Badger

I was pleased to see the badger card in this deck as I’d already been planning on writing a post about these shy yet fierce woodland creatures.

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Left to right: Animal Allies, Medicine Cards

Nocturnal and elusive, the badger is generally a social creature.  That being said, Jessica Swift who created the deck views this particular badger as “a bit of a loner, preferring to deal with others indirectly rather than directly.”  I looked into this and it turned out be a geographical difference as I am in the UK and she is in the US.  As I am writing from the UK, I’m going to look on the badger as a social creature.  If on the other hand, you’re from the US or the solitary badger has more pull for you, do go away and read about it.

Badgers are goddesses of underground living.  They create complex, long lasting burrow systems which are built by both male and females. They evolve and develop over time and are regularly being added to.  They are active spaces which can last generations.  This means they become a key part of the landscape and can be there for hundreds of years.  A cete of badgers (the correct term for a group) will have a number of setts in their territory with extensive tunnel networks with multiples exits for safety.  These are also at various heights which ensure good ventilation.  The badger home is not a haphazard guess but rather the result of years of hard work and reminds me of the beaver in that respect.

As I was looking online to see how people view badgers as spirit animals and what the associated characteristics tend to be, tenacity and determination came up a number of times as did the idea of needing to put in hard work to ensure something is a success.  If I was going to allocate the badger a suit from tarot it would be the pentacles and not just because they are earthy creatures but also down to their work ethic.  There feels like a slow and steady, putting in the effort, type approach from these creatures that chimes with a few of the pentacle cards.

Returning to their subterranean world, we find an animal that is grounded, down to earth and has a deep affinity with the land and mother earth.  If the badger has appeared as a medicine, you may want to explore your connection to the earth whether it is standing barefoot on the grass or exploring growing your own food etc.  They are also often ascribed healing powers and I have come across quite a few references to root medicine or magic including medicine men and women using a badger’s paw in healing ceremonies to ‘dig’ the disease out.

Another way you might interpret their underground and overground lives is by leaning into the idea that our world sits atop a fairy or magical realm, such as the irish Tuatha Dé Danann.  In this metaphor, badgers could be seen as messengers, bringing us secrets or ideas from a different world.  Perhaps this could be extended to an invitation to see things from a different perspective?  Their underground homes could also be about seeing below the surface, looking deeper and getting beyond the superficial.

Digging deep may also be felt into as a metaphor.  Because they can dig deep, it is hard to keep a secret from the badger, they can uncover things which perhaps even you don’t yet knoe about yourself.  This could be a call to spend some time trawling through your mind and tuning into your feelings and, if badger magic is working for you, you may find this to be a healing process.

Badgers’ diet varies throughout the year.  They enjoy apples, earthworms, roots and insects to name a few of the items on the badger menu.  They are omnivorous and whilst they really do like worms, they can switch to other food making themselves very adaptable to seasonal change.  Are you, like the badger, keeping your options open?

Somehow I’ve made it this far through the post without exploring the iconic colourings of the badger.  Their black and white stripes on their face direct attention towards their intensely strong jaw and sharp teeth – their key defences – and highlight their powerful defence.  Courage and strength are often associated with badgers which combined with perseverance creates an animal you want to keep on side.  Related to this, Jessica Dawn Palmer says:

“Once badger has bitten into something it won’t let go.  It would die rather than give up, so badger teaches us how to stick to a project and see it through to its completion.”

Whilst this is an admirable quality, do be careful of holding on tightly to the wrong things.

The black and white markings could also suggest a polarity which is akin to that which we saw with the bear; both a fierce and strong warrior but also a loving family orientated creature.  Interestingly, whilst the badger is known for being black and white, it’s body is actually grey.  Having just been on a three week pain management programme which included elements of CBT, I am viewing this as a reminder that life is not black and white and that black and white thinking is normally unhelpful in life.  Instead we can look towards the more nuanced grey, the inbetween, the compromise, the middle way.

Another common theme that has popped up many times in my research has been the link between badgers and storytelling.  I have yet to find out why but for now I am hypothesising that it is down to their intensely strong jaw which could then be taken as being a powerful communicator and then, although it feels tenuous, a great storyteller.  Another (less feasible but rather sweet) image that has popped into mind is of a badger family all sitting around in their sett on a cold winter’s day listening to wise elder badgers telling stories.

As storyteller, the badger “was keeper of history in the form of legend and lore.  Badger knows both past and future while maintaining a firm grip on the present” (Parker).  Regardless of why, this association does give us some interesting areas to explore.  We can think of storytelling as a social activity that connects and binds a group.  We can think of the personal stories that we tell ourselves about who we are and who we should be and who others think we should be.  These stories are powerful and can affect how you view yourself but they are stories so if they aren’t helpful, change the narrative.  I know building self esteem and self confidence isn’t as easy as that but it is one tool in your tool box.  Maybe think about the stories that you’ve heard over the course of your life and why or how some of them have been important or made a lasting impression.

On the topic of stories, let’s have a quick look at fictional and folkloric badgers.  According to Wikipedia, “authors of fictional works employing badgers have often emphasised their natural reclusive privacy and their ferocity and courage when protecting themselves”.  Personally, I was a bit stumped when it came to thinking of fictional badgers.  There is of course Mr Badger from Wind in the Willows and the badger which Beatrix Potter created.  For anyone of my generation there was the badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood but then I got stuck.

Interesting, in contrast to Wikipedia, John Dougherty wrote in the Guardian that “badgers in stories are usually wise and kindly animals”.  It seems that, like their black and white stripes, badgers in fiction find themselves cast in two polar opposite roles.

“The roles played by the badger in folklore fall basically into three categories: that of vengeful transformer, grateful friend and roguish prankster”
Violet H. Harada (PDF)

Turning from fiction to folklore, we find the Chinese and Japanese badger is a shapeshifter.  Not only can this creature appear human, but they can also shapeshift into inanimate objects such as fence posts.  Really, anywhere you go there could be a badger hiding right under your nose!  This could be quite unfortunate as badgers were also thought to be able to predict death… They could not only see into the future, but they could also see the past lives of people meaning that as well as changing shape, the badger has a fluid relationship with time as well.

Moving round the globe to North America where badgers (US badgers obviously) are portrayed as hard working, protective parents who will attack when necessary such as when something that matters to them is threatened.  We also find the element of divination with a rite involving badger blood and what is essentially mirror scrying to see the future of the diviner.

We actually find a strange but true relationship in North America between coyotes (another of the animal allies cards) and (American) badgers – whilst the majority of their interactions are fairly neutral, they have been seen hunting together but also sometimes coyotes eat badgers and sometimes badgers eat coyotes.  Whilst I’ve not yet looked at coyotes, this feels like it could be an interesting area to explore, especially if you draw them both in a reading.  This relationship gets yet more complicated when we learn that the coyote waits until the badger has made a nest and then steals it for himself.

And now, back to folklore, we cross the ocean to Europe.  Medieval folk thought that badgers worked together to dig tunnels under mountains in quite a coordinated fashion – some badgers did the digging, some had soil pilled on top of their tummies and some then dragged these soil laden badgers out of the tunnel in order to move the soil out the way.  I’d love to know more about how this idea came about!

Other beliefs are comparatively more reasonable…  The badger was associated with the coming of spring.  In Ireland, the badger was thought of as unclean and known for biting, yet a gambler who put a badgers tooth in his pocket was said to be unbeatable…Badger hair was an ingredient in a potion which protected you from witchcraft and their skin was made into bridles so that the rider would have magical powers over horses.  At the other end of the spectrum, to see a badger was bad luck.  These mammals are a complicated mixture of contradictions.

Badger culling is a topical, controversial issue and casts the badger as a scapegoat.  It is also an issue which gets very heated and emotive and singles out the badger despite other actors being involved.  If we look again at the idea of storytelling, here we have a badger cast as the leading villain and taking all the blame for a crime that was committed by many.

Sadly their poor treatment doesn’t end there.  The phrase “to badger”  apparently comes from the custom of badger baiting (badgers have had a rough time of it regardless of which generation they are from…) and means “to persecute” or “to annoy”.

I feel like the badger, more so than most of the animals I’ve looked at, is a bit confusing.  There are many ways to lean into the meanings and I do think it’s one you’ll have to feel your way into by yourself.  I hope this post has offered some signposts for further exploration and that you can find your own path through the contradictions!

3 thoughts on “Badger”

  1. I really enjoyed reading about the badgers. I adore them and the subject of badger culling in the UK is one close to my heart. I have been at many protests to try to stop this nonsense.
    I love the research you have done into different cultures and foklores, very interesting to see how the collective unconscious has been at play when it comes to symbolism of animals, in this instance the badger 🙂
    Oh and on my Hermit card, I have included a badger 😉
    Great blog as unsual 🙂 x

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