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?

Wildcat Swipe

November 14, 2014

Wildcat illustration by A. Thorburn.
Wildcat illustration by A. Thorburn.

The persecution of cats in Western Europe during the Witch Craze is widely known. Under Christian influence cats were considered agents of the devil or witches in disguise. The terrifying specter of the cat may have pre-Christian antecedents in Celtic countries however. The legend of “King Arthur and the Cat,” though recorded well into Christian times, may reveal something about earlier Celtic attitudes toward the cat, attitudes possibly influenced by interactions with the indigenous wildcat.

The story begins with a fisherman alone in his boat making a vow to offer the first fish he catches to the Lord. But the first catch is unusually fine, so the fisherman hedges and says he will donate the second fish. The second fish is even bigger than the first, so the third catch is then offered. The third fish, however, is not a fish at all, but a small black kitten. The fishermen has need of a mouse catcher, so this third catch does not go to the Lord but is taken to the man’s home.

The kitten grows into a giant cat who eventually strangles the fisherman and his family, then escapes into the countryside where he wreaks havoc, taking many lives. The populace lives in terror and the land becomes desolate.

Eventually Merlin intervenes and enlists the aid of King Arthur. It takes both Merlin’s magic and Arthur’s courage to vanquish the cat, who attacks so persistently that the feet of the dead cat remain fastened to Arthur’s shield.

This fourteenth century French tale has parallels in the eleventh century Irish Voyage of Mael Duin and the sixteenth century English short story Beware the Cat. In all of these stories there is a fierce, implacable cat who takes human life. The cat in these cases does not follow the witch hunter’s narrative as a devilish seducer of the innocent: he is an agent of retribution for a serious offense against Celtic morality. In King Arthur and the Cat the sin is a broken vow, in Beware the Cat it is a brutal raid, and in Voyage of Mael Duin it is a violation of hospitality. The savage cat is not an expression of evil, but of justice.

The webinar “Magical History of the Cat” has been rescheduled for Monday, November 24th, so there’s still time to register. Details are at the webinar website.


“An Irish Odyssey: The Voyage of Mael Duin” in Celtic Mythology. New Lanark, Scotland: Geddes and Grosset, 1999.

Baldwin, William. Beware the Cat.

“Wilde, Lady Francesca Speranza. “King Arthur and the Cat” in Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland.

The Owner’s Handbook

November 7, 2014

Reminder: The Magical History of the Cat, a free webinar with yours truly, is this Monday November 10 at 7:00 Eastern Time. Here is the web page for the event. You may attend live or listen to the recording at your convenience. You must pre-register to attend or to stream the recording. You can register through the webinar webpage or through this link.

They say you are a mystery
They say you have secrets you will not give up
I say they have not tried to understand

I will study you
Catalogue your movements
Write your words
Analyse your tastes
Cater to your preferences

I will let you decide whether we will pet or not pet
play or not play
I will let you hide in your solitude
I will accept chastisement when I leave the house
I will be the human you rely on
and I will apologize for being human

I will wonder why I am behaving so oddly
and friends will wonder when I became so strange

Then I can say with authority that you are mystery
Then I can speak honestly about secrets that cannot be known

Magical History of the Cat

October 17, 2014

Pregnant Lioness. Photo Robin Alasdair and Frederick Hutton.
Pregnant Lioness. Photo Robin Alasdair and Frederick Hutton.

Folk beliefs about the domestic cat have their roots in Egyptian lion worship. The famous cat goddess Bast was originally a lion goddess.

Registration is now open for the November 10 webinar “Magical History of the Cat.” The webinar will be happening at 7:00 pm Eastern Time. If you can’t make it then you can stream the webinar later, but you do have to register ahead of time.

I’ve made a website about the webinar that gives more information.

I will be at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Saratoga, New York on Sunday October 19th from 4:00 to 6:00 signing books.

Note to my regular readers: I have several more posts about postmodernism, but I’m currently backed up with material, so I’ll be posting the next one sometime next month. Posting postmodernism sounds like a postmodern poem, but I won’t be writing it.


May 24, 2013

Samhain typing.
Samhain typing.

My familiar Samhain (pronounced SOW-when) is a seven year old blue point Siamese cat. Among Siamese afficionados, she is known as an “applehead,” meaning she has not been bred for the extremely svelte figure favored in cat shows. Her shape is more like the Buddhist temple cats bred for centuries in her native Thailand.

One of the many apocryphal legends about this breed recounts that a pair were left by a monk to guard an important Buddhist relic, but the male became restless and set off in search of the human. The female stayed with her entrusted task, focusing so intently on the treasure that her eyes crossed and her tail became kinked. This earned the female Siamese cat the reputation for being the preferred temple guardian.

I had decided that I preferred Siamese cats as familiars even before I learned about their importance in Thai Buddhist temples. By “familiar” I mean an animal who assists with spellcasting and clairvoyant work. To be an effective familiar, an animal must have psychic abilities and must also bond closely with her witch companion. Dogs bond easily with humans, but dogs are a bit tricky because some dogs are very psychic while others are entirely flat-footed (flat pawed?) when it comes to contacting the etheric realms. Cats are reliably psychic, unless you get the rare one that’s actually psychotic, but they sometimes bond imperfectly even with a person who treats them well. Horses and birds meet both criteria, but they can pose logistical problems. A Siamese cat will usually bond firmly with one other person, and like all cats will have psychic abilities.
Samhain with her papers.
Samhain with her papers.

There are downsides to choosing a Siamese. They require a great deal of attention and they have high energy levels. If you do not play with your Siamese enough, you will get the “ankle attack.” Getting a second cat as a companion will not solve the problem, since the Siamese bonds closely with one other being, and you want that special one to be yourself. Also there is the talking issue: this is a breed with a loud voice that communicates vocally. Someone once told me that one of the first cat rescue groups focusing on a specific breed formed around the Siamese, because many people are attracted to the look of the breed, then can’t handle the energy level and the constant talking. So if you get a Siamese or Siamese-mix, be sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Samhain's altar.
Samhain’s altar.
I like the idea of tuning into and bonding with my cat familiar before I actually meet her by trying to discern the name corresponding to her universal soul vibration. I have tried this with two cats now, and I do not think I was able to achieve this. The first time the name Michelle came to me, which I changed to Misha because I thought Michelle was a stupid name for a cat. When I arrived at the house to meet Misha/Michelle, I discovered that the little girl had named this kitten Michelle. Was Michelle the vibration emanating from the kitten’s higher self, or did I just discern the name the kitten was already responding to? With my latest familiar, the name that kept coming to me was Kit, as in Kit Carson. I thought Kit was also a stupid name for a cat. When I arrived to pick up this kitten at the home of the family who bred Siamese cats, I inquired about the name since I wasn’t coming up with anything satisfactory. The lady told me “The children give all the kittens names, often really silly names, but this one they just call Kitten.” I had done it again. Maybe kittens don’t have human names corresponding to their soul vibration. Or maybe they do, and the children didn’t understand “Kitten’s” real name because it was an unfamiliar word. I ended up naming her Samhain, which is Irish for Halloween, because I brought her home with me the day before Halloween.

Samhain getting an Angel Card reading.
Samhain getting an Angel Card reading.
One of the challenging things about having a familiar – and I imagine this holds for all familiars, even the discarnate ones – is that the familiar will try to steal the power of her witch companion. With cats this takes the form of power struggles over magical objects. The altar has been a particular focal point of this struggle with Samhain. Someone suggested that I give Samhain her own altar to defuse the tension, and it seemed like a good idea. Samhain was delighted with having an altar of her own, but this did not take away her fascination with mine. Another power struggle emerged while I was writing my book, Invoking Animal Magic. Samhain kept stealing pages from the book and tearing them up. I responded by giving her a special folder with her own papers, another gift she appreciated and another gift that did not entirely serve its purpose. My latest attempt to shape behavior has been over tarot cards. I like to leave tarot spreads out several days so I can contemplate the cards, but this means Samhain has to be watched carefully. I decided to try giving Samhain mini card readings, and it turns out Samhain, like most narcissists, really really likes having her cards read. But she still can’t be trusted not to mess up mine.

Samhain\Kitten is a fascinating multi-talented familiar, and I could easily write a multi-part blogging essay about her. I realize, however, that only literary giants like Doris Lessing or May Sarton can get away with writing whole books about their cats (and having peple read them). But now that I have made this introduction, Samhain will show up from time to time as I discuss my magical work.