Pigs: beliefs and attitudes

“Pigs in their various forms, from wild boar to domesticated swine, are extremely ambivalent figures in myth, sacred in some contexts, demonic in others, or (in the paradoxical manner so common to magical tales) both revered and shunned at the same time. The pig as a sacred animal seems to belong to the early goddess religions, about which our knowledge is far from complete — but carvings and other artifacts found all across what is now western Europe indicate that the pig was an aspect of the Great Goddess, associated with fertility, the moon, and the season cycles of life and death.”
Terri Windling

The history of pigs and humans is long, intertwined and full of conflict.  As a result, our beliefs, stories and folklore around the pig is very varied.  They have been symbols of wealth and status, as well as derided as animals of dirt and filth.  Perhaps the best known belief around pigs is that certain religions denounce eating them.

Why the pig is seen as taboo seems to be a much debated idea with few certainties and many suggestions.  One of these being that it was because pigs were dirty and they ate refuse.  A first century Jewish writer, Philo of Alexandria, apparently said that pigs were lazy scavengers who would eat human corpses given the chance.  As both the embodiment of vice and potentially having eaten humans, pigs were thus unfit for human consumption.

Whilst no one seems quite sure why pork was forbidden, the kind of meat you ate, or didn’t, could at various points in history get you killed.  The Spanish Inquisition was one such point in time and not eating pork could mark you out as a traitor.  To try and combat this, people would keep pigs but not eat them, or cook pork like food to try and throw off suspicions.

Elsewhere in time and space, pigs were important sources of food as they were economical to raise.  It was possibly because of this that they were popular with peasants, another possible reason for certain groups of society to refuse to eat them.

Pigs were also important in ritual, although not in ancient Egypt where pigs were considered unworthy sacrifices to the gods, with the exception of the Moon and Dionysus.  In ancient Greece, piglets were sacrificed to the gods and men swore oaths on boar testicles.  Likewise, they were important in Roman sacrifices.  Pliny the Elder had some interesting thoughts on pigs, noting their intelligence and observing that a pig whose tail curls to the right hand side are more likely to appease the gods in a sacrifice…

In China we also see the importance of the pig.  It is thought that the pig was the first domesticated animal there which may explain its place of power.  Between 4700 and 2900BC pigs had ritual importance and the dead (humans) were buried with jade or ceramic pig figures as a symbol of status.  Pigs remain important to the Chinese economy and culture and apparently, the mandarin character for family and home is represented by a pig inside a house.  The pig is also one of the Chinese zodiac animals and is associated with fertility and virility.

For the Kaulong people of Papua New Guinea, pigs are important both physically and symbolically.  They are sacrificed and their meat is shared in ceremonial displays such as for a child’s first tooth eruption, as part of male initiation rituals, to mark female puberty and for marriages and deaths.

For some interesting folklore titbits, I return closer to home with what I believe are British or European beliefs about pigs:

  • They were associated with weather in folklore and it was said that they could see the wind approaching and would let you know by rushing around with straw in their mouths.
  • Fishermen considered them a bad omen and wouldn’t go to sea if they saw one.
  • It was bad luck for a bride to see a pig on her way to the church.
  • To kill a certain (but varied) number of pigs, then the devil may appear, sometimes even in pig form. And if a devilish pig were to bite you, it was said you’d get cancer.
  • Confusingly though, pork soup was a remedy for many things and pigs blood could cure warts.
  • If, however, you ate pig brains then you’d lose control of what you said.

Turning to literature, we find some pigs that do their best to break the stereotypes of the species.  There is babe from Dick King Smith’s Sheep pig who overcomes people’s perceptions of the pig as stupid.  Instead of bulling the sheep into action, he politely asks them instead.  There is piglet from winnie the pooh who is a timid, scared little pig who overcomes his worries and fears repeatedly throughout the tales.  There is the pig in charlotte’s web saves the farm.  And of course there are many more.  Some who fit the stereotypical ideas of pigs, and some who defy them.

In language however, we still find the idea of pigs as dirty, lazy and smelly emphasised.  We talk of pigging out, being pleased as a pig in muck, we call people pig ignorant and tell them to get their snout out of things.  We repeat the old adage you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear but we also talk of globetrotters, although for most of us, an image of the well travelled pig doesn’t spring straight to mind.

Talking of language and how the word pig has come to mean much more than a four legged animal, pigs have been used in a derogatory way for hundreds of years to dehumanise certain groups of people, including Jews.  In late medieval Germany, a condemned Jew was led to execution wrapped in pig skin and in some executions, the victims were hung upside down, by the legs in the same manner as the pigs who were hung alongside them.  Commenting on the dehumanisation of minorities, Boria Sax observed:

“Those who wished to brutalise and slaughter other people… would find it psychologically easier if they thought of their victims as swine.”

And finally, we talk of piggy banks, despite them having very little to do with pigs.  The Middle English word pygg referred to a type of clay used to make jars, such as those jars you would keep money in.  Over the years it has become piggy bank and thus we find the pig shaped ones we know today.

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Animal divination

There are many different ways that animals can, and have been, used in divination.  Whilst today we are probably most familiar with animal imagery on oracle and tarot cards, as well as symbolically in astrology, they have been used in a variety of ways:

  • Babylonians studied the reaction of sleeping oxen to having their heads splashed with water.
  • The Hittites watched eels.
  • Dogon, a west African tribe examined paw patterns left by jackals.
  • Polynesian tribal leaders coaxed a beetle to crawl over a murder victim’s grave to reveal the murders name.
  • Plato and Aristotle believed the divinatory insights to be tied to the animals instincts and the stoics considered divination as a way of understanding the world and their role within it.
  • Alectromancy uses cocks or hens to make predictions and tradition states that it should be done when the sun or moon are in Aries or Leo.
  • Felidomancy considers the actions, behaviour and movements of cats.
  • Apantomancy looks at chance meetings with animals, such as the familiar black cat crossing your path, for omens.
  • Myrmonancy discerns the future through observing ants eating food.

Essentially, as far as I can tell, there is a kind of divination that involves virtually any animal that we have contact with.  And that makes a lot of sense.  For our ancestors, and arguably still today, the world was a chaotic, confusing and dangerous place.  It is only natural to try and seek some order, some insight or some guidance to cope with that and where better to turn than the plants and animals that are all around us.  Whilst I’m focusing on animals today, there are many traditions which look to plants for divination – just think of how we view four leaved clovers.

It seems to be that most animal divination falls into one of a few categories; the consideration of the behaviour of the animal, the investigation of organs or other body parts of deceased animals (sometimes killed as a sacrifice), and what the animal leaves behind (tracks, excrement, shells etc).

There is absolutely no way a blog post can cover an extensive look at different methods of animal divination but I would like to focus in on a few.

Today, we snap wishbones but Etruscans believed that birds could tell the future and it’s easy to see how this can be understood; a chicken squawks before the appearance of an egg, a rooster crows just before the new day.  Another method of divination was to sprinkle grain in the ground and see where the hen pecked.  Bird migrations were another way to get a glimpse into the future.

The Etruscans also practiced haruspicy which would eventually make its way to ancient Rome.  This is where a trained person read the entrails of animals such as sheep or poultry and deciphered omens in them to answer yes or no to an enquirer.  The animal would have been ritually slaughtered as a sacrifice, butchered and then the size, shape, colour and markings of the organs (mostly the liver) were examined.  The meat was roasted and shared in a sacred meal.  This dates back to at least 3000 BC and was adopted by the Romans, and was popular with Christians and pagans into the middle ages.  Today, due to issues with slaughtering animals, eggs are often used instead.

Diagram of the sheep’s liver found near Piacenza with Etruscan inscriptions on the bronze sheep’s Liver of Piacenza

Moving to China, we find scapulimancy and plastromancy used to answer questions about crops, war, weather and so on.  In the former, ox bones were used and in the latter it was turtle shells.  In both practices however, questions were carved into the bone or shell and a hot rod was applied to it until it cracked.  The crack patterns would then reveal the answers.  They also sometimes used deer, ox and human skulls in divination.

Slightly aside from divination, animals also appear around the world as amulets and talismans.

“Since the earliest times, animal images have been employed as totems and mascots.  They have also been used in a number of special ways as protective amulets, and this ancient custom is still alive and widespread today.  The animal kingdom offers such a variety of symbolism that there are endless ways in which animal images can be called upon to perform protective duties.”
– Desmond Morris

Scarab beetles have been used as lucky charms.  Rabbits foots, whilst no longer used, are still something we associate with luck.  The beckoning cat from japan is still sold and displayed in vast numbers as protective figures.  Doves, as symbols of peace are especially popular during times of war.  Butterflies are touchstones for change.

Even though we no longer cut animals open and inspect the entrails, we still turn to the animal kingdom for comfort and protection.

PMS and why it’s bad for us

In the last couple of weeks I have read two books which have covered PMS and the way it is used to control women.  I hadn’t really thought about it before and I think it’s something we need to be more aware of.

First, I am not talking about PMDD – premenstrual dysphoric disorder – which is a debilitating depression.  Instead I am talking about PMS – premenstrual syndrome – which is a label often used by society to limit or belittle women and our emotions.  PMS tends to refer more to the milder symptoms of bloating, fatigue and anger that most women experience.

Secondly, this isn’t really about the changing ideas around what a period is and how symptoms might be managed although I would like to do a post around that at some stage.

Another aside, when I am talking about women, I am referring to anyone who menstruates.  I am aware that not all people who menstruate are women and not all women menstruate however my hands cannot cope with typing that all out each time cos chronic pain fun… As much of this is about how other people view PMS, much of the research and reading is centred on women as it is generally perceived that women make up the majority of people who menstruate.  This is mostly around perception of menstruation than the actual person who may or may not be bleeding.

I’m going to start with a clearer definition of PMS as it’s something that gets thrown around A LOT.

“Though there is no blood test to confirm the presence of PMS, the diagnosis is calculated clinically just like depression or bipolar disorder.”
– Altman

The upshot is that you cannot just say you have PMS.  You need to have specific symptoms at specific points in your cycle and it has to be a regular thing.  The pre in premenstrual syndrome is important.  The times in the cycle that you’d be experiencing symptoms are a couple of weeks before you start to bleed through till a couple of days after your period begins.  It is important to note here that that gives a wide berth.  Half a woman’s year could be covered by PMS.

Society also affects our understanding or even existence of symptoms around periods.  For example, the ancient greeks didn’t note any mood changes with periods but did not physical changes such as breast tenderness.  Statistics around PMS also vary from culture to culture.  A World Health Organisation study from 1981 highlights this, reporting that only 23% of women in Indonesia described themselves as having premenstrual mood changes whereas for the former Yugoslavia it was 73%.  The study concluded that “socially mediated expectations and beliefs determine the incidence of premenstrual syndrome.”

In fact, according to Michael Stolberg (from Altman’s book) the idea of menstruation and what is happening affects our experiences of PMS:

“Like any disease, people give meaning to the symptoms, and those meanings can be personal, they can be cultural, and they change with time.”
– Stolberg

This means that the symptoms themselves can vary from culture to culture as well:

“World Health Organization surveys indicate that menstrual cycle-related complaints (except cramps) are most likely to be reported by women who live in Western Europe, Australia, and North America. Data collected from women in Hong Kong and mainland China indicate that the most commonly reported premenstrual symptoms are fatigue, water retention, pain, and increased sensitivity to cold. American women do not report cold sensitivity and Chinese women rarely report negative affect.”
– Joan Chrisler and Paula Caplan

Altman goes on to discuss periods in the 16th century which were understood to be the body getting rid of toxins and the associated symptoms such as cramps were due to the fact that the toxins were particularly nasty.  Headaches might arise because of excess blood being collected from the body.

Jumping forward a few centuries, we arise at premenstrual tension – PMT – was described in 1931 by Robert Frank and linked symptoms such as irritability, bloating, pain, depression, nervousness, restlessness and the “impulse for foolish and ill considered actions” with the ovaries.  It was this same decade that Karen Horney said that the mood swings that came with periods were primarily a problem for childless working women and came about because they were suppressing their natural desire for a child.

The idea of periods and how they impaired women has also changed over time, often to reflect the changing ways in which women were oppressed.  Menstruation was used to argue against women learning, becoming doctors and whether we should be able to vote or not.  Essentially, periods are the go to anytime you want to subjugate women.

Then, in the second world war, things changed.  Suddenly women were needed in the work place and so the entire rhetoric around periods flipped.

“Women suddenly looked up to Rosie the Riveter with her biceps flexed.  They were told that they were strong, agile and dexterous – their periods and premenstrual pains couldn’t stop them from doing anything.  Even informational videos were made to teach women that premenstrual suffering was nothing more than folkloric balderdash.”
– Altman

But change didn’t last long and following the end of the war, at the same time as men were returning to their jobs, studies came out about the importance of women in the home, the dangers of workplaces to unborn children and the women carrying them.  Studies also alleged to show that women’s periods made them less competent than male workers.

It was in this era that along came Katharina Dalton, in 1953, with PMS.  Dalton was a gynaecologist who had carried out studies which showed that premenstrual women were at risk of becoming shoplifters, child abusers, violent and even murders.  Obviously, this would not be ok at work, even if you suffered from symptoms at the other end of the spectrum where weakness, poor decision making and xxx lay.  She suggested that during certain times of the months, women in the workplace should be given less skilled jobs so that they didn’t screw up important tasks.  According to Dalton, we couldn’t even be expected to go shopping successfully as we’d end up buying dresses of the wrong colour or fit…

Dalton went further than the workplace and laid out the risks involved in the family and even when it came to hobbies.  One should avoid racket sports because of arm weakness, poorer vision and slower movement.  Dressmaking wasn’t safe as you might cut out pieces from expensive fabric only to find you’ve spoilt it.  Even driving was a risk, and not just for the driver with PMS, it was a risk to be a passenger with PMS – “in the few seconds between a car climbing a kerb and before it hits a wall an alert passenger may brace herself and cover her head for protection, but the passenger in her paramenstruum may be too slow to take even these elementary precautions.”  Presumably then too, any woman with PMS must also avoid walking near cars, cycling and climbing ladders because who knows how delayed reactions might affect them.

As if that wasn’t enough restriction in your life, it seems too that you should avoid being the sole carer for children as you might not notice that they are in danger and if you do, you may not be able to react quick enough.

“As proof of this, Dalton cites a 1970 survey of children who were admitted as emergencies to the North Middlesex Hospital in London; 49% of the mothers were in their paramenstruum on the day the child was admitted.  But if the paramenstruum is defined as the week before your period is due plus the week of your period – in other words, two weeks out of every month – wouldn’t it make sense that 50% of all women would have to be in their paramenstruum at any given time, whether in casualty or in the street?”
– Houppert

Hopefully opinions around PMS have changed somewhat today but why then, do we have so many women justifying their behaviour by saying they’re PMS-ing or men blaming PMS for our emotions?  Well, for one it’s convenient.  As women we are still stereotyped to be gentle and giving and to care for others so when we explode from time to time and our behaviour defies this image, it’s handy to have an excuse.  And as PMS is so culturally engrained, who would question that?

“the term has become a convenient catch-all for women’s complaints, a way of discounting women’s anger – and often their legitimate concerns – by attributing their dissatisfaction to hormones.”
– Houppert

In the many years since Dalton labelled a set of symptoms PMS, it has become a short hand for an irrationally angry woman.  And through that, has legitimised the idea that women’s concerns or frustrations need not be taken seriously.

“We’ve decided to tip the balance towards the physiological because potions and cures are easier to come by than social transformation… Blaming women’s anger on PMS lets society off the hook”
– Houppert

Basically, wherever you are in your cycle, your emotions and feelings are valid and no one should be using PMS as a way to ignore, invalidate or mock you.

By lumping period related cycles under PMS, it also seems to have let the medical profession off the hook.  So many times when you go to a doctor with concerns about your periods and the associated symptoms, it’s dismissed as just PMS.  Additionally, there hasn’t been much research into PMS, especially when compared to male health issues such as erectile dysfunction… By saying, “it’s just your hormones”, partners, parents, doctors and so on get away with saying and doing things that wouldn’t be considered ok in other circumstances.

Before I end, I want to be clear that if you are experiencing symptoms around your period, it may be best to speak to a doctor.  What is normal for one person isn’t necessarily for another.  And just because PMS as a label may have abused, it doesn’t mean that the symptoms that fall under it’s umbrella are not serious.

Further reading

It’s a pig’s life…

As we’ve already seen, pigs attract some very conflicting opinions and that theme continues.  Despite their reputation as dirty and wallowing in mud, they are clean animals and instead of smelling bad, they have an amazing sense of smell.  They are paradox after paradox!

Pigs are exceptionally intelligent, very inquisitive and highly social animals that actively interact with their environment when given a chance.  This sense of curiosity and their playful, lively nature combine with their brains resulting in excellent problem solving skills.  They are also emotional and have their own personalities:

“Pigs display consistent behavioral and emotional characteristics that have been described variously as personality. e.g., coping styles, response types, temperament, and behavioral tendencies.”
– Lori Marino and Christina M. Colvin

It is, in part, because of their intelligence that we have been able to work with them, such as in truffle hunting.  They use their snout, which is a precise hunting tool, to rustle out the prized truffles in the leaf litter.  They find the gold in the mud.  If you are reading this because an oracle card has come up, then it might be worth thinking about this in more depth.  Are you missing something because it is hidden? Are you working to find the good in bad situations?

Pigs are also able to detect landmines using similar skills.  They have also been used to cheer people up by visiting retirement homes and hospitals, used in therapy and taken into classrooms to help children learn about animals.  According to the American Mini Pig Association:

“Pigs have been recognized by families of children with autism to help with vocalization and calming. Pigs have been known to detect low blood sugar in their owners with diabetes or detect and warn of oncoming seizures. They can ease anxiety and panic attacks and improve the symptoms of depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in some individuals.”

And the benefits aren’t just to humans.  Pigs have been called the gardeners of the forest.  Their natural behaviour means they turn over leaf litter, rotivating and ploughing as they go about their day.  They also help with composting and spreading seeds, all of which are important to the ecosystem.

Finally, apparently I can’t write blog posts these days without diving into sex… So, when it comes to pigs, here’s a few interesting titbits…

  • At one point in recent history, England was exporting fresh and frozen pig seamen to china to be used to improve their stock
  • Boars produce a lot of seminal fluid, on average about 250ml per ejaculate (humans are a mere 2-4ml) and…
  • because of the amount of fluid being transferred, ejaculation alone takes about 15 minutes and the male can’t pull out part way through because…
  • it’s penis is shaped in such a way that after a few thrusts it gets sort of locked in… Only once the act is over, can he easily remove himself.
  • After all this, the sow will give birth three months, three weeks and three days later. I don’t know how spot on that its but the three times three of it pleases me and makes me wonder about the numerological meaning of three!

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Pigs: a history of mixed feelings

“Pigs and pork have, throughout history, been used to divide and unite people”
– Pia Spry-Marques

This will be the start of a few posts on pigs, mostly because there is so much to say about them.  It is because of this that I wanted to look at the pig its own right, not just as a supplement to the boar.  In the animal totem tarot deck, the queen of pentacles is depicted by a pig and so I’m also going to do a post that focuses on that specifically.

Our history with pigs goes back about 18,000 years and starts with the boar.  Boars are the ancestors of domestic pigs with spots and stripes that helped them blend into their environment.  These vanished, their tails became curly and their ears flopped as we domesticated them. Their tusks also disappeared and our attitudes towards them changed dramatically, shifting from a devil like enemy to a vital provider.

The domestic pig was bred from eurasion wild boars about 9000 years ago in Eastern Turkey and China simultaneously (some sources suggesting there were other domestication events at around the same time elsewhere but it’s complicated stuff).  As they were adaptable, had large and regular litters, were tough and were in close contact with humans (they would raid fields) they were a good candidate for breeding compared to other types of boars.  Pigs were also important compared to other domesticated species; they like living in groups, they are adaptable and they eat pretty much anything.  This meant they essentially looked after themselves and ate what we threw away, making them important to the history of agriculture and farming.

Today, pigs are widely distributed around the world, both down to their natural wanderings and human involvement.  From steamy rainforests to dry savannas to snowy woodlands, pigs are one of the most successful mammals on earth.  Evolution and human involvement has resulted in over 500 breeds of pigs today, but it isn’t just the pig landscape that has changed because of man.  The reverse is true, without the man-pig relationship, human history could have looked very different – exploration and civilisation were aided by the pig.

“Pigs are ubiquitous in the modern world, whether we are talking about the more than one billion domesticated pigs on the planet or the countless representations of pigs and ‘piggishness’ that circulate through most of the world’s cultures… Pigs have been structurally and symbolically significant in the making of human society and culture across the globe.  Pigs have fed us, entertained us and provided us with ways to think about our relationships with each other on this porcine planet.”
– Brett Mizelle

Despite this universality, pigs suffer from mixed reviews.  Whilst they have provided us with food and have been praised and celebrated, they have also been cast out and seen as dirty and smelly.

“The persistent uncertainty about whether pigs are good or bad animals is connected to the lived relationship between humans and pigs.  These attitudes reflect a moral ambivalence about the killing of pigs and ideas about pigs themselves, both of which are often factors in conflicts between human social groups.”
– Mizelle

Pigs provided a way for different classes of society to distinguish themselves and due to the association with lower classes, the pig increasingly became ostracised as a symbol of poverty, dirtiness and slothenlyness.  Mizelle also asks whether our conflicting feelings towards pigs may arise because of our similarities.  With pigs both physically near and physiologically alike, our treatment of them may induce feelings of guilt which we then transferred to the pig.  In order to treat it as we do, to keep it confined and to butcher it, we must psychologically distance ourselves from the pig.  And we can see this clearly in how we talk; male chauvinist pigs, pig ugly, smell like a pig, greedy pig and so on…

“There is a long history of porcine proverbs that describe efforts to convert the useless to the useful, the ugly to the pretty.  The maxim ‘You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear’ dates back to the mid sixteenth century.”
– Mizelle

Returning to the similarities between humans and pigs, we see also the need to distance them in order to eat them, calling the meat pork and talking of chops and bacon instead.

Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, with over half of it consumed in china.  Whilst I am not going to look too closely at meat, as Mizelle says:

“Different groups have consumed different cuts of pork over time, making pork consumption a useful lens into race, religion and class.”

And for more information about this, we can look to Mark Essig:

“The reputation of pork depends upon the life of the pig. In early medieval Europe, when most pigs foraged in the woods, pork was the preferred meat of the nobility. By 1300 most forests had been felled, and pigs became scavengers. In a medieval British text, a woman explains that she won’t serve pork because pigs “eat human shit in the streets.” Pigs also dined on human flesh, which was available because executed prisoners, among others, were left unburied.”

Even within the context of food, it’s clear that there are many views about pigs throughout time and space.  Stepping away from pigs as food, we have Aristotle who (despite almost certainly eating pork) called pigs “the animals most like people” because of their similarities to humans; little did he know just how alike to us they are.

Physiologically, pigs are very like humans and because of this, they play a key role in human medicine.  We have made use of them in skin grafts for burns, in making insulin for diabetics and we have pig heart valves.  Pigs have been used by medical students to practise their skill and researchers have utilised the similarities.  One horrific sounding experiment used live pigs to study the effects of atomic blasts and radiation during the Cold War.  Unfortunately for pigs, they play a life saving role in today’s medical landscape.  As pigs heal in a similar way to us, unlike rodents, they have been useful for medical experimentation.  They are also used in less obvious ways such as in gelatine for pills, in sponges used in surgery, in some blood clotting medicine and in wound treatment.

Beyond medicine, pigs are also found in make up, biodiesel, toothpaste, antifreeze, bone china, glue, in the manufacturing of train brakes and even in cigarette filters…

Whilst you might think this is all in recent history, medical experimentation using pigs actually has a long history.  As far back as ancient Greece, they were being used because human dissection wasn’t allowed at the time.  It was through a ‘squealing pig’ experiment that Galen found it was the brain, not the heart, that controlled actions and thoughts.

Pigs have proven useful and have helped to develop civilisation and scientific knowledge.  They have saved lives and we have rewarded them by casting them as dirty and smelly.  We love them and we hate them.  And I am struggling to think of any other animal which is subject to such conflicted feelings…

In later posts I’ll be looking at pigs the animals, the beliefs around pigs and I will do a post looking at the pig in the queen of pentacles animal totem tarot.

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Astrology resources

Well, I was convinced I’d already written this!  But apparently not…

When I started learning about astrology I was overwhelmed by the number of books out of there that claim to be a complete guide.  Obviously I didn’t expect any of them to be the entire encyclopedia of the subject but I also didn’t know if they would be right for me.

There are different types of astrology out there and people who practice in different ways and as a beginner it’s hard to know where to start.  Thankfully the internet does make this easier as you can generally get a feel for an author before you invest in their book.  In my case, my main resources have been:

  • In The Stars, Hali Karla’s year long astrology course which will soon be available as a self guided programme.  I chose this course because I loved Hali’s approach to astrology and because it was art based as well.  I had followed her for a year of monthly reflections before and knew that she would provide a lot of space for reflection and drawing your own conclusions.  It isn’t prescriptive and it isn’t about learning signs and positions by rote.  She is a guide and a steering hand.  Her way with words and images really helped me to understand things in a way I know but can’t always put to words.
    • She is also doing courses which focus on signs and planets so you can just learn about your sun and rising sign and also see how you get on with her teaching style.
  • Astro.com is great for pulling up birth charts and is also full of articles and stuff but it is a bit overwhelming if you are completely new to astrology.
  • Cafe Astrology has a lot of pages on specific placements and I used it to ‘check’ my thinking about my chart.
  • Chani Nicholas has a great newsletter filled with beautifully written horoscopes and whatever your feeling about astrology, she’ll give you some food for thought!  She also has courses but I’ve not yet done one although I would think they’d be of a high standard.
  • Alyssa Trahan (previously Sharpe) has a website and youtube channel which is fully of fantastic, biting sarcasm and accurate, informed information.

But I started this post talking about books.  I love holding information in my hands.  I love being able to flick and return and underline and pick up again.  And so I did want astrology books and I didn’t feel that the complete ultimate wonderfully jam packed guide to astrology would be for me.  Instead I was patient and started out with just one, recommended by Hali Karla.  She had a few recommendations but this one stood out because of a quote she included on the course:

“This, then, is the real purpose of astrology: to hold a mirror before the evolving self, to tell us what we already know deep within ourselves.”
– Steven Forrest

The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest is the closest I have come to a bible for astrology.  He breaks things down into signs, planets and houses but never oversimplifies.  He talks about the archetypes of the planets, what potential they have and what pits they could fall into.  He takes some very complicated information and, without dumbing it down, makes it readable, and enjoyable.

The Chart Interpretation Handbook by Stephen Arroyo is a bit more prescriptive and a lot less detailed than The Inner Sky but is a good introductory text.  I’ve also found the section about aspects useful.

Dynamics of the Unconscious is a series of seminars in psychological astrology by Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas.  It isn’t for beginners and in places it’s quite dense as it’s packing in a lot, but if you want to explore your Mars and Pluto in more depth, or get a more myth based feel for the outer planets then this is the book for you.

Liz Greene also unpicks some of the related mythology around the zodiac signs in The Astrology of Fate.  I’ve not read it all yet but knowing more about the symbols and the myth behind the signs is an enlightening way to feel into their meanings.

 

My feeding tube; almost a year on

It’s been almost a year since I had my PEG tube (a type of feeding tube) fitted and as it’s also Feeding Tube Awareness Week, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my journey.

Before getting my PEG, I had suffered almost 6 months of starvation.  I could barely swallow anything and the longer it went on, the worse it got.  By the end of it, I couldn’t even keep water down because my stomach was so angry with me.  I eventually managed to see the good gastro dr who immediately told me he was going to admit me to the ward to get a PEG.  Brilliant!

I know it’s an unusual reaction but by this point I’d already come to terms with the idea and just a few weeks before I had been begging, through tears, for an NG tube (a temporary feeding tube).  The way I was treated in that appointment still makes me angry today.  Instead of acknowledging that I was starving and incredibly ill, I was waved off with a prescription for acid reflux tablets that a) I’d already tried and they’d made things worse, b) contained lactose that I can’t have c) I couldn’t swallow them and d) I only had acid because I wasn’t eating.  I was also told she’d refer me to the eating disorder service despite me being very self aware and knowing that this wasn’t my anorexia returned.  She also said she’d send out some supplement drinks that contained meat despite me being vegetarian and also saying that I’d tried a similar type a few months before and couldn’t swallow them.  I had tried to explain that EDS is strange and just because the one test they did told them nothing, it didn’t mean there wasn’t a problem.

Anyway, back to the PEG.  Despite the good doctor saying I needed a PEG, and despite him outranking most people in his team, his colleagues continued to act as if I wasn’t going to get one.  Nurses tried to get an NG tube into me but failed for various reasons, one key one being that by this point I was the most nauseous I’ve ever been in my entire life.  If I moved, I was sick.  That isn’t especially compatible with having something shoved down your throat.  They told me repeatedly that I was being obstinate because I didn’t want to have food and they ordered an emergency mental health assessment, with the primary goal of diagnosing an eating disorder.  It failed.  I did not have an eating disorder.  I had a swallowing disorder.  Thankfully the mental health team saw that and told the doctors that I was in an expected amount of distress given my physical symptoms.

Eventually I got my PEG.

It was a long, torturous and dangerous journey.  I remain incredibly grateful to the doctor who continued to fight for me to have a PEG, without him on my side I don’t know what would have happened.  I imagine it would have involved seeing the eating disorder team, some severe issues with my internal organs, or death.

Anyway.

I got there.  Eventually.  And, as I knew it would be, having my PEG has revolutionised my life.

For six long months, I could barely get out of bed, let alone leave the house.  I lay in bed, with something playing on my laptop.  I would force myself to stay awake until 4pm when my carers came.  I went without medication because I couldn’t swallow it.  I was, thankfully, on pain patches and still able to swallow a small amount of liquid pain relief.  But I couldn’t take my antihistamines, my antidepressants, or the various other tablets I’m on.  I lost six months of my life because doctors refused to accept that there was anything wrong with me.  I was told to just eat.  I was told that the tests were fine and expected to just magically be able to swallow.

It took a good few months after my PEG was fitted before I had any semblance of a life.  My body had a lot of food to catch up on, a lot of internal healing it needed to do and a lot of weight to gain back.  But bodies are amazing and it got there.  I got my brain back, I got strength back and I got my life back.

My feeding tube has allowed me to go to the cinema, to go to the theatre, to go to the beach, to see friends, to go to uni courses and museums, art galleries and to do art myself!  I have been able to read and write and pay attention to documentaries.  I have been able to spend time in the park and pass time in cafes with cups of tea and books.

Some people see feeding tubes as a sentence.  I see mine as a liberator.