“We all have a sneaky side. It is a necessary skill for our survival. Whether you have to be the one who is sneaky, or be the one able to spot others in their sly ways, the art of deception is not to be taken for granted. Smoke, mirrors, and sleight of hand all have their place; the real trick is knowing when and where to use them”
– Animal totem tarot
Ferrets are a domesticated form of the European polecat and it’s likely that they have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. Historically they were used for hunting, and whilst they still are, they are more likely to be kept as pets these days.
Their name comes from the Latin furritus, meaning little thief as they like to steal small objects such as hen’s eggs. Over time, their name has developed into a verb, as in to ferret out something. This likely reflects their sneakiness and their ability to move in and out of tricky places. They are adept at moving in tight, twisted burrows, can bend 180 degrees and can change direction very quickly. They move seamlessly between overground and underground, making them masters of both realms.
Their spines are incredibly flexible and supple making ferrets seem long, floppy and melty. This makes them adorable but also means they can slip and slide through tunnels like water. But make not mistake, they use this ability to sneak up on prey with extreme stealth. They are fast and efficient predators who can kill with a single, powerful bite. This animal is all about fluidity and strength, flexibility and precision. Slink stealthily and then attack! Be the unsuspecting threat, take people unaware and make an impact! The ferret’s presence goes unnoticed until the damage is done. I’m not suggesting you go out and cause damage, but you can still shock and wow people and this has extra power if no one sees it coming. Go out and be fierce!
Despite being powerful predators, ferrets have a wonderfully fun side. I read something which described them as the clowns of the animal world. They are funny, curious, mischievous and playful. They are full of energy, they are trouble makers, escape artists and they are intelligent. This inspires me to be more curious, more adventurous and more inquisitive. They will literally tunnel into anything, but we can take this as a prompt to dig into a topic or get our teeth stuck into learning something.
Ferrets have a variety of body language in their repertoire including dancing when they are happy, wrestling which is usually a playful activity and their war dance. This involves frenzied sideways hops, leaps and is not actually an incitation to war, but an invitation to play. It often comes with a soft clucking noise and ferrets extend their communication options with an array of vocalisations. They ‘dock’ or ‘cluck’ when excited, hiss when scared, squeak softly when upset and screech if they are afraid, in pain or angry.
As you might have gathered, ferrets are very high energy animals so it’s probably not surprising that they spend up to 20 hours a day asleep! They are most active during dawn and dusk and when they are sleeping, it’s thought that they experience more REM sleep than a lot of other pets, meaning they are more likely to dream. I wonder what ferrets dream about…
It wouldn’t be a blog post of mine without an animal sex fact. In the case of the ferret, it’s that the male has a hooked penis. Once he penetrates a female, they can’t separate until he releases her.
Since domesticated, ferrets have been bred for fur and hunting, also known as ferreting. They were sent down holes to chase rodents, rabbits and moles out of their burrows. In 1390 in England, a law was enacted limited the use of ferrets for hunting to the wealthy and high ranking families.
Other ways that we’ve used ferrets have also taken advantage of their ability to shimmy through tunnels. For example, they’ve been used to run TV cables underground, to run through parts of planes for Boeing and apparently to clean steel pipes of a particle accelerator.
As they have similar immune systems to us, they have been used in the development of vaccines and in testing flu medications.
And I can’t mention human ferret interactions without bringing your attention to ferret legging. It was apparently a popular sport amongst coal miners in Yorkshire and involves putting ferrets down your trousers and seeing who can stand the longest.
Ferrets are often vilified and underestimated, with people projecting ulterior motives onto them. If you are able to ferret out secrets, you may find that people don’t like it. They may feel vulnerable if you are able to see under the surface. Of course this doesn’t mean you should turn off your empathy, but it’s just worth being aware of it. If you are an empathetic person who can sense other people’s feelings, know that it might make some people feel unsettled. Also, as a side note, if you are very empathetic, remember you can and should set boundaries, you don’t need to feel everyone else’s stuff!
The way ferrets slip and slide through the world means they have been associated with magic at times and were thought to be witch’s familiars. Add to their stealth, the fact they are crepuscular, and you can also see why they have been associated with invisibility.
When it comes to mythology, there aren’t many ferret references that I could find, likely because they were domesticated animals, and because they overlap with weasels so it’s harder to find any stories or beliefs that are out there. That said, I did find that their fur was attached to an eagle feather to give the skill of alertness and ability to elude capture in some native American tribes. This comes from the ferret’s ability to move unseen, and to track and scout out enemies.
Many myths and stories seek to explain why an animal has a particular characteristic and for the ferret, we have a Cree tale to account for why it seems to be nervous. He is running and trembling because he is afraid he is being chased. This would certainly account for the high energy bursts!