I love hedgehogs so of course I was going to do a post on them! When I was little, we had an amazing book called huff the hedgehog which went out of print years and years ago but is so amazing that someone tracked down a copy and gave it to me as a gift.
As I’m sure you know, hedgehogs are spikey little snuffly mammals which hibernate. The way they hibernate was said to predict the coming weather:
Observe which way the hedgehog builds her nest,
To front the north or south, or east or west;
For if ‘tis true what common people say,
the wind will blow quite contrary way.
If by some secret art the hedgehogs know,
So log before, which way the winds will blow,
She has an art which many a person lacks,
That thinks himself fit to make almanacs.
The time when they came out of hibernation was also used to predict the future. If they came out and then returned to hibernating then worse weather was to come. As well as the importance of weather, this means the hedgehog is tied to the seasons and talks to us about the changing year and going with the flow of nature. We have seasons in our own lives which may last weeks or years but we all go through ebs and flows and changes in life.
Known as “pricky back urchin” in Yorkshire, these creatures were associated with the mythical or otherworld as well as strong earth magic. They are most active at dawn and dusk, the liminal time, the inbetween, neither one thing or another. Perhaps because of this, they were associated with, or thought to be, faeries. They were linked with witches and thought to predict thunder. They were accused of sucking milk from cows which made them unpopular with farmers although this was almost certainly untrue. Firstly, I can’t figure out the logistics but also hedgehogs are lactose intolerant… In terms of folk medicine, a cooked hedgehog was given to epileptics and the left eye of a hedgehog fried in oil was said to help with insomnia. Other medicinal uses have included cures for a wide range of illnesses including rheumatism, arthritis, TB, impotence, fever, ringworm, warts and more. They have also been eaten as a food source in a number of cultures including ancient Egypt.
Most people will know that the hedgehog defends herself by curling up in a ball with her spines facing outwards. She asks us to revisit our own defense mechanisms as well as our boundaries. Apparently hedgehogs bounce when they fall because of their spines – their prickly demeanour could actually help them in more ways than one! Unhelpfully, the hedgehog’s spines may fall out when it is stressed and probably most needs them. We too tend to lose sense of our personal boundaries when we are under stress.
In researching the hedgehog, I came across the idea of the hedgehog’s dilemma (also referred to as the porcupine’s dilemma). This is a metaphor about the challenges of intimacy. On a cold night, hedgehogs try to huddle together to share heat but as they do so, they spike each other so they have to move away to avoid hurting each other. Though they seek a close relationship and the warmth that brings, there are barriers which get in the way which they may or may not understand.
“Freud’s porcupine, a gift from America, looks fiercely forbidding — cries out, ‘Don’t come near,’ he writes. “But if you dare to make contact with the object, you discover that the spines metamorphosize and become musical strings.”
I was surprised to find that the hedgehog features in a few creation myths. In a Veps legend it was a giant hedgehog which created land in a giant lake by bringing soil and sand on it’s needles. In Lithuania, God made heave and earth but accidentally made earth larger than heaven. The hedgehog suggested that God squeezed the earth (thus creating the mountains) so that it would fit in heaven. As a reward, God gave the hedgehog a suit of needles.
In a Bulgarian tale, the hedgehog saved us all from starvation. The sun and moon were to marry and all the animals went to the wedding except the hedgehog. This wasn’t ok, he should have been there. So the sun went looking and found the hedgehog eating stones. Eating stones? Why are you doing that hedgehog? asked the sun. Well, once you’ve married the moon, you’ll have sun babies and they will shine brightly and hotly in the sky and everything will burn so I must learn to eat stones as there will be no food. The sun and the moon rapidly called off the wedding and here we are today.
I suspect the humble hedgehog gets overlooked in life but we can see that it has been important in myth and folklore. A case of finding your place to shine perhaps?