Roadrunner

“If I show myself to you it is only because I want you to see me.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some sort of long-term thing.  I am mere here to show you what you have been missing while your head is constantly facing the ground.  I am here to remind you that once in a while you need to raise your head and take a good hard look at what is around you.”
– Animal totem tarot

There are two types of roadrunner, the greater and the lesser and for the purposes of this post, I will be thinking about them both here and if I’m not specific, then it’s either because my source is unclear about which or the information is relevant to both.  This may not be what everyone would do but I have never seen a roadrunner and researching them has proven to confuse the two.  From what I can tell, they are fairly similar.  They live in different areas, with a small overlap and the Lesser is smaller with slightly different plumage. 

Both the Lesser and Greater Roadrunners are opportunistic predators that eat a wide array of prey including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, small reptiles and frogs.  The Greater at least beats their larger prey, such as snakes and small birds, on the ground to disarticulate the skeleton, allowing them to swallow it whole.  Take advantage of what is around you, leap on the opportunities you can see.  As you will see, this bird is about action, not reflection.  If you’re familiar with the astrological elements, think fire not air, impulse not thinking.

The Lesser Roadrunner can run up to 20 miles per hour and this is how it moves around most of the time.  Running allows them to use the open roads as racetracks for chasing insects and lizards.  They are also highly manoeuvrable on the ground allowing for quick changes in direction.  This makes them appear as if they are here one minute and gone the next.  They are a flash on the edge of your awareness.  This could be an idea, a thought, an insight and knowing they’re coming, be alert to them.  Pay attention, these flashes are key right now.

Roadrunners can fly but only do so when absolutely necessary – again this is not a bird we associate with air, it had much more earthy, grounded energy.  The roadrunner is here to push you into practical action.

Because of their chosen habitat, they have to face vast variations in temperatures.  Overnight, they lower their body temperature slightly and go into a slight state of torpor in order to conserve energy.  Come early morning, they will then sunbathe – they will position their scapular feathers and expose their black skin which can then absorb sunlight and warm their body.  Of course, they then also have to face the scorching heat of the day.  They halve their activity during midday in order to survive in such a variable climate.   Along with being opportunistic, the roadrunner is adaptable and these traits help it to succeed in harsh environments.

A wonderful fact about roadrunners is that they leave behind a distinct ‘X’ track mark, making them appear as though they are travelling in both directions and it was said that this throws off malignant spirits.  It also looks like they are leaving a trail of kisses in their wake!

Roadrunners are monogamous, mate for life and (at least the greater ones) defend a large territory.  For the greater roadrunner, bonds are renewed each spring and summer through a series of elaborate display.  The male will bow and prance, wag his tail and offer the female nesting materials and food.  Both parents will help to build a nest with the male collecting the materials – sticks, grass, feathers and sometimes snakeskin and cow manure – and the female doing most of the construction.  Nests are built a few feet off the ground, in a bush or low tree and those of the lesser roadrunners are smaller, but stronger and more compact than nests of the greater roadrunner.  Mum and dad will incubate the eggs and once hatched, will feed and protect the chicks.

The Greater Roadrunner has many names, including Snake Killer and Medicine Bird which gives us some insight into how they have been viewed.  There was a belief that they could protect against evil spirits and their feathers were used to decorate cradleboards which would offer the baby spiritual protection.  For some tribes it was good luck to see one and for others they were seen as sacred, revered for their speed and bravery.  For most Mexican Indian tribes, roadrunner meat was used as a folk remedy to cure illness and to boost strength and stamina.

There is a Mayan story about how the king of the birds was chosen explains the roadrunners drab colouring.  Originally roadrunner was a beauty, covered in magnificent feathers and very impressive with emerald green wings and a long shimmering tail.  Quetzal however was dull but had a brilliant mind and wanted to be king.  But because of his appearance couldn’t convince the other birds that he was right for the job.  He persuaded roadrunner to lend him his plumage, just for a little while so he could impress the others.  He was declared king but once he was crowned he became very busy and forgot that he was supposed to return the feathers to roadrunner.  The other birds realised roadrunner was missing and organised a search.  He was found featherless, cold and hungry.  When all the birds heard what had happened, they each gave roadrunner one of their feathers.  Today, roadrunner still wears a strange mix of feathers and runs around calling ‘puhuy?’, meaning ‘where is he?’.

Reading

Animal Diversity Web – Greater Roadrunner
Animal Diversity Web – Lesser Roadrunner
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Greater Roadrunner
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Lesser Roadrunner

Praying mantis

“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. 

Reading:

National Geographic
Praying Mantis Facts
Insect Fact and Folklore, Lucy W Clausen

Capybara

“The water is the one place I know I can be safe.  In this cool, flowing place I can allow any and all pain to wash away.  In the water, I can release that which I no longer need, and clear the energy for something new to take hold.”
Animal totem tarot

In case you aren’t aware, the capybara is a wonderous creature.  They are the largest rodents in the world, weighing up to 60kg and standing 60cm tall at their shoulders.  Their scientific name means water hog and whilst they do look pig like, they are rodents.  They have front teeth like those of a rabbit, their skull is like a guinea pigs, they are the size of a sheep and can run as fast as a pony.  They bark like a dog when alarmed and have water resistant fur and webbed feet like an otter.  These unassuming water hogs are actually concealing the fact that they are a real life chimera!  They are a muddle of features, in the same way that the platypus is, but unlike the platypus, they don’t flaunt their characteristics!

Their small eyes and nostrils are high on their head so that when they are in water, they can still see and breathe whilst mostly being concealed.  This is important as they are semi-aquatic, living near ponds, rivers or swamps.  They are excellent swimmers who can stay below the surface for up to five minutes and can even sleep underwater, so long as their nostrils can still get oxygen.  When swimming, they fold their ears and close them so water doesn’t get in and can also seal their nostrils tight.  If they feel threatened, water is where they flee to.  Jaguars are key predators along with anacondas and caiman, as well as vultures who are after the afterbirth.  Where do you feel safest?  How do you react when you feel endangered?  Do you curl up into a ball, bury your head in the sand, face it head on?  The capybara is asking you to think about safety and comfort and to build self comforting practices into your life.

Capybaras have a lot of babies which grow up quickly and one account suggested mums can have over 100 cubs in a lifetime.  They tend to be born at the end of the rainy season, when the floods have receded and the grass is fresh.  The babies are cared for in a sort of creche arrangement run by mums from the group who share suckling and guarding duties.  The first year of life is a dangerous time as cubs are slow, small and easily tired.   During their early life, they can’t swim which makes retreating to the safety of the water dangerous, but then water is the element of emotions and emotions can certainly feel like they could hurt us.  They can feel overwhelming and consuming but even with that threat, it is still better to feel them and be in them, than it is to ignore them and supress them.

Within a capybara group, there are 10 or more individuals but sometimes several groups join together to make a larger herd for foraging.  There is safety in numbers, after all!  With that in mind, this might be a time for socialising, for being with others rather that retreating into yourself.  There are times in our lives when being alone is exactly what you need, and times when it can be detrimental.  If you are isolating yourself, check it’s a healthy reaction, that it’s about self preservation and self care rather than self indulgence.

Within the group,  there are dominant males who try to monopolise mating and are, inevitably, challenged by younger males who want both the females and the territory.  To try to prevent this, dominant males have a scent gland on their nose which they use to rub warning messages on plants.  If this warning is ignored, fights may break out.

The capybara life is one spent in the open air.  They eat grasses but as they don’t provide much nutrition, they have a sophisticated digestive system which helps them get the most out of it.  They will also engage in coprophagy, eating their own poo, to maximise the nutrients they get out of the grass.  They also have to eat a lot, and generally only stop to sleep.  Their teeth grow continually throughout their life, which is probably because of all the grazing they have to do!

Random fact time!  Adults are prone to sunburn so roll in mud to protect their skin from UV rays!

Vocalization appears to be very important in capybara groups, but the purpose of many of the sounds made is unknown. However, young vocalize almost constantly and vocal communication among adults is also common. Individuals bark to warn the group of danger, this often results in the whole group rushing into the relative safety of the water. To scare away any encroachers, males will make chattering noises as a display of aggression.  On a cuter note, babies purr to stay in touch with the adults! 

As they are often the only large grazing species within their habitat, they have an important role to play in the ecosystem.  They stir up the ground as they eat and this disturbs insects which are then eaten by birds which live in close proximity to the capybaras.  Some types of birds also pick parasites from the capybara fur, and some perch on their backs, using them as a rest.  This interspecies relationship is one that likely benefits both – if they birds get scared and react, I imagine it works as an alarm call for the capybara group as well, and of course being cleaned of parasites makes for a better and healthier life!  This mutualistic relationship shows the importance of interdependence rather than independence.  A lot of humans get very hung up on being independent but it isn’t a practical way of living, or thinking, in such an interconnected world.  Unless you can provide all your own food, water, health care etc, you will never be independent and actually, as a species, we aren’t really geared towards that.  Accepting that interdependence is a good way of living can relieve some of the pressure that that ideal places on an individual.  Thinking of yourself as interdependent makes it easier to reach out and ask for help.    

In terms of human interaction, capybaras are hunted for their meat and leather, and in some parts of South America are commercially farmed for these products.  The meat is in high demand during lent as it is an approved alternative to eating meat, in the same way that otters were sometimes accepted as being close enough to fish to please the church.

 “Capybara. Making your environment work for you. Gentleness instead of fear. The magic, nourishing power, and mystery of water. Adaptability. Call on Capybara when you want to connect or reconnect with where you are and accept life as it is, right now.”
Jessica Swift, of Animal Allies Oracle Cards

Their name means master of the grasses, and yet, they also seem to have an affinity with water, making both the elements earth and water important here.  Water provides them with a sanctuary, a place of protection and is associated with healing and emotions.  On the other hand, earth is more practical and grounded in things we can touch and see.  I feel like earth is providing an anchor here for the capybara, letting them sink into their emotional self, whilst knowing they can easily return to the more physical things in life. 

They are not just master of the grasses, I feel like they are masters of their environment and they use what is around them to keep them safe and protected. Look around you, think about your home, think about how you can make that into your sanctuary.

Reading

Wild Speak
Animal Diversity Web – capybara
Animal Diversity Web – capybara family
National Geographic

California Condor

“That which I am may not be pretty to you, but I know I serve a deep divine purpose and I am more than happy to fulfil it.  We each play our part in the divine plan and I know without a shadow of a doubt I am playing mine.”
– Animal Totem Tarot

I’ve written before about vultures and the condor is a New World vulture, a term I’m not really a fan of but is widely used to differentiate between Africa, Asia and Europe vs the Americas.  It was coined back in 1503 by a guy who had travelled from the ‘old’ world to the new and comes with heavy colonialist baggage.

Anyway, back to the California Condor.  They are the largest wild birds in North America, with long, broad wings and a wingspan of 277cm!  Adults have a naked head, black plumage and intensely white strikes under their wings.  The lack of feathers around the face does give them a bit of a scrappy, sketchy kind of look but this is an important part of their teachings.  They implore us to look beyond appearances and to see the inherent value of everyone and everything.

Condors are incredible masters of the sky, able to soar on air currents as high up as 15,000 feet and can do so for over an hour without flapping their wings.  Their heavy, solid body means they can soar steadily, not being buffeted by the wind, they use the wind but do not let it push them around.  These birds mean business and can travel over 100 miles a day looking for food!

In terms of reflecting on the condor, think about where in your life you want to soar, where do you want to feel like you’re pushing forward and in control?  How can you reach this?  We also need to think about how the condor has conquered the element of air, which in terms of tarot is all about the mental realm; thinking, ideas, communication, learning and with all of those thoughts comes worry and anxiety. 

We create little video tapes in our heads of what we think will happen when we do x or y and we do this as a dress rehearsal so we can reflect and make changes.  This can be very helpful in terms of reaching your goals – you can practice what you’re going to say in your job interview etc – but in can become a problem when it becomes about scaring yourself instead of preparing yourself.  Take some time to check in with your mind and how it’s helping, or hindering, you.

Food is a crucial part of any living thing’s life but people get squeamish when thinking about what the condor eats – they are carrion birds, eating dead and rotting flesh, such as that of cattle and deer.  This means they do a great service to our world, without them and other animals which eat the dead, we’d all be knee deep in carcasses… 

“The most valuable role of carrion feeders is the safe disposal of dead, decomposing and diseased animals, protecting human and animal co-habitants from ill effect… a healthy population of such carrion eaters can have an important impact on removing diseased and rotting carcasses from the area.”
Animal Diversity Web

We all have our own roles to play in the world, and so much of being a human seems to be working out what that role is.  What makes you come alive?  What makes you feel the most you?  Find out what those things are, do them, forge your own path and that, that is where you will find your purpose.

As they eat decaying meat, there is a real risk of the condors becoming infected but they are adapted to this lifestyle.  They have things in place which help them stay healthy, such as careful preening, bathing at watering holes and grooming their bald head area.  Sometimes in life you have to get your hands dirty but when you do, you can take your own measures to ensure that one tough action doesn’t seep into the rest of your life, or your soul, and infect it.  You may feel like a jerk when you have to fire someone, but that doesn’t make you a jerk.  You might have done some less good things in your past, but you don’t have to become a less good person because of that.  You have choices.

When they aren’t eating or flying, they are roosting.  They start the morning by sunning themselves, which sounds rather luxurious and on a lighter note, this makes me think a leisurely breakfast is a good idea.  Whether you want breakfast in bed, or want to head off to a little café, think about how you can treat yourself and get your day off to a wonderful start.  Maybe you live somewhere warm and can incorporate some sun basking yourself!

For California Condors, courtship involves those magnificent wings being displayed as well as head bobbing and once the female has accepted the male, they mate for life.  Often people like to think of cute, little, song birds as monogamous and yet they aren’t and this huge, flesh eating creature, mates for life.  It’s a reminder to consider your prejudices and assumptions.  They start breeding starting around 6 to 8 years old and lay one egg every other year meaning they are slow when it comes to maintaining the population.  Something that became a significant concern during the 1970s when they nearly went extinct. 

Overtime, threats to California Condors have changed with shooting being one of the threats present in the 1890s.  They were also endangered as a side effect of traps and poison put out to kill large predators.  By 1965, there were an estimated 60 birds left, falling to less than 25 by 1982, possibly because of illegal egg collecting and loss of habitat.  As a result, in the mid 80s, all remaining wild birds were caught for captive breeding.  Whilst the slow rate of reproduction makes replacing population numbers difficult, if you remove the one egg a female has laid, she will lay another one that season.  Through immense effort, attempts to reintroduce them to the wild started in 1992 and today there are now more than 300 birds living in the wild.

Like the phoenix coming out of the fire, the California Condors have survived the unsurvivable and, hopefully, have come out strong.  As it stands their populations are increasing so it’s promising.  In terms of your own life, you can go through things that nearly break you, and come out the other side with greater knowledge. I know it’s a clichéd idea but a lot of clichés are so because they are true.  I feel that there’s another idea here, and that’s that you can ask for help – without human intervention the condors would almost certainly be extinct today (I do realise that without us, they might not have been at risk at all… but still…).

“Who amongst us has not dreamed of soaring effortlessly over the landscape seeing everything in the daily lives of lowly earthbound pedestrians?  With scarcely a wing flap, condors soar over the deserts to the seacoast, cresting the highest peaks and spanning the most foreboding terrain. Such is the perspective of the California condor and perhaps the key to its special place in many native cultures across the Californias.”
California Department of Parks and Recreation

Perhaps unsurprisingly, condors were considered sacred to some Native Americans and as such, their feathers were used in ceremonies and rituals.  They are also said to have been occasionally sacrificed for funeral rites although not in large numbers so would not have affected the population size. They also feature in mythology.  For example, the Wiyot tribe say that the condor recreated humans after they had been wiped out in a flood.  They believed that the California Condor had physical and spiritual strength and shamans would try to embody this by dreaming of the bird and their feathers were used in healing.  A nice condor story from the Yokut tribe tells how the condor would sometimes eat the moon, creating the lunar cycle, and his wings were the cause of the eclipses. 

As we’ve seen, condors, like vultures, are associated with death and are thought to have knowledge about death and the dead. In fact, the death card in the Animal Totem Tarot depicts the California Condor.  Symbolically, the death card suggests a transformation.  You may need to work though some stuff but it will be worth it when you come out on the other side.  When we bring in the condor, this suggests the things you need to work with might be around preconceptions and prejudgements, or it might be around your attitude towards death itself.

Condors make us face death, something we tend to push aside.  This is the time to examine your attitudes towards death, to explore why we suppress it and to think about our own death, and the ritual we would like around it.  Like the condor, these topics aren’t pretty but again, like the condor, they are vital to consider.

With any ending, whether it’s death or something less drastic, we have a beginning.  We may not know what is beginning but things will become clear over time. 

Links

Animal Diversity Web
National Geographic
Audubon
Condor Tales

Blue footed booby

When it comes to the blue-footed booby, magic lies in their feet, in their – unsurprisingly – bright blue feet!  They are a comical looking seabird which have long, brown wings and white plumage as well as a blue bill.

When it comes to pairing up, it’s all about those feet and the bluer the better as it’s a hard colour for them to make so it’s an indication of how healthy the suitor is.  To make sure the girl you’re wooing knows how blue your feet are, you will engage in a mating dance which is all about showing her your magic.  Show your feet, bow long, wings out, give her a gift and show off your feet!  If it’s going well, you might both dance; mirroring each other helps to form a partnership.  Even though you no longer build nests out of twigs, you’ll then try to impress her with your nest building skills and may offer her pieces of nest building material.  If all of this goes your way, you’ll continue your courtship display even after you’ve mated but be warned, your girl isn’t just yours – when you’re away, she’ll flirt with your neighbours.

About half of blue footed boobies have extra relationships but whilst sexual monogamy doesn’t seem important, they are socially monogamous and will raise their family together.  Creating a successful family unit, in partnership, is more important to them than any extra marital affairs.  This might be a call to consider your own views on social and sexual monogamy.  They are not always united, for some people social monogamy might be more important than sexual monogamy but your feelings will be mingled with your feelings about sex and relationships.  This is a good time to remind yourself that different people have different sex drives and different sexual interests and being in a great relationship with someone doesn’t mean that those will automatically match.  Talk about what you consider to be cheating, talk to your partner(s) about your relationships and expectations.

Once they’ve mated, a female will lay her eggs in a shallow depression on flat ground and they like to have plenty of room between their nest and those of others in the colony.  This makes me think of new parents and interfering relatives who all feel like they know best and who crowd in around the mum with no respect for her boundaries…   They also surround their nesting area with guano, just to really get the message across.  I’m not going to suggest you go that far, but if the blue footed booby has entered your life, it might be worth reinforcing your own boundaries.

As the female blue footed booby doesn’t have brooding patches like most birds, she’ll use her webbed feet to incubate her clutch.  When they begin to hatch, she’ll support the eggs on top of her feet and the young will stay there for a month.  Both parents will feed the chicks.  It’s been discovered that the key to a long term relationship is the equal sharing of nest duties, year after year.  Something I’m sure many women around the world would raise a glass to!  In terms of breeding success, young seem to have the best chance in life when one parent is young and the older is old so if you’re looking for your own long term partner, maybe through the idea of ‘age appropriate’ out of the window!  With the caveat that we should still abide by laws of consent and so on…

They are named, clearly, for their blue feet but the word booby comes from Spanish sailors who thought that the way they walked meant they were stupid or foolish.  Despite their clumsiness on land, they are agile in the air and great underwater – judge someone by their skills in their preferred environment.

People don’t always think these birds are real, and certainly their feet can look photoshopped, additionally, the majority of the population is found in the Galapagos Islands – far from most people’s eyes.  It is also probably because of this that I struggled to find much symbolism related to the blue footed booby.  Generally, when I’m researching animals, I will at least find some cultural or symbolic meaning from their natural homeland, but I really struggled with this bird…

There is clearly importance in paying attention to foot health, to communicating through your body and in reflecting on your relationship models.  They are confident and don’t let their comical walk bring them down and that is a lesson we all need reminding of from time to time.  In fact what makes them seem odd and awkward is actually one of their greatest assets and one they have decided to make the most.

Apparently they are symbols of fearlessness but as their main predators are sharks, and humans, I wonder about this.  It’s easy to be fearless when you’ve rarely needed to be afraid…

“The blue footed booby is also a symbol of creativity and dreaming. It might be time to take that dream and make it a reality. The booby is telling you to keep in touch with your creative side. Anything is possible, as long as you can imagine it. Use your creativity to make it happen.”
Free Spirit Meg

As they are agile in water, an element which is associated with emotions, they are able to dive deep into their inner world and are comfortable at navigating their feelings.  So often, so many of us push our feelings down or try to turn them off but that will backfire at some point.  Instead, the booby suggests we get to know our feelings, we feel them and we let them go.

As I couldn’t find out very much about the blue-footed booby, I thought I’d turn briefly to the symbolism of the colour blue.

Blue is said to symbolise trust, loyalty and confidence – all aspects that we’ve seen, to different degrees, when we’ve looked at the booby.  It is a calming colour that apparently slows down the human metabolism and it associated with cleanliness and purity.

“Blue represents both the sky and the sea, and is associated with open spaces, freedom, intuition, imagination, expansiveness, inspiration, and sensitivity. Blue also represents meanings of depth, trust, loyalty, sincerity, wisdom, confidence, stability, faith, heaven, and intelligence.”
Bourn Creative

As there are so many different shades of blue, it can have contradictory meanings dependant on the specific colour.  Light blues are associated with health, healing and tranquillity whereas dark blue is associated with knowledge, power and seriousness.

Links

Pigs: beliefs and attitudes

“Pigs in their various forms, from wild boar to domesticated swine, are extremely ambivalent figures in myth, sacred in some contexts, demonic in others, or (in the paradoxical manner so common to magical tales) both revered and shunned at the same time. The pig as a sacred animal seems to belong to the early goddess religions, about which our knowledge is far from complete — but carvings and other artifacts found all across what is now western Europe indicate that the pig was an aspect of the Great Goddess, associated with fertility, the moon, and the season cycles of life and death.”
Terri Windling

The history of pigs and humans is long, intertwined and full of conflict.  As a result, our beliefs, stories and folklore around the pig is very varied.  They have been symbols of wealth and status, as well as derided as animals of dirt and filth.  Perhaps the best known belief around pigs is that certain religions denounce eating them.

Why the pig is seen as taboo seems to be a much debated idea with few certainties and many suggestions.  One of these being that it was because pigs were dirty and they ate refuse.  A first century Jewish writer, Philo of Alexandria, apparently said that pigs were lazy scavengers who would eat human corpses given the chance.  As both the embodiment of vice and potentially having eaten humans, pigs were thus unfit for human consumption.

Whilst no one seems quite sure why pork was forbidden, the kind of meat you ate, or didn’t, could at various points in history get you killed.  The Spanish Inquisition was one such point in time and not eating pork could mark you out as a traitor.  To try and combat this, people would keep pigs but not eat them, or cook pork like food to try and throw off suspicions.

Elsewhere in time and space, pigs were important sources of food as they were economical to raise.  It was possibly because of this that they were popular with peasants, another possible reason for certain groups of society to refuse to eat them.

Pigs were also important in ritual, although not in ancient Egypt where pigs were considered unworthy sacrifices to the gods, with the exception of the Moon and Dionysus.  In ancient Greece, piglets were sacrificed to the gods and men swore oaths on boar testicles.  Likewise, they were important in Roman sacrifices.  Pliny the Elder had some interesting thoughts on pigs, noting their intelligence and observing that a pig whose tail curls to the right hand side are more likely to appease the gods in a sacrifice…

In China we also see the importance of the pig.  It is thought that the pig was the first domesticated animal there which may explain its place of power.  Between 4700 and 2900BC pigs had ritual importance and the dead (humans) were buried with jade or ceramic pig figures as a symbol of status.  Pigs remain important to the Chinese economy and culture and apparently, the mandarin character for family and home is represented by a pig inside a house.  The pig is also one of the Chinese zodiac animals and is associated with fertility and virility.

For the Kaulong people of Papua New Guinea, pigs are important both physically and symbolically.  They are sacrificed and their meat is shared in ceremonial displays such as for a child’s first tooth eruption, as part of male initiation rituals, to mark female puberty and for marriages and deaths.

For some interesting folklore titbits, I return closer to home with what I believe are British or European beliefs about pigs:

  • They were associated with weather in folklore and it was said that they could see the wind approaching and would let you know by rushing around with straw in their mouths.
  • Fishermen considered them a bad omen and wouldn’t go to sea if they saw one.
  • It was bad luck for a bride to see a pig on her way to the church.
  • To kill a certain (but varied) number of pigs, then the devil may appear, sometimes even in pig form. And if a devilish pig were to bite you, it was said you’d get cancer.
  • Confusingly though, pork soup was a remedy for many things and pigs blood could cure warts.
  • If, however, you ate pig brains then you’d lose control of what you said.

Turning to literature, we find some pigs that do their best to break the stereotypes of the species.  There is babe from Dick King Smith’s Sheep pig who overcomes people’s perceptions of the pig as stupid.  Instead of bulling the sheep into action, he politely asks them instead.  There is piglet from winnie the pooh who is a timid, scared little pig who overcomes his worries and fears repeatedly throughout the tales.  There is the pig in charlotte’s web saves the farm.  And of course there are many more.  Some who fit the stereotypical ideas of pigs, and some who defy them.

In language however, we still find the idea of pigs as dirty, lazy and smelly emphasised.  We talk of pigging out, being pleased as a pig in muck, we call people pig ignorant and tell them to get their snout out of things.  We repeat the old adage you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear but we also talk of globetrotters, although for most of us, an image of the well travelled pig doesn’t spring straight to mind.

Talking of language and how the word pig has come to mean much more than a four legged animal, pigs have been used in a derogatory way for hundreds of years to dehumanise certain groups of people, including Jews.  In late medieval Germany, a condemned Jew was led to execution wrapped in pig skin and in some executions, the victims were hung upside down, by the legs in the same manner as the pigs who were hung alongside them.  Commenting on the dehumanisation of minorities, Boria Sax observed:

“Those who wished to brutalise and slaughter other people… would find it psychologically easier if they thought of their victims as swine.”

And finally, we talk of piggy banks, despite them having very little to do with pigs.  The Middle English word pygg referred to a type of clay used to make jars, such as those jars you would keep money in.  Over the years it has become piggy bank and thus we find the pig shaped ones we know today.

Useful resources:

Animal divination

There are many different ways that animals can, and have been, used in divination.  Whilst today we are probably most familiar with animal imagery on oracle and tarot cards, as well as symbolically in astrology, they have been used in a variety of ways:

  • Babylonians studied the reaction of sleeping oxen to having their heads splashed with water.
  • The Hittites watched eels.
  • Dogon, a west African tribe examined paw patterns left by jackals.
  • Polynesian tribal leaders coaxed a beetle to crawl over a murder victim’s grave to reveal the murders name.
  • Plato and Aristotle believed the divinatory insights to be tied to the animals instincts and the stoics considered divination as a way of understanding the world and their role within it.
  • Alectromancy uses cocks or hens to make predictions and tradition states that it should be done when the sun or moon are in Aries or Leo.
  • Felidomancy considers the actions, behaviour and movements of cats.
  • Apantomancy looks at chance meetings with animals, such as the familiar black cat crossing your path, for omens.
  • Myrmonancy discerns the future through observing ants eating food.

Essentially, as far as I can tell, there is a kind of divination that involves virtually any animal that we have contact with.  And that makes a lot of sense.  For our ancestors, and arguably still today, the world was a chaotic, confusing and dangerous place.  It is only natural to try and seek some order, some insight or some guidance to cope with that and where better to turn than the plants and animals that are all around us.  Whilst I’m focusing on animals today, there are many traditions which look to plants for divination – just think of how we view four leaved clovers.

It seems to be that most animal divination falls into one of a few categories; the consideration of the behaviour of the animal, the investigation of organs or other body parts of deceased animals (sometimes killed as a sacrifice), and what the animal leaves behind (tracks, excrement, shells etc).

There is absolutely no way a blog post can cover an extensive look at different methods of animal divination but I would like to focus in on a few.

Today, we snap wishbones but Etruscans believed that birds could tell the future and it’s easy to see how this can be understood; a chicken squawks before the appearance of an egg, a rooster crows just before the new day.  Another method of divination was to sprinkle grain in the ground and see where the hen pecked.  Bird migrations were another way to get a glimpse into the future.

The Etruscans also practiced haruspicy which would eventually make its way to ancient Rome.  This is where a trained person read the entrails of animals such as sheep or poultry and deciphered omens in them to answer yes or no to an enquirer.  The animal would have been ritually slaughtered as a sacrifice, butchered and then the size, shape, colour and markings of the organs (mostly the liver) were examined.  The meat was roasted and shared in a sacred meal.  This dates back to at least 3000 BC and was adopted by the Romans, and was popular with Christians and pagans into the middle ages.  Today, due to issues with slaughtering animals, eggs are often used instead.

Diagram of the sheep’s liver found near Piacenza with Etruscan inscriptions on the bronze sheep’s Liver of Piacenza

Moving to China, we find scapulimancy and plastromancy used to answer questions about crops, war, weather and so on.  In the former, ox bones were used and in the latter it was turtle shells.  In both practices however, questions were carved into the bone or shell and a hot rod was applied to it until it cracked.  The crack patterns would then reveal the answers.  They also sometimes used deer, ox and human skulls in divination.

Slightly aside from divination, animals also appear around the world as amulets and talismans.

“Since the earliest times, animal images have been employed as totems and mascots.  They have also been used in a number of special ways as protective amulets, and this ancient custom is still alive and widespread today.  The animal kingdom offers such a variety of symbolism that there are endless ways in which animal images can be called upon to perform protective duties.”
– Desmond Morris

Scarab beetles have been used as lucky charms.  Rabbits foots, whilst no longer used, are still something we associate with luck.  The beckoning cat from japan is still sold and displayed in vast numbers as protective figures.  Doves, as symbols of peace are especially popular during times of war.  Butterflies are touchstones for change.

Even though we no longer cut animals open and inspect the entrails, we still turn to the animal kingdom for comfort and protection.