Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tarot of the Animal Lords: Freewriting

For freewriting, I chose I. The Magician, XI. Strength, and XVII. The Stars from the Tarot of the Animal Lords. I focused on them in order from The Magician to The Stars. (The Tarot of the Animal Lords refer to XVII. The Star as “Stars.”) As I was freewriting, I experienced each card differently. Then as I went from one card to the next, they flowed together as one. The Magician created the reality for Strength to perceive. From Strength comes the ability to receive spiritual guidance from The Star.

I. The Magician features a fox playing “find the bean” game on a toad stool. He is standing in a briar patch. Watching the fox is a scarlet tanager and a mouse. At first glance, the fox is an illusionist simply switching the bean around. As I pondered the adage, “The hand is quicker than the eye,” I perceived that the fox is also an alchemist. With his gestures, he weaves illusion into reality. As the mouse and bird watch, he weaves them into his new reality. Making the beans appear and disappear under the cups, he challenges his audience to ponder if there really is a boundary between reality and imagination.
 
 Traditionally, The Magician combines the four elements into a fifth of the spirit. The elements are represented as the bird (air), the mouse (earth), the cups (water), and the thorns (fire), in this card. The fifth element is represented by the toadstool, the alchemy of the imagination. We, as the audience, become participants in The Magician’s creation. We join in the illusion and unite with the Magician. We bring the vital element, the spark to weld the two worlds. The Magician, as the midwife, helps to birth the new world of magic realism.

 XI. Strength depicts a mongoose embracing a cobra, as the earth under them is opening up. Behind them, several volcanoes are spewing out ash. While chaos erupts around them, two salamanders intently watch the battle between the mongoose and the cobra. Strangely, the watching salamanders are active, while the mongoose and cobra remain frozen in time.
 
 My freewriting enabled me to understand how strength balances the chaos and order. The mongoose is calmly focused on the cobra, while the cobra is focused on the chaos. There is stillness within the whirlwind. Strength becomes the balance between the rational and the irrational. If the mongoose places too much focus on the cobra, he will fall into the cracks opening underneath him. If the mongoose is distracted, the cobra will slip away. Strength is deciding when to hold on and when to let go. The salamanders remind us of the choices that we have to make to keep the balance. 

XVII. The Stars features a seahorse pouring out light as he kneels on a lily pad. Beside him on another lily pad is a nesting grebe. Stars in the sky and reflected in the lake surround the pair. A glowing star dominates the sky, as the pair float in serenity and peace. A feeling of spiritual rest fills the card.
 
 In freewriting, I pondered the grebe. Why did the artist include her in the picture? What does the grebe have to do with the stars? The seahorse pours light from the sky into the lake. He is replenishing the waters of life from the heavens. Meanwhile, the grebe is simply nesting on a lily pad.
 Grebes are noted for their graceful mating. Therefore I reasoned that the grebe was the representation of “grace.” Sitting on her nest, the grebe patiently hatches the new soul. This self will be infused with the waters of life. Therefore The Star is the soul at peace after being created by the Magician and honed by Strength. 

 Freewriting provided me with an entry into each of the cards. It allowed me to focus as I let my mind wander to consider the deeper meanings in each of the cards. Freewriting allowed free association, which brought about a deeper inquiry. For me, it was a good method to get to know the cards.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thorny Devil: Problem Solving

Known by many names, Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus) is more than an ordinary lizard. With her spiky body and crown of thorns, She resembles a walking nightmare. Her other names – Moloch, Horny Devil, and Thorny Dragon – emphasize her “hellish” nature. The scientist who named Her, Dr. John Grey certainly thought that. He recalled an ancient demon from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, when he gave Thorny Devil, her scientific name. Dr. Grey also cited the Canaanite God Moloch from the Old Testament, who received sacrificed children.

Looks can be deceiving. The only animal that Thorny Devil terrorizes is Ant. She spends her day wandering in the Australian Outback, searching for their nests. When Thorny Devil finds one, She parks Herself next to its edge. Catching one ant at a time with her sticky tongue, She consumes 45 ants a minute (2,500 in an hour). Thorny Devil is the walking nightmare for ants.

As She roams the Outback, Thorny Devil slowly lifts one foot at a time. Swaying from side to side, this small harmless lizard walks jerkily across the sandy soil. Since Thorny Devil cannot run fast, She relies on camouflage to keep Her safe. To blend into the landscape, Thorny Devil changes her colors from pale yellow to olive to brown.

Herpetologist Eric Pianka described his frustrating experience searching for a Thorny Devil. Spending a day in the Great Victoria Desert, Dr. Pianka followed the lizard’s faint tracks, which went around in a figure eight. Searching for most of the day, he found the Thorny Devil’s eating spot, sleeping spot, and bathroom spot, but no lizard. Then as evening was coming, he nearly stumbled over the Thorny Devil. For the entire day, this lizard had been sitting in the center of the figure eight. In his search for the Thorny Devil, Dr. Pianka had passed the lizard many times.
 
Well-suited for living in the tough dry areas of Australia, Thorny Devil has a unique way of collecting scarce water. When a rare shower occurs, the tiny grooves between her spikes will channel the rain to her mouth. Tilting her body forward, Thorney Devil gulps down the water. In the morning, when the dew condenses on her spikes, these grooves will direct the moisture to her mouth for drinking.

Thorny Devil uses her prickly armor for defense. Her head horns warn predators like Blue-tongued Lizard that She is painful to swallow. On the back of her neck, Thorny Devil has a satchel or false head. When She tucks her head between her forelegs, Blue-tongued Lizard sees only this large spiky “head” and retreats.

Thorny Devil is a member of the Agamidae Family (“dragon lizards”). (This Family includes bearded dragons and Australian frilled lizards.) The Agamidae of the Old World are distantly related to the Iguanas of the New World. Thorny Devil most resembles “Horny Toad” (Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)) of the Iguana Family. Living in the Southwestern United States, “Horny Toad” faces the same challenges. Although They belong to different families, these two lizards could be twins.

Living in similar habitats, Thorny Devil and “Horny Toad” have parallel lives. Both feast on ants, and obtain water using the same methods. These two lizards demonstrate convergent evolution, which means that evolutionary pathways can be predicted and repeated. How these two lizards solve their problems with similar methods is revolutionary in understanding the challenges of nature for every species on the earth.

Thorny Devil teaches problem solving. To live in her harsh homeland, She employs many strategies for survival. Her spines serve as double duty – scaring predators and collecting water. Amid the desert shrubs, her coloring conceals Thorny Devil. She eats the ants that are plentiful where She lives. An excellent problem solver, Thorny Devil teaches how to be effective and efficient. Let Her be your guide. Just remember that looks can be deceiving.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cryolophosaurus: Use Your Imagination

In 1991, the first dinosaur to be found in Antarctica was Cryolophosaurus. This opened up a new continent to dinosaur discoveries. Named for the geologist David Elliot, who first excavated this dinosaur, Cryolophosaurus’ full taxonomic name became “Cryolophosaurus elliotti.” In 1994, He became the first Antarctic dinosaur to be named. This dinosaur’s name means “frozen crest lizard.”

Life in the Antarctic during the early Jurassic was much different than today. At that time, Antarctica was further north and closer to the equator. Also, the warm Jurassic oceans allowed for plant and animal life to flourish there. However, there were still long periods without a sunrise. This continent was also cooler than other places. Not many large dinosaurs of the Jurassic could tolerate either condition very well. Medium sized Cryolophosaurus did and thrived. This meat-eater had little completion for the Pterosaurs and Prosauropods that He hunted.

Cryolophosaurus is the oldest Tetanuran to be found. Tetanurae are dinosaurs with large stiff tails. They include Spinosaurus, Carnosaurus, and Coelurosaurus. Tetanurae bore more resemblance to birds than many other dinosaurs. Because Cryolophosaurus lived in the early Jurassic, this meant that these dinosaurs evolved earlier than originally thought.

Cryolophosaurus is also noted for his oddly shaped crest. Since this crest reminded people of Elvis Presley’s pompadour, He became known as “Elvisaurus.” Paleontologists believed that his crest was used to identify who He was and to attract Females for mating. Like an Elvis fan, Female Cryolophosaurus would “swoon” eyeing his crest, Or so people could imagine.

Cryolophosaurus encourages people to use their imaginations. Picture Him singing rock’n’roll songs to his adoring fans. Imagine his home as a warm place with trees, a Graceland just for Him. Have fun with your mind pictures about Cryolophosaurus!

Thursday, July 07, 2016

GILA MONSTER: Discerning Fact from Fiction

A striking sight with her beaded skin of pink and black, Gila Monster blends well into her desert home in Arizona. This sluggish-seeming lizard intently flicks her tongue to detect a tasty mouse. At other times, She adroitly climbs the cactus with her sharp claws to hunt for perching birds. Tasting the air with her forked tongue, Gila Monster finds Desert Rat, and quickly chomps down with her vice-like jaws. Then She swallows her paralyzed victim whole and head first.

Gila Monster with her Brother – Mexican Beaded Lizard – are the only venomous lizards (Helodermatidae) in the world. Because of their venom and forked tongues, Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) and her Brother (Heloderma horridum ) are distant relatives of snakes. These two lizards are also close relatives to monitor lizards (Varanidae), who possess poisonous saliva, and could be ancestors of snakes. These two beaded lizards have an ancient ancestry, extending back to the mid-Cretaceous.

Contrary to popular belief, Gila Monster uses her venom for defense and not to hunt with. When She is angry, Gila Monster will open her mouth very wide and hiss. When She does this, her venom is pumped from her salivary glands into her grooved teeth. Thus when She bites Coyote, and clamps down hard, her venom flows into his wound. Locking her jaws, Gila Monster will hang on until Coyote howls in pain. After making her point, She then lets go. Learning his lesson, Coyote limps off.

Reclusive Gila Monster spends much of her time in her burrow. Digging deep with her heavy claws, She creates a snug home for herself. In the extreme heat of summer and cold of winter, Gila Monster rarely leaves it. The springtime is when She feasts. The rest of the year, Gila Monster lives off the fat contained in her large wide tail. (Her tail acts like a camel’s hump, storing food instead of water.)

Poorly understood, Gila Monster is the subject of many myths. More than that, these stories about Her are presented as facts. For example, Gila Monster does have powerful jaws and a tenacious bite. From this comes the legend, “Once She clamps her jaw on something, Gila Monster will not let go before sundown.” That is patently untrue. Other myths state that Gila Monster can kill with her bad breath, and has no anal opening. None of these silly stories are true, but they often get repeated as facts.

Another legend informs people that Gila Monster is a killer. Yes, her venom is toxic, but a human can easily avoid her bite. Old timers in Arizona say that only an idiot gets bitten. They add that said idiot would have to place Her on his bare leg, then annoy Her until Gila Monster bites. In other words, the said idiot would want to be bitten.

Sluggish in appearance, Gila Monster can suddenly turn and bite, usually when She senses a tasty meal. She warns those who would disturb Her, so that they leave Gila Monster alone. Separating fact from fiction is what Gila Monster teaches. Inspired by her tenacity, you can hang on for the truth. Before repeating something, discover whether it is false first. Some fiction comes disguised as the truth. Do not be an idiot counsels Gila Monster.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Megalosaurus: The Door to New Worlds

The first dinosaur ever to be named was Megalosaurus. The first fossil to be “officially” discovered (England, 1676), Megalosaurus was believed to be a giant human. As the first dinosaur to be drawn, her thigh fossil was depicted as a piece of male anatomy by Robert Plot. This prompted Dr. Richard Brookes to name it “scrotum humanum” in 1763.

Meanwhile, Reverend William Buckland had different ideas about Megalosaurus. An avid fossil collector, Rev. Buckland realized that the bones he possessed were instead from an ancient animal. After reviewing Buckland’s collection, Baron George Cuvier said that the fossils were of a giant lizard creature. (Cuvier was the first scientist to realize that extinction occurs.) In 1824, Rev. Buckland wrote a scientific paper and named this “lizard,” Megalosaurus, which means “great lizard.”

In his paper, Rev. Buckland described Megalosaurus as a giant land-living reptile who lived in the ancient past. According to him, She was a fifty foot (about 16 meters) long lizard, who walked on all fours. After examining her teeth, Rev. Buckland said that She was a meat eater. His reasoning was that Megalosaurus had sharp teeth like a monitor lizard.

Then in 1842, British scientist Richard Owen was pondering just what were Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus (an ankylosaur). These were all recent discoveries of extinct animals. Owen noted that their fossils were different from any other reptile living or from the past. Their legs were directly underneath their bodies, unlike modern lizards. Also they had extra bones in their hips. Owen grouped these three animals into their own family – Dinosauria (deinous means “terrible,” and sauros means “lizard”).

Later Owen decided to present Megalosaurus and her friends to the public. He had “life-sized” sculptures placed at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, which being held in London. Megalosaurus was depicted as a lizard walking on four legs, with a crocodile-shaped head and a hump on her back. After seeing this sculpture, Charles Dickens described Her in his novel “Bleak House.” (This was the first mention of a dinosaur in literature.)

Despite being the first named dinosaur, Megalosaurus is still relatively unknown. Rev. Buckland’s collection had contained fossils of different families of dinosaurs. Scientists first had to sift through his collection to determine which fossils belonged to what dinosaur. As more complete skeletons were found for other dinosaurs, scientists could begin to identify the bones of Megalosaurus.

Who was Megalosaurus? She looked nothing like Owen’s sculpture. Related to the ferocious Spinosaurus, Megalosaurus walked on two legs and hunted large sauropods. Her thick muscular legs allowed Megalosaurus to run fast for short distances. In this way, She could ambush and charge her prey. Also, She had large powerful jaws and long sharp teeth. Using them, Megalosaurus ripped off chunks of meat for her meal.

Megalosaurus opens the door to mystery, inviting people to walk through. Once people discovered her bones, they entered an ancient world, they never knew existed. She prompted them to consider new and strange animals. Through Megalosaurus, the world of dinosaurs came to life. Follow Her in and leave your old ideas behind.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Discovering Your Animals of the Heart

My new blog at Witches and Pagans is up.

Animals of the Heart are the animals who want to share their lives with you. Offering their friendship, these animals want to be a part of you. I prefer calling animals who bond with you as “Animals of the Heart.” For me, the terms of “totem,” “power,” and “familiar” are specific to their religious traditions. I know that people use these words interchangeably to mean the same thing. “Animals of the Heart” is a general term that I use to denote the type of animal that people feel a deep connection with.

Animals of the Heart come in all forms. Some of them have been with you since childhood. I have met people who have been happy with Goldfish as their Animal of the Heart because they had them as pets. Meanwhile, other people have been fascinated by unicorns or dragons as children. As adults, they look to these mythical animals for wisdom.

Other Animals of the Heart represent your inner character or personal characteristics. For example, my family calls me, “Squirrel.” According to them, I am always “bright-eyed and bushy tailed.” They also find me to be a bit squirrelly.

Read more at Animal Wisdom: Animals of The Heart.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Gorilla: Calmness and Strength

Lowland Gorilla
When people were first introduced to Gorillas, they believed that these primates were fiercesome monsters. King Kong symbolized people’s fear of this mammal. Since Gorillas live in the most inaccessible regions of the forests and mountains of Africa, They were the last members of the Great Ape Family to be found. Therefore, ordinary people had no ideas about what real Gorillas were like.

The largest and most powerful of all living Primates, Gorilla is actually peaceful and sociable. His easy-going nature has made it possible for several groups of Gorillas to coexist peacefully in the same region. When a strange Gorilla appears, the eldest Gorilla (Silverback) hoots excitedly, building up to an ear splitting roar. Silverback Gorilla will charge but stops short of touching the intruder. This will usually frighten the other Gorilla away.

Within His Troop, Gorilla forms a strong attachment with everyone. The strongest and most mature male – the Silverback – rules the Troop. He decides where they will eat and sleep. He is responsible for their safety and closely guards them. If Silverback Gorilla sees the Troop in any kind of danger, He will fight to protect them.

A plant eater, Gorilla especially likes bamboo shoots. Contrary to the movies, He is not a carnivore. After a day of foraging for plants on the ground, Gorilla spends the night in a tree. Nest making is simple; He rips off several branches and places them in tree nooks for a bed. Gorilla’s typical day consists of eating in the morning and evening, traveling during the day, napping in the afternoon, traveling, and then making his nest for the night.

Being very calm, Gorilla is not easily bothered. In fact, social grooming can relax Him into going into a trance. Gorilla shows interest by doing a task for its own reward. Most intelligent of the (nonhuman) Great Apes, He knows and uses language, when taught. Zoologists think that Gorilla has self-awareness like a human does.

Gorilla teaches calmness and strength. Remaining serene, He goes about his affairs. Even when a strange Gorilla shows up, He will not immediately attack. Taking control of the situation, Gorilla will state his position firmly but forcefully. As a last resort, He will attack. Learn from Gorilla how to act calmly and effectively. And keep your aggressive impulses in check.

Notes:
1. Gorillas are endangered throughout most of their range.

2. The Ape Family is really comprised of two families, the Great Apes (Hominidae) and the Lesser Apes (Hylobatidae). Lesser Apes are the gibbons. Among the Great Apes are gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and humans.

3. Zoologists divide gorillas into two groups – lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) and mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei). Lowland gorillas live in the dense forests of Africa. Meanwhile mountain gorillas live in the mountains of Central Africa. The difference between the two is that lowland gorillas have short hair and weigh less.