Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Animist Blog Carnival: Birds. Will We Ever Listen?


This eye-candy peppered opinion piece is a part of the Animist Blog Carnival of August 2013. To read other animist perspectives on birds, please visit Brian Taylor's wonderfully thoughtful blog, Animist Jottings.

To read works from previous Animist Blog Carnival or join us, visit headquarters here: The Animist Blog Carnival at Eaarth Animist. 



Black-billed Magpie, (Pica hudsonia) in the Autumn leaves.
Black-billed Magpie, (Pica hudsonia) in the Autumn leaves.

Last week, I reluctantly rose from an incredibly vivid dream during which I may or may not have realized I was dreaming. After completing Robert Moss's Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life, I segued directly into James Hillman's The Dream and the Underworld. At the sacrifice of several other activities (like writing), I have been working very intensely again with the dreamwork. This time, not as a vehicle for working magic, but as my personal communication line to the Oneiroi (Ὄνειροι); the gods, daemons or personifications of dreams -- pick whichever makes you most comfortable. The specifics of this dream constitute much too cavernous a rabbit hole to venture into here, but the events occurring immediately outside this dream were of direct relevance to the topic at hand: birds.

My neighbors across the cul-de-sac always have scores of magpies (Black-billed Magpie, Pica hudsonia) in & about their yard. To this I confess a deep envy, for I love those raucous, showy beasts. They are among my favorite corvids, even if they are comparatively small & lack the edgy quality of their larger, more popular ebon brethren. So often I have watched the magpies from the kitchen window & muttered wistfully to myself, or the skeleton cat, the children, anyone who might listen… "How come they never hang out over here? What are we missing?" This morning I was pulled from my dream repeatedly by a cacophony below the bedroom window. A single magpie, riotous as ever there was one, summoning me with relentless vocal vigor, back into the waking world. 

A magpie... What does this mean? I could check some book of correspondences or bird symbolism (Jungian, Native Alaskan, Celtic, Chinese… pick your flavor, they're endless), but I won't. I know what that bird was about.

That bird was pulling me out of a potentially sticky situation which I could not perceive from my vantage point in the dreamworld.

The bird was also really digging the insects hovering about our lawn...


Canadian Geese (Branta canadensis)  demonstrating a genius we can only lamely imitate.
Canadian Geese (Branta canadensis)
demonstrating a genius we can only lamely imitate.



Birds. We humans love birds & it is so obvious why: they have a genius that we can only lamely imitate. They can fly. We will never attain their brilliance in this faculty. They are true magic-makers & in tribute, our human spirits, cultures & imaginations have seen to it that our avian associates are the bearers an aggregation of folklore, correspondences & symbolism of epic proportions.


Sun Salutations of the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).
Sun Salutations of the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).


Sun Salutations of the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura).

But despite my delight in the folklore & the amusement I enjoy while leafing through symbolism tomes, I find all these proscribed notions about birds (or anyone else) very limiting. (I have discussed this issue before in Sciento-Magick: Re-thinking Correspondences I.) Fascinating, engrossing, enchanting & even sometimes relevant, but overall, still limiting. Why? Because, in the end, I tend to feel that all those "correspondences" for the other than human world (not just birds) function very much like stereotypes & stereotypes ultimately de-personalize the stereotyped. Getting wrapped up in all our human-centred lore, symbolism & correspondences is so very human-centered. It can -- & does -- cause us to stop listening to what our neighbors might actually be trying to tell us…

Winter Crow (Corvus corax).
Winter Crow
(American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos).
Say I look out my window & I see five crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). I could say to myself, "Five crows for silver…" (I wish!), but what those five crows could really be saying is, "Hey, thanks for leaving the lid off the garbage can! That halibut carcass is the bees knees!" Perhaps they are saying nothing at all. Or, perhaps they are implying something more subtle & personally relevant, as they often do. Unfortunately for us, the subtle messages require more effort to discern &… oh, we humans like to shy from too much effort or introspection. It is much easier & much more fun to crack open the tomes & leaf about to find what the "Native Americans" or the "Celts" or the "Gypsies" or the Brothers Grimm had to say about those crows…








Which brings me to a tale of bird-related "Native American" symbolism. Let me begin by very briefly stating that I do not practice "shamanism" specifically because I am deeply uncomfortable with the degree to which non-Native people have co-opted, misused, misinterpreted, misappropriated & marketed the "Native American" & pretty much all other indigenous religious systems worldwide. I might share certain spiritual perspectives, values, inclinations & behaviors, but I do not consider myself a student of any the "Native American" or other indigenous world religious systems. This tale is not about that. It might however, be about the folks who do… or not.

A couple of Winters ago, I was looking for specifics on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 because, as a scavenger, I have an uncontrollable urge to drag home body parts. Sometimes those parts are bird parts. At some point I realized that there was a high probability that much of what was accumulating about my homestead might be contraband. True to character, I never got to the full text of the treaty act because I ran down a rabbit hole of the most diversionary kind: a Yahoo discussion thread. 
In the thread, some human person -- non-Native I presume from their avatar -- was asking about the "Native American symbolism" of the "eagle." My immediate reaction was, "Well, for starters , what sort of eagle? Which tribe's lore? Where? What time? What else was happening?" This person "saw an eagle" which I must presume was a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) because it would be the most common, recognizable eagle in the lower 48, but there was little more symbolically or otherwise, to go on. However, this did not hinder a glut of culturally non-specific correspondences to be bandied about throughout the thread. The querent was quite wound up about knowing "what it means" to see an eagle & the conversation went on for several posts. Down the thread a ways, someone responded by identifying themselves as a Native person, (I believe one of the Pueblo -- Hopi, I suspect, but I forget) chimed in with the most interesting, pragmatic reply. This person said that whenever they see an eagle "on the rez," they just think, "It's an eagle." No big deal. Except when the eagle crosses the road in front of the car. Then they turn back. 

I loved that thread because it illustrated the murky conundrum that comes from extracting symbols & correspondences out of context -- physically, personally & culturally. The symbolism, the omens are pragmatic, if we apply them in the proper context. But, willy nilly, generalized or "universal" hodgepodges of symbolic "meaning" leave me itchy. This is why I prefer to stick to personally relevant symbolism -- I would rather strive for communication.


Midsummer Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus).
Midsummer Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus).

Early Spring Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) & quite possibly the same as above.
Early Spring Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus)
& quite possibly the same as above.

Raven (Corvus corax)
Raven (Corvus corax)
with personally"meaningful" 
mention HERE.
In a particularly excellent interview (Podcast: Graham Harvey on Animism) graciously made available by The Religious Studies Project, Graham Harvey describes a similar tale relevant to what I seek to cultivate & what he calls the "personal nature of the world." Beginning at minute 25:25 in the podcast, Harvey relates an incident where an eagle flies over & encircles a dancing & drumming ceremony. Eagles are not unusual in that region -- they are, in fact, quite common -- but the notable act of the bird chosing to fly across the river & circle the people during their ceremonial finale gave it meaning. What did it mean? Harvey asked a variety of participants & came to the conclusion that to different people, "it meant different things, but it was a communication." A communicationExactly.

Immature Red-tailed Hawk (?)  (Buteo jamaicensis)
Immature Red-tailed Hawk (?)
(Buteo jamaicensis)
If we stay locked into the established cultural/magickal/spiritual presumptions we humans like to place on birds (or anyone else) we risk a sort of stereotyping. Clutching to our assumptions, we cease to listen to the individual & thereby (inadvertently) deny their personhood. We cease to communicate or be receptive to communication. In the interview, Harvey speaks of "multiculturalism in nature."  I believe that part of multiculturalism means allowing everyone their own voice. That means that sometimes -- probably most of the time -- that bird is not telling you anything at all about you, just like that woman across the aisle on the bus is also not telling you anything about you. Remember, as Harvey says, "It's not about you." But, it is also "not without you." So sometimes, someone does have something to communicate. When that moment arrives, let us each hope we will listen.

And the magpie? …hasn't returned, much to my chagrin.


6 comments:

  1. wow, I think my head just exploded.
    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!
      That's very messy. Will you be needing assistance with the cleanup? ;)

      Delete
  2. Hurray, another blow against animal-cracker animism. (I pulled Tiger out of the box. Tiger means XYZ). Most of the time, the critters are just being critters — although I have had a raven tell me where the elk were — it's not his fault if I didn't shoot one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found it particularly amusing that you & I said just about the same thing in our bird posts (w/o one or the other being aware of it) yet it took me several hundred words to say what you said in a few. :P

      "Animal-cracker animism" I like that. Consider it co-opted.

      Delete

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