All our mythology and religion originated in nature, or rather, out of our collective memory of being animals, plants, amoebas... think of myths of God/desses born of a fish or the sea, or the various creatures that assist heroes. Most God/desses have animal totems or familiars. While these are symbolic, meant to represent the characteristic 'nature' of the deity, they also give us a glimpse of what we once recognized as life-giving or taking, in the Garden.
Cobra faces off with the Mongoose tribe - one exception to the rule.
Predators were feared by all, but snakes had power even over them. The owl, with it's huge, Medusa-like eyes, on the other hand, could hunt snakes. The owl is of course Athene's emblem, rational Goddess of both wisdom and the battlefield, who's flip side is Medusa, primal serpent wisdom. We grasp the 'essence' of her nature, no explanation needed, when we see the owl perched on her shoulder. The spider was omnipotent to us when we were insects, and we haven't forgotten that, either. Think of the eight-armed Goddesses of India or Ariadne and other weaving Goddeses. Spiders, who once ate us, later taught us weaving.
Thoth (thought?) - teacher, magician, scribe of olde Egypt, and an incarnation of Mercury
We could look at Mercury, 'winged messenger,' as the humanized God incarnation of birds. Birds have their languages, rituals, songs, dances and knowledge of what the weather Gods are up to before it happens down here. They fly with the winds and currents, and communicate phenomena to us with their behaviour. Mercury's staff with two serpents intertwined reminds us of the original tree they inhabited and of DNA.
Birds like the Ibis have knowledge of three worlds - water, land and sky, and are therefore considered to be very wise. I have been taught much by watching a gull family this summer. One thing I've noticed is that they do seem to have rituals, wherein relatives come and join in the circling and squawking. This happened the first night after the babies flew, then last night after one disappeared (they are flying well and can feed themselves now). Though I am worried about what might have happened, perhaps it is natural for them to leave home abruptly and the ritual simply indicates the equivalent of a gull bar mitzvah, a coming of age.
One of the beautiful plates by Gustav Dore for Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'
The gull, and it's cousin, the Albatross have associations with the 'saviour', probably due to the sight of them meaning land was near, to sailors lost at sea. It was extremely bad luck to kill one, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.' The mewing of gulls somehow makes them tragic, especially when many people simply regard them as a nuisance and will destroy their nests, even though they are a protected species. I was told by someone called an 'angelologist,' once, that angel wings are more 'correctly' based on the wings of gulls, rather than eagles or doves (personally, I think angels appear to each according to their own vision, but this ref also makes sense).
Angel gulls ?
We have gone from nature to myth (old religion) to religion and in the process, somehow come to worship Gods simply as disassociated masks of the energy they originally embodied. Wild Mustangs lose their habitat and are shot for sport even as sports cars bear their name. (Similarly, the Tuareg people of the Sahara - one of the last matriarchal cultures on Earth - fight for their existence while an oil-eating auto is named after them).
It is important to remember that while we employ nature, animals and aboriginal peoples (people who have not lost the connection to nature) as symbols, they are living symbols - phenomena that, by simply existing in our presence, offer us all manner of teachings and a way back to the Garden.
"The field has eyes,
The wood has ears;
I will look, be silent and listen"
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