Really Big Deer

Irish Elk from Lascaux cave painting.

Irish Elk from Lascaux cave painting.

The Scottish goddess Cailleach Bheur roams the hillsides herding giant deer and drinking their milk. Cailleach, under various spellings, has been characterized as a deer, hare, cat, grain, serpent, gray mare, mountain, stone, and hag goddess, or as a hag goddess alternating with a maiden alter-ego. The pervasive characteristics of this deity are: female, old, and very large (even giant). I believe Cailleach is a word for a pre-Celtic concept of ancestress, and hence we should expect to find many Cailleachs. The deer Cailleach may be a reindeer, since milk and herding are part of her lore. Reindeer were indigenous to northern Scotland up to the thirteenth century. Alternatively, the deer Cailleach may be Red Deer, who also live in groups and are larger than other European deer species. Another possibility is that the deer Cailleach could be an Irish Elk, a huge species of deer (not elk) that inhabited much of western Eurasia through the Ice Age. It is speculated that the changing climate could not support the Irish Elk, but the species was able to survive in isolated pockets throughout the Neolithic, documented in the foothills of the Ural Mountains even in historical times. The male Irish Elk had beautiful, formidable antlers.

The Scottish word for shape shifting, fith-fath, literally means to take the shape of a deer. It is easy to see why deer, having such a fey quality, would be equated with this concept. Deer are crepuscular creatures, active in the gray periods of the day, and seem to appear and disappear at will. I once stood next to a doe in an open forest and did not see her, so invisible did she make herself. It was almost like she transformed herself into a tree. I have also heard anecdotes about women changing themselves into deer – always women for some reason – and I have even witnessed this phenomenon myself.

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Year of the Reindeer

Caribou in Denali National Park. Photo: Derek Ramsey.

Caribou in Denali National Park. Photo: Derek Ramsey.

The fable about reindeer living at the North Pole is almost true. They don’t live right on the Pole, but indigenous migrating wild herds today live in or near the Arctic Circle, and semi-domesticated herds reach only a bit further south. In North America, migrating caribou species, which are similar to reindeer, live in northern Canada and Alaska. The non-migrating Boreal Woodland Caribou, extending into the southern Canadian provinces, and the Wild Forest Reindeer of the Russian Altai-Sayan region (bordering Mongolia) are endangered.

Reindeer migrate in late spring from taiga to tundra, where they have their babies relatively isolated from predators. After giving birth, the females shed their antlers. Males by this time have long disposed of their heavier antlers, which would make the dangerous spring migration across hundreds of miles more cumbersome. Females and juveniles keep their antlers through the winter to dig through snow and brush seeking nourishment. An elder doe leads the herd on the trek north. Reindeer hooves are well adapted to ice and slippery bog, and reindeer are strong swimmers. In the northern territory the calves fatten with the rest of the herd on lichen and other tundra vegetation. During the fall and winter, in the scrubby forests of the taiga, they will also eat berries, willow, birch, grasses, and other forest plants. Their eyes undergo structural changes as the year darkens, allowing them to utilize the light waves they screened out during the glaring arctic summer.

Next week: Reindeer in the Ice Age.

Migrating caribou herd. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife.

Migrating caribou herd. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife.

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New Moon, New Values, New Country

Chart calculated by Astro-Dienst www.astro.com

Chart calculated by Astro-Dienst www.astro.com

 

I was told by my personal astrologer over twenty-five years ago that when you have a new moon on your birthday, that means a new life. My own observations have born this out. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, a solar return is just a birthday chart, a chart of how planets are aligned at the exact time of a yearly anniversary. Obviously a new moon solar return, while not a rare, is very infrequent, so it’s worth a careful study when it occurs. The new moon solar return I went to look at is that of the USA, which occurred this past week. A solar return is ordinarily a forecast of the year to come, but a new moon occurring on the same day means that events in this year will have a very long shadow.

I have used the origin date, place, and time given in Carolyn R. Dodson’s Horoscopes of the U.S. States and Cities (American Federation of Astrologers, 1975). You may see other charts for this solar return that look much different, if they are using a different time or place of birth.

At first glance this looks like a scary solar return, with the stellium of inner planets opposing Pluto. Astrological charts for countries and politicians have a reputation for being formidable, however, so hard aspects are not that unusual. Analyzing the astrological charts of countries is a highly specialized area, and I’m probably in over my head. I’m an Aries, though, so I’m not going to let that stop me.

There is a close grouping of planets, called a stellium, mostly in the second house opposite Pluto in the ninth house. I read this as conflicts involving legal institutions, formal religious structures, and other nations. These conflicts will touch the way the country communicates and will change some core values. There is a lot of energy in this opposition, striking deeply held emotion. The result will be a change in the way the population of the country sees itself as well as other nations. The grand trine between the stellium, Chiron, and Mars suggests that the change in values will not meet with much opposition: it will be the result, not the cause, of political struggle.

There is an interesting phenomenon in this chart known in astrology as a magic square, which is not the same thing as the magic square in alchemy and mathematics. This magic square is the geometric square in the chart, in this case aspects with Chiron, Mercury-Moon-Sun-Venus, Jupiter, and Pluto, forming a square. This is a harmonious and powerful combination, but so rare I have no experience with it.

There are some hard aspects with Venus in this chart: Venus square Uranus and Venus opposite Pluto. As a feminist I like to see conflict with Venus in a group chart, since Venus often represents women. Advances in women’s rights always come with social disruption. In this chart I see women speaking out about secrets (Uranus in the twelfth house) and attempts by legal or religious institutions to act in opposition to women’s values. There’s no assurance on whether this will result in more or less freedom for women, only that there will be a conflict in this area.

Though I see conflicts with other nations in this chart, it doesn’t look to me like any great escalation of armed conflict. I think conflicts will be in the area of trade, possibly an urge toward protectionism since they involve a second house in the sign of cancer.

Okay, but what people really want to know is, who will win the presidential election? Astrologers who know more than I answer this question by looking at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s natal charts. However, I will say that looking at this chart my money is on Clinton, since conflicts are pointing like an arrow toward Venus. Also there is what’s known as a T-square in the right side of the chart, the squares involving Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto. Jupiter being in the fifth house of children, with Venus in a harmonious sextile, says to me that there will be a focus of energy and opposition involving children. Concern for child welfare has remained a steady source of interest for Clinton throughout her political career, despite intense right wing opposition to monetary investment in children and a tepid support for children’s issues within the male-led liberal/left political spectrum. Political conflict related to children would most plausibly be initiated by Clinton.

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Deer Reader

Photo: Capillon.

Photo: Capillon.

 

I’m studying deer this summer and will be sharing tidbits now and then about this magical animal. This is a Sumerian copper plaque dating to about 2500 B.C.E. from the temple of the goddess Ninhursaga. It shows Imdugud, also known as the Anzu Bird, protected by two stags. Imdugud has a lion head and the body of an unknown bird. Imdugud is identified in Mesopotamian literature as male, though this particular image looks like a lioness to me. Imdugud is the bird who steals the Tablet of Destinies from the god Enki. Eventually Enki recovers the Tablet with the help of his turtle familiar. Enki is called the “Stag of the Abzu.” The Abzu refers to the underworld freshwater kingdom that fed the marshland of southern Sumer and the stag is probably the Mesopotamian Fallow Deer, but the title is still cryptic to me.

Source:
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.

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At the Bottom of Moose Pond

tads

The waters of Moose Mountain Pond were unusually clear when I was there Saturday, and I saw lots of these creatures underwater, so ugly they’re cute. The sounds of bullfrogs around the pond told me what these things are. This made me think about how fascinated I was as a child with the bottoms of creeks, rivers, and ponds. My brother and I would spend hours wading in the creek looking at things. It was a parallel universe that I thought about quite a bit, one that I could examine but not really enter. Today I see parents and grandparents tagging along with children carrying little nets, sharing the excitement of the underwater world while teaching the children to be gentle and not harm the objects of their curiosity. Summer is here, finally, and there are all kinds of worlds to explore beneath the surface.

tads2

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Turtle’s Choice

snappersmall

I was driving back from town this week and saw this snapper laying her eggs on the side of the road. It didn’t look to me like the best place to do that, but I guess I don’t get to decide.

Turtles are sacred to the Greek goddess Gaia and the Sumerian god Enki.

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Woodpecker Archeology

Mississippian Clay Pot. Photo: Jeffrey Reed.

Mississippian Clay Pot. Photo: Jeffrey Reed.

The woodpecker archaeological record in Europe is sparse. Woodpecker bones were found with other bird and animal bones at a Mesolithic site in Serbia and I found reference to an atlatl (a primitive spear throwing device) that had a decorative White-backed Woodpecker from an unspecified European site. Where the archaeological woodpecker record is rich is again in North America. Woodpecker skulls and bills were apparently traded. Woodpeckers are found on pottery and shell engravings. Of course, archaeologists in North America have contemporary Amerindians with tribal memories to help them interpret findings and ask the right questions. Some woodpecker designs are stylistic and might be missed without this insight. Another factor is that archaeology in North America typically goes back about a thousand years while Mesolithic Europe was ten thousand years ago. Finally, it should be considered that since pecking wood is the sine qua non of the woodpecker, effigies of the bird might have been carved in wood rather than more durable bone or stone.

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Woodpeckers and Weather

Downy Woodpecker. He looks cold. Photo: Peter de Wit.

Downy Woodpecker. He looks cold. Photo: Peter de Wit.

North American folklore says that woodpeckers predict the severity of the coming winter and that woodpeckers disappear in anticipation of extreme cold. A pervasive belief found in Europe is that the pecking is a sign of rain on the horizon, perhaps because the loud pecking of some species can resemble a distant thunder roll. In this regard, it is interesting that the woodpecker is the bird of the redheaded Norse god Thor, who wields the hammer and lightning bolt. More obscurely, the woodpecker is said to lead an observer to treasure. I have found that birds who bring rain are very often considered treasure birds.

The treasure the woodpecker is most thrillingly believed to lead to is the springwort. The springwort is a reddish root believed to draw down lightning. It can open any closed or locked door. To find the springwort magicians would seal the entrance to a woodpecker nest. The woodpecker would then fly off to find a springwort, but would be induced to drop the plant when he returned and found that the seal had been removed. The springwort sounds like a very valuable herb, but nobody really knows what a springwort is. Jacob Grimm identified it as the Caper Spurge or Euphorbia Lathyris.

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Wryneck Inyx

Eurasian Wryneck. Photo: Arnstein Ronning.

Eurasian Wryneck. Photo: Arnstein Ronning.

The Eurasian Wryneck is a drab black-and-cream bird in the woodpecker family without the woodpecker’s typical coloring, long bill, or pecking habit. She forages on the ground and appropriates abandoned tree cavities. She twists her neck in an uncanny way and for this reason she has traditionally been used in reversing spells, especially spells to win back an errant lover. In one of the Greek epics the unwilling heart of Medea, a witch-protégé of Circe and priestess of Hecate, is won using a Wryneck spell. In another myth the goddess Hera changes the nymph Iynx into a Wryneck in retaliation for messing up Hera’s love life. Iynx’s name is the root of the English word “jinx.”

Although the Wryneck sounds like a woodpecker and is placed in the woodpecker family by modern taxonomists, it is unclear how the ancients linked the two. Pan, son of Dryope, is father of Iynx, so they seem to have some relation.

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Classical Woodpecker Deities

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker. Photo: Peter Mulligan

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker. Photo: Peter Mulligan

Mars is not the only Classical deity associated with the woodpecker. There is a hero named Picus, a son of Mars who is changed into a woodpecker by Circe, the witch of the Aegean. When he returns to his manly form he has acquired awesome powers of prophecy due to his ability to understand the speech of woodpeckers. Picus later becomes the father of Faunus, the Roman equivalent of the wilderness god Pan.

Alternately, Picus is the first king of the central Italian Peninsula and the son of Saturn. A female woodpecker lands on his head one day, and the Etruscan augur interprets this as a sign of a disastrous armed conflict for the country. Picus personally wrings the neck of the messenger bird, thereby diverting the misfortune onto himself. This self-sacrificing act is more in line with that of a tribal chieftain than a stereotypical king, indicating that this story goes quite a bit back in time.

Among female woodpeckers, there is a Greek deity named Dryope, whose name according to Robert Graves means “woodpecker.” She seems to be a type of dryad. In one story she is transformed into a Lotus Tree and in another into a Black Poplar. Both times she is trying to escape the dastardly clutches of the god Apollo, which is a theme associated with the usurpation of a goddess cult by the priests of Apollo. Dryope is the mother of the god Pan.

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