Whale: Animal Dreaming

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Whale: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

So I know I’ve already talked a lot about whales but in the wild unknown post I focused on baleen whales so I thought this post would give me chance to consider toothed whales, such as the killer whale pictured.

There are 73 species of toothed whale* and as you might guess, instead of baleen, they have teeth!  In general toothed whales are smaller than baleen whales which is perhaps counter-intuitive when you consider the latter eats only teeny tiny food and the former is more prone to fish, baby whales and even seals.  Another difference is the baleen whale has two blow holes where the toothed whale has one.

Killer whales are an apex predator and are found in most of the world’s seas.  In order to find their food, toothed whales use echolocation.  This allows them to dive deeper, where the light is poorer, to hunt.  They are highly sociable animals and it is believed that different pods have adopted slightly different hunting techniques which are passed on to the new generation. Once they have found their prey, the killer whale’s strong teeth and powerful jaw grip on.  They don’t actually use their teeth to chew, swallowing their kill whole.

Killer whales have also been known to drive their prey onto a beach to feed on it which is a risky strategy as the whale can become stranded and will be crushed under their own weight if they are out of the water too long.  Perversely, they are not safe in the water either – if they cannot come up to the surface to breathe, they risk drowning.

There is also a theory, although how respected it is by scientists I don’t know, that whales engage in self stranding when they are ill.  Sacrificing themselves so that the pod as a whole is not infected, slowed down or hindered in some other way.  However, as whales have highly complex social structures, this can backfire; other whales may then strand themselves to try and help the first whale.  Regardless of the truth in this, it gives us an interesting and contradictory metaphor.  On the one hand we have the ill whale which gives us the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good and on the other hand we have the helper whales who are endangering themselves; who helps the helper?  We have a responsibility to look after ourselves first, if we don’t then we cannot help others.  The idea that if a man is down a hole, don’t get down there with him.  This echoes the situation the baleen whale mother finds herself in in the wild unknown card.

As we saw in the wild unknown, the whale is a creature of abundance for people and in dreamtime stories, the beached whale was a gift to the people.


* Note, the term toothed whales includes all species of dolphins and porpoises

Black Swan: Animal Dreaming

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Swan: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Tarot Deck

The black swan is the only swan native to Australia and until it was discovered, all swans were assumed to be white.  The phrase a black swan was even used to refer to something fantastical such as a white elephant or a blue moon.  This bird is suggestive of something unbelievable and also a reminder to us to check our assumptions.

The black swan theory describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying which presumed black swans did not exist, but the saying was rewritten after black swans were discovered in the wild.

Wikipedia

 

They are very similar to their white feathered relatives, exhibiting the same grace, mating for life and displaying violent and aggressive behaviour when threatened.  That said, the black swan is the least territorial of all the swans and tends to move in flocks.

 

One dreamtime story explains how two brothers were turned into white swans to help an attack party.  After the raid, eagles attacked the white swans, tearing their feathers from them.  The eagles enemy, the crows, helped the two brothers by giving them black feathers from their own backs.  The red beak of the back swan is the blood of the two brothers and has stayed there ever since.

Another story tells of a proud fisherman who was so pleased with himself, having caught a baby bunyip, that he wanted to go and show off.  Before he could turn back and tell of his great achievement, the mother bunyip rose from the water sending floods around the men.  She took back her baby and as the water settled back down, the men found they had been turned into black swans.  The punishment for the fisherman’s vanity was to remain like that forever.

Frog: Animal Dreaming

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Frog: Wild Unknown Spirit Cards

Australia has over 230 species of native amphibians, all frogs but a diverse range of frogs living in a diverse range of habitats.  Some have even adapted to live in the desert.  They spend most of their time hiding in mud with their bodies filled with water.  This was very helpful to aboriginal people in times of drought.  The frog, a creature so in tune with the weather, is said to sing to welcome the coming rain or in celebration of the rain which has arrived. Smaller frogs are more sensitive to moisture in the air so are more in tune with the rains and also more susceptible to droughts.

The frog, with it’s love of the water and the wet season, reminds us there is a time for everything and that the seasons will keep turning.  It can be hard in dry times to imagine the rain ever coming and likewise, in a flood it is hard to imagine the rain ever stopping.  I like to think of the frog as a reminder to us to get in tune with the changing weather and the cycle of the year.  This association with rain and water also links the frog to the cleansing power of tears.

This sense of release that you get from letting go of your tears is echoed in a tale about the frog.  All the animals were really really thirsty, there was no water in the world and the ancestors got together to talk about this issue.  They knew that Tiddalick, the giant frog, had swallowed all the water but how to get it out of Tiddalick and back into the world where all the other creatures could have some?  Well, this was quite a puzzle.  They decided that if they could make Tiddalick laugh he wouldn’t be able to hold in all the water.  So a worm ancestor tickled him and Tiddalick laughed and laughed and his whole body shook and out came all the water.  The rivers filled up, the streams filled up, the waterholes filled up and the animals were able to drink at last!  Indeed, the reason the frog croaks today is because he laughed and laughed and laughed so much he lost his voice!

 

Crow: Animal Dreaming

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Crow (and Raven): Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

As there’s such a crossover, do also look at the raven card!

There are three kinds of crow in Australia and they are often muddled with the ravens both in real life and in mythology.  We see the crow as a trickster as well as an acestral being.

In terms of the trickster narrative, the crow is often depected as going to any length to get what it wants.  It’s an instant gratification trope which we can see in everyday life; people going for their lusts despite the consequences, such as buying the latest phone despite the epic debt which will ensue.  It’s a here and now, ego centric way of living which society right now really fosters.  In mythology, the crow normally pays the price for it.  One example is his desire for fire turning him black.

We live in a world which is desperately trying to see us things and insisting that we should get x now.  But following this I want, I get approach can lead to a lack of satisfaction.  Yes, sure you had a few minutes joy with your new phone but now what?  Another way of approaching things is to savour the waiting.  Think about when you were little and waiting to go on holiday or a day out.  The waiting was exciting and was as much a part of the process as the actual trip.  Enjoy the journey not just the destination.

Looking at the crow in other aboriginal culture, we find them in opposition to the eagle.   Half of the communities are eagle and the other half crow.  Like the yin and the yang, together they make a whole.  The eagle representing day and light, the crow night and dark.  Opposites but complements.  Two halves of a whole.  I also read about the crow and the white cockatoo being in this type of relationship.

A story of the crow and his brother the magpie, says they were both vain and argued over who was the most beautiful.  One day when they were fighting, they fell out of the tree and into the fire where the crow got burnt all over and the magpie only in part.

CROW LAW, by Linda Hogan

The temple where crow worships
walks forward in tall, black grass.
Betrayal is crow’s way of saying grace
to the wolf
so it can eat
what is left
when blood is on the ground,
until what remains of moose
is crow
walking out
the sacred temple of ribs
in a dance of leaving
the red tracks of scarce and private gods.
It is the oldest war
where moose becomes wolf and crow,
where the road ceases
to become the old forest
where crow is calling,
where we are still afraid.

The crow is the keeper of sacred, spiritual law, the holder of the knowledge of the cycles that keep the world and life spinning.  The crow, with all this knowledge of nature’s law, can shapeshift and bend time and space.  The crow is beyond the mundane physical laws which bind us.  The crow, like the raven, is magical and knows the secrets of the universe.  Ask nicely, be patient, and perhaps he will share some of these.

 

 

Australian Magpie: Animal Dreaming

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The Australian magpie is not really a magpie at all… Instead of belonging to the crow family, they are classified in the butcherbird genus Cracticus.

They are considered one of Australia’s most accomplished songbirds, with a variety of complex calls and have even been heard to mimic human speech.  As well as their song, they are well known for attacking people during breeding season.  They actively guard their territory all year round but obviously this is particularly important when there are vulnerable baby magpies around.

In the post on the Eurasian magpie, I didn’t go into too much detail about their colouring, the black and white and the symbolism that surrounds it.  Because the keyword for this card is balance, I thought I’d focus on it here.  The magpie, with it’s black and white feathers, is a representation of dualities; of yin and yang, of light and dark, of earth and heavens, of the mundane and the spiritual.  And with these opposites, the magpie also represents balance, wholeness and completeness.

With their dual nature, it is perhaps not surprising that they are considered to be portal keepers, guardians of the gates between worlds.  The magpie, with it’s light and dark side, inhabits a strange inbetween place – neither entirely earthly nor entirely heavenly…

 

Eurasian Magpie

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Crow (and Raven): Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

Raven: Animal Dreaming

The magpies that we know in Britain is related to crows and ravens but the Australian Magpie is actually classified in the butcherbird genus Cracticus and is not related to the magpie as I know it.

So once again, I’m going to do two posts.  One for magpie which is related to the crow (this includes the Eurasian Magpie found in the UK) and one for the Australian magpie.

“I’m told magpies sulk
when they’re upset”
– Birdwatching by Hugo Williams

Perhaps best known for their attraction to shiny objects*, the magpie is very intelligent and very noisy.  They chatter away a lot and in Ireland when evil gossiping women died it was said that magpies would take their souls.  And it’s not just souls that magpies collect.  They show interest in all manner of objects, exploring their surroundings and what they contain.  As they are clever birds, perhaps they also collect knowledge and memories and stories as we do.

They are a jack of all trades; scavengers and predators.  Along with the crow, they are seen as tricksters and it was believed that witches could ride magpies or turn into them and that they were Satan in disguise.  Also associated with magic in ancient rome, these birds are not quite what they seem… Indeed they aren’t even really black and white but instead their black feathers are iridescent greens and purples.

There are a lot of different beliefs attributed to the magpie, although it could be that some are simply about black and white birds which have been labelled magpies.

Simplistically, black birds are seen as bad and white birds as good in European cultures so where does that leave the magpie?  Well, perhaps the old rhyme will help:

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self

So a bit good and a bit bad seems to be the message about the magpie.  This is echoed in a Korean superstition: if a magpie sits on your roof in the morning and sings you’ll be visited by a friend, if a magpie sits on your roof and sings you’ll be visited in the afternoon by someone who isn’t a friend and will eat a lot of your food and in the evening the visitor will be a thief.

  • In China and Korea, the magpie is a bird of good luck and happiness.
  • In Mongolia, the magpie is a clever creature who can control the weather
  • In Norse mythology, the black and white colouring represented male and female energy in balance as well as sexual union
  • In the bible, the magpie was the only bird that would not enter the ark preferring to stay outside. Perhaps it is this which earnt it a bad reputation in the UK…
  • In Scotland, the magpie was said to carry a drop of the Devil’s blood under its tongue

The magpie is curious and inquisitive, showing us the value of inquiry although be careful, the key to the magpie is balance.  Too much curiosity and you may be accused of meddling and snooping.  Be interested, be eager but don’t be nosy.  We can use this approach when it comes to our emotions – emotions are a flag and curiosity is a way of getting deeper into what’s going on.  Instead of saying to yourself I’m feeling anxious, I shouldn’t be feeling anxious, I hate my anxiety, try gently inquiring, what does this feel like, what might the anxiety be trying to tell me.  Approach it openly, with intrigue and try and get to know it.  The same can be done with our thoughts.

I know I have a tendency to automatically try and shut down intrusive or unpleasant thoughts and that certainly helped me with my recovery from anorexia.  However, gentle enquiry can be, in the long term, a more helpful approach.  Instead of shutting out a thought, you can roll it round in your mind, get to know it better, listen to it’s story and where it’s come from.  With all that information about the thought, you can validate its existence and then hopefully, having heard it’s message, you can move on from it.


*Research suggests that they aren’t especially interested in shiny things, they have a penchant for objects more generally and metal doesn’t seem to be any more appealing than other things.