Skunk

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Like some of the other animals I’ve looked at, the skunk’s reputation foreshadows them and whilst I will discuss their odour defence system, I want to start by looking at…

Skunks are part of the weasel family and whilst they tend to be pictured with one white stripe, they actually have two which join at the back of the neck.  They are solitary animals which tend to live in abandoned dens, rarely digging their own, instead taking advantage of existing options, and we’ll see this resourcefulness in other aspects of skunk life so it’s something to keep in mind.  As well as being opportunistic when it comes to home arrangements, they are also opportunistic eaters.  They eat a wide range of foods including animals which we commonly consider pests eg rodents and crop eating insects.  As such, you might have more to thank a skunk for than you think.  Their resourcefulness is complemented by an adaptability which allows them to live in a wide range of environments including deserts, woodlands and the suburbs.

Even before we get onto discussing reputation and scent, we’ve already got excellent fodder for reflection; the elusive and solitary nature reminding us that there’s a time to be alone and a time to be with others, the idea of taking advantage of opportunities that are around us and the idea of being adaptable to get the most from those opportunities.

Skunk mums are very protective but on the whole, skunks are actually quite peaceful and graceful, able to teach us how to interact with others in peace, to live and let live.

But what, you ask, of their terrible smelling spray?  How can that possibly be an example of pacifism?  Well… Whilst they are well known for their smell, they only spray musk when they are threatened and it is a last resort.  Before spraying, they give warnings – they stamp their feet, change position so they are facing away from the target and lift their tail.  It is only after this that they will spray and if you haven’t paid attention to the warning signs, watch out as they can spray up to 15 feet!  The scent is made up of seven different chemicals and if it gets in your eyes it will certainly burn and may cause temporary blindness.  Because of this, the skunk earns respect.  Note also that although the skunk defends itself, it isn’t aggressive and the impact of it’s weapon is temporary.

They also use their black and white lines to highlight their defence, like the badger, so if you’ve reached the point of spray, you’re really not listening to the skunk.  Pay attention to the signs, there’s rarely a bite without a bark…

Whilst the skunk’s musk isn’t what we tend to think of as a pleasant smell, it’s actually used in perfume and has even been considered an aphrodisiac…  Scent is a very powerful tool, smells are known to evoke memories and can be a powerful route to nostalgia or emotion.  They can be used to attract – pheromones and perfume – and repel – tear gas.

When talking about smell its worth noting the role it has in how we think about things.  Traditionally ‘good’ smells have been associated with virtue and higher classes of people and ‘bad’ smells associated with disease, lower classes and laziness.  But having said that, humans, at least in the western world, tend to neglect scent, instead heavily privileging sight and sound.

Because of their reputation, humans tend to steer clear of skunks, a response that would generally be disproportionate given their size, or lack of.  This means that the skunk could come to be associated with loneliness and being on the outside but equally, the skunk may have taken their treatment and essentially give people the middle finger.  Reading about how the skunk is seen in the medicine cards and the animal allies, the latter seems to be the case.  Both talk of the skunk taking his own, unique, path through life.  There is an element of nonchalance and an aura of confidence with the skunk.

For those of us who think skunk and think only of smell, take this as a nudge to consider people and get to know them before you take their reputation as gospel.  Perhaps instead of ignoring people who are cast as scapegoats and stigmatised, get to know them and decide for yourself.  We also need to note that the skunk is judged based on a behaviour that is only engaged in a tiny amount of the time.  Perhaps we need to give people the benefit of the doubt.  How someone behaves on a day they’ve had really awful news should not define them.  We all do and say things we wouldn’t in other circumstances.

Unable to find validation externally, the skunk has turned inward and found a much more potent validation within himself.  He feels sure but not cocky.

“Learn to assert, without ego, what you are.  Respect follows.  Your self-respectful attitude will repel those who are not of like mind, and yet will attract those who choose the same pathway.  As the odour of Skunk attracts others of its kind, it repels those who will not respect its space.”
– Medicine Cards

Sometimes, lacking the respect of others, the skunk goes one better and respects himself.  He projects this through his body language and how he holds himself.  He knows his own worth and he stands tall because of it.  You do not need to be physically strong in order to be powerful.  There is strength that comes from knowing, respecting and loving yourself and this brings a quiet power.

Note the subtly here between feeling your self worth and becoming self obsessed.  I feel like the skunk knows he has flaws but he doesn’t let them define him.

Skunks are also commended for being true to who they are, they are misunderstood but instead of trying to conform, they just focus on being themselves; a great model of self acceptance.

In arguing for the striped skunk, the iconic species, to be the emblem of America, Ernest Thompson Seton wrote:

“It is, first of all, peculiar to [America].  It has stars on its head and stripes on its body.  It is an ideal citizen; minds its own business, harms no one and is habitually inoffensive, as long as it is left alone; but it will face any one or any number when aroused.”

Because it is declaring itself to be a danger right there on its back, and because it knows if things get tough it can release the odour it is so famous for, the skunk can walk around with confidence and fearlessness. It knows it’s correctly armed and sure of how to use its defences.

As I was writing about this, I was watching a VICE video on YouTube about people who own skunks as pets… These get “descented”, the process which means a skunk cannot spray scent.  There is a SkunkFest festival where dedicated owners get together to talk all things skunk and there’s even a contest of sorts… A vet in this video explained that owners treat them like children, dress them up and let them sleep in the bed with them.  One woman seemed to have more than a handful of skunks and the discussion with the journalist seemed to suggest there was a lot of work required and that the skunks ruled the roost…

Mythologically speaking, the fact that the skunk stands it’s ground and doesn’t back down means they are often associated with war and relatedly, with strength and courage.  Skunks also feature in a creation story from the Ojibwe and as an interesting titbit, Chicago comes from the Ottawa language and means ‘the place of the skunk’.

Common themes in skunk myths include disrespect and arrogance having severe consequences, vanity being punished and the skunk being clever and using trickery to outsmart others.  In one in particular, skunk gets the better of a vain opossum.  In Lakota mythology, skunks were said to be powerful because they stand up to danger and this meant that when heading into battle, Lakota warriors would sometimes take skunk tokens into battle.  Some Cherokees believed that the powerful smell of dead skunks would ward off disease and so they’d hang them over doors for protection.

Skunks are both cast as villain and saviour, as hero and trickster, as monsters and idols.  This dichotomy of pest or pet is also reflected in people’s views of the skunk – is it a cute and humorous creature that features in cartoons or is it loathed and considered vile?  We have already seen that actually skunks can be important in managing pest populations despite many people thinking of them solely as a pest.  Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from the skunk is that nothing is actually black and white.  Just as the skunk itself comes in a range of colours, so too should our thinking.

Seven of Wands

In the Animal Totem Tarot, the skunk is pictured on the Seven of Wands.  Where in your life do you feel constantly defensive?  How do you hold your ground?  How do you act when backed into a corner?  If you are being called to defend something you have created or are passionate about, and aren’t doing so or willing to, is this something that’s really worth your time?  Consider this call to defend it as a test of how important it really is to you.

Wild Boar

Like with some other animals I’ve looked at, the boar found in America is different to that found in Europe.  Again, I shall be considering the European boar as it is closer to home and as such feels more relevant to me.  Wild boars are extinct in Britain with the last being thought to roam in the 13th century however because of interbreeding with domestic pigs and the blurred line between the two, it’s not possible to be precise.  To try and prevent this line from blurring further, I’ve decided to do an entirely separate post about pigs.  I wanted to look at the pig as well, partly in its own right and partly as a supplement to the boar.  In the animal totem tarot cards the queen of pentacles is depicted by a pig and so I’ve decided to focus my pig thoughts there instead of having it as an add on to the boar.

“Be willing to accept all parts of yourself and to courageously transform those parts which you don’t like”
– Animal Allies

The boar is about protection and about confrontation.  Not just confronting others, or protecting yourself from others but also about how we protect ourselves from ourselves and how there is a time and a place and a need for confronting yourself.  Where are you concealing things from yourself?  Where are you lying to yourself?  The boar, the powerful boar, can help you to tell you the truth and charging head first, can help you confront those parts of you that you try to hide.

The charging aspect of the boar comes up a lot – there is the obvious analogy of charging head first towards challenges.  The boar doesn’t wait patiently for what it wants, it doesn’t procrastinate the future away.  It is all about moving forward and strength, something that Rachel Patterson sums up nicely:

“Generous noble creature, the boar has been a symbol of warriors for centuries and features in many battle tales and legends.  He is full of masculine energy and brings bravery, balance and strength.”

With the boar, we have a power but it is not undirected, the boar’s power is about standing up for self and family and taking on battles, an aspect which is oft-repeated in symbolism and mythology.

The wild boar was the heraldic emblem of Richard III.  They were a popular choice, likely because of their association with fierceness in battle and symbolically they were used as an emblem of protection.  It was said that during a hunt, a boar’s tusks would get so hot they would singe the attacking dogs.  Instead of white hot tusks, the golden boar called Goldbristles had a glowing mane which would light the dark night and was associated with Freyr and by extension, with war and death.

A lot of my reading focused on war, battle, boar hunts and courage but there is an additional part of this animal that I find symbolically fascinating; their role in landscape.

Whilst the boar has vanished from the English landscape, their presence remains in place names such as everton and everleigh, with eofor meaning wild boar.  Closer to home for me, the saxon name for York was Eoforwic – wild boar settlement – which was turned into Jorvik – wild boar creek – by the Vikings and over time has become York.    Boars continue to live on in York’s art, with two white boars being depicted in stained glass in York Minster.

In addition to naming the landscape, the boar itself can, in large numbers, strongly alter the landscape through rooting and they play an important role in the decomposition of the forest floor.  By rooting through leaf litter to find food, they aerate the soil and this has important benefits for the environment.  Unfortunately, in some areas this behaviour has lead to human outcries that boars are destroying the land – we are very fickle and can see the same behaviour as positive and negative depending on our own interests.

“Wild boars have been described as many things, but they are always characterised in the light of human concerns and priories.  Even when their natural behaviour is praise, humans limit the extent to which they are allowed to practise it.”
– I don’t know where I got this quote from… Sorry!

Although the boar is about fighting, the idea of looking at what you are concealing opens you up to emotional healing and it was said that parts of the boar contained magic.  A boar skin placed on a wound made it disappear.  They were thought to know how to cure themselves of digestive disorders and whilst this may or may not be true, males do use their tusks to rip bark off trees to release pine resin.  They rub against this to harden their coats and repel insects.

The boar can appear to find food out of nowhere, making them an omen of prosperity, although you may need to look more closely and snuffle out the treasure from the waste.  You need to dig out what is under the surface and this ties is so well to the idea of confronting what is hidden.

Like all of us, the boar has more than one side and you cannot simply relegate it to a corner with a label hinting at destruction and confrontation.

Throughout history, wild boars have presented us with opportunity and danger.  They are a food source with tusks that could cause terrible damage and it was this risk that meant killing boar made you into a great warrior.  Because boars are generally secretive and shy, they only tend to come into contact with humans on human terms such as hunts.  This is why we often see them depicted as aggressive, ferocious and violent, you would be too if you were being chased by men and dogs with the intent to kill you.

“Ovid presents the Caledonian boar as a mighty adversary, allying it both with the forces of nature, the like deadly lightning strike, and human weaponry, such as the catapulted stone.  It is proud and intelligent, choosing the forest as its battleground, where its hunters are at an immediate disadvantage.  The hunters themselves do not appear in the best light, as they quarrel with each other, or foolishly vaunt their own prowess.  Even in death, the boar confronts them with their failings, as they gather round, afraid even to touch it.”
– Dorothy Yamamoto

Boar hunting took on social meanings beyond just needing resources the animals could offer.  It became a test of courage and a symbol of a man’s masculinity and status to kill a boar.  This was emphasised by their reputation which claimed that their fighting spirit was said to signify the fierceness of the rulers of the world.  Hunting may have been encouraged because of the Christian association of the boar with the devil and the boar was often associated with one of the deadly sins, whether it was anger, lust or gluttony.  A 14th century hunting manual says that the boar is:

“…black and ugly, like those who have lost the light of the spirit and live in benighted worldliness.  The boar shoves its face into the soil, like those whose only concern is filing their bellies and enjoying the delights of the flesh.  Even its feet are twisted and crossed, like those of the Devil.”

In one of the accounts I read, from around the first century, a roman writer was poking fun at boar hunting and was suggesting his friends take the opportunity instead for reflection and thinking, for hunting ideas or words or knowledge instead of boars. I love this idea and think it relates well to the snuffling out what is not necessarily obvious.  What is it you need to look for, to hunt for or to sniff out?  Perhaps a walk in the woods collecting leaves, trying to find a particular bird or foraging for mushrooms is what you need.

Squirrel

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“Preparing for the inevitable change of the future but in a lighthearted sort of way.”
Animal Allies

Before I jump into my discussion of the squirrel, I wanted to touch on Jessica’s description (above).  This feels to me like a lighter version of the wheel of fortune.  The inevitable, ever changing cycles but dealing with them with less seriousness.  A sort of dark humour approach to life.

Perhaps the main thing you’ll know about squirrels is their hording tendencies.  They hide food away, ready for harder times and this card reminds us to plan and prepare and put something aside for the future.  There is also a reminder here about remembering where you’ve put things… I’m sure we’ve all put things in safe places only to forget where they are… Well squirrels do the same…  Only when they forget where they’ve stashed their nuts, they inadvertently help out the forest by letting a tree have a chance at life.  They are great at planning and organising but not so good at the follow through…

Perhaps it is not just literal resources that you need to preserve, perhaps it’s emotional and physical “spoons”.  Or perhaps this squirrel is suggesting you need to extend this thrifty tendency to your pennies.  Of course, conversely, you might be hoarding things, holding onto things you no longer need, not letting go or holding onto things for reasons you’ve long since forgotten.

Whilst they don’t recall all the locations of their food caches, they do have very good spatial memory – does this chime with you in any way?  I’m not sure how it would but I wanted to include it just in case…  Squirrels, like crows, use deceptive behaviour if they think that anyone is watching them bury their nuts.  This feels very seven of swords… (scroll to the end of the post).

The squirrel’s way of life is driven by the changing seasons so perhaps what you do needs to change accordingly. If you look back at the bear from the wild unknown, you’ll find an interesting note about flowing with the seasons and adapting behaviour and expectations accordingly.

As well as their chattering vocalisation, grey squirrels communicate with body language which is a good reminder that most of human communication is non verbal.  Most of the behaviour we see such as chasing and chattering is actually territorial fighting.  Is your body language aligned with your words and are other peoples words in line with their body language?  How are you sparring with those around you?  What ‘territory’ matters to you?

Whilst the squirrel pictured on the animal allies card is a grey squirrel, you don’t have to be talking about the species long before the topic of red squirrels comes up.  Where red squirrels have inhabited Britain for about 10,000 years, greys were released in the UK in the 19th century.  Originally from North America, they were imported and released into parklands as amusing novelties but they rapidly became common and now live in most of the country,having replaced the native reds.  As they started to spread, they were welcomed as ‘sociable, easily tamed animal[s]’ (Manchester Guardian, 1912) but by 1932, it was illegal to release a grey squirrel in Britain.  This change in attitudes may be a reminder that fashions change, that attitudes change and that we are just one part of an ever-changing world.  What is in today may be out tomorrow, what is bothering you now, may blow over by next week.

Unfortunately for the greys, the passion that some people have for the reds turns into a hatred of the greys. This can feel a bit like there are two gangs and you have to join one side or the other… Another way of viewing it is through the lens of immigration and prejudice against non native creatures.  The issue is very divisive and it may be worth reflecting on your own life – are you facing a similar situation over a different issue? Are you stubbornly sticking to your side without hearing the other side out?  Things in life are rarely black and white…

But back to the grey squirrels, partly as they are more common in the UK and partly because the animal allies card pictures one.  They are diurnal (active during the day) and spend their time foraging in trees (preferring deciduous forests where reds prefer evergreen forests) and on the ground.  The grey squirrel is unusual in that it can climb down a tree head first suggesting that you need to take a heads on approach yourself.

Whilst they do live up to the stereotype of eating nuts, they also eat bulbs, tree shoots, fungi and even birds eggs and baby birds.. This probably doesn’t help them to negate the perception of grey squirrels as rats with tails…

As well as being considered an arch nemesis of the red squirrel, greys are thought of as pests, especially in young forests as they like to strip the bark of saplings.  Gardeners often cast them in the role of nuisance, trouble maker as well.

Grey squirrels are carriers of a squirrel disease that affects reds significantly more than greys and this is one of the reasons why the red population has decreased since the greys were introduced.  This puts me in mind of those toxic people in your life, the vampiric friends who suck the life out of you but don’t seem to notice or be fazed.

But the squirrel card isn’t bad news, I happen to love them and think they can be rather entertaining and at times elegant to watch.  A beautiful aspect of the grey squirrel is it’s scientific name – Sciurus carolinensis – with sciurus translating as shadow tail which I find very evocative.  According to Wikipedia, it alludes to the squirrel sitting in the shadow of its tail!  And talking of tails, allegedly, of all the animals in eden, the squirrel was the most shocked when Adam and Eve ate the apple and hid behind his tail.  His reaction was seen as honourable and thus the squirrel was granted a bushy tail.

In North American Indians mythology, squirrels apparently tend to be noisy, aggressive gossips who cause trouble.  That said, they can also be great examples of preparedness and messengers who bring warnings.  I feel like we’re seeing a lot of polarisation with the squirrel – the battle of red and grey, of forest helper and gardeners nemesis, the aggressive gossip who can also bring helpful warnings.  It feels to me that this is a card that wants you to think about extremes.  Most behaviours, attitudes etc can be harmful when taken to extremes.

This idea of contrariness is echoed in European beliefs where, despite the squirrel being seen as a pest, it was considered unlucky to kill one and somehow it was also thought that burning a squirrel on a bonfire was supposed to drive away vermin.

Another appearance of squirrels in mythology can be found in norse cultures.  The squirrel Ratatoskr lives in the world tree and carries news and gossip between the different inhabitants of the tree.  This echoes the north American idea of the squirrel as messenger.  They can scurry from branch to branch, chattering away to different animals who live in the forest and thus they are natural messengers although it seems, in folklore, that they carry both mundane and more important warnings.  As squirrels can climb and climb, they can eventually reach the heavens and thus they carry mundane and spiritual messages.  It is down to us to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Nature and writing project: An update

So I’ve had a busy few months and whilst I’m pleased I’ve still been blogging, my nature and writing project has been paused.  A combination of going to Stanmore for three weeks, resting and recovering, and also getting used to having a lot more care.  With this in mind, I put my nature and writing project on hold – it had a summer holiday!

This means I will start getting back into it now that the summer holidays are over and the school year has begun again!  Expect more tarot and animal spirit posts as well as I’m planning – long term – to work through all my animal allies cards, my animal totem tarot cards with a focus on the animals.  I’m also planning – very long term – to work through all the tarot cards, having been inspired when I started with the ten of swords.

There are so many directions to take the nature and writing in and I think this is partly why I’ve not done much recently.  I was really clear about the different topics for the different months and now I’ve covered a lot of these, or at least touched the surface of them, and I don’t know whether I want to return to a topic or go with a new one!  So many choices and so little restrictions!  I think that’s why I’ve been doing the tarot and animal allies posts because then I’m not having to decide what to focus in on!

Animal Allies wise, I have the following to look into:

  • Bighorn sheep
  • Boar
  • Canary
  • Coyote
  • Mountain Lion
  • Opossum
  • Rat
  • Skunk
  • Squirrel
  • Turkey

As well as looking forward, I wanted to look back. I’ve been retired for over two years now and whilst I retired in May 2016, it was the September when things finally started to fall into place so I could have a life.  I decided that September 16-17 would be a bit of a ‘gap year’ for me.  I was overwhelmed at retiring, at having lots of things I wanted to do with my life and unsure what and how much I could actually do if I wasn’t destroying myself working.  It felt like there were so many directions I could go in and yet I didn’t want to commit to just one.  In the end, the gap year involved a good mix of things; art, Saturday classes at the university, writing and reading.  It was January 2017 when I started on my animal spirit posts and it was from there than I formed my nature and writing project.

I had a feeling before but now I know for certain that I am a lot happier when I have projects like these which are long term but with smaller short term chunks (the entire deck of oracle cards but also each individual post).

I have also finally found the kind of writing that comes naturally to me at this stage in my life.  As a child I wrote a lot of stories and created magazines and newspapers for fun.  As a teenager I wrote an awful lot of (probably quite awful) poetry.  I was a prolific poet and it just streamed out of me without much thought or effort.  As an adult I have tried to recreate the stories and the poetry but its felt forced and definitely didn’t flow as it once did.  This year whilst I was reading and writing and learning, I came across the term creative non fiction and it felt like a validation that my posts about animals, about nature, are creative and they do count as creative writing.  Because they are non fiction I had essentially dismissed the creativity in them.  And because they weren’t in a voiceless, facts only style I had dismissed them as non fiction. It wasn’t until I found the term creative non fiction that I was able to figure out what my writing is and from there I can learn more about the style and how to improve and explore different techniques.

There have of course been lots of other realisations and discoveries in the past year of my nature and writing project but the thing I am most proud of is that despite having 6 months of being incredibly ill, I didn’t give up.  I had to change goal posts and I had to instil patience in myself because I wasn’t physically able to do what I wanted.  I also had to spend my energy fighting for help when I wanted to be doing my nature and writing project instead.  But despite this, since I started it last September, I have written over 165,000 words and 186 blog posts.  I have carefully researched the topics I talk about and have done some really interesting reading and watching of documentaries to fuel what I am writing about.  For a year which involved six months of starvation (literally… I couldn’t swallow much food…), I’m pretty proud of myself.

I couldn’t possibly chose a favourite topic or post but the one I find myself telling people about more than any others is the post I did in October about the very real and very serious cases of animals in court on trial.  If you read nothing else I’ve written (except obviously some of this post to reach the link…), read that.

Illustration from Chambers Book of Days depicting a sow and her piglets being tried for the murder of a child. The trial allegedly took place in 1457, the mother being found guilty and the piglets acquitted.

Armadillo – Animal Allies

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The armoured armadillo clearly talks to us about personal boundaries – its name even means “little armoured one” in Spanish. In this sense, some of what I’ve covered about the turtle, crab and snail will be relevant – the Aztec’s actually called armadillos ‘rabbit-turtle’.  Unlike these though, the armour is made from several bony plates.

The armour can offer protection from predators but apparently armadillos often chose to run into thorny bushes instead of relying on this, that said, the armour does protect against the sharp thorns!  Like the pangolin, the armadillo asks us how we react when you are threatened.  We should also consider what makes us feel uncomfortable and, just as importantly, what makes us feel comforted.

The armadillo’s armour can be a line that is drawn between it and the world, as an impenetrable barrier, as a way of keeping things out and thus we need to consider whether we are letting the wrong things in or keeping the right things out.

Whilst many people believe that all armadillos can encase themselves in their shell by rolling up, it is actually only the three banded armadillo that can (I’m thinking this is the nine banded armadillo).  Often in life we react to pain by retreating fully inside our shell, the armadillo is here to remind us that vulnerability can be a helpful response.  Yes it can hurt, but it can also be beneficial in the longer term.  Brene Brown talks about vulnerability hangovers which can be a great way of feeling into that awful exposed feeling you get when you are vulnerable.

Another way we can consider the idea of personal boundaries is with regards to privacy and there is a importance to having your privacy and respecting others.  I think considering whether you are honouring your privacy or whether you are being (unnecessarily) secretive or guarded.  This is something I discussed when I was looking at the fox from the wild unknown oracle card as it was also pictured on the seven of swords tarot card.

Not being fans of the cold – they can die from poor weather – these animals live in temperate and warm habitats.  In fact other than to mate, the only time armadillos socialise is to keep warm.  Most species dig burrows and sleep in them for 16 odd hours a day.  They forage in the early morning and evening for bugs and insects using their keen sense of smell to compensate for their poor eyesight.  They are especially fans of ants and termites and are equipped with strong legs and huge, sharp claws that can dig into nests.  Their long, sticky tongue also comes in useful for getting the ants and termites out of tunnels.

There are physical aspects of the armadillo that remind me of the badger – the strong claws, the burrowing and underground life.  With this we can see the armadillo as being grounded, as earth medicine and as digging for something (or away from something).  Digging burrows means that armadillos define their own space and also creates a space which (hopefully) feels safe and secure.  We all have different things which make us feel safe and secure and armadillo is encouraging more of these into your life.  Armadillos are a bit picky about where they live and prefer a particular type of soil which again I feel is about valuing and considering the important of your environment.

Tied in with having a safe space and time alone is the idea of withdrawing from the world, temporarily, to recharge and to recuperate.  The armadillo sleeps for most of the day in order to do this but for humans this isn’t all that healthy… We do need to ensure we get enough high quality sleep and this will vary from person to person but sleep should not be the only time we relax.  How else are you taking time out?  How else are you engaging in everyday acts of self care and self compassion?

The nine banded armadillo has, unsurprisingly, nine bands!  And if you’re into numerology you might want to look into this.  In tarot, nine cards are about compromises, the final struggle and endings.  You’re almost there and you might need a bit of an extra push to make it to the goal or you might need to let go of such an exacting idea of what the outcome looks like.  What I find really helpful in understanding the armadillo is to think about it alongside the hermit card from tarot which is the ninth card in the major arcana.

Hermit

“I find solace and growth in quiet reflection, and I honour my need for solitude”
Jessi Huntenburg

“I think human beings must have quiet to survive.  And we have to go inside ourselves to find peace”
– Bob Roth

The hermit is about sacred solitude and going within to find clarity.  There is power in retreating from distractions and opinions of others to determine your own truth and ideas.  Meditation, stillness and pausing are ways of finding this with introspection, searching inwards and processing being more active ways.  Questions to consider include:

  • Where is my retreat?
  • How do I connect with my inner truth?
  • Is your solitude driven by a drive to sit with yourself or as a defence mechanism?
  • How are you making time for yourself?

protection * boundaries * defence * environment * personal space * relaxation * withdrawing * retreating

Monkey – Animal Allies

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I am fairly certain that this is a capuchin monkey which was the species used by the organ grinder and I’m going to look at these specifically as well as shorter look at monkeys more generally.

Monkeys

“If monkey has swung into your view, consider how you could add a little fun, play and harmless mischief making into your days.  Are you taking yourself too seriously? Let monkey inspire you to let your fun loving inner child out to play”
– Animal Allies

Monkeys in culture are often cast as the joker, an entertainer and a prankster.  They show us the value of play, of messing around and that there is a time and a place for humour and fun and even good-natured mischief.

Being closely related to humans, they are seen as clever and resourceful and are often held up as being excellent examples of tool makers/users and problem solvers despite there being many other creatures that are just as, if not more, intelligent (although animal intelligence is a hard thing to measure or even define).  For example, pigeons, not the obvious clever bird (a title that normally goes to corvids like crows), have excellent spatial intellect which is exactly what they need.  I feel like labelling monkeys and primates as clever is a way of boosting ourselves – if we acknowledge and focus on the pigeon as a clever bird, by association we are (or could feel we are) saying that our intellect is nothing special.  Thinking about this from a self reflection point of view, are you boosting yourself by belittling others?

We can also think about the resourcefulness and ask ourselves if we have the resources within us that we need or if we have the tools to solve the problem that we’re facing.  Thinking about the cleverness of the monkey and see if we need to make more use of our minds in our lives right now.  A less obvious thing to ask ourselves though is what happens when our intellect goes unstimulated?  For me, that’s a quick slide into depression and I am very mindful of this.  I make sure that every week I do at least one thing that challenges my mind and almost always do much more.  I have to be careful because when I am ill or my pain is high etc and I’m not able to do much more than stay in bed I’m not really up to doing things like crosswords or reading non fiction or watching documentaries.

Interestingly, whilst monkeys in general are considered clever, capuchins are considered the most intelligent of the New World monkeys so messages around intelligence are particularly relevant here.  Indeed, it is this intelligence that led to monkeys being used by organ grinders.

Other areas of monkey lives that are interesting to explore include the group dynamics of non solitary species such as what kind of hierarchy do they have, where in this are you and how do you feel about this, how do you bond with other group or family members, how do you display compassion and how do you communicate with them.  If you’re looking at a monkey oracle card that isn’t an animal allies card I would encourage you to explore the species featured as this may shape your interpretation.

Capuchin Monkeys

But now for Capuchins!

Capuchin monkeys are black and white and if you’ve read a few of these posts, you’ll know by now that black and white often means dualities, dichotomies, yin and yang, light and dark.  With the monkey, we have the intellect and the playfulness.  The joker and the carer.

Let’s have a look at where the name comes from.  Capuchin monkeys were discovered by explorers to the Americas in the 15th century and the particular type of capuchin they found resembled friars from the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin who wore brown robes with large hoods covering their heads.

Capuchins live in groups ranging from about 10-35 members, generally with a single male at the head of the group although white headed capuchins (which I’m fairly certain the pictured capuchin is) are led by a lead male and a lead female!  As a feminist I love this and I think that as well as the duality of colour, we see in this card a duality of masculine and feminine (NB, not male and female but the stereotyped traits) and how these can balance each other, come together and create harmony.

Group dynamics and bonds are reinforced through grooming and complex communication including facial expressions and gestures as well as calls.  We are asked to think about how we relate to those around us, how we communicate and what our body language is saying.

Different groups also engage in or ‘invent’ other behaviour which helps to make bonds and also tests relationships.  This includes hand sniffing, eye poking and sticking fingers in each others mouths as well as the more violent rock throwing… Some of these behaviours become local ‘traditions’ which are passed from capuchin to capuchin and which are localised.  This creativeness and inventiveness around bonding puts me in mind of the 5 love languages.  It’s about finding what works for you and those you are relating to and part of that is understanding how your partner expresses their love and what they see as love.  For example, some people value quality time more than anything else and feel that if someone loves them they will show it by spending quality time with them.  Others may feel the same about words of affirmation or physical touch and part of relating well to another is around understanding this potential difference.

Research has suggested that capuchins favour unselfish behaviour.  The experiment involved humans being helpful or unhelpful to other humans and this third party interaction appears to show that capuchins will then respond differently to the helpful/unhelpful human.

Whilst some of the local behaviours of the capuchins have clear evolutionary purposes, such as how to get fruits out of shells, others do not – such as biting of chunks of fur and holding it in the mouth whilst the other monkey tries to get it back.  These local traditions tend to last about ten years or so and then, like human trends, they fade away.  Traditions are important but, the capuchin is teaching us, so is being flexible.  Some awful atrocities are carried out and explained away in the name of tradition so whilst we may value traditions, we should still be open to questioning them.

dualities * dichotomies * balance * intellect * tradition * communication * bonding

Badger

I was pleased to see the badger card in this deck as I’d already been planning on writing a post about these shy yet fierce woodland creatures.

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Left to right: Animal Allies, Medicine Cards

Nocturnal and elusive, the badger is generally a social creature.  That being said, Jessica Swift who created the deck views this particular badger as “a bit of a loner, preferring to deal with others indirectly rather than directly.”  I looked into this and it turned out be a geographical difference as I am in the UK and she is in the US.  As I am writing from the UK, I’m going to look on the badger as a social creature.  If on the other hand, you’re from the US or the solitary badger has more pull for you, do go away and read about it.

Badgers are goddesses of underground living.  They create complex, long lasting burrow systems which are built by both male and females. They evolve and develop over time and are regularly being added to.  They are active spaces which can last generations.  This means they become a key part of the landscape and can be there for hundreds of years.  A cete of badgers (the correct term for a group) will have a number of setts in their territory with extensive tunnel networks with multiples exits for safety.  These are also at various heights which ensure good ventilation.  The badger home is not a haphazard guess but rather the result of years of hard work and reminds me of the beaver in that respect.

As I was looking online to see how people view badgers as spirit animals and what the associated characteristics tend to be, tenacity and determination came up a number of times as did the idea of needing to put in hard work to ensure something is a success.  If I was going to allocate the badger a suit from tarot it would be the pentacles and not just because they are earthy creatures but also down to their work ethic.  There feels like a slow and steady, putting in the effort, type approach from these creatures that chimes with a few of the pentacle cards.

Returning to their subterranean world, we find an animal that is grounded, down to earth and has a deep affinity with the land and mother earth.  If the badger has appeared as a medicine, you may want to explore your connection to the earth whether it is standing barefoot on the grass or exploring growing your own food etc.  They are also often ascribed healing powers and I have come across quite a few references to root medicine or magic including medicine men and women using a badger’s paw in healing ceremonies to ‘dig’ the disease out.

Another way you might interpret their underground and overground lives is by leaning into the idea that our world sits atop a fairy or magical realm, such as the irish Tuatha Dé Danann.  In this metaphor, badgers could be seen as messengers, bringing us secrets or ideas from a different world.  Perhaps this could be extended to an invitation to see things from a different perspective?  Their underground homes could also be about seeing below the surface, looking deeper and getting beyond the superficial.

Digging deep may also be felt into as a metaphor.  Because they can dig deep, it is hard to keep a secret from the badger, they can uncover things which perhaps even you don’t yet knoe about yourself.  This could be a call to spend some time trawling through your mind and tuning into your feelings and, if badger magic is working for you, you may find this to be a healing process.

Badgers’ diet varies throughout the year.  They enjoy apples, earthworms, roots and insects to name a few of the items on the badger menu.  They are omnivorous and whilst they really do like worms, they can switch to other food making themselves very adaptable to seasonal change.  Are you, like the badger, keeping your options open?

Somehow I’ve made it this far through the post without exploring the iconic colourings of the badger.  Their black and white stripes on their face direct attention towards their intensely strong jaw and sharp teeth – their key defences – and highlight their powerful defence.  Courage and strength are often associated with badgers which combined with perseverance creates an animal you want to keep on side.  Related to this, Jessica Dawn Palmer says:

“Once badger has bitten into something it won’t let go.  It would die rather than give up, so badger teaches us how to stick to a project and see it through to its completion.”

Whilst this is an admirable quality, do be careful of holding on tightly to the wrong things.

The black and white markings could also suggest a polarity which is akin to that which we saw with the bear; both a fierce and strong warrior but also a loving family orientated creature.  Interestingly, whilst the badger is known for being black and white, it’s body is actually grey.  Having just been on a three week pain management programme which included elements of CBT, I am viewing this as a reminder that life is not black and white and that black and white thinking is normally unhelpful in life.  Instead we can look towards the more nuanced grey, the inbetween, the compromise, the middle way.

Another common theme that has popped up many times in my research has been the link between badgers and storytelling.  I have yet to find out why but for now I am hypothesising that it is down to their intensely strong jaw which could then be taken as being a powerful communicator and then, although it feels tenuous, a great storyteller.  Another (less feasible but rather sweet) image that has popped into mind is of a badger family all sitting around in their sett on a cold winter’s day listening to wise elder badgers telling stories.

As storyteller, the badger “was keeper of history in the form of legend and lore.  Badger knows both past and future while maintaining a firm grip on the present” (Parker).  Regardless of why, this association does give us some interesting areas to explore.  We can think of storytelling as a social activity that connects and binds a group.  We can think of the personal stories that we tell ourselves about who we are and who we should be and who others think we should be.  These stories are powerful and can affect how you view yourself but they are stories so if they aren’t helpful, change the narrative.  I know building self esteem and self confidence isn’t as easy as that but it is one tool in your tool box.  Maybe think about the stories that you’ve heard over the course of your life and why or how some of them have been important or made a lasting impression.

On the topic of stories, let’s have a quick look at fictional and folkloric badgers.  According to Wikipedia, “authors of fictional works employing badgers have often emphasised their natural reclusive privacy and their ferocity and courage when protecting themselves”.  Personally, I was a bit stumped when it came to thinking of fictional badgers.  There is of course Mr Badger from Wind in the Willows and the badger which Beatrix Potter created.  For anyone of my generation there was the badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood but then I got stuck.

Interesting, in contrast to Wikipedia, John Dougherty wrote in the Guardian that “badgers in stories are usually wise and kindly animals”.  It seems that, like their black and white stripes, badgers in fiction find themselves cast in two polar opposite roles.

“The roles played by the badger in folklore fall basically into three categories: that of vengeful transformer, grateful friend and roguish prankster”
Violet H. Harada (PDF)

Turning from fiction to folklore, we find the Chinese and Japanese badger is a shapeshifter.  Not only can this creature appear human, but they can also shapeshift into inanimate objects such as fence posts.  Really, anywhere you go there could be a badger hiding right under your nose!  This could be quite unfortunate as badgers were also thought to be able to predict death… They could not only see into the future, but they could also see the past lives of people meaning that as well as changing shape, the badger has a fluid relationship with time as well.

Moving round the globe to North America where badgers (US badgers obviously) are portrayed as hard working, protective parents who will attack when necessary such as when something that matters to them is threatened.  We also find the element of divination with a rite involving badger blood and what is essentially mirror scrying to see the future of the diviner.

We actually find a strange but true relationship in North America between coyotes (another of the animal allies cards) and (American) badgers – whilst the majority of their interactions are fairly neutral, they have been seen hunting together but also sometimes coyotes eat badgers and sometimes badgers eat coyotes.  Whilst I’ve not yet looked at coyotes, this feels like it could be an interesting area to explore, especially if you draw them both in a reading.  This relationship gets yet more complicated when we learn that the coyote waits until the badger has made a nest and then steals it for himself.

And now, back to folklore, we cross the ocean to Europe.  Medieval folk thought that badgers worked together to dig tunnels under mountains in quite a coordinated fashion – some badgers did the digging, some had soil pilled on top of their tummies and some then dragged these soil laden badgers out of the tunnel in order to move the soil out the way.  I’d love to know more about how this idea came about!

Other beliefs are comparatively more reasonable…  The badger was associated with the coming of spring.  In Ireland, the badger was thought of as unclean and known for biting, yet a gambler who put a badgers tooth in his pocket was said to be unbeatable…Badger hair was an ingredient in a potion which protected you from witchcraft and their skin was made into bridles so that the rider would have magical powers over horses.  At the other end of the spectrum, to see a badger was bad luck.  These mammals are a complicated mixture of contradictions.

Badger culling is a topical, controversial issue and casts the badger as a scapegoat.  It is also an issue which gets very heated and emotive and singles out the badger despite other actors being involved.  If we look again at the idea of storytelling, here we have a badger cast as the leading villain and taking all the blame for a crime that was committed by many.

Sadly their poor treatment doesn’t end there.  The phrase “to badger”  apparently comes from the custom of badger baiting (badgers have had a rough time of it regardless of which generation they are from…) and means “to persecute” or “to annoy”.

I feel like the badger, more so than most of the animals I’ve looked at, is a bit confusing.  There are many ways to lean into the meanings and I do think it’s one you’ll have to feel your way into by yourself.  I hope this post has offered some signposts for further exploration and that you can find your own path through the contradictions!