Update on Surgery

December 7, 2018
Chickadee on a fir branch
Photo: Dawn Huczek

My surgery for torn rotator cuff and frozen shoulder went off without a hitch. Too soon to crow about success; fingers crossed. I am out of the sling and driving again, which is a big relief.

The Universal Approach to Animal Divination: Roadrunner

November 30, 2018

Video: Katja Schulz

The Black-Throated Sparrow doesn’t realize she’s in danger.

Pecking between the gravel bits for ants, she knows there are no hawks circling above and no foxes lurking nearby. A snake could be heard gliding along the desert floor in plenty of time to fly away. She is aware of the woman standing a few feet away, but not particularly concerned. When the roadrunner races in, scooping her up without breaking stride, she never knows what happened.

How do Witches and followers of other Euro-shamanic paths interpret animal encounters for which there is no body of culturally specific folklore? Roadrunners are native to the Western Hemisphere and the vast families of sparrows are too diverse to be generalized. The temptation is to plunder indigenous American folklore for direction, but this approach requires caution, as spiritual conceptions among Native American tribes differ widely and may be incompatible with European ones.

An alternative to consulting a book or scouring the Internet for a canned interpretation is to employ a methodological approach. A methodological approach looks at the context in which an encounter occurs as well as the characteristics of the animal herself. Context can be cultural, individual, or environmental. It can apply to a discreet encounter or to a series of encounters. It can be tentative or incomplete, awaiting further encounters for clarification. I call this methodological approach to interpreting animal signs the Universal Approach to Divination.

Applying the Universal Approach to the introductory scenario, we have a predator-prey encounter. Which bird the woman observing the kill identifies with depends on her personality and life situation. Let’s suppose she feels drawn to the roadrunner and has been observing this bird for awhile.

Greater Roadrunner. Photo: PhreddieH3

The Greater Roadrunner is a large desert-dwelling bird native to Mexico and the American Southwest, about the size of a raven. She has pronounced tail-feathers and a scruffy crown. She flies infrequently, mainly short distances to access nesting sites or to escape predators. Her preferred mode of transportation is bipedal, and she can run 15 mph or more, faster than a human. The placement of the toes, two in front and two in back, forms an X print that makes it challenging to decipher when tracking which direction the bird was traveling. Encountering roadrunner tracks might signify a confusing upcoming situation where you “don’t know if you’re coming or going.”

The scraggly roadrunner can devour large prey such as rattlesnakes by banging the reptile’s head against a rock. Meeting a roadrunner with a venomous animal in her beak might signify a thorny problem ahead requiring resourcefulness.

Sometimes roadrunners hunt in tandem. Like most birds, roadrunners form long-term monogamous bonds and cooperate in nesting and rearing chicks. Two or more roadrunners together might signify a cooperative endeavor.

Most people are familiar with the roadrunner through the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons, which feature a hapless coyote attempting to prey on a roadrunner who continually outwits him. While in reality a roadrunner is no match for a coyote, in popular culture the roadrunner represents the triumph of the underdog by virtue of ingenuity. The cartoon roadrunner emits a beep-beep sound like a car horn, an allusion to the bird’s name bearing no resemblance to the actual call. The sound a desert wanderer is most likely to hear from a roadrunner is a rapid bill-clicking territorial burst reminiscent of light machinery. The characteristic clicking might be analogous to a car horn telling you, “Heads up! Be alert!”

Black-Throated Sparrow. Photo: Kevin Cole
So how to interpret the opening scenario? If it is the latest in a string of encounters, it may signify another characteristic of this fine bird the woman who observes the kill is working to emulate. Taking this discreet encounter on its own, a possible interpretation is of a chance at a choice acquisition in the near future, perhaps some easy money with no down side requiring no deviation in plan. It may require speed and decisiveness, key roadrunner traits, but little else.

Unless of course the woman identifies with the Black-Throated Sparrow. Then it’s a different bird altogether.

Bill clicking of Greater Roadrunner (Bob DuHamel)

A Personal Note

November 2, 2018
Photo: Cassandra Tiensivu.

I am having surgery for a torn rotator cuff and I will be taking a hiatus for a few weeks. I hope to be posting again soon.

Adirondack Fall Foilage 2018

October 19, 2018

Autumn colors passed their peak about a week ago. The best fall foliage happens at an early cold autumn. This year it stayed warm very late (something I’m not complaining about, after last winter!). Even in an off year, it’s still pretty. I went out several times but had trouble getting pictures because it kept raining and I didn’t want to get my camera wet. Anyway, here it is.

Calling Hestia

October 12, 2018

Hestia, you who tend the holy house [at Delphi] with soft oil dripping ever from you locks, come now into this house, come…draw near and bestow your grace upon my song.

Shapes of Deer

October 4, 2018
Photo: Shenandoah National Park

Driving back from town yesterday in the early evening, I saw more deer by the road in more places than I could count. Seeing so many deer made me think of this passage from Divining with Animal Guides.

The Scottish goddess Cailleach Bheur roams the hillsides herding giant deer and drinking their milk. Cailleach, under various spellings, has been characterized as a deer, hare, cat, grain, serpent, gray mare, mountain, stone, and hag goddess, or as a hag goddess alternating with a maiden alter-ego. The pervasive characteristics of this deity are: female, old, and very large (even giant). I believe Cailleach is a word for a pre-Celtic concept of ancestress, and hence we should expect to find many Cailleachs. The deer Cailleach may be a reindeer, since milk and herding are part of her lore. Reindeer were indigenous to northern Scotland up to the thirteenth century. Alternatively, the deer Cailleach may be linked with Red Deer, who also live in groups and are larger than other European deer species. Another possibility is that the deer Cailleach could be an Irish Elk, a huge species of deer (not elk) that inhabited much of western Eurasia through the Ice Age. It is speculated that the changing climate could not support the Irish Elk, but the species was able to Into the Mist survive in isolated pockets throughout the Neolithic, documented in the foothills of the Ural Mountains even in historical times. The male Irish Elk had beautiful, formidable antlers.

The Scottish word for shape shifting, fith-fath, literally means to take the shape of a deer. It is easy to see why deer, having such a fey quality, would be equated with this concept. Deer are crepuscular creatures, active in the gray periods of the day, and seem to appear and disappear at will. I once stood next to a doe in an open forest and did not see her, so invisible did she make herself. It was almost like she transformed herself into a tree. I have heard many anecdotes about women changing themselves into deer—always women for some reason—and I have even witnessed this phenomenon myself.

Megaloceros (Irish Elk) from Lascaux Cave. France, 17,000
BCE.

Goddess of the Afterlife

September 27, 2018

Halloween will be upon us soon and this object fits the mood. This is a replica of a dagger found in an early gravesite in Poland. This was a gift from my friend Sonya and I do not have a date. Death Goddesses in Eastern Europe were not typically the voluptuous “Venus” figures but were more often thin and depicted in rigid posture.

Autumn Equinox (photo essay)

September 21, 2018

This has been a strange summer leading up to a stranger fall. Normally foliage is near peak this time of year, but it has barely started. Anyway, here is your early autumn photo essay. Perhaps I’ll get another one posted later in the season.