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.