“Have you ever noticed that things look different in the morning? With just a small period of separation from you and your need for a solution, new options now present themselves. Sometimes waiting is the best way. Sometimes removing yourself, if only for a short period of time, is the best way.”
– Animal totem tarot
There are over 2,400 species of mantis, with some commonly called the preying mantis because of their prominent front legs which are bent at an angle which looks like they are praying. The word mantis actually comes from the Greek mantikos meaning soothsayer, diviner or prophet, making a praying mantis especially pious. It is clear why the creators of the Animal Totem Tarot chose this insect to illustrate the hermit card. Before learning anything else about them, we get a strong sense of worship, reflection and of shamanism. There is also a strong element of looking to, and being able to see, the future. If you have pulled this card during a tarot reading then it’s likely you are already at least dabbling in divination and this might have appeared to encourage you to go deeper with this. Maybe learn more about tarot, or explore other related ways of thinking about life, whether that’s astrology, religion or philosophy. This is about expanding your mind and your world view and how you do that will be personal to you.
Despite all I’ve just said, their devout posture is actually deceptive, these are avid hunters, feared predators, wolves in sheeps clothing. A video I watched about them called them the Kung Fu killers of the insect kingdom! They are highly skilled predators whose attack can take a fraction of a second. They are decisive and quick acting when opportunity strikes, they strike just as fast. Whilst you may spend some of your time in deep reflection, meditation or prayer, you must also be able to seize chances when they come your way, grabbing them with both hands and not spending ages thinking it through.
To help them, they are well adapted to their hunting life, with front legs acting as a deadly weapon. These have a line of barbs which allow it to grasp prey tightly and the legs have lightning fast responses. They spend a lot of time cleaning these weapons as without them, they wouldn’t be able to hunt, eat and survive. This makes me think about ways of bringing together meditative or mindfulness practices with everyday activities such as washing the dishes, cleaning your teeth or brushing your hair. By taking something you do every day, and committing to doing a reflective practice at the same, you might find you are more likely to stick to it.
In addition to their deadly front legs, their heads rotate 180 degrees so it has a great range of sight, this also makes it hard for anything to sneak up on it. This movement also makes the mantis appear slightly cuter and more charismatic than many insects, with it seeming to lean its head to the side as if considering something. This idea of taking time to think will crop up again and again with this animal even if it does seem in opposition to the idea of making lighting fast decisions.
The praying mantis has the same senses as we do, but rely mostly on sight which is incredible when compared to other insects. They have two large eyes which work together and are on of the only insects that have stereo vision allowing it to look at the same thing with both eyes and work out how far away it is.
When it comes to listening, the praying mantis has just one ear, under its belly which can detect ultrasound. This is important as bats are one of their predators. By detecting the approaching bat, they can react quickly – again we are thinking about quick reactions here – and will often be able to evade the danger.
Other ways the praying mantis deals with predators is through camouflage but if found, they will make themselves look bigger than they are and lash out with those front legs. Given some of the mantids are flightless, attack is often the best for of defence for them. This is always why they are generally sit and wait predators, instead of actively going out looking for prey.
This brings me back again to that seeming dichotomy between spending time being still and taking lightening fast action. This may not be the time to go out and use your energy to seek out opportunities, instead your time may be better spent in thought but also poised to grab any tasty looking chances that do come your way. One thing I’ve learnt over and over as I’ve written about different animal oracle cards is that you have to find a way to be comfortable with polarities. As a very basic example, learning how to accept that you can be happy and sad at the same time, and that one doesn’t cancel the other out, has been important in my own life.
Even if you have never really thought about the praying mantis, it is likely you’ve heard that the females sometimes eat the males during sex. And yes, this is true however it doesn’t always happen. The males are aware of the risk and will try to sneak up on females whilst they are eating, and hence distracted. It might also help that she’s mid meal and therefore isn’t seeing the male through hunger glazed eyes! However, in some cases, the female will have beheaded the male before they’ve even mated, but this is actually ok – well not so much for him, but from a population point of view – because his abdomen has its own nerve system so mating can continue even when he’s literally lost his mind… What all of this means on a metaphorical level I don’t want to hazard a guess at…!
Once mating has been successful, the female will form and deposit something called an ootheca which is a kind of shell casing containing 100 to 200 eggs. Sex normally occurs during the autumn and the eggs will hatch into larva in the following spring. When exactly this occurs depends on the environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity but it always occurs in the morning. As mantids don’t go through metamorphosis, the emerging nymphs will look like miniature adults. Very quickly after hatching, they will moult for the first time. They will then moult about seven more times, with about 14 days between each one. Each time they moult, they will grow and this is because when they are in between moults, they are in a rigid exoskeleton which cannot grow with them.
Sometimes you just outgrow your own skin and need to shed it and shake off the old you. Just as the mantis is doing this at set life stages, so to do humans. Your own skin shedding moments are likely to be personal to you but I know when I went away to university, I was able to leave the version of me that my school peers had known behind and was able to grow beyond that. Often in life you end up holding the preconceptions that others have about you, and the ideas they have formed about you having known you for a few years in a set circumstance. It can be hard for people to see you differently and this can feel like it’s stunting your growth and development. Imagine a friend you’ve had since you were four, they’ve always known your favourite colour is red and your favourite food is ice cream. As you mature and tastes change, it can be hard to rewrite this narrative even though you now love yellow and pizza. I know that’s a trivial example but I hope it makes what I’m trying to say a bit clearer…
Apparently, the praying mantis has also been known as ‘the soothsayer’, ‘the devil’s rearhorse’ and ‘the necromancer’. In Ancient Egypt it was a minor god that leads the souls of the dead to the underworld. In Ancient Greece, it guided lost travellers home and in some ancient civilisations, the praying mantis was said to have supernatural powers. Its posture means many it’s often believed to be in constant prayer and this idea is influences beliefs around it. For Christians, seeing the praying mantis in its pious posture is a symbolism of spirituality and piety. If it was seen in your home, it would mean that angels were looking over you. In Chinese poetry, it represents courage and fearlessness. Other cultures didn’t see the insect so favourably; in Italy it was said a menacing look from one could make you sick and in Japan it could foretell your death.
The praying mantis was revered by the Khoi and San tribes of South Africa and was called Gottentotsgot, meaning God of the Bushmen or God of the Khoi. It is also believed that having one land on you was a sign on good luck. What I’m taking from these varied beliefs is that it’s all about your personal perspective – if you see an omen as good, it will be and if you see it as bad, it will be. Your mindset is important and this also ties into the idea of the praying mantis as devout and meditative. Try to clear your mind from worries.
The bushmen of the Kalahari tell how the mantis would go to sleep in order to dream and find a solution to a problem. There is a lot of value in stepping away from your problem and engaging yourself in a different activity. Whilst you do this, your mind will mull things over in the background and the answer might appear as if out of nowhere. Take a break. Take some time out. Take a step back. Sometimes, you need to put some distance between you and an issue in order to see things more clearly.
If the mantis has come into your life, it might be a sign that you need to take some time alone. If this makes you anxious, ask yourself why? Do you fear being alone? If so, why not? What does being alone mean to you? Remember there is a difference between being alone in solitude, and alone and lonely.
“If you research the mantis you will find she has the capacity for great tranquillity and also great treachery. I’m pretty sure that is true of all of us. That is why the praying mantis is a great symbolic mentor. This unsuspecting insect shows us we are capable of being the epitome of peace but also pulling out big power when it is called for.”
– Whats Your Sign
If you take nothing else away from the praying mantis, remember this. There is power in stillness, and power in decisive action, it’s all about timing.