Hyena: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Cards

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I don’t like hyenas… I didn’t know much about them before this project and they’ve not really grown on me…  But not everyone agrees:

“with her iron jaw and massive clitoris
the beauteous hyena is no more and no less than a queen”
Noah’s Notes (Preliminary) by Penelope Shuttle

As I’ve learned about the different animals covered in this deck I have developed respect and understanding of them and surprising creatures have captured my heart – the vulture, the crow, the earthworm etc.  And despite not really being a fan of the hyena, I do still appreciate the role they play in the web of life.

They are similar to the vulture in that they are essential for cleaning up the environment and without them we could end up overrun with rotting corpses and all the bacteria etc which comes with that.  They are probably best known for scavenging but they do also hunt, although they prefer to be patient and let someone else do the hard work.

A lot of nature documentaries show hyenas trying to get a kill from a lion and indeed, working as a group, they can be successful.  But watch out for karma!  In times of scarce food, lions have been known to steal food from hyenas as well!

They hunt or search for food at night and into dawn and have one of the strongest bites on the planet.  This is not an animal you’d want to stumble across in the dark!  And yet, as humanity spreads, we are encroaching on their territory and human hyena interaction is increasing, which in turn increases hatred and fear of them.

Life in the hyena cackle (genuinely the name for a group of hyenas!) can be tough.  There is a complex social structure and if you’re a male hyena, you’re out of luck.  Especially if you aren’t the lead male.  In order of importance, we have a lead female at the top who basically rules things.  Then come all the other females, their order depending on things including how important their mother was.  Then, after all the female hyenas, come the males.  Males are often left to babysit which must be a bit galling when even a new born female hyena outranks you…

And if you’re a male hyena, you exist pretty much for sex, but only on the female’s terms!  Females tend to go for patient males rather than the aggressive males, possibly as a way of reiterating their dominance.  Regardless of why, like with hunting, we are reminded that patience pays off.

And in case all of this doesn’t make you feel inadequate, the female hyena has genitals which look like a 6-7 inch long penis, although it is actually one of the largest clitoris in the world.  This led to the belief that the hyena was a hermaphrodite.

Life isn’t all fun and games for the female though… Imagine trying to have sex or give birth?  To reproduce the female essentially has to turn her ‘penis’ inside out so it appears like a more traditional vagina for penetration and then they have to give birth from their penis like genitalia which for first time mothers often results in the death of the baby hyena… I’ll leave you to consider what symbolic meaning this may have for you…

In addition to being dominant and having a pseudo-penis, female hyenas have high levels of testosterone and are physically larger than male hyenas which may be a suggestion to channel your masculine energy or stereotypical male traits in order to get what you want.  I’m not by any means suggesting we should all ‘man up’ but sometimes a situation calls for a different approach.  Equally, maybe you need to ‘man down’ and embrace the less traditionally masculine role that the male hyena has.  Or just throw gender out the window all together!

Hyenas are often thought of as as frightening, primitive and best avoided.  They are associated with witchcraft in some cultures and are thought to influence people’s spirits, rob graves, and have the soul of a demon inside them.  Perhaps it is this demon that cackles when the hyena opens her mouth?  Laughter has long been associated with this feral animal so if this card has come up for you, you may want to look at what your sarcasm and jokes are masking.

To sum up… patience can be a good tactic to get what you want, karma may come back to bite you, look at what lies behind your humour and don’t get too caught up in your gender role.

Fire Ants: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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Fire ant gets its name from it’s powerful, stinging bite which apparently feels like fire.  They use their mandibles to grip their victim (or prey!) and then inject venom using their stinger.  They are small but they can be deadly (if you’re allergic to them) and to further teach us that size doesn’t matter, these tiny beings have huge economic consequences.  As with many animals, they have found themselves transported across the world to places which are less than welcoming.  As an aggressive, invasive animal they cause a lot of harm to their new habitats and huge efforts are made to eliminate them.  Australia, for example, spends £20 million a year trying to get rid of them.

I’m going to look at ants more generally for the rest of the post.

The ant

Ants are amazing!  I had an ant infestation in my bathroom last year so I know they aren’t great house guests but they are very persistent and definitely hard workers!  They seem to be able to get everywhere and appear to come from nowhere.

In addition to being work focused, there are a lot of similarities to the bee;  they are community focused, everyone has a role to play and the ants are devoted to their duties.  Like the bee, the ant is an architect, creating an amazingly complex home.  They even pull in help from others such as the species of ant which cultivates fungus to provide food and use their own antibiotic formula to control the growth of the fungus.

As with the bee, we will see that every little act, every role an ant takes on makes a difference and contributes to the strength of the community.  Again, this super organism has a queen at it’s head, most workers are non reproducing females and the males of the ant world are essentially just sperm donors – they mate and then they die.  Where do you feel you fit into the ant family right now?  Maybe you are the queen ant, creating life and light and coordinating a major project or maybe you’re feeling a bit more like the male ant, that is, used for sex…

Super-ant?

Ants may be annoying, especially during a picnic but there can be no doubt that they are essentially miniature superheroes!

One species of ant can stand upside down on a plate of glass and hold 100 times their weight without falling off.  Apparently the key to their strength is their neck and the neck joint of a common field ant can withstand 5,000 times the ant’s weight (presumably not whilst also hanging upside from from a glass plate though!).  The ant does not let its environment hinder it, if they need to they will use their own bodies to create structures eg ladders and bridges to overcome obstacles.  They can, and often do, take on animals much larger than themselves and ants have even been seen carrying dead baby birds back to the ant nest.

You have within you much much more strength than anyone can imagine and probably much more than you will ever need.

Smelling the world

Their amazing life is mostly a result of their highly cooperative set up.  In terms of finding food, scouts will head out to find a good source and leave a chemical trail behind them.  Once they’ve found something tasty, they head back to the nest and strengthen the trail as they go.  Depending on the species you may then have leaf cutter ants head out followed by transporter ants to bring the bounty home.  The different roles are carried out by ants who have their own specialist adaptation for the job.

Without their amazing communication system they would probably fall into chaos, it is communication which makes the community work. 

Which feels like a very applicable statement for human life.  I hadn’t realised until just now that communication and community are linked right down to the actual word form.  We should also ask ourselves what we could achieve if we worked together in a cooperative and organised fashion.

Also, note that the ant’s world is very much one of smell as opposed to our highly visual world.  Maybe its a prompt towards scented candles or aromatherapy or just a reminder to us not to rely so heavily on our eyes for information.

Myths and folklore

We see the ant as a predictor in ancient Rome where Ceres used ant behaviour as divination and in a number of cultures, the ant is supposed to be able to to predict the weather.

In Cornwall it was unlucky to destroy an ants nest as ants were the souls of unbaptised children or faeries, as we’ll see later, the same was said to be true of frogs.

In a story from the Hopi Indians, we see that the ant has saved humanity not once but twice.  Another reminder that size does not matter, especially when you work together.

In another myth, the bear and the ant are in conflict.  Life is all darkness and this is hard for the ant who is always busy working – she can’t see what she’s doing.  Bear liked the dark and accepted a contest from the ant thinking that she would clearly win any challenge against a feeble little ant… On the day of the dance off, there was a banquet of food.  Bear ate happily but the little ant decided that she should not eat anything despite her hunger.  As the contest went on, bear got fuller and fuller and sleepier and sleepier until she could no longer dance and thus the ant won.  But ant is community minded and thus she made a deal with the bear, there would be light but it would be followed by dark and thus even now, we have day and night.  I think it worked out well for the ant this way… her generosity means that she has night time to rest and isn’t working 24 hours a day… I don’t know if ants really care about day and night but my key message here is don’t work too hard!

The story of the ant and the grasshopper illustrates the ants diligence, patience, forethought and planning, all qualities which help the ant colony achieve their collective goals.

Given that we were looking at the fire ant, I would be tempted to take all these characteristics and essentially amp them up.  For example, where ant may symbolise hard work, fire ant may symbolise working too hard and burning out.

Fire: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Cards

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Fire is associated with the suit of wands in tarot.  This is a suit of energy, of passion, of ideas, of inspiration.  Things which aren’t yet real.  Beginnings.  It is what fuels us.  That spark of excitement when you get an idea.  And like fire, it can be creative or destructive.  It can fuel you or it can cause you to burn out.

This selection of animals are from warm habitats but they also have fiery energy, speed and movement or a way of poisoning predators which may be why they have been included.

For me, they mostly seemed intuitively fire cards except perhaps the elephant. Despite it’s warm habitat, to me, the elephant feels like an earth card.  However, as we will see, fire is a fitting element for this amazing creature.

If you’re enjoying these posts and haven’t yet noticed, I’ve got a page collating all the links to make things easier.

Eagle: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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As I said in the post about the hawk, there are a lot of similarities between these birds.  I would recommend reading that post as well if you have drawn the eagle card.

As observed in the hawk post, the eagle is generally larger and more powerful and can fly higher so is a more spiritual bird.  Like the hawk, the eagle is a messenger from the gods and has a higher perspective on life because of this and because of it’s very literal perspective.

One key difference in terms of the two cards is the relationship with the sun.  The hawk flies in the light and strength of the sun whereas the eagle appears to be mastering the sun.

These icons of wilderness and strength are majestic hunters who’s amazing vision can can spot carcasses from long distances.  They gorge when food is available and can then go ten days without food thus reminding us to prepare for the future.  When diving on prey, they can reach up to 100mph which sounds pretty terrifying but even at that immense speed, they are still able to carefully and precisely target their kill.  Once they have caught their prey their talons clamp shut so they can hold onto their food even when they relax their muscles.  What are you not letting go of?

Eagles soar high above the mundane day to day, flying adeptly and freely through the skies and the realm of the mind, of knowledge and of communication.

Despite their splendour, not everything about the eagle is so regal and godly… They are prone to what is called Cain and Abel Syndrome, that is to say siblingcide.  In the nest, the oldest chick will often kill it’s siblings.  A true survival of the fittest situation that is thought to arise as a result of food scarcity.  If there are limited resources, sharing them with your brother could result in the death of both of you… What do you do in that situation?

Eagles feature in a lot of myths and legends and are considered symbols of strength.  For example, we have the revered bald eagle in america and the Thunderbird from native american tradition was often considered to be an eagle.   Eagle feathers have been used to symbolise rank and bravery as well as in healing, perhaps lending their own strength to help you heal?

We see the eagle’s importance in many cultures, for example, an Aztec sun god took the form of an eagle and in Norse mythology, the golden eagle sits on the top of the tree of life.  The Celts linked the eagle to the sun as well as with the oak tree and saw it as a wise and ancient creature.  The links with the sun and the sky tie the eagle to the role of messenger in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome, being the messenger of Zeus and Jupiter respectively.  Both of these are sky gods although Zeus is better known for his place as king of the gods.  Without doubt, this is a bird of the sun.  And with it is tied to the conscious world, the light, clarity, illumination and the day time.  Take control of your light, shine it on your shadows without fear, see what is made visible.

In my notes I wrote that eagles have few boundaries.  I am assuming that means physically, that is they can go pretty much anywhere but I can’t remember.  Whatever I meant by it I wanted to include it as it’s an interesting thought to ponder.  What are your boundaries?  Do you have too many?  Not enough?  What if you had no boundaries or limitations?

Hawk: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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The next two cards are the hawk and the eagle, both birds of prey and as such their cards have similar attributes.  The hawk is generally smaller than the eagle with a smaller wingspan and it doesn’t fly as high as the eagle.  The eagle is also considerably more powerful than the hawk.

As you can see in the picture, both of these birds appear to be associated with the sun and it is this difference in imagery that best portrays their difference for me.  The hawk is flying close to the sun whereas the eagle is bigger than the sun and appears to be about to grasp the sun.  For me, this echoes the fact that the eagle is the more powerful of the two.  Although the close association with the sun does highlight the hawk’s own power.

Both birds are flying in the realm of the gods and as such are both considered to be messengers from the spirit world.  However, as the hawk does not fly quite as high as the eagle, it is considered to be not quite as close to the gods.  Perhaps we can take this to mean that the hawk carries messages about more earthly business whilst the eagle carries messages about the spirit?

Both the hawk and the eagle see the big picture (unlike the mouse who sees only the minute details) and ask us to examine our lives from above, taking in the broad details.

We can learn a lot about the hawk from how he approaches hunting.  The hawk observes patiently waiting until the right time and then takes swift and decisive action to hone in precisely on his prey.  He uses his strength, his speed and his agility to kill efficiently.

The hawk has excellent vision, hence the term hawk eyes, and can see UV light as well as detect polarised light and magnetic fields.  This brilliant and expansive sight links him symbolically with perception, insight and foresight and really does ask you to look deeper.  Indeed in some cultures, the hawk appears as a prophetic bird, with healing powers.

In terms of mythology, the hawk features in a number of ancient Egyptian stories and there are a number of hawk gods but on the whole it is the eagle that steals the show.  This may be because of a tenancy to use the words a little bit interchangeably and because myths obviously get changed as they move through time and cultures.  In cultures where the eagle dominates then the hawk in stories could possibly get turned into an eagle.

My feeling would be to look at the image, see what you take from it and to read the information about the eagle as well and see what calls to you.

Peacock: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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The peacock is the male of the blue or Indian peafowl and like many species, it is he who has the bright colours and eyecatching appearance.  He has beautiful, iridescent blue and green plumage and the iconic tail feathers are marked with eye spots.  These are displayed in what is thought to be an alluring display to the peahens.  A lot of birds have better colour vision than we do so it’s possible that the peahen sees the tail feathers differently and more vibrantly.  A lot is unknown about the peacocks tail but it’s been suggested that the more eye spots, the better his chances are at getting lucky!

Charles Darwin apparently said that the “sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” because he couldn’t see an adaptive advantage for this extravagance.  Especially as when it is not fanned, it trails behind the bird and possibly hinders flight.  I think William Morris would probably have felt very differently…

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”

– William Morris

Beauty and usefulness need not compete.  Think of a time you’ve picked up a knife, functionally for eating, but felt the perfectly weighted item and admired the workmanship that went into it.  Or an old wooden spoon, passed down from relatives.  Very practical but can you deny that there is something beautiful about such an thing?

It seems a strange message to come from the peacock, but perhaps there is a message here about seeing wonder in day to day mundanity?

And whilst the peacock himself is ornately ordained, he lusts after the peahen who has none of the flamboyance of the male.  He is attracted to her by something deeper than her looks.

The watchful eyes suggest vision and apparently the number of eyes increases as the peacock gets older, almost as if it was gaining eyes as it gained wisdom.  Or as it gains wisdom, it gains more eyes and thus the ability to see the world more clearly?

The eyes are also symbolic of the evil eye and can be associated with bad luck, especially for the peacock!

It is easy to assume that the peacock’s message is about vanity, shallowness and parading yourself around.  And this may be the case.  But we live in a society which is very against pride.  Pride is sinful according to the bible and this has been woven into the fabric of our culture.  Pride does not have to be bad.  I think it’s amazing to feel proud of something we have achieved and it’s a huge deal to be confident enough to share that joy.  Pride can be embodied in such a way that it’s about gratitude and vulnerability rather than judgement and superiority.

As a quick example of what I mean, I drew a puffin this week (he’s not quite finished yet) and I am very proud of myself.  I think he looks good and I wanted to share my satisfaction with my friends.  For most of my life, I wouldn’t have dared to do this for fear of getting mocked or rejected.  But I did share the picture and I have been able to experience other people getting joy from the puffin as well and I’ve been able to hear praise for it.  And I’ve been through this sharing and joyful process of pride with things that so many other people wouldn’t think were a big deal but were huge to me and the sharing strengthened relationships.


I think the peacock is also suggesting we show our true colours, our authentic selves and to check we are being true to ourselves.  This confident displaying is a sign of, and a building block for, good self esteem.  Let’s celebrate that!

And the peacock, like all of us, isn’t perfect.  He’s a strong runner but not such a good flyer.  And whilst his feathers are divine beauty, his feet have been considered ugly.  Indeed one story explains that the peacocks calls are so noisy is because they have just seen their own feet and are exclaiming in horror at their appearance…

Their call is also supposed to predict or induce rainfall:

“when the peacock loudly calls
then look out for rain and squalls”

Of Gods and Kings 

The peacock was considered a royal bird in medieval England – oaths were sworn on their back and they were served at important feasts.  In Babylonia and Persia the peacock is seen as a guardian to royalty, and is often seen in engravings upon the thrones of royalty.

The peacock is the national bird of India and is revered throughout Asia featuring in both the Thai and Sinhalese zodiac.

As well as being regal, they are also godly and were considered to be a symbol of the splendours of heaven.  In Hinduism, the peacock is the mount of the Lord Kartikeya, the god of war and their feathers feature in depictions of many other gods.

Greek goddess Hera had a chariot pulled by peacocks and ancient Greeks believed that the flesh of peafowl did not decay after death, so it became a symbol of immortality. and thus, once again, Christians took the peacock on as yet another sign of the resurrection… They also claimed that the eyes represent the all seeing eye of God.

The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
– Blake

This is taken straight from wikipedia so take it with a pinch of salt:

The Yazidis believe in God as creator of the world, which he has placed under the care of seven holy beings or angels, the chief of whom is Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel.  Melek Taus is considered to be an emanation of God and a benevolent angel who has redeemed himself from his fall and who created the cosmos from the cosmic egg.

I have included it despite not reading much about it because in the spirit suit we have the cosmic egg card.  I know nothing about that card yet but it will be interesting to see how the peacock relates to it when we get there!

The peacock is considered to be an earthly representation of the phoenix which we will also discuss in the spirit suit.

There are so many links to gods and goddesses that there can be no doubt that this is a spiritually important bird.

 

Nightingale: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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“A Poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness, and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.”
– Shelley

The nightingale is an elusive bird and perhaps then it’s no surprise that finding out about him* was not as easy as with some of the other birds we’ve looked at.  He is rarely seen and was described in my pocket book of birds as an “anonymous brown bird”.  This is not a bird who uses his looks to stand out and attract mates.

No, he uses her voice.  His song is a fast succession of high, low and rich notes that few other species can match and whilst he is most known for night singing, he does sing during the day as well.  It is possible that his name, which means night songstress, has come about because few other birds sing at night and thus he can be better heard.

Symbolically this crossing between night and day is interesting.  As we’ve seen with the owl, the night is about the unconscious and the unseen but the nightingale exists comfortably in both the day and the night, the light and the dark.  Our nightingale appears to be perched on the moon suggesting that his journey into the night is one that is on his terms and one which he is controlling rather than getting lost to the mystery and unknown.  He moves easily between different levels of consciousness but is heard most clearly in the unconscious where there is less competition.  Perhaps your mind is trying to tell you something that your can’t hear over your thoughts?  Meditation, tarot and art journalling are just some of the ways you can tune in to your unconscious.

The nightingale, as in the quote above, is a symbol used by poets to evoke creativity and seemingly spontaneous poetry like song.  The nightingale sings on, expressing himself, day and night.  Sing for the joy of singing, share your light purely for the pleasure it brings you.

In terms of mythology, he stars in the story of the Emperor and the Nightingale, which teaches appreciation for what you have and for what is real.  Always a good reminder in our materialistic society.  It is also about letting go of what you love, not holding on tightly because of fear.

He also appears in Greek mythology.  Philomela had her tongue was cut out to prevent her from telling anyone about her rape, and was later turned into a nightingale by the gods to help her escape from death at the hands of her rapist.  And thus the nightingale sings a sorrowful lament to this day.

And fittingly that is all I have about the elusive nightingale…


*It is the male nightingale who sings although for a long time it was thought to be the female.