Flamingos

The flamingo is iconic, highly recognisable and charismatic with its bright cheerful plumage, crooked, spindly legs and that quintessential pose.  These birds of light, with their fiery feathers, naturally occur on five of the seven continents and their name is derived from flame.  I find this interesting – a bird that is often seen as comical is actually incredibly powerful and that is a theme we will come across again as we look into the flamingo in more depth.  There is much more to them that the tropical, amusing symbol of fun.

A key distinguishing feature of these birds is their colour which is due to their diet.  They eat organisms which contain carotenoids which in turn create the shades of pink that the flamingo is known for.  Their babies aren’t pink, in fact they don’t get their bright colouring until they are between two and four years old.  Whilst you might covet a beautiful flamingo feather, you will be disappointed, once shed, they quickly lose their colour.  Not all that glitters is gold.

The flamboyant colour is used to attract mates and not just because it’s striking, but also because it’s a signal that the individual is able to locate great sources of food and is in good health.  Perhaps your own body is trying to communicate with you about your health – when we are stressed or under the weather, there are signs of this that we can see; poor skin, hair loss, nails breaking…

In addition to the plumage, the pose of the flamingo is a key part of the iconic look.  They stand on one leg because it’s easier than standing on two.  Maintaining their one-legged stance has been proven to require very little muscular involvement whereas two legs means balancing which works their muscles harder.  In fact, it is so easy, that even dead flamingos can stand on one leg!  To us it might seem obvious that standing on two legs would be more efficient than one but perhaps this is a call to consider whether we are doing things in our life in the most energy saving ways.  This puts me in mind of the tips and tricks that help those of us with pain and fatigue use to maximise what we can do, eg using a basket to carry things from room to room instead of making multiple trips.

Flamingos also use large flocks to live efficiently.  There is safety in numbers and it means you can spend more time feeding and less time being alert to danger.  The flocks also mean that they can create calm patches in the group, protected from the wind.  To promote group cohesiveness, they will use ritualised movements.  They also use ritualised displays to stimulate hormone production and hence to promote breeding amongst the flock.

They also use vocalisations and posturing to communicate within the group.  When it comes to attracting a mate, flamingos make use of fancy footwork to find a partner.  They take part in a group dance, moving and displaying as a unit.  Typically the oldest or tallest males will start the process and then the rest of the flock – male and females – will join in.  There are nine signature moves which are designed to show off what a great partner they will make.  If a female is impressed by a male then they will mate for life.  This seems like a lot of work but sometimes you need to make a song and a dance about finding a great flamingo to share your life with, or if humans are more your type, then think friends and partners.

It’s also worth celebrating because flamingos breeding isn’t all that easy… there is a narrow range of conditions which are conducive to breeding:

“If there is too little rain, there may not be enough mud to build nests or enough food resources to feed both adults and their chicks.  If there is too much rain, nests can be flooded or washed away, and the diluted standing water supply may no longer be saline enough to support the flamingo’s preferred prey species.  Additionally, flamingos are unwilling to breed unless their flocks obtain a critical mass.”
– Kight

If they manage to produce offspring then the adults (both male and female) provide the chicks with a red substance that is high in fat and high in protein.  This is similar to the milk produced by mammals and also occurs in pigeons and emperor penguins.  They feed this way every 45-90 minutes for the first week and then it gets less regular as the chicks get older.  In sharing this substance, the adults lose some of their pinkness.

So far, everything we’ve seen feeds into the narrative of the flamingo as being soft, gentle and delicate, however this is not the case.  They can cope with incredibly tough, savage conditions.  This includes high altitude wetlands where their legs freeze as the water they stand in turns to ice, only melting when the sun rises.  They can live in very salty, caustic water that would damage human skin and are able to do this because their legs are covered in keratin scales.  They can drink water that is almost boiling and is so hot that they have to hop from foot to foot.

Whilst earlier I said that maybe the flamingo was here to ask you to reflect on what your appearance is telling you about your inner world, it may also be here to remind you not to judge a book by it’s cover.  Yes, the flamingo may look dainty and fragile, but it is extraordinarily tough too!

“Because so few animals can tolerate extremely salty environments or figure out how to collect the tiny particles of food available there, flamingos have been able to exploit this niche virtually uncontested.”
– Kight

Despite being able to tolerate these intense conditions, they are incredibly sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation so often find themselves having to move habitat.  Somehow, possibly to do with barometric pressure, they are able to identify where to move onto with reasonable success.  For example, in Africa, flamingos rely on lakes which are prone to drying out and in Namibia, greater flamingos have seemingly known when rain is due 500km away…

Turning to the symbolism of the flamingo, we find them often used to signify silliness, fun and as a nod to holidays and warm, tropical places.  They have also been an icon of cheesy campness and were used by gay men in the 1960s to advertise their sexual orientation.

For the ancient Egyptians, the silhouette of the flamingo was used to represent the bird itself, the colour red and also the reincarnation of the sun god, Ra.  In ancient Rome it was said that eating flamingos would help in all diseases as well as helping to maintain health.

“Old Islamic texts also indicate that Muslims used flamingos in a variety of medical contexts; sore joints, for instance, were sometimes treated by flamingo-fat ointment or by plasters containing, essentially, liquefied flamingos (obtained by boiling the birds whole for long periods of time), while ear troubles could be cured by the application of pastes made from flamingo tongues.”
– Kight

But perhaps the most striking use of the flamingo was in association with the phoenix.

“Flamingos are regarded as the embodiment of the firebird Phoenix.  This is reflected in its scientific name – the Phoenicopteridae, the Phoenix-winged… The motif of the Phoenix and its descendants embodies the dreams of the people.  In the various cultures and religions, the Phoenix-like birds symbolize rebirth and resilience.”
– Lesser Flamingos: Descendants of Phoenix, Lothar Krienitz

Perhaps the flamingos’ tendency towards large flocks, moving location and ability to survive harsh, seemingly uninhabitable conditions added to their mystic and wonder, seeming to appear out of nowhere, en masse.

“Descriptions of the phoenix’s self-(re)generation call to mind the beliefs of some East African native peoples who used to think that flamingos emerged from the salt pans fully formed”
– Kight

“Like the mythical phoenix for which phoenicopters may have been an inspiration, flamingos have been reincarnated, time and again, in the human consciousness: as a delicious indulgence, a mascot to rally behind, an embodiment of poor taste, and, now, an emblem of awareness of many groups in need – including, sadly, some of the pink birds themselves.  Thanks to their unusual and unique physical attributes, flamingos have always caught our attention and have never failed to impress.  Although they may look delicate and slight, these deceptively hearty birds manage to survive in some of the harshest habitats on earth, and have been doing so for millions of years.”
– Kight

The flamingo puts me in mind of this quote, attributed to Winnie the Pooh:

“You are braver than you believe, smarter than you seem, and stronger than you think.”

Do not let the world underestimate you.  You are tough, you are strong and you are a survivor.

Reading

Haunted by peacocks

Everywhere I turn at the moment I see peacocks.  I dream of them, I stumble onto images of them when I’m not looking for them, they pop up in social media and suddenly my peacock post is more popular that it’s ever been…

Yes, it could be purely coincidence but I do believe that my mind picks up on patterns and creates synchronicity as a way of communicating my unconscious thoughts with my conscious brain.

peacock-wip.jpg
A work in progress

When I looked back at peacock symbolism, I was reminded that it’s considered the mortal, mundane version of the phoenix.  As such it’s related to transformation, birth and rebirth and the cycle of life.  All very potent themes at this time of year and reflective of my life right now.

The phoenix is a symbol of healing, of the power of going through the fire and coming out again, of facing tough times on the way to better ones.  When I checked in with my house of helens, I realised that I am still physically healing from being sick and that I have been getting frustrated about still being numbed out emotionally despite my body not having had time to mend my figurative heart.  This healing will come only when my literal heart (and all the other muscles etc) are healed.  My body must choose where to focus its healing energy.

Another interesting observation is that as I get physically better and am starting to do things, I am starting to feel like I am too much.  This was a common theme with my anorexia, a feeling of being overwhelmed with myself and then shrinking myself because I cannot hold that feeling safely…

But back to the peacock…

Part of my exploration of the peacock and trying to unpick the message was a full moon art and tarot session.  And what should pop up on Little Red Tarot but an article about this moon decorated with peacocks…!  I had never heard of Sabian symbols but the symbol that correlates with last nights full moon chimes well with this idea:

A CANOE IS APPROACHING SAFETY THROUGH DANGEROUS WATERS

Then there are the eyes.  Eyes are gateways from one realm to an other.  They link our minds with the external but they are also associated with seeing into the spirit world.  And my physical eyes aren’t doing so well right now and I know I haven’t processed that and I know I’m avoiding dealing with it… I also know I should confront it…

Perhaps the peacock is also asking what you aren’t seeing, or what you’re refusing to see.  Which coincidentally is what my tarot spread was about, unintentional synchronicity strikes again.  On part of the paper I’m doing a peacock painting on, I wrote the words, unthinkingly, “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”

Sometimes images pop up over and over again in our lives and whether you believe they are divine messages or just coincidences, I do think there is something in them to pay attention.  If they are coincidences, your brain, your unconscious, is linking them together, it’s choosing to notice the pattern.  And our minds are filled with some powerful and potent knowledge about ourselves and what we need to know and face up to and feel that to ignore these signs seems like we are just denying ourselves the opportunity for growth.

Phoenix: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck

“The blue eyed phoenix lives on a diet of dragons” – Noah’s Notes (Preliminary), Penelope ShuttleNoah’s Notes (Preliminary), Penelope Shuttle

A phoenix is a large and beautiful bird, often considered to be a heavenly equivalent of the eagle or the peacock.  As in the card, they are often depicted as being yellows and reds and golds – the colours of flames.  These magnificent creatures are impossible to capture, they are too fast and too clever.  It is said that their feet never touch the ground and they fly so high in the sky that they can’t be seen.  Some say there can only ever be one phoenix at a time.  Some say the phoenix cannot reproduce and thus is associated with virginity.

But the most important thing to know about the phoenix, is that it never truly dies.  They live a long life, records suggest 500 to 1400 years, and just before death, they construct a  funeral pyre with oils and spices.  This pyre is not lit by the hand of man, but instead it is ignited by the sun itself.  From the ashes of this fire, the phoenix would rise again, reborn as a symbol of the power of life and light.

The phoenix really is a child of fire, a child of the sun.  Because they never die, it is believed that the phoenix has healing powers.  Their tears can heal and their feathers can undo death.

Different cultures have different birds which could be considered to be the phoenix, for example Garuda from Hinduism and the Firebird from Slavic tales.  My notes about the phoenix also include “how sri lanka was created, look into”.  I’m not sure where that came from and I can’t find much about it right now.  If you come across anything, let me know!

As you can see, there is so much symbolism contained within the phoenix.  A few things you might want to consider if you’ve drawn this card include:

  • regenertaion, ressurection, renewal
  • cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth
  • imortality
  • transformation
  • baptism by fire
  • ancient knowledge
  • time
  • the power within us all to rise like the phoenix from the ashes
  • hope and life in the face of destruction
  • the cleansing power of fire