Ostrich: Animal Totem Tarot

The ostrich; the bird that forgot to fly.

ostrich

Ostriches are the largest living bird, the fastest living bird and one of the weirdest.  At 7-9 foot tall, these watchtowers are well placed to scan the horizon, vital because there is danger coming at them from all sides.  They have been living in Africa for 12 million years and are a favourite food for lions.  But don’t feel too sorry for them, one well placed kick can be enough to kill a lion.  At the end of their powerful legs are huge feet with 7 inch toes and 4 inch claws.  Don’t make assumptions about this odd looking bird!

The males have striking black and white feathers whilst females blend into the land more easily with greyish brown plumage.  Their feathers are very useful; they fluff them up and fold them as a way of regulating body heat and moisture so they can tolerate high temperatures and don’t need to find shade.  The ostriches use their feathers for communication and remind me of semaphore and fan dancing.  And of course, we use them for hats and boas.

Ostriches walk dozens of miles a day for food – they don’t need to search out water so frequently as they get most of what they need from their food.  When frightened or shocked, they will run in a zig zag way which can confuse the predator.  This can seem a bit like the ostrich is confused and is trying to run in a million directions at once and this might be the case for you, you may be trying to do too many different things at once.  Conversely, doing a couple of different types of things can be positive for our brain, switching between them gives the brain a break and that can be where we find our best ideas.

There is a myth that ostriches were capable of digesting anything including iron, with one medieval scholar claiming they could eat keys and horse shoes.  This rumour probably arose because they do eat stones.  They don’t have teeth and don’t have a ruminating stomach – no chewing the cud here – so have to tear at grass with their beak and swallow the fibres whole.  The rocks then grind the food down so it can be digested.  This habit, along with the false idea that they bury their head in the sand when facing danger, left people believing the ostrich was stupid.

The ostrich mating process is fascinating.  It begins with the male posturing, showing off his wings and showing the female he is interested.  His neck turns bright red and after a prolonged flirtation period, she lets him know she is ready.  The elaborate ritual can take a few days but the actual procreation takes a few minutes.  As an aside, unlike many birds, the male ostrich has a penis.

“The breeding system of the ostrich has been shown to be both varied and complex.  It is highly unusual amongst birds.”
– Brian C R Bertram

A dominant couple will establish a nest and the dominant female will be the first to lay eggs in the nest.  They lay the largest eggs in the world but compared to their size, it’s actually comparatively small.  Secondary females, who’ve had sex with the dominant male, will then lay their eggs in the nest.  This means that in one nest there are eggs from a variety of mothers.  Interestingly, the dominant female’s eggs will generally be in the centre of the clutch.  The secondary females leave their eggs for the dominant couple to incubate and raise.

The male will incubate the eggs at night when their dark plumage doesn’t stand out in the landscape and the more camouflaged females will take the day shift.  When they change shifts, the ostrich who is taking over incubation will do a dance as part of a recognition ritual.  This just confirms to the sitter that this bird really is their partner.

Even before birth, ostrich chicks are vulnerable.  Eggs are laid on the ground and are exposed to a number of threats.  Of a large clutch, 90% of the eggs won’t hatch because of predation.  Of those that do hatch, 15% of them will make it to their first birthday.  If you are one of the lucky babies that makes it through incubation safely, then you have to break out of a really tough shell, making for an exhausting start to life.  If you have pulled the ostrich card then ask yourself what shell are you breaking out of?  Are you going through a bit of a metamorphosis?  If it’s challenging, then this might the encouragement you need.

And of course, unlike other birds, ostrich chicks don’t need to know how to fly to leave the nest which is interesting to ponder metaphorically.

Ostriches have historically been hunted and maximum use was made of the bird once killed.  The skin is tough but flexible and has been used to make protective jackets.  The feathers have been used for decoration including the headdresses of African warriors and in fans used to fan the King.  In ancient Egypt, the ostrich plume was used as a symbol of justice and truth.  As a large bird, and a visible creature in Africa, they have of course made their way into the culture and the myths of the land.

Ostriches feature in folklore and carvings of the Kalahari Bushmen and were considered holy by the Assyrians.  Their eggs were prized by both bushmen and European sailors as a valuable food source, and the empty shell was used as a water vessel.  Holy properties of the shells were used to help and protect Ethiopian Coptic churches and buried Phoenicians.  Shell fragments have been heavily used to make beads for necklaces.

In The Ten Little Ostriches, a story from Kenya, a mother ostrich has ten little chicks that she’s very proud of, and one day she has to leave them to get food.  On her return, she can’t find the chicks but sees lion paw prints and challenges the Lion.  She demands Lion give her back the ten little chicks that are nestled in Lion’s arms but Lion says that she has no ostrich chicks, just her own lion cubs.  Ostrich asks Mongoose for help and in return Mongoose asks for Ostrich to build a hole under an anthill.  Later that day, all the animals arrive to help Ostrich get her chicks back.  But Zebra and Antelope, Baboon, Giraffe and Wildebeest all declare they see nothing but lion cubs.  Mongoose however jumps up and declares that mothers with hair don’t have babies with feathers.  Lion snarled angrily at Mongoose but this didn’t scare Mongoose.  Instead Mongoose stepped closer and shouted that Lion was a thief and immediately spun around and ran into the hole under the anthill where Lion couldn’t follow.  Whilst this was happening, Ostrich was able to rush into the Lion’s den and get her chicks back.  Mongoose meanwhile had run away via a back exit.

The bestiary notes, obviously that the ostrich has wings but does not fly, and goes on to discuss the mating ritual:

“now when the time comes for it to lay some eggs, the ostrich raises its eyes to heaven and looks to see whether those stars which are called the Pleiades appear.  When, however it perceives that constellation, round about the month of June, it digs a hole in the earth, and there it deposits the eggs and covers them with sand.  Then it gets up, instantly forgets all about them, and never comes back any more…. Now if the Ostrich knows its times and seasons, and, disregarding earthly things, cleaves to the heavenly ones – even unto the forgetting of its own offspring – how much the more should you, O Man, strive after the reward of the starry calling, on account of which God was made man that he might enlighten you from the powers of darkness and place you with the chiefs of his people in the glorious kingdom of heaven.”
The Book of Beasts

As the knight of wands, the animal totem card focuses on the idea of confidence, of energy and that things aren’t always as they seem.  This bird is probably best known for something it doesn’t even do – burying it’s head in the sand – and so is asking us to look at how we define ourselves and how others define us.

“Don’t let someone else create a set of myths, stories, and beliefs about who you are.”
– Animal Totem Tarot

Instead of being cowardly or delusional, the ostrich is actually brave and grounded in reality.  Do not underestimate yourself.  Stand your ground.  Protect yourself.

Move forcefully.  Move quickly.  Be decisive.

This is not a time for pondering, for chewing the cud, for taking your time.  This is the time for action.

Links

Advertisements

Panda: Animal Totem Tarot

 

panda

Pandas are an icon of both China and conservation, and as such a high platform creature, you’d think we’d know them well.  As this post will explain, so much we think we know about the panda, is actually about PR.

But first, let’s get to know this adorable black and white bear.  These highly distinctive animals diverged from the ursus lineage 20 million years ago and whilst we know this today, in the past the taxonomic classification of the panda was debated.  After all, they are very different to the rest of the bear family, they are black and white and have the look of a raccoon.

Pandas were carnivores up until 4 million years ago when they moved over to bamboo, a seemingly specialised diet until you remember that their native mountains are covered in this food.  Despite there being over 300 types of bamboo, pandas are picky and do only eat a few of these…. As if finding the food wasn’t tricky enough, it’s hard to eat.  Bamboo is tough and so the panda has powerful cheek muscles which let them break through the tough outer layer.  It is this feature that gives it the iconic round head and a bite almost as powerful as a lion’s.  Bamboo also requires a lot of digesting so pandas wake very early, spending half their time eating bamboo and the other half digesting it.

This behaviour put me in mind of the idea of chewing the cud.  Take your time here, mull things over.  Consume a lot of information, digest it slowly and then make conclusions.

One really fun thing about pandas is that they can hold onto bamboo whilst climbing trees because of a sixth ‘finger’.  Perhaps the panda is actually evolutionary advanced, rather than an evolutionary mistake as they are so often portrayed.

And so we move to the image of the bumbling, clumsy creature who can’t take care of herself, let alone any babies they may ever actually have.  This is a lie.

They aren’t actually as endangered as we be told.  Their main issue is not that they are rubbish at reproducing but that their habitat is being destroyed.  They are regularly portrayed as incompetent breeders, as an evolutionary mistake, but are actually excellently adapted to their eccentric lifestyle.  After all, they’ve been around for millions of years!

This idea of them as vulnerable vegetarians, with their big needy eyes, who aren’t interested in sex is a Disney washed image, a PR stunt, that allows us to ignore the role that humans have had in their demise.  By shifting the blame to the panda, we can continue to destroy their habitats without a conscience at the same time as painting ourselves as heroes.

It is important to know that they do have a very brief fertility window but they are also able to delay implantation of the foetus so they can wait until circumstances are better.

Breeding attempts in captivity have famously failed, but this isn’t all that surprising when you realise that some of these have been same sex pairings… Pandas are, it turns out, hard to sex. But attempts to breed them have continued, perpetuated by the idea that pandas are in trouble and that pandas are bad at creating more pandas.  In fact, the main issue is pandas breeding in captivity.  A zoo enclosure is not the most conducive environment, pandas are only fertile for a short period and often they’ve only just met their supposed partner, would you be in the mood?

In the wild, the picture is very different:

“The wild panda is a secret stud, fond of threesomes and rough sex, with a taste for flesh and a fearsome bite.”
– Lucy Cooke

In one afternoon, a wild panda can have sex over 40 times, and males have sperm which is much better quality than human males.  Panda sex involves biting, barking and just the right about of submissive-dominant behaviour.  Scent markings on specific trees provide other pandas with information about their sex, age, identity and fertility and males are attracted to female scent markings from far and wide.  In response, males attempt to leave their own scent as high up a tree as possible, engaging in acrobatic poses to achieve this.

But still, we continue to attempt to get zoo pandas to breed and what I can only describe as baby panda factories are found in china which use a variety of methods to stimulate and fertilise pandas which would not know how to live in the wild and so can’t be released…

“It’s all about politics and money… Panda breeding is a full-time, multi-million dollar industry, particularly if one can convince the public that pandas are incapable of reproducing on their own.”
– Kati Loeffler

Despite this, China repeatedly uses the panda as a sign of their conservation work and commitment to the planet.  These ambassadors for Asia are highly valued and have a long history.  Panda diplomacy goes at least as far back as the 7th century when a pair of live pandas were presented to the rulers of Japan.

“The panda can be used to seal the deal and signify a bid for a long and prosperous relationship.  If a panda is given to the country, it does not signify the closing of a deal – they have entrusted an endangered, precious anumak to the country; it signifies in some ways a new start to the relationship.”
–  Kathleen Buckingham

There are many things we could take from this, but for me, the big message from the panda is that you shouldn’t take things on face value, especially in this era of fake news.  Dig deeper, do your own research, look to sources that you trust.  A more fun message is that you can’t tell how kinky someone is just by looking at them!

Turning to folktales, there is a lovely Tibetan story about how the panda was originally all white and how it got its black markings.  Essentially a hurt cub was adopted by four shepardesses and a leopard wanted the panda for lunch.  The shepardesses sacrificed themselves protecting the panda cub.  When the other pandas heard, they were very upset and attended the funeral with their arms smeared with black ashes, as was customary locally.  During the funeral they cried and when they wiped away their tears, their eyes became smudged with ash.  Their ears turned black when they covered them because the other funeral guests were wailing loudly.  When comforting each other with hugs, more black ash got transferred.  In honour of the brave shepardesses, they vowed never to wash the ash from their fur.  Then the ground shock and up from the graves, a mountain rose far into the sky, turning into four peaks.  Ever since, the pandas have found safety in the arms of the four peaks, the arms of the four shepardesses.

Looking at the panda in the context of the Ace of Swords, we see again that this is a message about gathering information (or bamboo, whichever you need or prefer).  The message in the deck is around the idea of distracting yourself from the problem you are trying to solve – by food or whatever else frees up your mind – and how this can often result in that lightbulb moment.

The sword suit is about the mental realm, it covers thinking and information and truth and communication and the slow and steady panda reminds us that these things often cannot be rushed.  Take your time, enjoy the gathering stage, do what you need to do to get clarity.

Links

Queen of Pentacles

dsc_1858.jpg

Left to right: Top row – Pagan Cats, Lumina, Wild Unknown.  Bottom row – Animal Totem, Our Tarot

Rider Waite Smith and Pagan Cats

With the RWS card, we have a queen looking demurely towards a pentacle that is resting on her knee.  Her throne is surrounded by roses, a detail echoed in the pagan cats tarot.  Similarly, both have a rabbit in the foreground, highlighting the queen’s connection to the natural world.  The rabbit also suggests fertility and fecundity, as well as creation.  In many ways the queen is a minor version of the Empress card although Rachel Pollack also likens this card to the magician, both of which I’ll be writing about at some point.

With the link to the Empress, and with the suit of pentacles, we are thinking about nature, about the everyday, about resources and things we can touch and sense.  As such, we are reflecting on nature and cycles and the rhythms of life.  Being able to enjoy nature and notice the world around us can be a meditative way of life that can enhance our experience of being here:

“the quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight.  The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention”
– Julia Cameron

This queen is the part of you that pays attention and is able to be present.  This means she notices and enjoys the little things that other people often overlook.  Looking at the RWS image, you could interpret her as being focused on the pentacle in a sort of meditative or appreciative kind of way but I’d like to contrast that with the pagan cats card.  The cat has her tail curled around the pentacle and the post feels like she’s much more secure in her resources, she knows they aren’t going to vanish if she isn’t looking at them.

Obviously much of tarot is about how you interpret the cards and I’m trying to guide you to see the cards in different ways so that you can feel what chimes with you.  Sticking with that cat a bit longer, we can feel into themes of trust and security, knowing that the resources we have worked hard for aren’t going anywhere.

Wild Unknown

In the Wild Unknown, the queens are mothers and the kings fathers which feels much more appropriate given there are no animals in the deck.  This deer mother is depicted next to her fawn, protective and comforting but not stifling.  She is there as a secure base and her presence allows the fawn to go out into the world.  We all need a secure base, whatever form that takes.  It might be a person, it might be a place, it might be a very literal security blanket but it is that something that helps to ground you and helps you to feel safe in the world.

Queen cards are associated with water and so that means the queen of pentacles is both water and earth, very literally she makes things grow.  She is the earth mother.  She is in flow with the planet.  She is nurturing and big hearted, loving and patient.  She is calm and caring and she is an earthly embodiment of the magic of nature.

She is generous and wants the best for all of us and wants to help us get there.  Because of this, she can get her identity wrapped up in her family and friends.

Lumina

The lumina queen is posed similarly to the RWS queen but instead of looking down, she is staring straight at the reader.  At her feet, instead of a rabbit, rests a bear.  For me, a key aspect of the bear is the duality of loving mother and angry momma bear.  She is kind but if you endanger her babies, she will attack you.  In terms of how that relates to this card, I think it’s about protecting your creations or your dreams as they start to venture out of your head and into the world.

The book talks very much about being at home with yourself and your life:

“You look at the life you have consciously created, the people within it and the activities and work you have dedicated yourself to and realise that it’s a true expression of grounded abundance and prosperity.”

To reach this stage in her life, she has had to pull on her resources but also carefully balance competing demands and ambitions in her life.  But to reach this point in life and not acknowledge it would be to miss part of the journey.  Stop, look around you, see how far you’ve come.

Sometimes the balance that this queen needs can get unsettled.  She has the potential to put others before herself; she may over-help and in turn hinder the growth of others – teach a woman to fish and all that!

Our tarot

Our tarot have chosen Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, to represent the queen of pentacles.  She was born in 1729 in Russia and seems to have had a complicated life and over time grew in power and wealth.  She was a strong woman and the time she reigned is sometimes called the Golden Age of Russia.  I hadn’t heard of her before I got this deck so I’m not going to say much about her, but instead will focus on the way that she reflects the essence of the card.

“She is an example of the safety one feels when one’s mother “has their back”: a mother works to keep her child’s environment safe and comfortable.”

This quote from the accompanying book reminds me of the sea serpent from the wild unknown animal oracle deck.  It also echoes the ideas we saw with the wild unknown card above.

To rise to her place in society, Catherine relied on, and used, other people and pulled on the external environment to help.  Utilise your strengths and what is around you.  Pay attention, be resourceful and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Animal Totem Tarot

This deck selected the pig to illustrate the queen of pentacles and I’ve written already about both the pig and the boar so it might be worth checking them out as well.

“There is nothing nicer than the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair.  Time for me is the best time in the whole wide world.  No interruptions, no constant conversation, just me and whatever I need to do for myself.”

Note how the pig queen has hung up her crown for a mud bath?  This card stresses the importance of self care – make time for yourself.  You may want to help everyone out with everything but you need to take care of yourself first – think about oxygen masks on planes.  Do whatever it is that recharges and revitalises you and then care for and help out others.

Pigs: a history of mixed feelings

“Pigs and pork have, throughout history, been used to divide and unite people”
– Pia Spry-Marques

This will be the start of a few posts on pigs, mostly because there is so much to say about them.  It is because of this that I wanted to look at the pig its own right, not just as a supplement to the boar.  In the animal totem tarot deck, the queen of pentacles is depicted by a pig and so I’m also going to do a post that focuses on that specifically.

Our history with pigs goes back about 18,000 years and starts with the boar.  Boars are the ancestors of domestic pigs with spots and stripes that helped them blend into their environment.  These vanished, their tails became curly and their ears flopped as we domesticated them. Their tusks also disappeared and our attitudes towards them changed dramatically, shifting from a devil like enemy to a vital provider.

The domestic pig was bred from eurasion wild boars about 9000 years ago in Eastern Turkey and China simultaneously (some sources suggesting there were other domestication events at around the same time elsewhere but it’s complicated stuff).  As they were adaptable, had large and regular litters, were tough and were in close contact with humans (they would raid fields) they were a good candidate for breeding compared to other types of boars.  Pigs were also important compared to other domesticated species; they like living in groups, they are adaptable and they eat pretty much anything.  This meant they essentially looked after themselves and ate what we threw away, making them important to the history of agriculture and farming.

Today, pigs are widely distributed around the world, both down to their natural wanderings and human involvement.  From steamy rainforests to dry savannas to snowy woodlands, pigs are one of the most successful mammals on earth.  Evolution and human involvement has resulted in over 500 breeds of pigs today, but it isn’t just the pig landscape that has changed because of man.  The reverse is true, without the man-pig relationship, human history could have looked very different – exploration and civilisation were aided by the pig.

“Pigs are ubiquitous in the modern world, whether we are talking about the more than one billion domesticated pigs on the planet or the countless representations of pigs and ‘piggishness’ that circulate through most of the world’s cultures… Pigs have been structurally and symbolically significant in the making of human society and culture across the globe.  Pigs have fed us, entertained us and provided us with ways to think about our relationships with each other on this porcine planet.”
– Brett Mizelle

Despite this universality, pigs suffer from mixed reviews.  Whilst they have provided us with food and have been praised and celebrated, they have also been cast out and seen as dirty and smelly.

“The persistent uncertainty about whether pigs are good or bad animals is connected to the lived relationship between humans and pigs.  These attitudes reflect a moral ambivalence about the killing of pigs and ideas about pigs themselves, both of which are often factors in conflicts between human social groups.”
– Mizelle

Pigs provided a way for different classes of society to distinguish themselves and due to the association with lower classes, the pig increasingly became ostracised as a symbol of poverty, dirtiness and slothenlyness.  Mizelle also asks whether our conflicting feelings towards pigs may arise because of our similarities.  With pigs both physically near and physiologically alike, our treatment of them may induce feelings of guilt which we then transferred to the pig.  In order to treat it as we do, to keep it confined and to butcher it, we must psychologically distance ourselves from the pig.  And we can see this clearly in how we talk; male chauvinist pigs, pig ugly, smell like a pig, greedy pig and so on…

“There is a long history of porcine proverbs that describe efforts to convert the useless to the useful, the ugly to the pretty.  The maxim ‘You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear’ dates back to the mid sixteenth century.”
– Mizelle

Returning to the similarities between humans and pigs, we see also the need to distance them in order to eat them, calling the meat pork and talking of chops and bacon instead.

Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, with over half of it consumed in china.  Whilst I am not going to look too closely at meat, as Mizelle says:

“Different groups have consumed different cuts of pork over time, making pork consumption a useful lens into race, religion and class.”

And for more information about this, we can look to Mark Essig:

“The reputation of pork depends upon the life of the pig. In early medieval Europe, when most pigs foraged in the woods, pork was the preferred meat of the nobility. By 1300 most forests had been felled, and pigs became scavengers. In a medieval British text, a woman explains that she won’t serve pork because pigs “eat human shit in the streets.” Pigs also dined on human flesh, which was available because executed prisoners, among others, were left unburied.”

Even within the context of food, it’s clear that there are many views about pigs throughout time and space.  Stepping away from pigs as food, we have Aristotle who (despite almost certainly eating pork) called pigs “the animals most like people” because of their similarities to humans; little did he know just how alike to us they are.

Physiologically, pigs are very like humans and because of this, they play a key role in human medicine.  We have made use of them in skin grafts for burns, in making insulin for diabetics and we have pig heart valves.  Pigs have been used by medical students to practise their skill and researchers have utilised the similarities.  One horrific sounding experiment used live pigs to study the effects of atomic blasts and radiation during the Cold War.  Unfortunately for pigs, they play a life saving role in today’s medical landscape.  As pigs heal in a similar way to us, unlike rodents, they have been useful for medical experimentation.  They are also used in less obvious ways such as in gelatine for pills, in sponges used in surgery, in some blood clotting medicine and in wound treatment.

Beyond medicine, pigs are also found in make up, biodiesel, toothpaste, antifreeze, bone china, glue, in the manufacturing of train brakes and even in cigarette filters…

Whilst you might think this is all in recent history, medical experimentation using pigs actually has a long history.  As far back as ancient Greece, they were being used because human dissection wasn’t allowed at the time.  It was through a ‘squealing pig’ experiment that Galen found it was the brain, not the heart, that controlled actions and thoughts.

Pigs have proven useful and have helped to develop civilisation and scientific knowledge.  They have saved lives and we have rewarded them by casting them as dirty and smelly.  We love them and we hate them.  And I am struggling to think of any other animal which is subject to such conflicted feelings…

In later posts I’ll be looking at pigs the animals, the beliefs around pigs and I will do a post looking at the pig in the queen of pentacles animal totem tarot.

Useful resources:

The Moon

I’ve somehow managed to misplace the photos I took of the moon cards… When I find them again, I’ll add it in.  In the meantime, you can find most of them on google images if you’re interested.

RWS and Pagan Cats

Both of these cards depict two creatures looking up at the moon, standing between two pillars with water in the foreground and a crayfish.  The moon is looking down on the scene and in the distance are hills.

This moon is glowing brightly but remember that the moon doesn’t shine her own light, she reflects that of the sun, which is currently hidden. Even in the dark, the sun is still there.  Like the moon reflects the sun, the subconscious reflects the world around us – inner experiences reach the outer mind through imagination, dreams and creative practices.

The moon casts shadows and distorts what we see, there is a strangeness to the world when the moon is out, nothing is quite what it seems.  Magic and mystery slides in the space between dark and light.

On the rws card, the two moon gazers are a dog and a wolf, representing the tamed and wild sides of ourselves.

“A werewolf howling under a full moon is a vivid metaphor of the power of the unconscious to bring out something primitive and non-human in the most respectable people.”
– Rachel Pollack

In the pagan cats, we have a cat and a dog instead, perhaps also representing the tamed and untamed but in a more subtle way – it has long been said that humans tamed dogs and cats tamed humans.

According to Pollack, the crawfish (I thought it was a lobster but I defer to her wisdom) at the bottom of the image is emerging from the water but will never completely come onto land, instead falling back again.  This feels a bit like the ebb and flow of the tide, a phenomenon which is itself a lunar process.  It also echoes the just out of reach-ness, just beyond seeing-ness that can permeate the moonlit night.

“The deepest terrors are the ones that never fully take shape.  We feel something inside, but we never see just what it is.”
– Pollack

Interestingly, the cat in the pagan cats appears to be lifting the crawfish out of the water suggesting an attempt or desire to pull that elusive thing out of the unconscious and into the conscious realm.  If you’ve ever tried to remember a dream, you’ll know how futile this is!

In tarot, we see two pillars as a gateway, such as that in the high priestess card.  Here we are standing on one side, on the side of the known, with the unknown or unknowable on the other side.

Wild Unknown

Where the RWS and pagan cats depict animals between pillars, the wild unknown is animal free but does feature two tall trees reaching skywards towards the crescent moon.  The sky is dark, the trees white and the moon golden and I find the simplicity of this card interesting for such a complicated meaning.

The image is a silhouette and this reiterates some of the ideas of not seeing clearly, not seeing all that is in front of you and things being distorted in some way.  The two trees are illuminated by the moon, they are depicted in white, and it suggests to me that we are being welcomed through the gate I mentioned in relation to the RWS card.  This gateway is encouraging you in, inviting you to explore your subconscious and dream world.  Make friends with the darkness, with what scares you, with your inner self.

Carrie Mallon makes an interesting observation about the wild unknown moon;

The ground is not visible in this card. The Moon is a energy that can make it hard to catch your bearings. Up might be down or down might be left might be right. This can lead to wildly imaginative adventures…or it can lead to confusion and anxiety. In the faint light of the moon, you question what is real and what is imagined, what is beautiful fantasy and what is pure madness.”

Lumina Tarot

A moon goddess looks to the reader, an amethyst circle behind her and the symbol of pisces etched in with the other details.  The book tells us:

“This is a card of intuitive and psychic strength – strong messages and insights are coming to you through your subconscious.”

Things aren’t always as they seem; deception, confusion and distortion rule here.  Fears are ever present, but in the shadows, you can find gold.  Through shadow work you can explore the darker parts of yourself consciously.  The moon can illuminate your subconscious self and if you embrace and work with it, you can harness your innate power and work towards an illuminated self.  Going through the moon realm, you can bring light to your unconscious self and grow.  It has a different power to the sun.  The sun directly feeds and nourishes our bodies, the moon gently encourages and invites us to feed and nourish our souls, ourselves.  The moon is no helicopter mom, the moon is the mother that gives you the resources, skills and knowledge and steps aside for you to discover things for yourself.

The moon encourages us to dive deep, to dream deep and to transform.

“This card is ruled by Pisces, who is, in a sense, afraid of nothing, being one with the Universe and the Universe contains all.  Remember that when pondering your fears by moonlight: this thing that so frightens you – is it inside you as well?”
– Michelle Tea

Animal Totem Tarot

Once again, we have two trees as pillars, with an owl flying in front of a full moon, over a body of water where the moon is reflected in ripples.  The great grey owl has a message for us:

“The light of the moon makes everything look different.  The trees seem to become bigger and everything around them looms like an unknown landscape… But the truth is that nothing has changed at all – merely the way you see it has changed.”

We see the world though our own unique lenses, through our experiences and emotions and this changes what we see.  We see what we expect to see, we see ourselves reflected in what surrounds us.  What each person sees will be different, will be slightly distorted by where we see it from and which pool we see it reflected in.

“How you see the Moon is deeply connected to how you see yourself.”

Further, each night we see the same thing differently.  Each night has a different amount of light which transforms what we thought was static, the trees, the water, these things change with the cycle of the moon.

As the owl swoops across the moon, she seems to grow.  Things in the dark can seem larger than they are.  What is it that you are escalating?  What do you think is bigger that it is?  Are you making mountains out of molehills?  On the flip side, what are you refusing to pay attention to?  What are you ignoring?  What is having to make itself bigger for you to notice?

Brady Tarot

The Brady Tarot moon is very similar to the animal totem tarot – two trees frame the image, an owl is in flight in front of a full moon and a body of water is underneath.  This card however also features the crawfish.  In addition, there are two coyotes in the background, one looking out of the card and the other howling to the moon.  Looking more closely and into the darkness we also find two opossoms in the trees.

Pollack describes the crawfish as symbolising the primitive, instinctual part of our self, the deep unconsciousness, a place where fears and wildness live:

“The owl and the crawfish show us the power of wild nature.  The coyotes react to this energy, but the opossoms remind us to simply accept without fear or judgement.”

This card, more so than the others I’ve looked at, illustrates the night as a realm of it’s own.  It has its own inhabitants and it’s own way of being and it’s own way of seeing.  To understand the moon realm, we must immerse ourselves in this world, become one of the characters and feel our way into the part, intuitively.

“Imagination in action.  Instinctive energy, dreams, the unconscious rising up to affect our lives.  Deep instincts that may disturb our daily life.  Animal energy, wildness.  The part of us governed by the phases of the Moon.”
– Rachel Pollack

It would be impossible to talk about the moon without also looking to some of the common lunar associations.  The moon is also about the feminine, about fertility, creation, mystery and power.  It is about the daily tides, the monthly menstruation cycles, the seasons and all of nature’s rhythms.  The moon asks us to embrace the circularity of life, the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs and to trust in the darkness and have faith that light will return.

Our Tarot

Mary Shelley is centered in the card, a full moon in front of her and what look like two horns behind her, perhaps an echo of the antennae of the crawfish?

Of course, Shelley is famous for Frankenstein, an amazing tale of the things that can happen in the night, in the imagination and what can occur when man made monsters are released onto the world.  With this we have themes of death and rebirth, of resurrection and transformations.  We lean into what can happen in the shadows, in strange dreams and fantasy worlds.

“Her chief childhood pastime was writing – “as a child, I scribbled” – and she found her own dreams and imaginings to be far more interesting than her daily life.”

I feel like Shelley is asking us to pay attention to our dreams, both night journeying as well as hopes and goals.  She is asking us to express those ideas we find in the moon light, whether that is in writing like her or in art or science or whatever it is that makes you feel most alive.

How can you draw inspiration from the world around you?  What transformations are currently taking place in your life?  What visions are you bringing to life?

“I stand to face my shadows, I learn from them and incorporate them to give myself greater power and agency”
Jessi Huntenburg

Bighorn Sheep

“Is it time to let go of your current footing in order to end up on new and improved ground?”
– Animal Allies

 

Bighorn sheep are found in north America, and like bison, there used to be vast number of them but due to hunting and disease spread by domestic sheep, by 1900 instead of millions, there were just a few thousand left.

The depletion of bighorn sheep due to human activity has resulted in more than just fewer sheep, it has changed their behaviour.  Bighorn sheep learn to migrate from one another, passing down knowledge and wisdom through the generations.  This ancestral information takes many years to gather and can’t easily be replaced.  When migration routes are altered by human activity, or when bighorn sheep are moved because it’s more convenient for us, the sheep suffer.  It takes a lot of years to build up the detailed information they need.  It’s not just the route they need to figure out, it’s where and when the fresh shoots emerge as this gives them the best nutrition that is most easily digested.  Whilst you might intuitively expect the bighorn sheep to be following the lush vegetation, they actually ‘surf the greenery’ by anticipating it.

As well as a lesson in conservation, we can learn about valuing ancestral wisdom, about respecting and honouring our elders and about how deep knowledge takes time to build up.  This is information that goes beyond just reading or learning it, it is understanding it and embodying it.  This is a long process, one that involves building on what you have in an incremental way.  It is also a reminder about the importance of cultural preservation.

Bighorn sheep have, as I think is obvious, horns…!  Rams have long, curved horns and ewes have smaller, straighter horns.  The horns are a symbol of status amongst the sheep, as well as a useful weapon.  As with other horned or antlered animals, this suggests a link to the higher plane, to gods and goddesses, an antennae that receives messages from the other world.  This ties in with Aries, the zodiac sign which is associated with the ram and represented by the horns.  Aries is the first sign of the zodiac and is a sign of new beginnings, of new starts and of action.  It’s about diving in headfirst, about charging in and about acting without thinking.  Determination, assertiveness, and initiation are important keywords as well.  Aries is also associated with Mars, the planet of war.

And the bighorn males do use their horns for conflict.  Prior to mating, males will establish a hierarchy of dominance to figure out who gets to mate with who.  This involves rutting, horn clashing, head butting and generally facing your opponents head on.  Thankfully the rams have acquired a thick skull which protects against injury during these fights.  Thus they teach us both that there are times to face things directly, to charge in head on and also, if you are going to do this, prepare for your adversary’s response.  If you are letting your tongue go wild with insults, expect some back.  If you are giving it out, grow a thicker skin.

That said, head on battles aren’t the only way.  There are three main ways of courting; a) ‘tending’ is where you find yourself a ewe and defend her from other males; b) fighting for a female that’s already being tended and c) blocking is where you prevent a ewe from even reaching the tending area.  If you play things strategically, you may be able to minimise the amount of physical clashes you are involved with.

The terrain of the bighorn sheep is certainly worth noting here.  They live on alpine meadows, grassy mountain slopes and foothills and are incredibly well adapted to climbing steep terrain which gives them protection from predators.  Their hooves are well designed for balance and grip, making them good climbers and jumpers.  They are surefooted even on slippery, scree covered slopes and only need a small space to get a toe hold.  The bighorn can take opportunities that others can’t and do so with less risk and more confidence.  This is a reminder to us to seize opportunities, to take leaps and to trust our ability to move into new areas of life with confidence.  As Aries reminds us, this is a time to act, to move, to jump.  Don’t wait, don’t overthink this, just do it!

As prey animals, bighorn sheep have evolved to have sharp hearing, a highly developed sense of smell and wide set eyes which provide a large angle of vision.  This means that its hard for anything to creep up on them, they are watchful creatures which are constantly keeping their senses alert to danger.  This is helped by their large social groups where there is safety in numbers.

The bighorn sheep is one of the most admired creatures of the Apsaalooka, or Crow, people and they have a number of sacred myths about them.  One myth explains how bighorn sheep saved a young man, imbued him with their qualities – power, wisdom, sharp eyes, surefootedness, keen ears, great strength and a strong heart.  He then returned to his people and instructed them that the river, known as bighorn river, must not have its name changed.  If they did change the name, the crow people would be no more.  Other myths focus on the virility of the bighorn sheep and how they can be a symbol of male success in both hunting and in sexual activities.

In general, this card feels like it has a very traditionally male vibe going on.  The horns are most notable on the males, the association with aries and mars is traditionally male and almost everything I discovered about the bighorn sheep was focused on the rams.  That being said, when it came to ancestral knowledge and the passing of wisdom from one generation to another, the literature talked more about the maternal line.  I think the message this card has for you today, and the success of how you implement the teachings, will depend on whether you take these traits as separate, or whether you work to combine them together in a more holistic way.

The Brady Tarot

I’ve been so excited about getting this deck! It’s taken Emi longer than expected but when you know how much work she’s put into it and just how well designed and made it is, you don’t mind at all!  Each of the 72 cards is the result of hand carved linocuts made, printed and coloured by Emi.

As normal, I (well, a lovely carer) shuffled the deck fully and then started by pulling a single card, the daughter of roots. Throughout the rest of the day I picked the deck back up and repeatedly drew the daughter of roots again and again.

The deck comes in a beautifully crafted wooden box with slide like, magnetic catch and carvings on the sides. The accompanying book fits neatly in the box and is written by the esteemed Rachel Pollack.

Having worked with them a little time, I know that each card contains many levels of meaning. Unpick one and you’ll find another. I love this because it gives the deck longevity. However much you think you know it, you’ll discover more, much like the wild unknown tarot. It is because of this that I am referencing the book more than I normally do these days.

Emi has chosen which plants and animals feature on her cards very carefully and it’s easy to overlook some of the nuances help in the image unless you know about North American flora and fauna.

My key tip for working with this deck is to look closely.  The details and subtleties aren’t there by accident.  Use the book and let Rachel guide your eye whilst you get used to how Emi has translated the cards for this deck.  Also, horns are cups, feathers are wands, roots are pentacles and arrows are swords.  The border for each suit is different which can give you a quick idea at a glance of what you’ve drawn.