Opossum

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For those of you who, like me, haven’t really had much to do with opossums, here is some basic info:

  • They are about the size of a house cat.
  • They have a long tail which seems to be a bit like a rats in that it’s furless.
  • Their feet have what is essentially an opposable thumb so they can clasp things.
  • They adapt to a wide range of environments but prefer places which provide some cover.
  • They are nocturnal and solitary.
  • In the wild they life about a year but in captivity this goes up to a massive 10 years.
  • The opossum is a marsupial, in fact it’s North America’s only marsupial.

When threatened, the opossum curls up and plays dead and this is the source of the American saying “to play possum”.  To make their death seem even more real, they can emit a scent which smells like death and also foam from the mouth.  They don’t actually have control over this reaction, it’s an unconscious response to fear.  The opossum is here to give you a nudge to examine your own unconscious reactions.  It might be how you react when afraid, or it could be how you respond when angry or when someone pushes that button that enrages you.  Opossum may also be here to teach us that there is a time for inaction, a time when not doing something is better than doing something.  Less prominent but perhaps still a good reminder is not to judge by appearance.  Also, be aware of people deceiving you.

Despite their fairly unique approach to danger, they can also run quite fast and climb well.  A third option if they are attacked is to make themselves look more dangerous than they are – they hiss, arch their back and bare all 50 of their teeth.  Essentially, they have a range of options in their toolbox and they are adept at choosing what is best for the situation in front of them, unless playing dead chooses for them.  Try and find a range of ways of responding to challenges and you’ll fare much better.

Much mythology explains the behaviour and characteristics of animals and with the opossum, both their habit of playing dead and their prehensile tail are explained by a Cherokee story.  Once upon a time the Opossum had a fluffy, bushy tail, a bit like a Squirrel’s.  But Opossum was vain and demanded admiration for his tail.  Over time this got boring and draining and no one really wanted to admire it anymore.  Rabbit decided enough was enough and set out to trick Opossum.  Rabbit sent Cricket to style the tail and whilst it was being brushed Opossum fell asleep.  When he woke, his tail was wrapped in ribbon and later that day, the ribbons were removed and revealed a tail which was no longer fluffy and bushy like Squirrel’s.  Instead it was as bald and scaly as Snake.  Opossum fainted with the shock and the shame and to this day, when Opossum is shocked, scared or ashamed, he will faint.

This story highlights the moral issues around vanity and pride but interestingly, when the Europeans began to colonise they saw the opossum as versatile, adaptable and maternal.  Perhaps their maternal reputation came about from their big broods, up to 13 babies, which climb into their mum’s pouch as teeny tiny creatures.  Once they are bigger, they ride around on mum’s back, creating a comical sight that screams motherhood.  In some parts of Mexico, their tails are eaten to improve fertility.

As an interesting aside, the male opossum has a forked penis and, to match, the female has a bifurcated vagina.  This led people to speculate that the males impregnated females via the nose…

As well as having lots of children at once, they also have a lot of litters.  This, combined with a flexible diet and adaptability mean the opossum makes a successful coloniser and can live well in a wide range of places, under differing conditions.  Change is not something that the opossum need fear, they have the tools and ability to cope well with it.  Humans are less embracing so channelling the opossum can create a healthier response.

Grip and dexterity are important parts of the opossum’s life; are you holding on too tightly to something that is unhelpful? Are you grasping at straws? Are you grasping things easily?  As well as their clasping opposable thumbs, they have their prehensile tail which, in addition to being used as a tool, is also used to balance.  This brings in possible questions around equality, about harmony and about stability.  This could be in your environment, in your emotional life, your family life and so on.

Like so many rodent-esque creatures, these guys are misunderstood. Their reputation as pests overlooks their role in pest management, in keeping rubbish levels down and even slow down the spread of lyme disease.  Far from being unclean, they spend a lot of time grooming themselves.

They have an interesting history, having seen dinosaurs – they are one of the oldest mammals on record – they existed in north America, then left and then re-enterered to take the place of north america’s only marsupial.

To survive this long requires excellent adaptation, in the case of the opossum this includes having a reduced tendency to contract rabies and immunity to poison and venom.  For example, they can survive attacks from the pit viper which would normally cause a quick death from haemorrhaging but this marsupial is able to block the activity of the enzyme which causes the damage and can thus neutralise the toxic effect.  Size and deadliness really doesn’t matter when it comes to the opossum and the snake!

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Mountain Lion

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Mountain lion * Cougar * Puma * Catamount *Florida Panther

There are different names for this feline which depend on where you live.  Spanish explorers called it leon (lion) and gato monte (cat of the mountain), hence mountain lion.  Puma comes from the Incas and cougar is thought to come from cuguacuarana, an old south American Indian word.  The Florida panther is a subspecies of the mountain lion found in swamps in florida and is extremely endangered with about 50 cats left.

As well as their name changing as you range through their territory, so does their colouring.  In warmer areas they tend to be a darker, reddish brown and in colder areas, are more silvery grey.

Whatever you call this creature, it’s the largest cat in north America and is found in mountainous regions.  It’s solitary and territorial, feeding primarily on wild animals but they have been known to take farm stock which has caused issues.

They are excellent hunters, very patient and can sit still for hours waiting to ambush prey, even killing animals much larger than themselves.  They hunt in daytime but still remain elusive, mysterious and invisible, moving through the landscape silently and stealthily.  When they have the time, and appetite, they will leave nothing but blood splatter and fur.

Teaching us the importance of patience and silence, the mountain lion may well be an ambassador for meditation.

When they do move, they excel at that as well.  They can jump 18 feet from the ground into a tree and have been known to jump the equivalent of a two story building up or down a hillside.  They run very fast and can maneuver easily, much like cheetahs, changing direction with ease.

Over and over, when I was researching this creature, I kept coming up against the idea of leadership, something which feels strange when we are dealing with a solitude loving cat.  Instead of a dictator style leader, we find the mountain lion cast as reluctant leader, he has the power needed and the physical strength some argue you need but he also has grace and leads without insisting others follow.  Instead of creating rules that must be followed, he demonstrates and teaches, and leads, by example.  The mountain lion is a quiet leader who defies the common expectations we have of rulers.  In doing so, he shows us what it is to step into our own power, to honour (or at times to find) that part of us which may remain hidden.  In believing in himself, he becomes powerful in his own way.  He follows his convictions and in doing so, he becomes king of the mountain.

As they are solitary animals, they only pair up for the breeding season.  During this time, males and females sleep and hunt together for a couple of weeks.  The babies will then remain with their mother for the first year, sometimes for the first two years.  It is then that they’ll learn how to hunt; mum will teach by example and the cubs will also learn from their own failures.  Like the cubs, we too learn through experience.  We can read and read and read but we’ll never know how to play tennis unless we pick up a racket.  If we never buy any ingredients, all the knowledge we learn watching cooking programmes will never go to use.

They are good mothers and when mum has to leave her babies to go and hunt, she tucks them away in dens and crevices.  When preventative protection isn’t an option, the mother will show great strength in defending her children.  She is a responsible and loving mother.

“Responsibility is no more than the ability to respond to any situation.  Panic is not a part of this sacred medicine.”
– Medicine cards

Despite only coming together to mate, mountain lions leave messages using faeces, urine, scratched logs and other marks.  Just because you don’t see someone very often, doesn’t mean you aren’t in touch. Some of my best friends over my life have been people who’ve lived miles away from me.  Instead of building or maintaining a relationship based on physical proximity, I have friends who I share interests or experiences with and instead of regular coffees and catch ups, I send them texts, emails, messages and post.

When we looked at the coyote, human wildlife conflict was an important topic to consider and whilst mountain lions share the potential for danger, they don’t often enter human worlds.  They do their best to avoid us and when they do, they would rather flee than fight us.  Where coyotes encroached on our habitats, mountain lions have shrunk their home as humans have expanded.  When Europeans first settled in North America, mountain lions lived from coast to coast.  Now they are confined to the west (excluding the small Florida population).

In mythology, we have the stories which display the strength, grace and power of the mountain lion.  They are depicted as courageous and in the story of the Wolf, the Fox, the Bobcat and the Cougar, those creatures protected a group of North Americans from some evil beings.

In the story of the puma and the bear, we learn about the importance of preparedness and the perils of cockiness.  Bear ran off with Puma’s wife and boasted that he was so strong that he had nothing to fear from Puma and so he didn’t think to prepare for a fight.  Obviously Puma won and Bear was killed, Puma’s wife was banished for her infidelity.

Mountain lions seem to have been called on for their skills as warriors, as defenders and as hunters.  They have also been associated with healing and in particular, for curing illness caused by witches.

Given their secretive nature, perhaps this is a card that is asking you to seek out what is hidden, or leave well alone.  Like much of this card, there is no straightforward, clear cut answer.  You must use your intuition and feel your way into it to find your own personal meaning and understanding.

Coyote

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“Coyote… you devil!
You tricked me once more!
Must I sit and ponder,
What you did it for?”
– Medicine cards

Coyotes are similar to wolves but are about 1/3 the size of them.  Intuitively this says to me that we should consider the wolf but take it with less intensity.  Like wolves, coyotes are one of north Americas top predators.  There are some similarities, they are also loyal, they like to sing – apparently being enthusiastic singers from birth – and they are superbly designed killers with an excellent sense of smell and hearing.

But where wolves are pack animals, coyotes are not.  Instead they form small family groups and when they grow up, the young head off to find a mate and create their own small unit and establish their own territory.  They are also more adaptable than wolves, and in ideal circumstances are scavengers.  This has led to conflict with humans as they encroach on ‘human’ spaces and take advantage of the helpfully available livestock.

We have unintentionally created great environments for coyotes, providing food and cover for them, and as land use has changed across America, they have been able to vastly extend their range.  Whilst some people are angry that coyotes are killing livestock and naturally existing deer populations (a bounty programme has been created which incentivises hunting and killing coyotes), others encourage their presence – in one documentary I watched, someone was even going so far as to put out a heated pet bed for them on cold nights…  This divide in opinions seems to depend on where the humans in question live, as opposed to where the coyotes live; in rural areas they are persecuted and in urban areas they are encouraged.  This vast divide says much more about humans than coyotes.

“They don’t belong here, shoot them all.”
                                                 “We love them, we stole their habitats
and we owe it to them to let them live here.”

Neither these views are entirely correct but its clear that it’s an emotive issue that splits opinions.  Even how we say coyote is divisive… coy-ote or coy-oh-tee…

“We tolerate animals only on our own terms. Mutualism is the existence in nature of a relationship that benefits both parties, the crocodile and the plover bird, for instance. The plover bird picks clean the teeth of the crocodile, who in turn does not snap its mouth shut. Dogs started out as wolves who entered a symbiotic relationship with man, helping to bring down big game in return for a place by the fire.”
Aminatta Forna

Although she was talking about the fox, what she had to say was very relevant here.  Like the fox, coyote is “a creature that chooses to live close to humans but refuses subordination, has submitted neither to domestication nor taming, will not bend to anyone’s will.”  We find this irreverence challenging, reminding us of our own limitations when it comes to taming and controlling nature.

I checked my emails half way through writing this and right there was an email linking to an essay about urban coyotes! It described them as “quintessential adapters, they consistently defy human expectations.”

And I think this is something we need to think about in terms of the meaning of the coyote card.  There is the reminder that we can adapt to changing circumstances, to changing relationships, to changing beliefs.  We may not like change but that doesn’t mean that we can’t deal with it.  Additionally, the defying expectations is an interesting point to ponder; do you defy expectations, where, why not, where do you want to?  We can get stuck in a vicious circle where we are known as the quiet one, so people expect us to be quiet, and thus we are quiet, or loud or gossipy or scientific etc etc.  There is nothing to say you need just be that, but we get comfortable there.  I was always the mathematical one, but people who’ve only known me for the last few years would see me as the arty one.  I am, like you are, many versions of myself, sometimes complementary and sometimes seemingly in conflict, but all are me.

Returning for a moment to the coyotes which aren’t just encroaching on human habitat but are actually integrating themselves:

“Coyotes let us know that the mental boundaries we keep—between the human and the wild—are more porous than we may have ever imagined. In the midst of our attempts to control the landscape, to put humans here and nature there, coyotes express an alternative set of ideas about boundaries.”
– Gavin Van Horn

Coyotes, more so than wolves, look like dogs and perhaps they challenge our ideas about our own civilisation in that way as well.  If they can look like our tame pets but remain wild, what does that say of our own animalistic natures?

As they are territorial, boundaries are important and they are regularly patrolled and remarked.  Whilst I’m not suggesting you take to scent marking, perhaps you could be looking at other ways of building and refreshing your own boundaries.

Coyotes are resourceful and clever, learning quickly which turns out to be very important when it comes to play.  Like many animals, play is a way of practising life skills but there is a protocol which marks the lines between play and fight.  If you are playing, you bow first then play.  And fairness and honesty matters.  If you bow and then attack, you won’t be chosen for play so much and so you won’t learn the skills you need, you may also find you have to leave the group and will probably die.  Play fair guys!  And know that there are consequences if you don’t.

Stealthy and secretly, they move through the landscape like ghosts, silently and leaving as little trace as possible.  When a pack moves, they often walk in single file, paw print in paw print, leaving the impression that only one coyote has moved through the land.  This puts me in mind of the countryside code – take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.  An interesting association given the debate about hunting coyotes…

Coyotes watch and assess situations with powerful amber eyes and keen radar like ears.  This observation, paired with their intellect, makes them virtually indestructible.  Even putting out poisoned bait doesn’t trick the coyote as their exceptional nose sniffs it out.

Some North American mythology tells of how the coyote create the world along with the wolf, in one case they sang the universe into being.  Known to some as God’s dog, Coyote has been said to be the creators spy on earth.  Another myth involved the coyote being sent to earth to help clumsy and stupid humanity.  It is said that the north American peoples knew that coyote was intelligent and resourceful and believed that they were sent by the gods to teach humans how to live.  The gift of fire is also attributed to the coyote.

There are also many stories where the coyote takes on the role of the trickster.  He can trick himself and fall into his own traps but he can also make others laugh – so much depends on what trick he chooses to play.  He asks us who we are tricking, who is tricking us, is this playful or hurtful? Don’t be tricked by appearances when coyote visits you, things often aren’t what they seem to be on the surface.  You may need to dig and search for the wisdom or the message.

As a trickster, coyote has been referred to as a troublemaker, prince of chaos but also, because of this tendency to mix things up, as transformer, as catalyst.  To make change, you must break conformity and take a risk that this change will not turn out for the best.  Because Coyote isn’t afraid of change, he does make mistakes, but through these, he has become wise.  They may fall but they can put themselves back together again.  They may get hurt, but they can heal.  One belief around the coyote echoes this; the Chief Coyote was said to possess the indestructible disc of the sun which gives him immortality, or a daily renewal.

He teaches us not to take ourselves so seriously, that laughter can be a powerful message and that staying playful can be healing.  Do things for the fun of them.

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.

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