Firefly: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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I have only seen fireflies once but it was magical.  I imagine it was even more enchanting before electricity etc were invented.  I can easily imagine they would have been considered to be mythical creatures, fairies, stars fallen from the sky.  In Japanese legend, they were thought to be the souls of the dead.

These creatures are also known as glow worms and lightening bugs but are actually beetles, not flies or worms or bugs. They go through metamorphosis and can glow in the egg, larvae and adult stages.  It is thought they glow to attract mates, as a warning to predators and to communicate with each other.

Regardless of why, these fascinating creatures light up the night with their beautiful talent.  A reminder to us all to shine.  But equally importantly, the firefly does not heat up when it glows so it doesn’t burn out.  Share your talents and yourself with the world but be careful about overdoing it.

Fireflies are tiny creatures and the world must seem so huge to them but instead of getting overwhelmed they focus on lighting up their little part of the world and bring joy to those who see it.  A reminder that changing the world starts with small acts which change our own little corners of this planet.

Naturally they are associated with the unconscious and the mysteries of the dark but whereas the moth and the bat navigate skillfully the black of the night, the firefly illuminates it.

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Bat: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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Ah, the bat, the only flying mammal and the only mammal in this suit.

Bats are a feared creature, misguidedly associated with death and Dracula. Only vampire bats suck blood and they seem to prefer the blood of cows. Whilst we’re dispelling myths, most bats do not have rabies and they won’t get tangled in your hair. They use echolocation and sight to figure out the world around them and there really is nothing of interest in your hair.

Yes, that means the old saying as blind as a bat is a falsehood. Most bats use echolocation to find their way in the dark but as I said, some species rely more on their sight.  This ability to see in the night skies means the bat is often a symbol of intuition, clairvoyance and psychic ability.  Trust your senses to guide you.

These masters of the night generally live in colonies and have been known to feed sick and elderly bats, some species even adopt orphaned bats.  The species has a wide diet ranging from insects and fruit to fish, frogs and more.  Their role as a pollinator and in spreading seeds make the bat a keystone species and links them with fertility and sexuality.

Their night time life ties them to the moon and as we’ve seen with the moth, this associates them with the realm of the unconscious, our fears, our emotions and mystery.

The bat cave is a sanctuary for this creature, a place of safety.  But for us, going into the darkness is associated with fear, entering the unconscious, the darker unknown part of ourselves.  Our fears can act as protectors, for example a fear of sharks means you probably won’t go swimming with them and thus won’t get eaten by one, they stop us looking at painful parts of our lives.  But fears can also be irrational and they hinder us rather than keep us safe.  Entering the cave can help us understand our fears and our unconscious mind.

Wild Unknown Tarot

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The Hanged Man card is very strongly linked with the symbolism of the bat card.  Hanging upside down is used in shamanic initiations and rituals as a way of retrieving enlightenment.

This card is about changing your perspective, literally looking at things upside down like the bat.

Butterflies: wild unknown animal spirit deck

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You may be aware, particularly if i know you in real life, that i am doing a year long project about butterflies.  They are amazing!  For this post, even though the card is of the butterfly, i feel it would do them an injustice not to consider each stage (and give me a chance to show off my newly acquired butterfly knowledge!) however I am going to try and keep it brief-ish…

The life cycle

Butterflies start as beautifully constructed, architectural wonders.  Their eggs come in a variety of shapes and designs and are laid at different time of years depending on the species.  They are laid on the plant that the caterpillar will need to eat.

Once hatched, the caterpillar starts a very long feast.  Basically the main purpose of the caterpillar is to eat.  They eat and eat until they are too big for their skin.  Then they moult and eat and eat and eat.  They moult about four times.  Once they’re as big as they’re going to get, they then hang upside down and start building their second marvellous construction; the chrysalis.

Whilst in this safe space, the caterpillar begins to break down.  Once they have reach a sort of caterpillar soup stage, they start to reform as a butterfly.

The period spent in the chrysalis involves a lot of hard work.  You can see the process in this youtube clip:

The newly formed butterfly then breaks out of the chrysalis and starts life as an adult.  But, they can’t fly straight from hatching, they have to pause a moment.  This allows the blood to enter veins in their wings and harden to provide strength.  They can’t do this whilst a chrysalis as there isn’t enough space to spread their wings and if they don’t, their wings won’t be strong enough to fly.  This isn’t a long process but it is an important one.

We often think of metamorphosis as a beautiful thing, and it is, but I’m sure it can’t be a painless process for the caterpillar.  And in terms of human transformations, any major change is likely to involve pain as well.  This process is as much about letting go of your current self to make space for the new self.

This isn’t a case of having a little rest and letting yourself grow or going to a spa retreat and coming out feeling new.  This is about breaking down who you are and completely transforming yourself.  This is a MAJOR change.  And change this big is complex.

As the butterfly is a creature of the air, she asks you to change your thoughts, your perspectives and to create your own chrysalis to support your transformation.  However, the butterfly also knows there is a time for everything and you can’t go through metamorphosis early.  First you must shed your skin like the caterpillar does.  This pre transformation stage is a time for growing, taking up space and getting ready for the next stage by literally or metaphorically feeding yourself.  Once you are ready, she suggests that you create your own safe place, surround yourself with love, nourish your body, seek support and be gentle with yourself.  This is a tough process.  You are literally rebuilding yourself – without pain, you will not reach the beautiful state of the butterfly.

The butterfly, the arts and mythology

Butterflies have captivated us for a long time, featuring in art and stories and as a, possibly overused, metaphor.

Butterflies: the enjoyable insect by Gareth Brookes

Oh see the butterflies a-caper
Fluttering like torn up bits of paper
Enchanted I do stand agape
If they would but take human shape
I’d take the out
For a pint of stout

Give no retort as I exhort you to cavort
Amid the butterflies, oh what sport
No film I’ve watched could be such fun
Neither Spiderman 3 nor Cannonball Run
Oh watch them in the sky a-soar
The butterflies, oh crikey! cor!

In complete contrast to the modern day ode above, we have the Christian association of the butterfly with the resurrection (although the more I learn it does seem like they will use almost any animal to symbolise this…).  In ancient Egypt, gods were thought to escape death through metamorphosis.  In other ancient cultures, it was believed that the human soul becomes a butterfly as the body dies and the butterfly then transports the soul to the afterlife.  Indeed, the Greek word for butterfly, psyche, also means soul and Psyche, the Greek Goddess of the soul, is depicted with butterfly wings.

Their life cycle inevitably means the butterfly has been used as a symbol of rebirth, immortality and the fleeting nature of life.  The short adult life span further emphasises the birth, death, rebirth process that we all go through numerous times in our life.

As beautiful smile provoking delights, they are also linked with joy and happiness, as wish carriers and dream bringers.

Life as a butterfly

These enchanting winged creatures of the day are a species of variety – some live only briefly and others can live many months.  Regardless, like the moth, their main purpose as adults is to feed and mate.  Butterflies are generally assumed to drink nectar but they are also known to feed on dung, drink sweat from humans and other animals for nutrients and even decaying flesh.  They are not entirely about beauty and glamour but try not to think about that the next time you get butterflies in your tummy…

The wild unknown tarot

The wild unknown uses butterflies for three of the cards and I’ve found these images to be pretty powerful at different times.

There are no caterpillars in the deck so it seems most fitting that we start with the 8 of Swords, pictured on the right, with it’s chrysalis (if I’d thought this through I would have paid more attention when I took the photo… I would retake it but my deck has been shuffled since and I can’t be bothered finding them…).  This card is about being in a precarious situation – if the butterfly stays in the safety of her chrysalis much longer, it will fall into the collection of swords below.  Comfort zones are great, we need them, especially when we’re going through big things, but we need to leave them as well.  What is keeping you stuck?  Sometimes this might be actual things but often, our thoughts and our perceptions keep us trapped.  How can you free yourself from the chrysalis which was once so necessary and safe and is now threatening to suffocate you?

Once you’ve broken free of your chrysalis, we have the 2 of Pentacles (on the left) which shows a butterfly with outstretched wings and symbolises change and balance.  I feel like this is the butterfly warming up it’s wings and getting ready to fly.  That pause before it takes the leap.  The infinity symbol echoes what I mentioned above and the symmetry of the image speaks strongly of balance as does the use of black and white, yin and yang, light and dark.  This delicate creature appears strong in this card, you are stronger than you think you are.

The 6 of Wands, in the middle, is about rising up, moving on, you’ve been given your wings and they’re strong enough to use, where are you going to fly to?  You have faced the adversity, the pain of transformation and now you have your freedom.  You are leaving the darkness and entering into the light.


“Butterflies live so deeply in the moment of being that they can conquer time itself”
– Matthew Oates

Moth: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

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I feel sorry for the moth, it often gets overlooked by people who are more enticed by the butterfly’s colours.

What is the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

In general…

  • Moths are nocturnal and butterflies are out in the day
  • Moths have fluffy antennae and butterflies don’t
  • Moths have dull, earthy colours and butterflies have bright patterns
  • Moths rest with their wings laid flat and butterflies rest with their wings up vertically

Of course, there are exceptions to all of these characteristics but they give you a rough feel for the differences.

Like a moth to the flame…

Another reason I feel sorry for the moth is its poor adaptation to today’s world.  The moth has been around a very very long time, much longer than the butterfly.  It is a creature of the night and it is thought that the moth uses moon light to guide it.  And then we come along and stick up streetlamps, porch lights and all other illuminated objects which throw them way off course.

When I was thinking about this, I realised that we too are victims of our own world.  Where the moth is looking for the true light, we too are searching for that thing which will fill a hole in our soul.  Where the moth, trustingly, flies towards the streetlamp thinking it is the light of the moon, we move towards capitalism, addiction, materialism etc to satiate us.  But, whereas the moth goes forth with blind faith, we can question it.  Is this a true, soul filling light, or is it another human creation designed to attract us but really insubstantial?  I was able to explain this much better when I was laying awake in the middle of the night!  Isn’t that always the way?

Within this extended metaphor, we can see the moon, the true light, as the unconscious, the shadows of ourselves, a symbol of mystery and the unknown.  It is this link with the moon that ties the moth to the inner world, to intuition and also to death.  And I think the moth pictured on the card is the Luna Moth.

By the way, moths have great names!  Their family names include: Footman Moths, Hawkmoths, Hooktips and Pugs. And when you get down to individual species you have names such as the awesome Death Head Hawkmoth, The Alchymist, Chimney Sweeper, Feathered Gothic and True Lovers Knot!

Like many short lived creatures, once in adult form, their main purpose is to have sex before they die.  But before this they go through the amazing process of metamorphosis.  Starting life as an egg, they then become caterpillars before creating a silk wrapped cocoon.  Whilst all insects go through some form of metamorphosis, it is most closely associated with the butterfly so I will look at this in more depth in that post.

A couple of things you might want to consider if you’ve drawn this card are around burnout and your attention span.  Are you flitting from one thing to another?  Ooh… shiny bright light… ooh….!

“Battling” depression 

I keep seeing things about the fight against depression, battling it, being a warrior, beating it etc… And it’s really annoying me…

As someone who has had depression on and off for many years at different levels, I do not relate to this.

Everyone experiences depression differently and if the battling narrative works for you then that’s fine.  My problem is with it being the only narrative.

For me, firstly, I don’t think I will ever “beat” depression. I think depression is as much a part of me as my faulty joints. Which means fighting depression is not something I will ever win and fighting depression is essentially fighting myself and my DNA. I have spent a lot of years at war with myself, I don’t want to keep fighting.

Secondly, it suggests that if you have depression, you are weak or you aren’t fighting hard enough. Which makes it your fault.

I have spent a lot of my life and a lot of my energy in denial about my depression. My most recent period of depression was foreshadowed by about a year where I was adamantly not admitting to myself that I was depressed again.  And this inevitably made things worse…

By accepting my depression and slowly integrating it into myself, I have found I am much more able to manage it.

When I tell people that I want to put things in place for the next time my depression is severe, I get told not to be so pessimistic, I have to believe that I’m cured etc. But this isn’t realistic. For most of my life I have been depressed, why would this just disappear? And my acceptance of this means I can plan, I can set up helpful routines and check ins when I’m doing better in preparation for when I’m not.  I can work with my depression rather than against it.

Working with my depression means noticing it.  It means saying ok, things aren’t great today, lets engage in some gentle self care, yay you made it out of bed, congrats… let’s pause for today and see if that helps make tomorrow easier.  It means noticing that I am being really irritable and instead of beating myself up about it, I can acknowledge that my depression is playing a role and to ease the irritability, I probably need to look at how I can ease the depression.

As I said, everyone has different experiences with depression and for me, accepting it as a lifelong part of me means I am more likely to spend my time and energy caring for myself rather than fighting myself.

Air: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

So folks, we’ve reached the end of the earth suit and are now moving onto air.  Before we get into the individual cards, I thought I’d say a few things about the types of animals in this section.

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Air

The suit of air (swords in tarot) is associated with the mind, mental activity, with clarity and with communication.  These cards reflect the intellectual part of you, the thoughtful and logical aspects of the world.

This suit contains, as you might expect, a number of birds and insects as well as the bat (a flying mammal).  Rather than keep repeating myself, I am going to look at some of the general qualities of birds and insects here before we jump into the air (cards).

Birds

Birds, in general, are flying creatures with feathers which are used for flight, communication, attracting mates and camouflage.  They build nests and lay eggs and are found on all the continents.  They have lightweight bones, toothless beaks and very complex respiration systems.  Many species migrate over long distances.  Many birds are social animals living in groups with the ability to communicate.  Most scientists agree that the bird has evolved from the dinosaur

We shall see in more detail for particular species but birds play prominent and diverse roles in religion and mythology, for example acting as messengers.  Many goddesses have birds as companions and some can even turn into birds.  Their ability to fly means they are often associated with freedom, ascension and closeness to god/spirit world/etc.  They also get a birds eye view of the world, allowing them to see the bigger picture.

Whilst you may be familiar with the phrase bird brained meaning stupid, there is evidence that at least some species, such as the crow, are highly intelligent.  I like the use of birds to illustrate the mental realm and communication – after all, we used to use feathers to write with and they talk using beautiful songs.

Insects

What is an insect?  Insects are invertebrates which have a three part body (head, thorax and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes and a pair of antennae.  They are incredibly diverse, there are estimated to be between six and ten million species which inhabit nearly all environments.

Most insects hatch from eggs and because they have an exoskeleton, most have to go through a form of metamorphosis in order to reach their adult state.  Some get around by walking, others, which we will focus on in this section of the cards, fly.  Some even swim.

On the whole, humans see insects as pests although, as with all animals, they have their own role to play in the web of life.  Indeed, many insects are crucial to our own survival.

Whereas the bird can see the wider view, insects, because of their size are likely to see a much more detailed, close up view of things.  Both equally important for us.

Because of the diversity of both birds and insects, we shall consider their more specific characteristics in more detail in future posts.

Horse: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

And so we come to the final earth card, the horse.

We often think of horses as domesticated but there are still wild horses out there and without humans, they are very much a pack animal.  In the wild, they are vulnerable to predators and being part of a group means there are more eyes to spot danger.  When danger is approaching, they run as a herd but those out front or at the back are more vulnerable – those of us who are lagging behind or are too ahead of our times?

Even the horses we “keep” today are not truly domesticated.  We have not subdued them, we have harnessed their talents but they are still free spirits.  We have not and I suspect will not conquer the horse, instead, we work alongside it, respectful of it’s wild and independent nature.  After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Horses have been around for a very long time and the ancient ancestors of the horse we know today was the size of a spaniel.  As we have utilised these majestic beings for our own uses we have bred into them the characteristics we need.

Our relationship with the horse has had a huge impact on human civilisation and goes back many thousands of years.  Being able to ride horses let us experience the wild freedom of the horse.  It allowed us to travel much further than before and much quicker.  We could carry more with us when we travelled and our hunting range expanded and we could visit other groups of humans more easily.  The horse allowed us more capacity for exploration.

It is because of this, and because of their physical traits, that the horse is associated with travel, with moving forward, with journeying and stamina.  These are strong creatures with a vitality and driving force which propels you onward.

Horses are associated with nobility and wealth and have, in various cultures, been a status symbol, with the rider literally being elevated above most of us.

The most highly evolved part of their brain is the part which deals with muscle control and this is important as horses have different combinations of leg movements for the different speeds they go at.  By using a particular sequence of steps to trot, a different sequence to canter etc they are choosing the most efficient tool for the job.

Horses communicate though body language and will cut through any facade you are wearing.  You may look confident and sure but the horse will know if under that mask you’re really scared.  It is perhaps this ability to almost see into your soul that led Celtic myths to associate the horse with clairvoyance.

Myths and legends

Other beliefs around the horse include the idea that horse hair contained magical properties.  Linked to the horse and journeys, is a belief that the horse can not only help us travel in this world, but also help us travel to and through otherworlds.

I imagine we are all familiar with the horseshoe as a sign of good luck, but did you know they were fastened to the hoof with seven nails which is a lucky number.

In India, horses are associated with death and funerals and at the opposite end of the spectrum, Freudian symbollogy associates them with the libido.  In Chinese astrology we see the traits of the horse once more as an active, energetic and boundless creature.

The Gaul goddess Epona was linked with horses and was worshipped across Western Europe, although due to an aural tradition we know very little about her.  We also have the myths about Macha and the Welsh goddess Rhiannon, both related to horses.

In England we have a few white chalk horses laying large on hillsides and can often be traced back to the Celts.

Unicorns

I don’t intend to go into any detail here but I felt it was important to mention unicorns.  These are believed to be a spiritually evolved horse with their horn, their link to the spirit, protruding from their third eye which is associated with insight.

Wild Unknown Tarot Deck

We see the horse in both the Chariot and the Five of Cups; two very different cards.

The chariot is very definitely my inner warrior and for a while she kept showing up.  She reminds me that I don’t need to be in fight mode all the time, part of being a good warrior is about taking time to get your body and mind in shape.  She took a while to show up, because I had completely depleted her and she was recuperating elsewhere.  Now she’s one of the cards that I go to when I need to channel strength, will power, direction, focus and clarity.  She is the very embodiment of moving forward, pushing on and facing challenges.

The five of cups on the other hand is about loss and grief.  The horse is looking down into the darkness and can’t see the light and the cups above her.  Pain and sorrow are an inevitable part of life and we must allow ourselves to feel these emotions.  But the horse is a reminder that we also need to keep moving, not get stuck and swallowed up by these feelings.