The Ermine Pics

December 29, 2017
Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo da Vinci

This is one of my favorite Leonardo da Vinci portraits, beating the Mona Lisa by a mile. The insouciant gaze in the lady’s eyes is priceless. One of the things that intrigues me about this portrait is what it shows about how late Medieval and Renaissance people thought about the weasel, the critter in this picture, also known as a Stoat, sometimes called an Ermine in his winter coat.

He’s a pretty muscular Ermine, isn’t he?

Lady in Ermine by Sofonisba Anguissola.
The woman in the picture is Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and a patron of Leonardo’s. Ludovico belonged to an organization called the Order of the Ermine, and the pet Cecilia holds in her arm is probably meant to represent him. Perhaps getting a portrait painted with the mistress was a step too far even for a powerful nobleman. Or maybe this was a statement about the nature of their relationship. Or possibly the lady had a favorite Ermine. (They were often kept by nobility as pets).

The Ermine signified purity, including sexual chastity, which was another reason to associate the creature with the Duke’s unmarried lover. The Order of the Ermine, founded in Naples by King Ferdinand I in 1464, emphasized chivalric honor and integrity. An earlier Order of the Ermine was founded in Brittany in 1381 and took its emblem from the coat of arms of the Duchy of Brittany. The emblem signified loyalty and heroism on behalf of Brittany.

Elizabeth I Ermine Portrait by William Segar
I suspect (with no evidence that I know of) that the Stoat/Ermine was originally a family totem, perhaps associated with a specific tribal leadership, but by the Renaissance he was an emblem of all royalty, held dear as a trimming for garments that only the aristocracy could afford. The 1585 portrait of Elizabeth I of England used the Ermine to underscore her royal legitimacy (her father’s marriage to her mother was considered illegitimate by Catholics) and her virgin chastity.

Going back to the original Lady with an Ermine, Cecilia seems to have been an interesting woman. She was not from a noble family but was nevertheless well educated and wrote poetry and essays in Latin (like other women of her day, not for publication). Even after the Duke’s wife managed to quash their affair and she remarried, Cecilia continued to hold literary salons, and she was admired as a cultured woman during her lifetime.

Shield of Duchy of Brittany. The white signifies the Ermine’s white coat, the black his spotted tail.

“Secrets of Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine Finally Revealed,” in Art World, September 30, 2014.

“Who Was Cecilia Gallerani?” in Art Galleries Home Galleries 1998.

“1585 “Ermine” portrait by Nicholas Hilliard (Hatfield House, Hatfield UK),” in Grand Ladies November 5, 2009.

Blessings of the Season

December 22, 2017
Early 20th Century Postcard by Carlo Chiostri.

From Invoking Animal Magic:

There are a few positive Christian legends about spiders. In one story, spiders decorate the Christmas tree with their webs, which is why tinsel is applied to holiday trees today. In another a spider spins a thick web over the cradle of Baby Jesus to hide him from the wicked King Herod. Since Christmas is the most pagan of Christian holidays, it seems reasonable that some pagan solstice stories about spiders became woven with Christian themes.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Companion Animals and Your Health

December 1, 2017

As a single writer, it would be easy for me to fall into that stereotypic trap of keeping irregular hours. Staying up all night as the creative urge takes hold; lounging in bed with a book until the sun hangs low in the west. One thing that keeps this from happening is the person in charge of my schedule: my cat, Samhain.

There is the morning and evening feeding schedule, of course, but it would be fairly simple to work around that. Samhain insists, however, that the rest of the schedule be maintained. I must not only get up at a certain time, but go to bed at the appointed time. Then there is yoga time, and play time, and time to brush teeth. I have to admit that I was the one who established the routine; Samhain only enforces it rigorously. (You try disobeying a Siamese cat.)

While I chafe sometimes under the tyranny, I have to admit that it keeps me from falling into sleep deprivation and other destructive habits. Pets have many ways of keeping us healthy. This article at Positive Health Wellness discusses a wide range of health benefits (for humans) of keeping a pet:

Just petting your animal helps to release the relaxation hormones. Your blood pressure will drop, and you are at a much lower risk of various side effects of too much stress..

Only One Week Left!

November 17, 2017

book cover

Only one week remains to enter and win an advance copy of Divining with Animal Guides. Here is an excerpt:

The American Alligator is cherished because we almost lost her. In the twentieth century the country was horrified to learn she had been driven nearly to extinction by unregulated hunting,but after decades of conservation this key swamp predator is no longer endangered. Continued conservation efforts focus on habitat preservation rather than hunting, which is now better controlled. The alligator hunting traditions of the Seminole Indians inspired the American sport of alligator wrestling. The moves originated in techniques for capturing large alligators, which would then be penned until ready to grill.

You may think crocodilian symbology has no relevance to you if you cannot reasonably expect to encounter an alligator in a parking lot or on a golf course, but if you cultivate a gator mind you will observe that this creature is all around you. It is common in advertising. You may have a tiny crocodile emblem on your shirts, and you may wear Crocs on your feet. Words referring to the crocodilian family arise frequently in conversation, and noticing this, and other animal signs around you, is the starting place for animal divination.

Divining with Animal Guides Now Available For Pre-Order

September 22, 2017

You can now pre-order my next book Divining With Animal Guides: Answers From the World at Hand through Amazon US or Amazon UK. Pre-ordering the book generates interest and helps the publisher with promotional decisions, so if you want to read this book, please consider pre-ordering. You don’t have to pay until the book is shipped. Publication date is February 23rd.

Here is another excerpt:

Ravens yelling in an aspen tree. Photo: U.S. National Park Service.
No matter how much research is funded and how many papers published, ravens and crows will always understand us better than we understand them. Their survival depends on becoming familiar with our behavior, exploiting our weaknesses and avoiding our traps. They are now so attuned to our ways that they are aware of variations in speed limit along the roads they scavenge and have learned the basics of picnic etiquette.

Though our interactions with crows and ravens have changed as we have changed, the symbiotic relationship between us is ancient. Since they know so darn much about what is going on, it would be surprising if they had not been designated creatures of prophecy. Are they truly omniscient? Do they really know that you will have unexpected guests for dinner, and that the light on your answering machine is blinking? This seems like a bit of a stretch, even for me. The thing of it is, in divination it does not matter what the raven knows; what matters is what we know when we encounter the raven.

When Alexander of Macedon saw ravens quarreling at the gates of Babylon, the emperor knew this was an evil sign, though he continued into the city. A few weeks later he was on his deathbed. Ravens portended calamity to this man in this place at this time in his life. The association of ravens with death and ill fortune is the most widespread and pervasive in Western cultures. In folklore of southern Spain, for example, one croak of the raven means misfortune and three croaks means death.

But is disaster necessarily the message of the raven? When Alexander was lost in the deserts west of Egypt, after torrential rains wiped out the road, two ravens appeared, and the emperor understood they had appeared to guide his party. Soon the conquerors had found the oasis at Siwa. Ravens portended salvation to this same man in this other place at this other time in his life. Whether Classical historians were embellishing or accurately reporting is not important here: the contradictory interpretations show a nuanced view of raven symbolism, dependent on circumstantial variables.

How Do Wild Animals Weather the Storm?

September 15, 2017
Anhinga at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Photo: Euku.

The US has experienced two major hurricanes over the past two weeks, and like many people I have been following the news on these events closely. The last statistics on fatalities that I found report that seventy-one people died in hurricane Harvey and eighty-one in Irma. More than half of the Irma fatalities occurred in the Caribbean. Death tolls from these storms are expected to continue to rise.

As devastating as these hurricanes were, I couldn’t help but compare the loss of life to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, where over 1,800 people died. One of the reasons that many people in Katrina’s path refused to evacuate was that they did not want to abandon their pets. Storm shelters were not allowing pets and buses were refusing to transport people accompanied by animals. This time around shelters were prepared to accept people accompanied by animals and animal shelters were also poised to help evacuees who could not leave with their pets.

So dogs and cats, as well as people, fared better in these major hurricanes than in previous ones. Many people are asking, what about wildlife in the regions where hurricanes made landfall?

Six toed cat at Hemingway House. Photo: Avarette.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, on the south Texas coast, was hit hard by Harvey and is closed until further notice. Major damage occurred at the visitor information center, and it may turn out to be a total loss. Public viewing platforms also suffered damage. A full assessment of damage has not occurred yet due to unsafe conditions for grounds crews. A problem with flooding in this area is almost inevitable petroleum and other chemical contamination as well as debris that could potentially harm wildlife. Refuge spokespersons report that major beach erosion occurred but that the saltwater marshes, major migratory bird habitats, suffered no obvious damage. The good news is that whooping crane migration to this area does not begin until next month. About half of the critically endangered whooping cranes winter at the Refuge.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida also suffered major damage to buildings and boardwalks. The Sanctuary is closed and there is no word yet on when it will be reopened. Again, an assessment of damage to the Sanctuary will not be completed for some time for reasons of safety, in this case the major hazard being fallen trees and unsafe structures. On Big Pine Key, deer have been spotted since Irma tore through. It is unknown what effect the hurricane had on the population of the rare Key deer species. On Key West, Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats evidently survived the storm just fine.

Whooping Crane family at
Aransas NWR. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife.
Birds and animals have a number of survival mechanisms for dealing with catastrophic hurricanes, which is not to say that they all necessarily survive. Many birds and small animals retreat into tree cavities, which provide wonderful shelter provided that the tree does not topple or floodwaters do not reach the cavity. Migratory birds are aware of tropical storms across great distances and will adjust their migratory schedules to avoid major storms. Some migratory birds fly into storms and survive, and they may even hang out in the “eye” until the storm breaks up. In both of these scenarios, surviving birds may be pushed very far out of their natural habitats. A bigger problem for bird survival than immediate deaths from wind and rain is the loss of habitat. Bird habitat is vanishing at an alarming rate due to human development, pollution, and global warming, so habitat loss from hurricanes can have a big impact.

Here are the links for updates on damage assessments at Corkscrew and Aransas.

Have you seen information yet about the webinar I will be leading on Mastering Moon Energies?

Feast of Vulcan

August 23, 2017
Please don’t cook me! Go vegan. Photo: Cassandra Tiensivu.

August 23rd is the Roman Feast of Vulcan. The god was propitiated on this day for a long life. Fish were thrown into the flames as a substitute for human lives. The concept of the fish as a metaphor for the human soul is much older than Christianity.

You can always make paper fish for the Vulcan fire. They burn better anyway. Photo: Pedroserafin.

Goddess of the Harvest

August 11, 2017

All Hail the Winsome Freya

Photo: Jerzy_Strzelecki

All Hail the Mighty Cerridwyn

Photo: Joshua Lutz

All Hail the Nourishing Demeter

Photo: Myrabella

These triple goddesses have traditionally been worshiped in porcine form. The pig embodies the generating, nourishing, destroying aspects of the Triple Goddess.

Raining Mice

July 28, 2017
Photo: US Fish and Wildlife

There is a curious section in Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland that describes the goddess Diana’s incarnation in human form and her marvelous spellcasting to impress the witches. The passage says that “she declared that she would darken the heavens and turn all the stars into mice.” Diana duly accomplishes this feat, the heavens rain with mice, and Diana is crowned Queen of the Witches.

So why does Diana make it rain mice, of all things, to impress the witches? The answer lies in the dual roles of Apollo, as god of light and god of mice. Possibly these roles became syncretized with Apollo as he absorbed many other gods, but at any rate Diana was turning the stars (light) into another of their forms: mice. This is why Diana once chose to make it rain mice.