Sea Serpent: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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The sea serpent was one of three cards I drew in my first reading with this deck.  For me, there is a strong element of protection with this card.  There is room to explore yourself and do difficult things in rough waters but with the reassurance that the sea serpent is protecting you.  She* is creating a space where the water is calmer, where the risk is less.  So it’s like stepping out of your comfort zone, but with someone there to have your back.

Sea serpents have been interpreted in many different ways from sea snakes to giant octopuses to driftweed to eels.  Based on the image, this particular sea serpent feels like a sea snake or eel or other long, thin, flexible kind of thing.  However, think about how the sea serpent feels to you, what could it be mistaken for, does looking at the meaning for that help you.  So whilst I do consider this to be a sea serpent and not a case of mistaken identity I think I can learn a lot about it from the other animals that are similar in appearance.  Perhaps the sea serpent is also asking us about identity and misidentification in our own lives.

Feeling misunderstood or misindentified is one of my core issues.  It makes me feel rejected, invalidated, ignored and/or dismissed and I think this card asks me to look at that.  Through a lot of hard work I am now at a place where I can recognise when I am feeling unheard or misheard and I am much better at understanding why I react so strongly to this. There is still a long way to go for me and perhaps the sea serpent can help me by giving me a safe space to explore these issues.

As we saw with the snake, the image on the card portrays an ouroboros – a serpent eating it’s own tail.  This is a symbol of unity, eternity, completeness and the cycle of death and rebirth and it’s parallel, creation and destruction.  Particularly poignent if, like me, the sea serpent in your card is female.  This echoes with the creation of the world, of women giving birth and of matriarchal lineage.

There is something in this card which speaks to me of self sufficiency.  Plato discussed the ouroboros as a symbol of the perfection of the universe.  Wikipedia suggests that it “could be interpreted as the Western equivalent of the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol”.  In Gnosticism, a serpent biting its tail represents eternity and the soul of the world.  Whatever it means to you, this is a powerful symbol.  The idea of the World Serpent which we’ll see in a minute, combined with the image we have on the card and the ouroboros all speak to the immense power of the sea serpent as well as her wide reach.

There are a lot of myths which focus around the idea of slaying the sea serpent but I’m not going to go into much detail as this is a prevalent idea when it comes to dragons so I’ll discuss it in the next post.  When it comes to myths, it is not always clear whether the creatures in question are sea serpents or dragons so it is perhaps worth considering them alongside each other.

Perhaps the most famous of all sea serpents is the Kraken, said to live in the seas off Norway.  She is said to swallow men and ships and even whole whales!  And if you weren’t eaten, you were in danger because of the whirlpools that she leaves in it’s wake.  Totally in keeping with the idea of creation and destruction!  The Kraken is so big that it has been mistaken for islands.

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
– Alfred Tennyson

Norse mythology also gives us Jörmungandr, also known as the Midgard Serpent and the World Serpent.  Jörmungandr was the middle child of Angrboða and Loki along with Fenrir and Hel.   The gods were distressed by this as there had been prophecies that the children would bring doom.  To try and prevent that, the gods scattered the children. Hel was put in charge of the Underworld and death.  Fenris, a wolf, was fostered by the gods who hoped to tame his wildness.  And Jörmungandr was cast into the ocean that surrounds Midgard where she would grow so big that she could surround the earth and place her tail in her mouth, as per our picture.  Encompassing the world, she could cause tsunamis and tempests and when she releases her tail, the end of the world will begin.  Perhaps this is because the ouroboros will be no more and thus the cycle of life and rebirth will have been broken.

Still in Scandanvia, in 1028 AD, Saint Olaf is said to have killed a sea serpent in Norway, throwing its body onto the mountain Syltefjellet.  When we look at the dragon we’ll see a lot of Christianity slaying things as a way of controlling nature and menstruation and women.  This is one of the reasons I’m sticking with my gut feeling that this sea serpent is female**.  The Swedish writer Olaus Magnus describes a sea serpent in his work from Marks on the mountain are associated with the 1555:

Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on sea nettles, crabs and similar marine animals. It has ell-long hair hanging from its neck, sharp black scales and flaming red eyes. It attacks vessels, grabs and swallows people, as it lifts itself up like a column from the water.

A very different story comes from the Philippines where the Bakunawa, a giant sea serpent is believed to be the cause of eclipses.  There are a few versions of the myth but all feature the Bakunawa eating the moon.  In mythology, Bathala created seven moons to light up the night sky.  The Bakunawa was mesmorised by their beauty and rose out of the sea and swallowed the moons whole.  To prevent this, tradition tells of people going out with pots and pans to make lots of noise in the hope of scaring the monster away or of playing soothing music in the hope of sending it to sleep.

Despite these myths portraying a malevolent creature, I like the sea serpent. I like that she can encompass the world and make waves and scare gods.  I also really like that the moon comes up – I love the moon!  Despite the focus on destruction in the myths, I feel like she is a nurturing creature, encouraging your first steps out of your comfort zone.  A mother holding her hand out as her child takes her first unaided steps.  She is on hand and she has created a safe environment for you to tentatively move forward.


*I get some pretty powerful mother goddess type vibes from this card

**Not that it really matters too much.  Most of the time I don’t consider the sex of the animal in the card unless it’s clear or the message would change or I feel intuitively that for me a particular card is male or female.  So the bear is strongly a mother card for me because the metaphor of the mother bear is important to me.

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The capacity to consent

Whilst this post is going to focus on disability and consent, it is worth taking a few minutes to look at consent more widely. You cannot consent if:

  • you are asleep or unconscious
  • you are intoxicated
  • you are being threatened

If you consent once, that does not mean that person has lifelong privaledges.  Consent is a one time thing and you can change your mind, even part way through.

The tool which is used to assess whether someone has the capacity to consent in the UK is the Mental Capacity Act.  It starts with the idea that you assume everyone has capacity to consent.  You then only question this if you have “reasonable belief” that their capacity may be impaired.  Simply having a particular condition is not enough to deem you unable to consent.  This applies to a lot of things in life such as medical procedures but here I’m looking specifically at sexual activity.  We will see that just because someone can consent to something in one part of their life, doesn’t mean they can in another.

I read a fantastic paper that discussed the idea that capacity to consent is not a fixed thing. As people’s knowledge and experience grows so does their capacity to consent. Anyone, disability or not, who has had no sex ed and knows nothing about sex is going to struggle to truly consent to sex or sexual activity. As they develop knowledge, they develop the ability to consent. So at one stage in someone’s life they may not be able to consent to any sexual activity, with a bit of sex ed and support, they may be able to clearly consent to dating one particular person but not anything beyond kissing, and then later maybe consent to kissing another person or doing more than kissing.

When it comes to assessing capacity for consenting to sexual activity, this will involve a number of things.  Their health records may need to be reviewed, the person’s carers and other professionals will need to be engaged but most importantly, the person in question needs to be directly involved.  All of this will be looking at the person to judge their level of knowledge and understanding of the issue.  This is an individualised process and as we saw above, should start from the point of assuming the person is able to consent and not making assumptions based purely on their diagnosis or condition.

There are a number of tools and assessment processes already established and available to professionals who are undergoing work on sexual competency and consent.  These look at knowledge, the ability to reflect and evaluate situations, and understanding that one has a choice to participate and so does the prospective other person.

When I’m talking about knowledge, I mean things like understanding consenquences of sex, the ability to identify abusive situations, being able to be assertive and communicate* no as well as STIs, pregnancy, contraception and so on.  Essentially, everyone should have sex and relationship education.  Remember, we start by assuming someone can consent and thus, we approach sex ed with the idea that everyone potentially may have sex.

This goes wider than capacity to consent due to disability.  Can a young person consent to sex if they have not had thorough sex education?  A topic for another day I think…

Assessing a person‟s capacity to consent to sexual relationships is complex. What also comes to mind is whether we are in danger of applying criteria and intervening in the lives of young people with learning disabilities in ways which we do not do for other young people.

Colin Morrison

Obviously a lot of this discussion and the assessment process will be down to how a person’s disability affects them. Martin Lyden says that for people with severe learning or intellectual disabilities or other cognitive impairment, the assessment should establish whether the individual has: “awareness of person, time, place, and event; ability to accurately report events and to differentiate truth from fantasy or lies; ability to describe the process for deciding to engage in sexual activity; ability to discriminate when self and another are mutually agreeing to a sexual activity; and ability to perceive the verbal and non verbal signs of another’s feeling.”

Again, Lyden stresses the importance of situational based capacity to consent.  The ability to consent to sexual activity in one relationship does not necessarily mean that the person has a more global capacity to consent.  Equally the reverse is true.  We cannot make the assumption that because a person doesn’t have capacity to consent in every single situation that they can’t have it in any.

One of the reasons for our history of overprotection when it comes to disability and sex is a fear of risk.  Risk is seen as the end of the world when it comes to disabled people but almost everyone engages in risky behaviour at some point in their life.  We do it as children to get to know our world and ourselves and many adults do it on a friday night when they drink too much, smoke too much, maybe take drugs and go home with a stranger.  The assessment is on the person’s ability to consent, not what they do with that.

An individual may have sexual consent capacity even if he/she engages in unwise, illegal, or socially proscribed sexual behavior

-Martin Lyden

The key to all of this is assessment.  Unfortunately, this was one issue raised in a report by Barnados regarding learning disability and child sexual exploitation (CSE).  Whilst the report focused on CSE, one part of this is understanding whether a victim (over the legal age of consent) had capacity to consent.  A number of CSE professionals in the UK recognised that this was in need of urgent consideration.  There were concerns about how agencies responded to people with learning disabilities once they reached 18, including inadequate protection or not being identified as vulnerable.  Concern about ability to assess capacity to consent was another key issue, particularly where workers had little experience in CSE and/or learning disabilities.  Lack of resources was predictably another concern.

Lyden suggests that a committee of people should be involved in assessing capacity to consent to avoid bias and to avoid blame if the person does get pregnant, and STI etc.  The problem is that this all takes time, money and the understanding of the importance of sexuality to our identities.  But attitudes are changing and I remain hopeful.

The balance between providing someone with their rights and freedoms whilst still ensuring their safety is a difficult one and an individual one. However I do believe that the process of assessing capacity to consent highlights wider issues around how we teach all young people about sex and relationships as well as helping build people’s knowledge so that they have the potential to have a fun and pleasurable sex life.

Note: All of these considerations will apply to individuals with conditions like dementia which is of increasing importance in our ageing population.  It also highlights a gap in terms of deteriorating capacity to consent.  Professionals need to be able to recognise that it may be necessary to carry out an assessment to establish whether sex is appropriate between two married people, one of which has dementia.  It will be interesting to watch that space.


*Unfortunately I have seen and heard of too many cases where it was assumed that because a person was non-verbal, they were automatically unable to consent…

Phoenix: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

“The blue eyed phoenix lives on a diet of dragons” – Noah’s Notes (Preliminary), Penelope ShuttleNoah’s Notes (Preliminary), Penelope Shuttle

A phoenix is a large and beautiful bird, often considered to be a heavenly equivalent of the eagle or the peacock.  As in the card, they are often depicted as being yellows and reds and golds – the colours of flames.  These magnificent creatures are impossible to capture, they are too fast and too clever.  It is said that their feet never touch the ground and they fly so high in the sky that they can’t be seen.  Some say there can only ever be one phoenix at a time.  Some say the phoenix cannot reproduce and thus is associated with virginity.

But the most important thing to know about the phoenix, is that it never truly dies.  They live a long life, records suggest 500 to 1400 years, and just before death, they construct a  funeral pyre with oils and spices.  This pyre is not lit by the hand of man, but instead it is ignited by the sun itself.  From the ashes of this fire, the phoenix would rise again, reborn as a symbol of the power of life and light.

The phoenix really is a child of fire, a child of the sun.  Because they never die, it is believed that the phoenix has healing powers.  Their tears can heal and their feathers can undo death.

Different cultures have different birds which could be considered to be the phoenix, for example Garuda from Hinduism and the Firebird from Slavic tales.  My notes about the phoenix also include “how sri lanka was created, look into”.  I’m not sure where that came from and I can’t find much about it right now.  If you come across anything, let me know!

As you can see, there is so much symbolism contained within the phoenix.  A few things you might want to consider if you’ve drawn this card include:

  • regenertaion, ressurection, renewal
  • cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth
  • imortality
  • transformation
  • baptism by fire
  • ancient knowledge
  • time
  • the power within us all to rise like the phoenix from the ashes
  • hope and life in the face of destruction
  • the cleansing power of fire

Spirit: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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I’m going to do this suit a bit differently as I’m not used to working with five elements.  Spirit as a suit is new to me and so I thought I’d work my way through the cards and then come back and do a general post on the element.

I’d welcome comments and information about this if it’s something you’re up on!

Sexuality and learning/intellectual disabilities 

The heavy stuff:

Firstly, I am going to use the phrase learning disabilities as this the English convention right now.  I understand that different countries use different terms and that some people may take offence at the phrase.  Language differs all over the world and changes over time but that is a discussion for another day.  The amazing crippledscholar talks about it over on her blog in several posts.

By learning disability, I am using the Mencap definition:

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.

The other disclaimer here is that I am not someone with a learning disability and I have no immediate experience of sex and learning disabilities.  However, I am using reputable sources to compile this and I wanted to include it in my series about sexuality and disability because I think it’s an important part of the discussion.

If you have more experience in this area and would like to write a post, please let me know, I would love that.


Now let’s get down to business…

Relationships and sex can be great.  Everyone should have the option to be part of a relationship or to have sex, as long as they have the capacity to consent.  The second part of that sentence is crucial and I’m going to do an entire post around it at some point so for now, assume I’m referring to people who can consent.

Many people with a learning disability say that relationships are important to them – yet only 3% of people with a learning disability live as a couple, compared to 70% of the general adult population. – Mencap

So what’s going on?  Obviously there’s a mix of factors.  As we’ve seen before, there are people out there who say they wouldn’t have sex with someone with a disability so that will be one part of the issue here.  Other limiting factors include difficulty meeting people and social isolation, again this is common across the wide spectrum of disabilities.  Historically, living in institutions limited disabled people’s ability to engage in relationships.  The same goes for a lot of supported housing where there are strict routines and rules about people staying over and a lack of privacy.

Risk management

However, when it comes to learning disabilities in particular, there is a tendency for the people around the disabled person to risk manage.  This comes up in mental health services and in relation to other disabilities as well but seems more prevelant in the are of learning disabilities.  This idea that a person should not be allowed to take risks because of their illness.  The idea that people should life a risk free life simply because of their disability.  Think about it, we all take risks every day.  And some choices made by adults are riskier than others but we don’t stop them from making them.

We are less concerned by intimacy and love in learning disabled people’s lives than we are about (containing) sex #sexualities #cedr16

– A tweet from the Centre for Disability Research’s 2016 conference

I appreciate that caution may be appropriate depending on the situation but there is a difference between risk management and just flat out restriction.  And these attitudes then mean that sex education isn’t needed because “these people” won’t be having sex which in turn limits the persons ability to make safe choices.

When it comes to sex and disability, risk is privileged over pleasure.

This need to protect people from themselves is tied so much into the idea that anyone with a disability is child like.  I think this belief is probably more ingrained when it comes to learning disabilities.  Seeing someone as childlike means you don’t even think about them as a sexual being let alone think about how you can help a person safely explore their sexuality.

A report from Barnados around child sexual exploitation and learning disabilities says:

Professionals spoke at length about how young people with learning disabilities
can be overprotected and not given opportunities to learn, develop and take
risks in the same way as their non-disabled peers. Examples of this included
how young people’s experiences of the world can be confined to a door-to-door
taxi or bus service to and from a special school. In relation to the increased
potential for vulnerability to sexual exploitation, one example that interviewees
gave was how young people with learning disabilities may feel that they need to
keep relationships secret:

‘They’ve often not been allowed to have experiences that other young people
often have, so they may have to keep secrets because they do enjoy risk-
taking behaviour or flirting, for example.’

I think another key point in the discussion around sex and learning disabilities is that in most cases parents are far more involved in their child’s life that they would be for a child of the same age without a disability.  This can make it difficult to bring up sex at review meetings and other spaces where the conversation about relationships and sex could be had.

Hypersexual

As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a prevelant idea that people with learning disabilities are oversexual.  This has led to people being sterilised, “for their own good”.  Somehow this idea of a highly sexualised person with learning disabilities is used to prevent the person from engaging in sex and relationships completely.  It is somehow seen, by some people, that because of their learning disability, the person is inevitably going to be being taken advantage of and abused.  And whilst abuse is a real issue, this erases the idea that a person with a learning disability can be in a healthy, happy, consensual relationship.

Anyone with inadequate or non existent sex education is vulnerable to abuse and I will be writing a post about disability and sexual abuse.  If we don’t talk openly about sex, it perpetuates the idea that it’s taboo thus meaning that if something does happen that isn’t ok, people don’t know what to do, how to explain it or who to talk to.  Good sex education should cover consent, communication, safe sex and the physical and emotional aspects of sex.  This is the case for everyone even if you don’t think they’re going to have sex.  Empower people with information!

And if we don’t talk about sex and don’t ensure people know about consent and boundaries and what’s appropriate etc, then it can make it very hard for someone to know or understand that they’ve been sexually assaulted. In the Barnados report mentioned above, one young girl with a learning disability explains that she didn’t know it wasn’t ok for an adult to have sex with a child so she didn’t know she could say no.

Myths around oversexual people with learning disabilities can lead to further issues.  I have come across cases where someone with a learning disability has been blackmailed and controlled with the threat that everyone will be told they are a paedophile.  The fact this is used and has been successfully used as a blackmail technique shows how ready some people are to believe the hypersexualised trope.  On the other hand, if a person with a learning disability discloses being abused, they are often not believed because of this idea that they are non sexual.

The consequence of the view of people with learning disabilities as forever
children, assumed to be asexual, has been an overemphasis on protection and a denial and repression of sexuality or sexual behaviour. The view of the sexuality of people with learning disabilities as dangerous, informed by eugenics, involved control through institutionalisation, segregation and sterilisation. These stereotypes have provided what McCarthy calls contradictory but powerful “distorted frameworks” through which the sexuality of people with learning disabilities can be viewed.

Pregnancy and parenting

There seems to be a huge fear about people with learning disabilities getting pregnant which will inevitably feed into how people feel about the issue of sex.  This is despite evidence that shows a persons IQ is not an indicator of how good a parent they will be.  It is because of this fear that a number of women with learning disabilities find themselves on contraception, whether that is forced, coerced or heavily suggested.  There has been research done which shows that in a lot of cases the young woman isn’t told why she is taking this pill or being given this injection etc.  There are also a large number of cases where contraception is given to prevent periods and the link to pregnancy is not discussed.  This takes away bodily autonomy and can reduce care givers perception of the need to discuss safe sex despite not reducing the risk of rape and STIs.

LGBTQ

Some people with learning disabilities will identify as LGBTQ or be questioning their sexual orientation.  This can be difficult for anyone and support and information around sex should be inclusive of everyone.  It can be hard enough to be a sexual person when they world sees you as asexual, let alone not be heterosexual on top of that.  There are a number of resources out there including Secret Loves, Hidden Lives.

Support

If you are a person with a learning disability or you’re the parent of someone with a learning disability then there is support out there to help you navigate sexuality.

From what I understand a lot of young people with learning disabilities miss out completely on sex education or it is taught in a way which is not appropriate.  Because of this, services have been set up to help fill that gap although given the current political situation, I think they are few and far between.  But where they exist, they can be very powerful tools.

The following quote comes from someone working on a project specifically around sex and learning disabilities in London:

Through the Westminster project we talk about safeguarding, consent, what is appropriate in private and public spaces, and what the differences are between good and bad touch.

Much of it comes back to letting people with a learning disability know that having a relationship is ok and that it can be wonderful and make you happy. And we talk about how it is ok to be attracted to people of the same sex and that not all relationships are between a man and a woman and end in marriage and children.

While we must accept that for people with a learning disability it may always be that little bit harder to embark on a first relationship, there are ways we can make it easier.

– Miguel Tudela de la Fuente

There are specific resources out their to help people with learning disabilities and those around them to navigate the world of sex and sexuality.  I’ve listed a couple and would love to know if you’ve come across any that have been helpful:

Note: I haven’t discussed contraception and people with learning disabilities here.  I want to but it was getting long and I recently got attacked online for being a forced sterilisation apologist (which I’m not) and I’m feeling a bit raw still.

Whale: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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Let’s start by watching a whale make a rainbow!

How awesome is that!

That was me easing you in gently as this is going to be a long post.  But that feels appropriate for this, the final card in the water suit, and one of the most epic animals alive today.

Whales are mindbogglingly massive and can be up to 34m long.  Blue whales are so big that a human baby could crawl through their arteries and they can weigh up to twenty three elephants.  Humpbacks come in a lot smaller at a mere 16m long and 6 elephants in weight which is still pretty impressive!

These giant aquatic mammals evolved from land animals and now live in the open ocean.  This tying together of land and sea is something we’ve seen a lot in this suit but when it comes to the whale, they are so well adapted to life in the water that they cannot survive on land.

As mammals they must breathe in oxygen so they have to come to the surface although they can hold about 5,000 litres of air so they don’t need to do it too frequently.  They also make efficient use of the air, using 90% of the oxygen compared to the 15% that humans use per breath…  When they release the unusable air, it is expelled through their blow hole.  This looks like water because the air they are breathing out is warmer than the environment so it condenses.  I think this would make a good basis for a cleansing meditation or ritual; what stale ideas and thoughts do you need to blow out?

Apparently whales are conscious breathers which I guess makes sense – if you’re many metres under the sea you want some control over when you breathe.  This however means they can’t sleep for very long.  We don’t know much about how they overcome this but in captivity, toothed whales have been shown to sleep with one side of their brain at a time.

This is actually quite a good idea.  Not literally sleeping with half your brain awake, but the idea that different parts of your brain may need rest after a while.  Like when you’ve been painting for a few hours and are getting tired, perhaps try switching to a documentary or going for a walk.  Stretching the metaphor a bit, for me, as I’ve mentioned before, there are certain things I need to do regularly and this activates different parts of my body and my brain; something creative, something intellectually challenging or stimulating, something restful etc.  I need this balance and this flicking between things or my mental health starts to suffer.

Another excellent lesson from the whale is the power of conscious breathing.  We’ve looked at breath work with the dolphin so all I’m going to say here is if you are in crisis mode, if you are overwhelmed, if you are feeling too much pressure, pause, take three conscious breaths.  It won’t change your circumstances but that pause can help how you tackle things.

In terms of food, we have two different things going on here.  There are whales which have teeth and whales which have baleen.  I think this is a humpback whale so we’re going to focus on the latter.  This group of whales have no teeth, instead they have plates of baleen which they use as a filter.  They take in a huge mouthful of sea and strain out the water, leaving them with a nice mouthful of krill and plankton.  This huge animal, lives on a tiny creature.  As you can imagine, they need to eat a lot and indeed, some whales can eat up to 40 million krill a day!  Because of their amazing ability to hold their breath, they dive deep for their food, often down to depths too deep for light to reach them.  Folk, do as the whale, dive deep and filter!

The life cycle of this majestic animal really helps us to understand them a bit better although the nature of their behaviour means we don’t really know very much about them.

First things first if you’re a whale looking for love, you’ve got to get where the other whales are.  Whilst some species are sort of social it’s all a bit vague and definitely not the tight knit groups we see with some water creatures.  So you’re heading off on a long migration towards the equator.  Some whales, some sharks and some turtles use magnetic fields in the earth’s crust to help them navigate which I thought was interesting.  I know work is being done with butterflies and birds to try and get a better understanding of migration patterns and how they know where to go which always seems an amazing feat.  Despite being a sea creature, it feels like the whale is reminding us to get in touch with the earth and listen to it’s wisdom if you’re not sure which way to go in life.

Once these magnificent animals have reached the equatorial waters, finding a mate begins.  As I said, we don’t know a lot about this – it happens out in the middle of the ocean.  It is thought that whalesong has a role to play in choosing your mate.  It is the male that produces the songs which last for up to twenty minutes and which are repeated for hours at a time.  The songs are highly sophisticated and continually evolving.  Sound is possibly used because it travels better underwater than light so is good for communicating over long distances; whale songs can travel for miles.  Some find their songs beautiful, I find them hauntingly sad…  But I’m not a musical person.  If you are, express yourself through sound, write the song you’ve got going round the edges of your mind, sing your heart out.

Once a female is pregnant, she has an 11 1/2 month gestation period before finally giving birth to normally one calf.

As a mother, the whale really presses us to make sure we don’t forget our needs, all of them, left brain and right brain, body and mind or however you see your holistic self.  The whale is a nurturing, tender and gentle mother.  To protect their little calf, they give birth in calm nursery waters.  This provides a nice easing into life for the baby but is really tough on mummy whale.  Nursery waters don’t have much in the way of food for mum and baby is drinking vast amounts of milk each day.  Despite this, they are protective, loving and supportive parents.  They have been seen holding their baby near the surface so it can breath when it’s tired as well as getting between predators who might fancy a nibble on the calf.  There is an element of sacrifice here which goes against the idea of meeting your own needs and looking after yourself first.  There is a time and a place for both.  Before baby was born, mum will have been eating lots in preparation for this period of hunger.  She put herself first before giving birth so she could put her baby first afterwards.

Let’s take a quick breather, have a look at a whale and her baby, before we dive into the second part of this post:

So we’ve learnt a lot about the whale, what about the whale and the world?

Within the sea, the whale plays an important role.  They apparently remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere making their survival really important for the planet.  And they aren’t just useful alive… Dead whales slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean and provide food for a lot of other animals at all levels of the sea.

Whales are massive and like other large animals around the world, this means they have been worshipped and revered for the abundance they provide us.  Think of how the bison is treated and you will get an idea of the gratitude that cultures have for the whales.

As humans we have a tendency to overdo things and so we have hunted the whale far too much.  But many years ago, the whale would have been an important catch but also one which was used wisely and carefully and was thanked for the bounty it provided.  Whales provide meat, oil, bones, blubber, baleen, sinew, gut etc which can all be used to eat, make tools, for fuel, to make thread and containers and in many other ways.  The whale was not gratuitously killed.  It was killed to provide for families who made the most of it.

There are a number of stories and beliefs which illustrate a reverence for the whale and it’s power.  In Inuit creation myths, a deity found a stranded whale and was told where he could find special mushrooms which would give him the strength to return the whale to the sea and by doing so, return order to the world.  An Icelandic legend tells of a man who through a stone at a whale and caused it to burst.  He was told not to go to sea for twenty years but of course he did and thus a whale killed him.  The whale is also seen as good luck and as holding a sense of the divine.

And breathe out, you made it to the end of the whale.  What can I say, a big post for a big animal seemed fitting… And this is the last of the physical beings in the wild unknown animal spirit deck.  Next we move onto the spirit suit, the realm of mythical beings.

Swan: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Tarot Deck

This post will focus primarily on the white swan as when I get onto my Australian animal cards, there is a black swan.

“I have looked up on those brilliant creatures.
And now my heart is sore….
….
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tred.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold”
– W B Yates, The Wild Swans at Coole

If you’ve never had much do with swans, you’d probably agree with Yates’ description of them as mysterious and beautiful.  As someone who lives in a city of ducks, geese and swans, I’m telling you they are vicious.  They are highly aggressive, especially when parenting.  There is a claim that they can break a mans arm and I fully believe it.  These are strong birds.  They are big and they are violent.  Do not let their graceful, angelic appearance fool you.

Swans mate for life (unless one of the pair dies or occasionally divorce occurs) and this follows on from an elaborate courtship.  The two potential mates dance and check each other out.  As they do so their long sleek necks come together to form a heart shape.  Because of this, their fidelity and their whiteness they are often used as a symbol of pure love.  They are a sign of commitment and constancy.

The tranquil swan appears to float through life without any troubles which can invoke jealousy in others.

When it comes to mythology and folklore it’s hard to know where to start!

Beginning in England, we see the swan as a royal bird.  The queen owns all the swans and this tradition may go back to 1100 or before.  During the Swan Upping, people go up and down the Thames counting the swans.  You are not allowed to hunt or kill swans, possibly going back to a belief that they were tasty and thus reserved for royalty only…  Either way, the idea of the swan as a regal bird persists.

A bit further afield, in Ireland, there is a legend which tells of a stepmother turning her children into swans for 900 years.  Another story, The Wooing of Etain, describes how a king of the underworld transformed himself and his partner into swans to escape the king of Ireland and his armies.

In Northern Europe, we see the swan associated with Freyr and tales of swan maidens were well known.  The swan apparently gained it’s white colour because two of them drank from a sacred well which held water so pure and holy that it turned everything that touched it white.  In Finland, we see a swan living in the realm of the dead and a belief that anyone who killed a swan would die.

The swan is credited swan with spinning the thread of thought in one of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales, The Swan’s Nest.  Possibly better well known though is the ugly duckling, a story which reminds us of our own true beauty which lies within and which can be hard to find in such a society as ours.

Moving now to ancient Greece, we find the story of Leda and the swan which led to the birth of Helen of Troy.  The swan is one of the sacred birds of Apollo, was a symbol of Aphrodite her Roman equivalent Venus, both goddesses of love.

 

Heading finally to the east, the Japanese have a story of a swan angel.  The swan is a vehicle of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation which we will talk about in relation to the tarot deck below.  There is also a belief that swans embody intellect, purity, good judgement, skill, grace, knowledge and creativity.  They epitomise the idea of non attachment – being in the world without getting attached to it – as the swans feather does not get wet even when in water.

It was believed that mute swans (a type not a description) only sang when they were dying and their song would be beautiful.  This is where we get the phrase swan song.

Wild Unknown Tarot Deck
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Swans are used in the tarot deck to represent the court cards of the cup suit and the fool may or may not be a baby swan.

The cups, as well as representing emotion and relationship and love, are used as a sign of creativity.  Indeed I don’t know many people who would say that creativity and feelings are not intimately connected.

To me, the swan feels a bit like a finished piece of creative work.  It is the painting that conceals the tears that went into it, the poetic masterpiece that hides the torment of the poet.  The swan appears graceful, tranquil and yet I’m sure they have their share of tough stuff.  I don’t think we should hide our emotions.  I think we get into a lot of trouble when we do.  I do hide my emotions, of course I do, but I don’t think we should strive for that.  Instead the message here for me is to recognise that others hide their emotions and difficult experiences as well and you can’t judge someone based on what you see.  Like with the ugly duckling story.

Taking this idea and using it to look at the tarot cards, we see swans in different stages of life.  The fool, if it is a swan, is very much a baby.  A vulnerable new born setting out into the world, the fool has yet to even start to think about their creative masterpiece.  Next we have the daughter who is a little older, she’s finding beauty and rainbows in the world and the water she plays in is calm.  The son is a bit older again, wiser, he is starting to pull together the beauty and the rainbows and gather them together to use in his creative masterpiece.  He’s starting to feel more intensely and starting to figure out his own place in the world.

Mother is a full grown swan.  Gentle and aggressive.  She protects her creative and loving energy with her wing but she does not constrict it.  This is the stage in our creative masterpiece where the work itself is doing something magical.  We’ve gathered inspiration as the daughter, collected our tools as the son and now something wonderful is happening to turn it into our masterpiece.  The father is content, he has created his work, he is showing the world his calm, reflective, effortless pose.  The intense emotional and creative process has climaxed.  And looking just at the outcome, the father, the painting, the poem, you wouldn’t know the depth that went into it.

I think it’s interesting that the father card is of a black swan when the rest are white swans.  When I look at the black swan later, this may help shed some light on this tarot card.

As always, for more information about the Wild Unknown Tarot cards, check out Carrie Mallon.