“Preparing for the inevitable change of the future but in a lighthearted sort of way.”
– Animal Allies
Before I jump into my discussion of the squirrel, I wanted to touch on Jessica’s description (above). This feels to me like a lighter version of the wheel of fortune. The inevitable, ever changing cycles but dealing with them with less seriousness. A sort of dark humour approach to life.
Perhaps the main thing you’ll know about squirrels is their hording tendencies. They hide food away, ready for harder times and this card reminds us to plan and prepare and put something aside for the future. There is also a reminder here about remembering where you’ve put things… I’m sure we’ve all put things in safe places only to forget where they are… Well squirrels do the same… Only when they forget where they’ve stashed their nuts, they inadvertently help out the forest by letting a tree have a chance at life. They are great at planning and organising but not so good at the follow through…
Perhaps it is not just literal resources that you need to preserve, perhaps it’s emotional and physical “spoons”. Or perhaps this squirrel is suggesting you need to extend this thrifty tendency to your pennies. Of course, conversely, you might be hoarding things, holding onto things you no longer need, not letting go or holding onto things for reasons you’ve long since forgotten.
Whilst they don’t recall all the locations of their food caches, they do have very good spatial memory – does this chime with you in any way? I’m not sure how it would but I wanted to include it just in case… Squirrels, like crows, use deceptive behaviour if they think that anyone is watching them bury their nuts. This feels very seven of swords… (scroll to the end of the post).
The squirrel’s way of life is driven by the changing seasons so perhaps what you do needs to change accordingly. If you look back at the bear from the wild unknown, you’ll find an interesting note about flowing with the seasons and adapting behaviour and expectations accordingly.
As well as their chattering vocalisation, grey squirrels communicate with body language which is a good reminder that most of human communication is non verbal. Most of the behaviour we see such as chasing and chattering is actually territorial fighting. Is your body language aligned with your words and are other peoples words in line with their body language? How are you sparring with those around you? What ‘territory’ matters to you?
Whilst the squirrel pictured on the animal allies card is a grey squirrel, you don’t have to be talking about the species long before the topic of red squirrels comes up. Where red squirrels have inhabited Britain for about 10,000 years, greys were released in the UK in the 19th century. Originally from North America, they were imported and released into parklands as amusing novelties but they rapidly became common and now live in most of the country,having replaced the native reds. As they started to spread, they were welcomed as ‘sociable, easily tamed animal[s]’ (Manchester Guardian, 1912) but by 1932, it was illegal to release a grey squirrel in Britain. This change in attitudes may be a reminder that fashions change, that attitudes change and that we are just one part of an ever-changing world. What is in today may be out tomorrow, what is bothering you now, may blow over by next week.
Unfortunately for the greys, the passion that some people have for the reds turns into a hatred of the greys. This can feel a bit like there are two gangs and you have to join one side or the other… Another way of viewing it is through the lens of immigration and prejudice against non native creatures. The issue is very divisive and it may be worth reflecting on your own life – are you facing a similar situation over a different issue? Are you stubbornly sticking to your side without hearing the other side out? Things in life are rarely black and white…
But back to the grey squirrels, partly as they are more common in the UK and partly because the animal allies card pictures one. They are diurnal (active during the day) and spend their time foraging in trees (preferring deciduous forests where reds prefer evergreen forests) and on the ground. The grey squirrel is unusual in that it can climb down a tree head first suggesting that you need to take a heads on approach yourself.
Whilst they do live up to the stereotype of eating nuts, they also eat bulbs, tree shoots, fungi and even birds eggs and baby birds.. This probably doesn’t help them to negate the perception of grey squirrels as rats with tails…
As well as being considered an arch nemesis of the red squirrel, greys are thought of as pests, especially in young forests as they like to strip the bark of saplings. Gardeners often cast them in the role of nuisance, trouble maker as well.
Grey squirrels are carriers of a squirrel disease that affects reds significantly more than greys and this is one of the reasons why the red population has decreased since the greys were introduced. This puts me in mind of those toxic people in your life, the vampiric friends who suck the life out of you but don’t seem to notice or be fazed.
But the squirrel card isn’t bad news, I happen to love them and think they can be rather entertaining and at times elegant to watch. A beautiful aspect of the grey squirrel is it’s scientific name – Sciurus carolinensis – with sciurus translating as shadow tail which I find very evocative. According to Wikipedia, it alludes to the squirrel sitting in the shadow of its tail! And talking of tails, allegedly, of all the animals in eden, the squirrel was the most shocked when Adam and Eve ate the apple and hid behind his tail. His reaction was seen as honourable and thus the squirrel was granted a bushy tail.
In North American Indians mythology, squirrels apparently tend to be noisy, aggressive gossips who cause trouble. That said, they can also be great examples of preparedness and messengers who bring warnings. I feel like we’re seeing a lot of polarisation with the squirrel – the battle of red and grey, of forest helper and gardeners nemesis, the aggressive gossip who can also bring helpful warnings. It feels to me that this is a card that wants you to think about extremes. Most behaviours, attitudes etc can be harmful when taken to extremes.
This idea of contrariness is echoed in European beliefs where, despite the squirrel being seen as a pest, it was considered unlucky to kill one and somehow it was also thought that burning a squirrel on a bonfire was supposed to drive away vermin.
Another appearance of squirrels in mythology can be found in norse cultures. The squirrel Ratatoskr lives in the world tree and carries news and gossip between the different inhabitants of the tree. This echoes the north American idea of the squirrel as messenger. They can scurry from branch to branch, chattering away to different animals who live in the forest and thus they are natural messengers although it seems, in folklore, that they carry both mundane and more important warnings. As squirrels can climb and climb, they can eventually reach the heavens and thus they carry mundane and spiritual messages. It is down to us to separate the wheat from the chaff.