop on Animal Guides, I simply had to laugh at myself. It had become clear to me over the weekend that sometimes your animal guide pursues you, rather than the other way around. In my case I’ve learned that gods, spirits, and guides often have to shout and do handstands to get me to notice at all. I’m just grateful they think it’s worth Their while.

boarpicWith Boar, my obliviousness ran deeper than usual, and lasted much longer. Maybe (I say, trying to excuse myself in any way I can find) it’s only because I’ve looked at my obtuseness more closely than usual. Maybe following two paths has scrambled the inner circuits. Maybe my inner discipline needs work (whose doesn’t?!). Laughter may be appropriate – and fitting for Boar, who can be a bit of a trickster anyway. As long as laughing isn’t all you do, I hear inwardly. Clues pile up. Here are some I’ve managed to account for so far.

My father, a city boy who grew up in Niagara Falls, NY, became a full-time dairy farmer a few years before I was born. For some reason he could judge pigs well, recognize the outstanding animal, pick out the prize pig. In fact he won several judging competitions when I was still a baby. But the ability perplexed him. He’d mention it from time to time, amused. (Now I ask myself, is Pig or Boar some kind of family or ancestral totem? One more quest to add to my list of quests.)

I was born in the year of the Boar, according to the Eastern 12-year calendar. OK, I thought. Interesting piece of trivia. Entertainment, really. Chinese restaurant lore. Fortune cookie material. My nominally Christian family never paid any attention to such things. And in my adolescent arrogance and ignorance, I considered myself professionally immune to astrology, which I was sure was for wackadoos. It didn’t help that it was part of the national conversation at the time. If you’re old enough to remember the Reagan presidency and the First Lady’s Nancy Reagan’s admitted fascination with astrology, you know what I’m talking about.

wyconyWhen I was in my early teens, and walking the Wyoming County fairgrounds in late August, a show pig at our local county fair lunged at me as I passed – a serious, front-legs-over-the-top-of-the-pen, get-to-you-if-I-could attempt. I was passing by a good ten feet away, one person in a crowd of visitors to the week-long fair in our agricultural county. What set the pig off? Something I was wearing? A scent of sweat or lunch or shampoo? Pitch or timbre of my voice? I never did find out. But I’ll note that I was fascinated around this time by the Greek myth of the Calydonian Boar Hunt, and the relationship between Meleager and Atalanta, a fleet-footed huntress sent by the goddess Artemis, who had also sent the boar. Why? To punish the king of Calydon for his neglect of the rites due to the gods. (You have to understand: goddesses feature in another of my lists of embarrassing interactions with the universe. Sometimes when I get it down on paper it’s just downright embarrassing. But, I can hope, maybe my embarrassment will be useful to others.)

stylboarhelmI reflect, too, on my long* fascination with Old English, Anglo-Saxon society, and the war (and boar) themes in poems like Beowulf. To the left you can see the stylized (and outsized) boars on the warriors’ helms.

To cite just two instances from one poem, at one point the poet equates the warriors directly to the boar and to its symbolic importance as a fighter:  “The armies clashed — boar struck boar” (lines 1327-8).  And some hundred lines later, Beowulf’s own helmet is described in detail: “A smith crafted it, set boar-images around it, so that ever after no sword or war-axe could bite it” (1452-1454).

asakusajinjaFast forward a decade and I’m teaching English in Japan in Musashino, a western suburb of Tokyo. One weekend my wife and I were visiting Asakusa Jinja, a large Shinto shrine in downtown Tokyo. As I was poring over trinkets for a cheap souvenir, a servant of the shrine insisted that I take a small carved wooden boar token. It didn’t appeal to me at the time – I thought some of the other images were more artistic renderings. But I made a small offering and went home with the image.

The Wild Boar serves as the mascot at a private high school where I taught for almost two decades. Every day classes were in session, I entered the campus dining hall passing beneath a stuffed head of a wild boar mounted over the entrance. The animal had been shot decades ago by one of the first headmasters of the school, an avid hunter.

About a dozen years ago, my wife and I took a vacation to Italy and the Tuscan hill country, where not once but twice I ate wild boar, and was sick both times. You’d think at some point it might have dawned on me that I shouldn’t eat my animal guide.

porcellinoIn fact, a few years ago an alum donated to the school a replica of Il Porcellino, a famous boar figure from Florence, Italy by the Renaissance sculptor Pietro Tacca. I now walked past Boar twice a day, outdoors and in. I can’t claim the universe rearranged itself for my benefit (or embarrassment), but the effect was the same.

Why such resistance on my part? I still don’t know entirely. But Boar appeared in a vision during the East Coast Gathering drumming session with Thomas Deerheart and Maya Minwah, and gave me some very specific health advice for a longstanding issue I’m dealing with. Ever since then I’ve been drawn to touch Boar, run my hands over his coarse fur, feel the ridge along his back.

daoracleThe Druid Animal Oracle entry for Torc, the Boar, notes: “… he is a representative of the Goddess—his skin can heal you” (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druid Animal Oracle, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1994, p. 39). It’s important to note I finally read the Oracle only after I wrote a second draft of this column (yet another resistance – I’ve had the volume on my shelves for over a year).

We say “my guide” or “my power animal,” but I’m finding that for me at least it’s the other way around. I belong to them. Whatever I think I’m looking for, it’s been looking for me even longer. The hunter is hunted. They track me down till I’m cornered and I have to listen, till I can’t ignore them any longer.

Recently Magpie has caught my attention again. I’m trying to listen better this time to whatever this new guide wants to communicate. What with running with Boar, and flying with Magpie, at least I’ve got the opportunity for plenty of inner exercise.

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As I look over these notes, several points stand out.  (I’ll put them in first person and speak only for myself, not to presume too much about who you are, or what your experience may be.)  First, to my mind, is the desire (I don’t know how else to put it) of the Other — Spirit or spirits, guides, deities, totems — to connect with me.  Second I must concede my own obliviousness.  I ask for help, or a “sign,” but even when it lies down in front of me and trips me up, I STILL manage to ignore it.

Next is the likelihood that once I start looking, the coincidences begin stacking up until it’s clear there’s more than coincidence going on.  Common themes emerge.  The animal I seek is also seeking me — in dreams, “accidents,” images, unaccountable emotional reactions to seemingly “unimportant” things– in all the different ways it can reach me, in case one or more channels of communcation are blocked (usually on my end).

Animal images in poems also cry and echo for the nerd-Bard that I am.  We repress the animal guides in and around us, so that like other repressed things, they eventually spring, animal-like, into our psyches elsewhere, in sometimes strange and nightmarish images, in art, dream, eventually, even, in national obsessions and pathologies.  If they pool and accumulate enough cultural energy, they manifest in personal and societal outward circumstances, in political and cultural movements, in wars and other conflicts.   Think of W. B. Yeats’ apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming,” which famously ends “what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Or consider Philip Levine’s “Animals are Passing from Our Lives” in the voice of a pig approaching its slaughter.  Apocalyptic and angry poems like these, like most art, aren’t “about” only one thing.  Run them to earth and they keep meaning something more.  We use animals (animals use us) to communicate what we sometimes cannot say directly.  Among all the other things they do, animals help us express that deep love, that bitter grief, anger and darkness, comfort and healing, that simply may not be able to manifest in any other way.

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Images: boar; boar-helmed warriorsAsakusa Jinja; Il Porcellino; Druid Animal Oracle.

*Like many English majors, I studied Old English as an undergrad and grad student.  Like some others, my interests in things Tolkien and Old English stimulate and nourish each other.  Since then I’ve kept up my amateur’s interest by attending conferences, writing and presenting papers, shoring up my grasp of the language in discussions and translations on online forums, and in rendering portions of OE poems and prose into modern English, as with the lines above.  I say “amateur,” because with the exception of occasionally teaching the poem in translation to high schoolers, I pursue my interest out of personal obsession rather than professional necessity.

 

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