Queen of Pentacles

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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.

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Pigs: beliefs and attitudes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Useful resources:

Animal divination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a pig’s life…

As we’ve already seen, pigs attract some very conflicting opinions and that theme continues.  Despite their reputation as dirty and wallowing in mud, they are clean animals and instead of smelling bad, they have an amazing sense of smell.  They are paradox after paradox!

Pigs are exceptionally intelligent, very inquisitive and highly social animals that actively interact with their environment when given a chance.  This sense of curiosity and their playful, lively nature combine with their brains resulting in excellent problem solving skills.  They are also emotional and have their own personalities:

“Pigs display consistent behavioral and emotional characteristics that have been described variously as personality. e.g., coping styles, response types, temperament, and behavioral tendencies.”
– Lori Marino and Christina M. Colvin

It is, in part, because of their intelligence that we have been able to work with them, such as in truffle hunting.  They use their snout, which is a precise hunting tool, to rustle out the prized truffles in the leaf litter.  They find the gold in the mud.  If you are reading this because an oracle card has come up, then it might be worth thinking about this in more depth.  Are you missing something because it is hidden? Are you working to find the good in bad situations?

Pigs are also able to detect landmines using similar skills.  They have also been used to cheer people up by visiting retirement homes and hospitals, used in therapy and taken into classrooms to help children learn about animals.  According to the American Mini Pig Association:

“Pigs have been recognized by families of children with autism to help with vocalization and calming. Pigs have been known to detect low blood sugar in their owners with diabetes or detect and warn of oncoming seizures. They can ease anxiety and panic attacks and improve the symptoms of depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in some individuals.”

And the benefits aren’t just to humans.  Pigs have been called the gardeners of the forest.  Their natural behaviour means they turn over leaf litter, rotivating and ploughing as they go about their day.  They also help with composting and spreading seeds, all of which are important to the ecosystem.

Finally, apparently I can’t write blog posts these days without diving into sex… So, when it comes to pigs, here’s a few interesting titbits…

  • At one point in recent history, England was exporting fresh and frozen pig seamen to china to be used to improve their stock
  • Boars produce a lot of seminal fluid, on average about 250ml per ejaculate (humans are a mere 2-4ml) and…
  • because of the amount of fluid being transferred, ejaculation alone takes about 15 minutes and the male can’t pull out part way through because…
  • it’s penis is shaped in such a way that after a few thrusts it gets sort of locked in… Only once the act is over, can he easily remove himself.
  • After all this, the sow will give birth three months, three weeks and three days later. I don’t know how spot on that its but the three times three of it pleases me and makes me wonder about the numerological meaning of three!

Useful resources:

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:

Wren

“Tiny, plump bird, mainly russet-brown with a pale breast.  It is constantly on the move and has a very loud trilling song that is heard throughout the year.”
– Peter Tate

Whilst today we tend to think of the robin as Britain’s favourite bird, the wren is a stronger contender for the title.  They were found on farthings, featured on stamps, and as we’ll see there’s a range of folklore about them.  But before we get to that, let’s have a look at the wren itself.

They are very helpful to us as they eat insects and spiders, and their small size allows them into little cracks and crevices that other birds can’t get to.  In winter, food is scarcer, possibly hidden under heaps of snow or frozen soil.  Because of their size, they are vulnerable to the cold and combat this by huddling together and becoming more friendly as the weather turns.  This increased sociability is important as a cold winter can kill anything from a quarter to three quarters of the population.  However, when times are better, males are territorial and defend their patch from other males.  There is a season for coming together and a season for putting yourself first.

Despite being one of the UK’s most widespread birds, found almost everywhere except the most remote or highest parts of the country, it is more often heard rather than seen.  There is an invisibility here, an ability to slip between worlds that reminds me of shamans.

Little Jenny wren, small and inconspicuous, has a surprisingly powerful voice.  This is because they have an organ called a syrinx with a resonating chamber and can make use of virtually all of the air in their lungs.

I listen soundlessly. I breathe in for this wren, but then I am rapt in beauty and each note reminds me of the jewels I had in my hand as a child when I pretended that drops of water were diamonds and I was surrounded by priceless treasure. Our best applause: first silence, then song.

“He is the smallest bird I see in these woods, but his song is the loudest and this is why, openheartedly, simply, gratefully, admiringly, I love him. He dazzles my ears.””
Jay Griffiths

One lesson of the wren, is that your voice is much more powerful than you think, speak up, sing loudly, don’t let your (perceived) smallness stop you.  What you have to say matters, it will make a difference.

“even on uninhabited island rocks … [the Wren’s] … lively song relieves the awful solitudes.”
– Ussher & Warren (1900)

There may also be a message here around focusing on what you hear, not what you see.  I’ve mentioned our vision-centricness before and how important it can be to tune into all our senses.  Play some music, light a candle, whatever it is that helps you connect to yourself and feel grounded.

Once lucky enough to have seen off other males and found a female to mate with, the male wren presents the female with a choice of nests.  She selects her preferred one and lines it with feathers.  Once the little eggs are hatched, both parents take a role in feeding the chicks.  It was this cooperative behaviour that led older societies to associate the wren with sharing the work load.  Today it may be a reminder not to get stuck into gendered ideas of who should do what household tasks.  Share the work and play to your strengths, even if they aren’t what stereotypes suggest you should be doing.

A Wren’s Nest by William Wordsworth starts with a beautiful stanza describing the wren’s nest, a place of comfort and of safety, snug and cosy.  The protective feeling of being wrapped up warm in blankets.

AMONG the dwellings framed by birds
In field or forest with nice care,
Is none that with the little Wren’s
In snugness may compare.

Much of what I read about the wren, and know from my own observations, suggests a delight in the seemingly ordinary, an enchantment with life, an enthusiasm and a joy that comes just from being in the world.  This is definitely something we can all learn from.  What brings you alive?  What makes your heart sing?  What feeds your soul? What nourishes your heart?

When it comes to folklore, the best place to start is the name.  The latin name is Troglodtyes Troglodyes and means cave dweller whilst the word wren comes from the anglo saxon word wrœnno which means lascivious.

A common, much repeated piece of wren folklore is about the king or queen of the birds.  A Scottish tale of the eagle and the wren involves all the birds gathering and deciding they wanted a queen, but it was impossible to decide on who.  Some wanted eagle, others wanted wren and eventually wren suggested a test to decide the matter, whichever of the them could fly the highest would be queen.  Everyone was sick of talking about it so agreed, even though it seemed an odd suggestion from little wren.  Both birds took to the air.  When wren had got as high up as her little wings could take her, she landed very softly on eagles back.  Eagle continued to fly higher and higher until she could go no higher.  When she returned to the ground, the birds declared that eagle would be their queen as she flew the highest.  The wren poked her head out of eagle’s feathers and said that no, it should be her because when eagle could fly no more, she had flapped off eagles back and thus had flown higher.  Whilst I feel like this was a great case of intellect over physical size, the other birds didn’t agree and said that eagle was their queen.  Similar tales are found around the world, including Ireland and a version from Zulu lore.  Some versions centre around finding a king but I like the idea of the wren as queen better!

“The robin red breast and the wren, Are God Almighty’s cock and hen.”

The wren as queen is also echoed in the idea of the robin and wren as god’s birds.  Traditionally, the wren has been seen as the wife of the robin and where robin is said to have brought fire to the land, the wren is said to have brought water.  Because of this duality, you might want to consider the robin as well.

In Scotland the wren is called ‘The Lady of Heaven’s hen’ and if maltreated cows milk would be stained with blood. Similarly, French peasants supposedly called it poulette de Dieu, or god’s chicken, and thought that the wren was at the stable when Jesus was born and had covered him in moss and feathers.

Other beliefs around this little bird include it being lucky if a wren’s feather falls on you, if you hear one singing it’s a sign of good fortune and it was thought that wren feathers would protect you against various perils, especially if you were at sea.

Unfortunately, other stories around the wren and the sea aren’t so positive, at least not for the wren herself.  It was thought that a sea sprite haunted shoals of herring and could conjure up storms before flying away in the form of a wren.  Obviously, this didn’t make the wren popular among some fisherfolk…  In fact, Manx fishermen took dead wrens to sea with them as protection from the storms.

They may also have been concerned because of a story from the Isle of Man about a fairy, who was really a siren, that so beautiful and had such a lovely voice that she lured and charmed many men, drowning them.  Eventually a brave knight was able to withstand her and tried to destroy her but she escaped in the form of a wren.  After this, she was condemned to appear in this form each year until a mortal could succeed in killing her.

This led to the strange annual practice of hunting the wren, a tradition associated with St Stephens day.  A wren was killed, hung on a pole and carried in procession.  everyone who gave the bearers money got a feather for protection.  This was carried out beyond the Isle of Man and we have an associated rhyme which comes from Ireland:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
St Stephens Day was caught in the furze
Come, give us a bumper, or give us a cake
Or give us a copper, for charity’s sake

Despite, or because of, this idea of the wren as powerful and destructive, we have superstitions which protect the wren.  In England, to kill a wren, or to disturb its nest would mean you’d have bad fortune by the end of the year.  If you tried to steal wren’s eggs or chicks, your home would be struck by lightening.  The latter is explained by one blogger as being because the wren was sacred to the thunder god Taranis who used lightning as a weapon for protection.  It was also said the wren was sacred to Taliesin, the great bard from welsh mythology, quite possibly because of the wren’s beautiful song which, like the nightingale, inspired poets and musicians across time.

Another illustration of the wren’s power is seen when the evil forces of the deep dark cold days of winter are appeased by a sacrificed wren.  You really shouldn’t go overlooking something or someone just because of their size.  If this little bird can summon storms and banish winter, what can you do?

Turkey – Animal Allies

A lot of my turkey knowledge was informed by The Turkey, An American Story by Andrew F. Smith. If you are interested in learning more about the history of turkeys and how they came to be so important in America, do check it out. 

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For this card, I think we need to acknowledge different cultural meanings, I mean we do for all cards but this one in particular given how Americans associate them with thanksgiving and in the UK it’s Christmas instead.

Turkeys have come to have social, historical, cultural and culinary significant in America and without them (and deer), settlers would have had a very different time and thus the world today could have looked very different.

“No other American bird has received the lavish amount of attention bestowed upon the turkey.  It is not hard to understand this fascination.  The wild turkey is not America’s biggest bird – the swan and crane are larger – but turkeys do not migrate and are abundant throughout the eastern United States… They are also handsome birds that command the attention of anyone who sees them.  A wild turkey’s habits are unusual, it’s behaviour extraordinary and its vocalisations quite singular in the avian world.”
– Andrew F. Smith

Way back, many, many years ago, wild turkeys lived in Mexico and throughout North America.  They inhabited woodlands and were nearly hunted to extinction – by the same colonists that owed their success to them…  Habitat destruction was another cause of the population collapse, again down to the colonies…  The timing echoes that of the population crash of bison and many other north American creatures.  With conservation efforts, numbers have now increased to over 7 million.

But stepping back in time again, very little seems to be known about early domestication but the Spanish did encounter domestic turkeys in Mexico in 1518 and went on to introduce them to Spain, shortly after they moved through Europe and had arrived in England by 1541.  Initially eaten by upper classes, by 1577 they had become the cheapest bird on the English market.  Come 1573, it has been noted, turkeys were a staple of the English Christmas dinner, taking a reprieve for a while but being back in vogue by 1792 when John Gay wrote:

“From the low peasant to the lord
The Turkey smokes on every board”

This tradition would travel to New England and become established by the early 19th century.  Today, turkey is more associated with thanksgiving, but why?  Well, first I want to note that Thanksgiving stories are almost all lies and I was going to explain why but it’s incredibly complicated.  What I will say is that whilst thanksgiving feasts were a thing, it was probably down to the great efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale (she also wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb) that America has a Thanksgiving holiday in November.  She strongly felt that there should be a third holiday in the year (in addition to Washington’s birthday in February and Independence Day in July).  She campaigned for many years, writing to government and prominent people to try and declare the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.  She nearly succeeded in 1859 but it wasn’t until 1863 that it was officially declared by Lincoln.  In terms of why the turkey, well, as non migratory birds, turkeys were in supply and of a reasonable size in autumn and so were an obvious choice for a celebratory feast.

“The turkey was just a big bird to raise, hunt and consume until the American War for Independence, when it began to acquire symbolic value.  The new nation needed to differentiate itself from its English roots, and “American” foods began to take on nationalistic values.”
– Smith

The increasing demand for turkey would go on to change the beast itself.  Breast meat was particularly important to consumers and so turkey breeds were crossbred to increase the amount per bird.  The result was turkeys that had such wide breasts and short legs that they couldn’t mate… This means that artificial insemination was the way forward… Nothing all that natural about the centrepiece of your Christmas table…

Whilst it is an aside, it’s interesting to find out where the phrase cold turkey came from.  First, we need to know that the turkey has been a symbol of honesty for about 200 years and led to the saying to “talk turkey”, meaning to speak frankly.  Then, over time, “talking cold turkey” came to mean speaking frankly, but with cold, harsh, unpleasant facts.  This eventually evolved into “cold turkey” and was first recorded to mean the abrupt stopping of drugs in 1921.

Another turkey related fact from America 200 years ago is the pulling of the merrythought, a custom we know today as pulling the wishbone.  As we’ll see, the turkey is a creature of abundance, so before you make a wish, consider what you already have.

There are many interesting tangents I could go off on but perhaps the most relevant when it comes to the oracle card is the idea of turkeys as stupid.  As the turkey was valued for breast meat and not intellect, we have domesticated and refined a bird which is cumbersome and not necessarily bright (although recent research suggests that chickens are cleverer than we thought so maybe the same will prove true for turkeys).  Anyway, the alleged stupidity of turkeys led to the phrase gobbledygook, meaning “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms”.  Are you communicating clearly and simply or are you over complicating things and convoluting the message?  Perhaps you’re being underestimated or even underestimating yourself.

The reality is that wild turkeys are inquisitive, curious creatures which are interested in things that don’t benefit their survival, showing us an appreciation of things just for the joy of it.  They are playful and despite their reputation as stupid, they have a profound vocabulary which includes specific vocalisations for individual predators.

Turkeys are natural foragers and eat almost anything they can find (again we have the theme of abundance popping up), what are you overlooking or missing in your hunt for something that matches the image in your head?  Have you fallen into the rom-com trope of ignoring the best friend because they don’t look like your idea of love?

Whilst most birds are associated with air, I feel the turkey is more of an earth card – whilst they have wingspans of up to 6 feet, they are not especially aerodynamic or graceful when they do fly.  Instead they use their wings to help them jump into trees for safety.  Perhaps you could bring a dose of reality to your lofty ideas?  Bring yourself back down to earth.

Like the bison, the turkey is a symbol of fertility, gratitude and abundance.  They were used in ritual to ensure a good crop and the various parts of the turkey were used in many ways.  Obviously they were eaten as poultry, but they also provided eggs and feathers which were used to make coats, blankets and umbrellas.  They were also turned into hearth brushes, quills, dusters and used to stuff mattresses and pillows.  The bones were carved into spoons and beads.

They are also about sacrifice, giving yourself so that others can live and harvests which puts me in mind of the six of pentacles in tarot.  Reversed, this reminds me more of the 4 of pentacles and holding on so tightly to what you have out of fear of losing it that you can’t get anything more.

“In present day urban life, we are taught to acquire and get ahead.  The person with the most toys wins the game.  In some cultures, no one can win the game unless the whole of the People’s needs are met.”
– Medicine Cards

Giving and receiving, sharing and enjoying are important here.  To give something away can be a gift to yourself.  What is it that you have to offer the world?  What is it you are abundant in?

Questions to think about when the turkey shows up include what are you sacrificing, is it deserving of your sacrifice is it the right thing to be sacrificing yourself for?  What I have in mind as I type this is a job that’s draining the life out of you, demanding all your time and energy and ideas but which gives you nothing in return; no sense of satisfaction, no acknowledgement etc.  On the other hand, giving all your time and effort to a career you love is a sacrifice that might be worth making.