Local Cultus: Wildlife.

Years ago, I began to try to force connections with local wildlife. After reading a very well written post by Dver, I had a desperate need to feel my gods around me. In that desperation, I tried to force connections that weren’t there and grew upset when I found it difficult to see my gods in the urban sprawl that I call home.

Once I stopped forcing the seeming connections, things got easier for me.

Foggy Marsh

Next to the marshes; The muddy smell fills my nose; The cat tails shutter – Marshes by Jack Pedlow

Common enough in most states, routes are a favored way of getting from one place to another. Unlike the highway, there is, in my opinion, more to see and more to be amazed by. After exiting the tree-lined route, the road opens up on both sides. The road itself has been etched into what had once been a hill, perhaps filled with trees and wildlife years ago, which had been cut back in the name of progress. In the swath of open expanse, there is a marsh to one side and a crisp field of either big bluestem or Indian grass on the other.

Within these fields live a plethora of wildlife, but the most common creature I see are the wild turkeys.

The first time I saw one, it sailed over the road above my car as I drove past. I stared at the legs and wings, aghast at this huge creature above me. I had no clue what it was until much later when I saw an entire troup of them marching about with a Tom and a few ladies. They stop tractor trailers in their tracks and cars alike as they waltz carelessly across the street from one area to the next.

Over the years, I’ve watched them and noticed the quiet majesty of the creatures. I had never recognized turkeys as majestic beings until I saw the wild troupe in the fields I drive by. As I watched a hen with its Tom calmly watching for predators one day, I could see Mut in that lovely lady’s stance as she daintily searched for foodstuffs.

Though turkeys do not, perhaps, resemble the vulture iconography so often associated with Mut, I could see the protective embrace in that female turkey as she opened her wings wide. I could see the tenderness of a mother’s embrace there and before I knew it, wild turkeys as a whole were associated with Mut in a way that I could never undo.

Eagle

Close to the sun in lonely lands; Ring’d with the azure world, he stands. – The Eagle by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Not very far from the first spot I saw a wild turkey, I had my first run in with an eagle. It stood upon the side of the road very near to a large copse of standing trees that had probably been there since the dawn of time. The creature had shaggy feathers and its head bent away from me. I had no clue what it was; I thought it was a very large hawk at first.

There is a lot of local fauna that I had certain beliefs in regards to, specifically that such creatures would never end up near me. As an example, moose are, in my mind, a creature of northern climes like Maine. I can think that all I want but I wouldn’t be dumb enough to tell the moose in the outlying areas that they don’t belong here. I had always assumed I was too far north for the eagles’ migratory habits and I was rather wrong.

Seeing a wild eagle isn’t all freedom and fireworks, no matter what the memes tell you. After a friend helped me figure out what it was that I had seen, I hoped to see it again, less for a reason to associate eagles with one of the netjeru and more because of the exciting prospect that I, me, had been within 50 feet of the nation’s official bird. Albeit I had been driving past the creature at the time, it was still an experience that I wanted to recreate. They were animals seen in videos and television specials; not creatures nearby.

As much as I hoped regularly to see another eagle, it took longer than I had expected. I thought that once the eagle had stalked its claim over the area, it would be a regular feature, but it wasn’t. I have seen the eagle over in those trees since then. The appearances are rare; it’s almost like the sun peeking from behind clouds on a lightly rainy day in April. I want the sunlight to shine down on me, but the instances are few and far between.

When I first saw the eagles by the river on a different route home, it occurred to me that these creatures were akin to Re to me. As the majestic beast swooped over the traffic circle towards the river or its nest, I saw the rare appearances of Re in my life embodied in the rare instances of sighting eagles in the urban sprawl around me.

Cardinal

He shocks us when he flies like a red verb over the snow. – The Cardinal by Henry Carlile

In my family, we have a sort of unofficial tradition where cardinals tend to be associated with the deceased. My mother’s family, where this tradition is strong, is French Catholic. I’m not sure if the cardinal thing relates to that or if it’s something that they picked up over the generations from intermarriage or something. All I know is that it has soaked our familial mythos and become, well… canon.

When we go to the cemeteries to visit the deceased, we often look for cardinals. The desire to see one is like fine tremors beneath the skin; it’s not conscious at all, but the desire exists nonetheless. The cardinal symbol is less a herald and more a vessel for the spirit of the deceased person. Seeing one in the cemetery is considered a sign that the deceased is there while you visit.

Without noticing that I was looking for the little red birds, too, I began looking for cardinals at every stop to both tend graves of those I knew and those I didn’t. I began to notice that cardinals appeared when I was tending to the needs of my personal dead, though not when I was tending a cemetery. It dawned on me that, by chance or by design, cardinals had infiltrated my own relationships with my akhu.

When I stopped marveling at the fact that some things are just ingrained (and don’t necessarily merit a removal by force), I realized how much cardinals had become a part of my akhu adventures. I have limited space for a shrine to my akhu, so to keep space free, I use a small votive of a cardinal as their symbol. It was as I was cleaning off my altar space not that long ago that it finally hit that this votive was doing an admirable job of ensuring that all of my ancestors are honored in such a confined space.

I often wonder if this progression with cardinals would have manifested itself eventually even without my desire to find my gods and my religious practice in the world around me.

I guess the same questions can be born out with any of the local wildlife that has taken up positions within my religious practice. Was it just the need to see my religious practices in a public setting that lead me here today? Or was it always something that would eventually come to be if I waited around long enough?

As I create more and more connections with the natural world, in both local flora and fauna, I’m beginning to think that this is just the natural progression of things. If you live and breathe something as intense as one’s religion can be, why isn’t it possible to have those intense happenings occur across the board?

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