When I teach “Wisdom of the Body” there is a stage where we do animal movements. This is derived from what I have felt in myself, and know from physiology as well as what I have seen in others, particularly small children who up to a certain age become fascinated with animals and so sometimes do animal movements. In older more archaic ethnic cultures we also find a heavy emphasis on the meaning of animals for needs of survival – food, clothing and hunting – but also on a more psychological or spiritual level; the appearance and meaning of animals in dreams or waking visions and in the synchronicity or “coincidental appearing” of certain animals in our lives. My own experience over the years has repeatedly taught me some of us – if not all – have certain “totems” or “animals appearing at significant moments” which can indicate to us we are on “Our Path”. It is somewhat similar to the idea of being in a particular class room at school or even a “Secret Society”! When you are a member you recognize each other by your totem or favorite animal! sports teams use this too. It is a very deep instinctive kind of thing. But in the case I am writing about it is also a very personal almost intimate thing which if shared could only result in ridicule! so sometimes it is good NOT to speak of it. I am reminded of St. Frances and his suggestion, “Preach the Gospel always and sometimes use words…” !
But for those readers who “get it” I will write the following –
At one time I heard a red headed and hard headed extremely Feminist College Professor ask a student who a writer wrote for? who was the audience? her conclusion was that Writers write for themselves. Well I disagree. That seems very short sighted to me. And it seems to me to be selfish as well. I believe we write for others. Because there is a hidden group of people connected to us out in the world. We are connected by mutual interests. Some we will never see, meet or have direct contact with. But oddly these people are still our friends as they are among our tribe, our people. The term of old is “Kindred Souls”. Sometimes we meet them in airports, or foreign countries or on the web. In the old days we would become “Pen Pals” or friends through letter writing. Now we meet on the World Wide Web. What connects us? is it a common spirit of some kind? a common idea? some kind of field of rapport or sympathy? I suspect it is all of those things and more. Part of that field of consciousness, of friendship and sympathy is the manifestation of a common or shared intelligence.
This “Shared Intelligence” can be summarized by that moment when another person says, “yes I know – I feel the same way.” This “feel the same way” or shared interest is often represented or embodied by an animal in old cultures. In other words we sometimes share an affection for the same animal. Some old cultures would TELL you what animal or tribe you belonged to. This was very related to family, tribe and blood lines too. But in modern times it seems blood lines are not as strong as Kindred Souls – which exist regardless of race. The popularity of watching cats on facebook is typical of this. But it is just a small fin coming up out of the Totem Soup! There are after all – other animals besides cats and dogs! but they do occupy Sacred Totem Territory in the human mind. And in this Sacred Totem Soup there are webs and connections of friendships which very few people ever explore—- but some do. Diana King had it with otters and Monteen McCord has it with hawks. The web of friendship reaches out into the outer world but also the inner world -and through this web there is a very great communion, a friendship —which tells us we are never alone—- and there is always somehow a comrade nearby. Those of us who share one of these friendships in the web of Nature one could perhaps say our animal friends, sometimes called “Totems” —- are deeply significant of something more profound within us and outside us —- than we can imagine…
I loved birds as a child and at five years of age had a British grandfather who once sat on the swing in the backyard with me in the afternoon sunshine and quizzed me on bird traits and habits. I was glad to recite and remember all about Birds. This was like the Gold of Knowledge for me. Grandad had survived the Battle of the Somme having been a courier on horseback and my mother always said when it was all over- and he made it home- putting his own key in the door of his house was one of his great moments and once in the house he would not even kill a fly- he would catch it in his hands and take it out of the house…so I recall sitting beside this man who had been through hell – as the yard swing moved slowly back and forth on its creaky chain and his amicable British (not so different from Attenborough) voice would say, “And how large a wingspan? and how many eggs does it lay? how far does it migrate?” And in this way we contemplated the majesty of nature.
Later my life grew into the study of medicine, martial arts and yoga. My bird friends were left behind for many years. Or I thought they were. Fortunately some of my teachers were part of the Bird-Tribe and they reminded me of bird enthusiasts like, Audubon, Roger Tory Person, W. H. Hudson and Richard Jeffries. Ivan Sanderson was among these lovers of Birds and Nature too…So I was able to take birds with me into my intellectual reading life…one of my martial arts teaches was Robert Smith and it was he who would remind me of Wilson of the Antarctic and his meticulous water color studies of Birds…Wilson would go up into the “Crow’s Nest” of the ship in the early morning to pray and meditate. His meticulous arctic and animal painting was done while dipping his hand in and out of a fur glove to prevent frost bite. He died young on one of these expeditions and I think it was Scott whose body was found frozen besides Wilson’s his hand resting on Wilson’s heart. There remains a stained glass window dedicated to one of his expeditions at the church of St. Peter in Warwickshire, England.
I am grandfather age now and I am visiting in Spain, in the south in the hills of Andalusia. Here there is a lot of beautiful bird life and the air in the morning is full of song. And it was here that I began to have a new life with birds and also other animals too. And perhaps even – as a result – a new life with myself…And during my initial time in Spain I met Mrs. Swallow.
Chapter 1 April
It was during late April around the time of the visit of my martial arts student Andreas- a swallow began alighting on the bars of my window…it was cute…she would chirp in a sort of descending trill…well she would come about every hour in the morning and then a little less through the day being gone in midday and returning in the eve for more chirping…if she did not find me at one window she would go to one of the others…my “Casita” (Cottage) is aligned with the four directions and there are windows for each side…the swallow would go to the one I was near…
after some days of this continuing visitation I decided it was an omen for Andreas to begin studying the Swallow form in Hsing-I (a kind of Chinese Martial Art) which I began teaching him…it is a form of advanced Hsing-I (a kind of Gung-fu or Wu-shu but not of the modern commercial variety) and it is difficult requiring more than normal amounts of flexibility and it features some jumping and squatting movements making it very challenging. If you go to my facebook Wisdom of the Body page you can probably find me doing it on camera there.
Still she comes. Going on two weeks now. Less but in the morning and evening. sometimes she brings a fellow swallow with her. She has about three or four main phrases…these are soft and hard burblings – almost river- like often beginning and ending with a kind of clicking whistle. The are not “songs” but seems to be more like lines in a poem. They are subtly varied with beginning and ending tweets which are also articulated -I suspect- also beyond my range of hearing. Perhaps a dog could hear it with their sensitive ears. These visitations continued sometimes as often as every two hours or so. After a week I decided -due to Mrs. Swallow’s very determined persistence -I should look into the meaning of the Swallow. After all I was not feeding her and she was not building a nest on the wall of my casita—so it seemed very strange. So as I studied due to her persistent reminders – many interesting ideas emerged.
The Virtues of the Swallow
The habits of the Swallow are exemplary of Traditional Virtues. They are among the few birds which mate for life. And if one dies the other stays alone. Moreover they require freedom to reproduce as they are unable to mate in captivity. So the Swallow with their relational instincts require complete freedom. There is a human lesson also in this kind of love commitment which remains connected to a deep sense of freedom. It is something many people hope for and few achieve – if it can be “achieved” at all. Also the swallows never depend on people. Some legends suggest they learned not to (more on that later). The swallows build nests around the homes of people but they do not take anything. Unlike the sparrow or pigeon which steals crumbs from the table and is often fluttering around outdoor dining areas begging for food the swallow stays to its own houses and does not -as a rule – eat the food of people. The swallow snatches their living food in the air and on the wing – in flight. And this requires wonderful and amazing spins and twists in the air.The swallow is not only fast but also agile and able to change direction with ease. Would that humans could learn to pilot their lives with equal ease! They also show another trait – one essential for survival – fantastic endurance. In their migrations the swallows cover a 19,000 kilometer route. With these traits of independence from humans commitment to each other -and great endurance -the swallows also have a kind of sexual equanimity; the swallow pair takes turns sitting on their eggs while the other partner goes to gather insect for the babies! these insects are stashed pelican-like in the lower jaw of the swallow who then flies home to deliver the food.
The Swallow in World Culture
Around the world various folk tales and traditions have followed the swallow over the years. In Germany for some reason I have yet to find, the Swallow is called “Mary’s Bird” – a sort of totem for one of the Mary’s – either Magdalene or The Mother of Jesus. Along these same lines of Christian Tradition- in the apocryphal Gospels- it is said Jesus as a child made birds of clay.The Koran also cites this incident. A passing Pharisee saw these birds of clay (perhaps it was the Sabbath when work is forbidden) and went to break them. As he went to smash the birds of clay Jesus clapped his hands and they turned into swallows and flew away. This reminds the author of Zen Buddhism in which there is a riddle which asks “Can you hear the clap of one hand?” but I guess in Christianity-because of the clay swallows of Jesus- is about “Can you hear the clap of two hands?” Some African tribes (I have not been able to identify which ones) tell the story of a Shaman who took a piece of clay (here a linkage to the previous story and to the creation of Adam) and then covered it with the shawl of a woman (a deep symbolism about the power of the feminine to absorb the masculine) and when he removed it- there stood a swallow.This reminds me of when I lived in Taiwan my teachers daughters and I used to make bread and after kneading the dough we would place it in wooden buckets and put the buckets outside on the porch- with a damp cloth over the top. The bread would rise underneath after several hours. This also speaks as a metaphor about what we cover up in our lives building power.
In some of their legends the Africans say also the swallow can fly so high he can discover the entrance to Heaven. They can also dive very low, sometimes skimming the water to take a drink. Greek Mystic Kazantzakis wrote that “The Gate of Heaven is very low.” The idea being that humility brings one closer to heaven than arrogance. It is however not just the vertical; the up and down flight of the swallow which can be extreme but also the side to side movement; the sudden changes IN ANY DIRECTION which characterize the movement of the swallow. They seem able to dart off in any direction without any preliminary movement or sign.
In Cirlot’s dictionary on symbolism the Swallow is a symbol of Isis and Venus. Isis is Ancient Egyptian and the Queen and Consort of Osiris. For the readers unaware of the tale of King Osiris he was betrayed and cut into fourteen pieces and his Queen had to put him back together again. (here a note to direct the readers attention to the power of the feminine to heal or bring together pieces -making them united again or whole). And so Isis had to put Osirus’s fourteen pieces together but the fifteenth piece was missing and it was his penis! well a man is not a man without his penis! so Isis made a penis. And she made the penis out of gold. Why gold? what is the meaning of gold? well yes -gold is “valuable” but there is more. Gold is the metal which stands between Silver and Lead as the metal which mediates electricity. And the Egyptians had an understanding of gold and it’s relationship to electricity as they had silver and gold plating devices! Gold does not conduct electricity as easy as silver- or even copper. But Gold does conduct electricity faster than lead and tin. So Gold is in the middle level of capacity – it is the “middle conductor” of the “Seven Precious Metals” which also parallels the “Seven Visible Planets” and the Seven Note Scale. Because of this Gold can be called a kind of transducer. Gold steps fast electricity/life energy down to slower electricity/life energy due to its electrical resistance. So here we see in the making of the Golden Penis something which is not natural but is consciously made to transduce. Moreover it is not simply a matter of lowering a speed or power but of an ability to take greater power and step it down to manageable proportions in order to make life. So here the Gold Penis is about consciousness; not wild natural force/energy. Now this idea of the conscious use of sexual energy pertains also to how it is applied. This kind of creative power is not only consciously made but also – because of that – consciously applied. Remember the gold penis was made by Isis but used by Osirus. So each of them had a role in the conscious application of this Divine Dildo! Keep in mind it was their Fate to create Horus! the Falcon of the Resurrection – their child. And there is also something in this story paralleling Arthurian Tradition – where King Arthur was given his sword or his power by the Lady of the Lake. There is no record as to how she made the sword but we know Arthur failed in his use of it! At the end of his turbulent life he also returned it to her.
So there is a double vibration here a sort of doubled octave – a resurrected god gives birth to another more pure god – in fact a whole god who has not been damaged in any way nor reconstructed.
Horus is – in many ways – the Egyptian depiction of Sacred Regeneration and Re-birth. In this way he is a sort of pre-historical Jesus. A being which due to consciousness – particularly Attentive Love – can be awakened or even created from what was once dead. This too is also part of the fabric of meaning in the Hawk and also the Swallow symbolism. In fact in myth there is some overlap and confusion between them – Some very small hawks DO look like swallows – they are called “Sparrow Hawks”. So in Egyptian symbolism Isis is connected to the swallow and Horus through the hawk.
These two form a kind of Alchemical Pair or Yin and Yang which creates life from death. And so these two birds seem to share an ongoing kind of team work in our study of the meaning of the swallow.
Dr. Giuseepe Pitre a Folklorist at the University of Palermo, Sicily wrote an extensive text on Swallows and their folklore and in this text he writes of the following tales attributed to the swallow which I paraphrase –
One tale tells that a swallow pulled a thorns out of Jesus’ eye while he was on the cross (this may well also relate to “The Eye of Horus” in Egyptian Mythology) while another legend says due to their painful lament -while he was on the cross -Jesus cursed them-or requested them (!)- never to lament again but merely to burble and chatter as they now do! and further this old folk tale says the swallows were more brightly colored birds originally but they had to put on the dark navy/black coat of mourning after the death of Christ (they had in effect to “wear” their shadow or dark aspect) while ritually marking their throats with a touch of Christ’s blood (one possible meaning here is the keeping of pure speech). Continuing in the Christian Tradition is the tale of St. Guthlac who it is said- made little baskets for the swallows to use to build their homes. When asked why the Swallows gathered about him so much Guthlac replied in profound fashion, “He who is united to God in pureness of heart sees -in his turn-all created beings joined to him.” And so it seems St. Guthlac believed the swallows perceived his state of unified pureness and in fact were the actual proof of it. Apparently for St. Guthlac the swallow was an important link to God.
The Navaho Tribes of the Americas agreeing with the Africans say the Swallow could indeed discover heaven and in fact discovered the different Worlds found in each compass direction. According to the Navaho the Swallow itself comes from the second world, the world of the East which is the world of Blue. This is in contrast to the First World which is Red. (Recall the Taoists see the Swallow of the South World as Red so here we can note the Swallow is associated with both East and South, Blue and Red which are also the colors found in various species of swallows which likely migrate from these directions). The Navaho also say there was a time when humans and Swallow People lived together. (that is to say more closely than they do now) What interests me here is in the context that the swallow is not simply a bird but is among what the Navaho call “The Swallow People”. As though the Swallow represented an actual tribe or race people – a complete culture. Perhaps because the swallow’s nests look like little mud pueblo buildings as found in the southwest U.S. Continuing on with this legend it is written after 23 days (23 is also a magic number in many World Traditions) some of the humans committed a discourtesy and so the Swallow “People” left on the 24th day. (I get ahead of myself but my swallow too ceased to visit me after about that amount of time for a week or so).
The Circassians of the Caucasoid Mountains have a humorous legend about the swallow which tells that Solomon had a great all inclusive Animal Gathering. (According to some ancient Jewish traditions Solomon had a magical ring which enabled him to talk to the animals).
At this great animal gathering the Snake through his convincing use of words persuaded Solomon –
(remember in Christian and Jewish Tradition the Serpent -originally-before it was cursed- could walk and talk and stood upright- and was also described as beautiful).
– that Serpents should live on the sweetest blood in the world. In response to what the Serpent said Solomon -as an obliging King -then sent out the mosquito to find the sweetest blood (who else?). While the Mosquito was out on his “rounds” taking blood samples he met up with the Swallow. The Swallow asked him who had the sweetest blood? the Mosquito said that man had the sweetest blood. The Swallow said, “What did you say?” and the Mosquito opened his mouth and the Swallow quickly plucked out his tongue! so now the Mosquito can only buzz! The Serpent hearing about this unfortunate misfortune of his ally and friend the mosquito – tried to eat the Swallow. But the swallow was too wily and fast and escaped the bite of the Serpent. And that is why the Swallow has a forked tail! The Serpent had bitten the tail in the middle and made it forked! Well I guess that is better than a forked tongue like the Serpent! and perhaps the Swallow had something to do with that as well!
The Swedes have an odd but charming tale which says a mischievous little girl stole a spool of red thread and some scissors from her mother. A witch saw this and wanting to teacher the little girl a lesson turned her into a Swallow! all the shapes are indeed there; the scissor tail, the reddish throat and the cute disposition! and the swallow’s quick constant head movements give it the air of “What IS going on here??” as though the little girl is still inside the swallow wondering how she got this “Swallow Costume” on!
Another legend says it was the Swallow who warned Alexander the Great of a betrayal. Pliney the Elder writes of a man named Caecina who sent messages of who won the horse race by sending “Messenger Swallows” (rather than Pigeons) with stained feathers as indicators to his friends. Pliny also writes of a red or white stone found in a swallow’s nest after seven years and claims these stones have various occult properties. The red stone is supposed to be good for healing, particularly epilepsy. Students of alchemy will recognize some of the meanings in this involving red and white stones which are produced through alchemical operations. Along these lines the herb known as Celandine blossoms around the time of the arrival of the swallows and also was attributed healing properties especially for the eyes. Another ancient historian Fabius Pictur writes also of swallows being used to carry messages in the form of knotted strings attached to their legs. This is also interesting in that “knotted strings” or “jesses” are used on hawks legs for Falconry.
Arabs call the swallow “The Bird of Jesus” and it is also sacred to the Algerians. Some German Traditions assert that the swallow was an accomplice to God at the creation of the world. Like the Navaho and some African tribes the Germans connect the swallow to the earliest creation of the earth. The Belgians say of the swallow, “They bring water/rain.” In Portugal it is said, “They wash the feet of God” (this may well overlap with the washing of Christ’s feet by Mary Magdalene connecting to the tradition of the swallow in Germany and the idea of being “Mary’s Bird”.) An old Roman belief was that the swallows were the reincarnated spirits of babies lost in childbirth thus demonstrating the spirit of the babies were actually alive and now – free. Perhaps a mere silly sentiment for sad mothers but also perhaps a hint at things of the Spirit and a reason of hope. There is a child like innocence about swallow and an amicability which is truly child-like.
Sailors of old often used the tattoo of the swallow on the arm or chest to signify a safe journey and Good Fortune. At times they would get a swallow tattoo on one part of the body before a journey for good luck -and then get another tattoo upon completion of the journey. Some sailors also believed the swallows carried the Spirits of Sailors who had died at sea. At times migrating swallows would use the masts or railing of ships to rest and the sailors seeing this saw the swallow as a fellow adventurer.
The Swallow in China and India
In martial arts and meditation—in the old pre communist Hsing-I (a Chinese Martial Art) which the author studies – some of the postures of the Swallow (a much longer choreography than the modern Wu-shu version) has duplicate positions in Indian sculptured goddesses which connect to Shiva. There seem also connections to the Garuda or Eagle. The bird known as the Kite-a kind of hawk- has a forked tail -which seems to identify and link both Swallow and some species of Eagle in Chinese ideograms. In fact there are several kinds of fork tailed hawks which resemble large swallows.
It seems to the author the word for Swallow in Chinese –
燕 “Yin” or “Yen”
and the word for Eagle
Yen and Ing=the In and Ing could be mistaken for one another due to variations in pronunciation)—esp. if passed from an illiterate teacher to a student (as happens in traditional martial arts teaching at times)…so the author thinks there was a confusion between these two and so also a kind of mental mergence where they approximated the same thing. The differences are interesting though – The Eagle as a large predator who is mated to the same mate even after their death – a model of marital loyalty—who often does not build a different nest but simply builds onto the old one – creating a massive structure eventually, often weighing tons. Usually in a very remote high place. And then the Swallow – which also mates for life, tiny by comparison, incredibly agile, able to flit and rotate in the air like a flying bullet out of the barrel, snatching flies from the air with a nonchalance…and often building very close to humans — even under their roofs! perhaps not oddly these two do get together at times – by the sea – the Osprey -a kind of sea hawk – sometimes has swallows living downstairs in his large oversize nest! the swallows serve as an early warning system for the presence of other predators and the osprey in the symbiotic relation protects also the swallows. So there are at times then -very genuine Hawk – Swallow symbiotic relation. Add to this the fact the there is both a Swallow Tail Eagle and a Kite with a forked tail and it is easy to see the terms being close to interchangeable.
There too is a specific meaning in Traditional Chinese Taoism- the indigenous religion of China – for the Swallow; it represents the Southern energies or Red Powers in Orthodox Taoism while in some less orthodox forms it comes from the South-East with the Thunder.
If we go further into the Swallow – to – Eagle relation which is found in both Egypt and China – and follow more deeply into the meanings of the Eagle -that is -the symbolism of the Eagle- we find in the Tibetan Buddhist Initiation of Vajrapani some interesting meanings. Vajrapani is the Tibetan version of Hercules and he is -in some of the meditations – accompanied by the Garuda- which is a sort of supernatural Eagle. For those of you who don’t know who Vajrapani is- in Buddhist lore – he is the Bodyguard of Buddha.
Vajrapani is often associated with the Shaolin Temple – the legendary home of Chinese Martial arts. He is also as stated earlier a kind of Hercules- strong, adamant and carries a staff or battle hammer. Some of the meditations on Vajrapani are three fold; that is to say when you think of him you also connect him to two other beings. This allows the meditation to balance aspects of the human personality. One of the three Deities in Vajrapani meditation is the Garuda. Why three Intelligences or three Deities then? Well Vajrapani himself -the Hercules part of you- is the decision maker who does good deeds but in his heart he needs protection from his own strength!—so in his heart is another Deity; that is Hayagriva, the ancient Horse headed God who is the Judge and dispenser of justice at the end of the world when it ends with subterranean deep fire from ocean depths. Hayagriva then is the Being who can carefully judge, evaluate and weigh actions and see the Truth of things—he is what you want in your heart – not the man of action (action is not always the best course) and sometimes tragedy – as with Hercules! Hayagriva -being part horse -is sensitive and intelligent and often connected by World Mythology and Religious Traditions to Wind and Judgement and thunderous hoofs and of course the beat of the heart. And he is surrounded by fire because genuine love is hot stuff and purifies everything and so you want Hayagriva in your heart so you have a heart that purifies things, can wait patiently and judge carefully with discrimination and discernment.
But Hayagrive though pure is not a pacifist. He is active and has a battle hammer in one hand and a lasso or hooks on ropes — to catch and take prisoner or kill anyone who cannot take real Love! After all what is inside us that cannot receive and give pure love has to go one way or another!
As for Vajrapani – well he has a thunderbolt or Priest’s Wand or Vajra in his right hand and held high and ready for action! and on the tip of this is standing ready like a falcon—Garuda- the Eagle – ready to dive into action like lightning. But this Eagle-Garuda is under the control of Vajrapani AND Hayagriva. So Garuda can be a little extreme! he is ambitious and full of zeal! he must be under the control of greater intelligences. Garuda is dangerous. He is like a severe thing – a bolt of lightning. He must be intelligently and kindly directed.
The Ancient Greeks
The Ancient Greeks too have their version of Garuda. They call him Aquila.
In Greek Tradition Aquila is the pet eagle of the great Father-God Zeus. Aquila is the Divine Escort. In this role Aquila helps carry the handsome young mortal Ganymede up the mountain to Zeus. Zeus it turns out had bought Ganymede from Ganymede’s father. This was in exchange for a gift of divine horses. (like the before mentioned Heruka) In his helpful aspect then Aquila is a protective escort to Higher Things and Beings. In his wrathful aspect he is the punisher of Prometheus—-who brought Light and Intelligence to mankind— a very mixed blessing indeed as Intelligence can be used for good or evil. Because of this release of such Super Power -which Zeus took as a horrible error – Prometheus was then chained to a rock as a punishment for breaking Divine Law. So the rock was the torture chamber of Prometheus -who was attacked every evening to have his liver eaten by the zealous Aquila. I suppose the main idea in this is that Prometheus had to be kept weak or perhaps he would have broken his chains. Also there is the idea that Aquila lives off of Life Energy- as the ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed that the Liver was the Seat of the Soul. So here also Aquila can represent the negative aspect of “what eats you”. This includes resentments and negative thinking of all kinds. In Chinese medicine what eats the liver is too much alcohol and gin and they form holes in the liver—and the liver also pertains to simply eating enough of fresh healthy green plants which can also often be bitter! so the Liver is about a choice between over indulgence and being able to “take” or digest the bitter things. And if you cannot properly digest the bitter things of life—whether physical or psychological- then the bitter things can indeed eat you! and so Aquila is about all of that too!
Because the liver regenerates itself so well (in scientific fact every seven days) -in the myth -Prometheus is able to survive. However after some years of this torture Hercules himself comes along -thank the gods-and frees Prometheus. Prometheus -like many humanitarians before him- was during his time a living sacrifice -actually being eaten while still alive! true also to the meaning of the Christian Tradition of Eucharest—which is to partake of the Living Aspect of Christ. However at a certain point sacrifices are completed. And it is then at this point Hercules then comes. The Function of The Strong Man is to put his foot down and stop the torture of humanitarians. Hercules also kills Aquila who in his Spiritual Ascension does not change his nature but becomes the star stuff of the constellation of Aquila- as later the same sort of change happens to Hercules. Death comes to us all and the Greeks believed each of us for good or ill – was on a Fated Mission. And because of this the Greeks also believed our life itself was about our mission and that mission was deeply connected to the very nature of our Soul and it’s “Daemon” or Spirit (“Daemon is actually a Greek word which when used in ancient times did not indicate anything negative but meant in essence, “Spirit”). In the Greek Tradition when the mission of life is completed then at death one simply changes – transformed into a higher form- to help others.If one has made mistakes—- like the rash and zealous Aquila —- he is still what he is and is allowed to become something divine having learned his lessons already through both pain and death. The Greeks symbolized Aquila with a star and his main star in the sky is Altair which we see in the lower right of the Eastern Sky after sunset. (In the Northern Hemisphere in the summer).
The Eagle in Christian, Jewish and Persian Tradition
In Christian Tradition I am reminded of Priscilla and Aquilla in the New Testament and their relationship with the Apostle Paul. Apparently like Paul they were tent makers and being in the same guild they likely had a lot in common. The Guild System was very evolved in those days and I suspect formed both a sort of Art-Archive and also a kind of Trade Union for the lives of these people depended on their trade. Weaving was very evolved and sophisticated and tent makers in particular used a particular kind of black goats wool which was found to take the heat and stress of desert life and this included the sewing of goatskins together as well as weaving of fabric. Besides the goatskin walls and ceiling of the tents, the floors of the tents were covered with rugs very much like the “Persian rugs” of today; sometimes finely woven with fascinating designs – after all it was a home and I am quite sure the women involved wanted a good looking place! that brings up another set of weavers who traded with the Jews, Christians and Arabs of the time. These are called “Sufis”. The word “Suf” has been translated as meaning “Wool” so they are the ‘Wooly Ones”. In the Sufi (Mystical Iranian -Arabian) tradition there is a particular group called “Naqshabandi”. These particular Sufi’s are known also as “The Designers” due to the fact they carry a heritage of weaving the rugs for the floors of desert tents.The rugs often contain extremely precise mathematical geometric figures sometimes related to numerology, astrology, astronomy and physics! and of course they also weave plant and animal shapes and one of the shapes dear to them is also the eagle. In fact in the ancient Persian Tradition in their book of the Shanamah or Ancient Persian book of Kings there is an orphaned prince Zal who is raised by an Eagle. This particular Eagle is called a “Simurgh” and has both metaphorical and literal meanings namely, it is gigantic, and also always female -and has an insightful wisdom. In the tale of Prince Zal – when the prince is first born he is born an albino. Because he is born an albino his father considers him some sort of aberration of nature and perhaps even some kind of devil. It is the age old problem of “someone who is too different from me”. And so the father abandons the son because the son is “too white”. Because the baby is abandoned and left in the wilderness to die the Simurgh – seeing the albino son as food for her new chicks – captures the baby and carries it to her nest for food. However when she and her chicks see the helpless human baby laying in their nest they have a surge of compassion and in that moment of conversion the Simurgh commits herself to raising the baby and later becomes a pivotal figure in the babies life. Later the baby grows up and before departing his Eagle-Mother the Simurgh – gives him three bronze (not gold but again as in the Egyptian Story a “mediating metal’but electrically faster than gold!) feathers with which to summon her if he needs her. He then returns to his human father having been educated by the Simurgh. The father repents and his son inherits his kingdom as Prince Zal who will later call upon the Simurgh in emergencies particularly in assisting at the birth of his own child. “What goes around comes around” as the saying goes. In fact it it told in this particular legend that the Simurgh taught the deliverers of the baby to do a C-section cut on the abdomen as both mother and baby’s life was threatened by the birth.
Getting back to the New Testament story of Priscilla and Aquilla – Interestingly Priscilla is always mentioned first – indicating she may have had a senior role both in tent making and in Christian teaching in the community. Her husband was named “Aquilla” or “The Eagle” and this may well be a hint that he was also a friend of the Apostle John who is also sometimes called “The Eagle”. This somewhat indicates there could be an Eagle School or line of teaching as it were- within Christianity. Continuing into the history of Christian Tradition we have the Eagle which also is included as one of the four creatures in Jewish Tradition (Ox, Bull and Man being the others) making up the flock of creatures called the Cherubim. (Note -in spite of the Italian Art of the Renaissance the Cherubim are not actually tiny flying babies!) The Cherubim itself has been described as everything from an animal to some kind of whirlwind to an extra terrestrial machine or U.F.O.!In the descriptions given in the book of Ezekiel however it is stated the Cherubim consisted of four “Creatures”—-i.e. Living Things— and each of these creatures had four faces one of which was that of an Eagle. It is something like a Native American Totem Pole. An interesting contradiction inherent in the use of an Eagle in the Jewish Tradition is that it is an “Unclean” bird and therefore should not be eaten (not kosher) however-according to this same tradition this same “Unclean” bird is allowed in the very presence of God in the Cherubim aspect! so as is often the case “exception proves the rule”.
In the Hindu Tradition
In the Hindu tradition the Garuda Eagle is described as having in his original colors a Golden Body, White Face and Red Wings. After receiving this image from India the Tibetans depict him in Black or Red forms. This Eagle also has a relationship to the Guardian of Hell (apparently what makes the Eagle/Garuda powerful is the fact he has toured hell in a rather Dante-esque fashion with the Gate keeper of death- who is Yama in India and also an overlapping figure in Tibet called Yamantaka).
While touring the levels of hell with Yama the Garuda was taught to understand the meaning of giving rice offerings and prayers at each station or level of hell. So he knows about propitiation and respect – particularly how the actions of the living effect the dead. And especially why sacrifices to the dead must be made. So the Garuda visited every level of hell and those of you readers who have had extremely difficult experiences in life will understand this idea clearly. So the Garuda archetype seems to be a close companion-even friend of Yama (Lord of Death) and also too Yamantaka (the Contractor of Death). Readers wanting to study this further can consult the writings of the Garuda Parushas of India.
After all if you are going to “descend” on someone like an Eagle – with your claws out —- with full judgment and terror —- it is best to have toured some rough places – so you are fully cognizant of what you are doing and where it could lead! whether you decide to act like hell – raise hell or create hell it’s very good to know just what Hell is about. And the Garuda understands hell and so- he has not had tostay there and understands the implications of his often bold actions. The Garuda is also known as the carrier of Vishnu -the god who preserves things -as well. So you if is plain in the lore of the Garuda that he can both destroy and preserve.
The Swallow in Ancient Babylon and Dawning Christianity
In ancient Babylon the constellation of Pisces or “The Fishes” was earlier called “The Swallow” and was related to the Babylonian “Lady of the Heavens” known as Anunitum. This relation of the swallow to the symbol of the fish is interesting as the symbol of fish or the fishes was also used as an identifying mark by the early Christians during their persecutions by Rome. And of course in the symbol of the fish we see the tail of the swallow as well.
Due to the repression of Christianity the early Christians had to create a secret code or means of identification for one another. The symbol was used as an acrostic called “Iktheus” and was drawn in the sand or on the palm to show where one’s allegiance was dedicated.
The astrological symbol of the fish or “Pisces” is sometimes described as two fish tied together and looks like a tied bushel of wheat.
This next symbol is known as “Pisces Vesica” in Latin – and is often used to connote marriage-
and it is also the primary geometry of Gothic Cathedral entrances and doorways. Deeply related to the ancient symbol of birth and the vaginal opening itself it has from time immemorial been considered one of the great sacred symbols of birth and even life itself. It is in essence two complete circles overlapping slightly. In its multiplied form it is the Egyptian Lotus or “Flower of Life” found at Abidos, Egypt and now popular in many New Age teachings.
Perhaps one of the most amusing artists of the twentieth century Salvador Dali cannot be accused of having no sense of humor. I was to have one of his self portrait photographs explained to me as “Well you cannot tell here but he had no pants on!”. But seriously and in the cause of the swallow his last painting was “La queue-d’aronde” which included a series of abstract lines which combined the curve of the swallow’s tail with a graph of probabilities of catastrophes! the graph was based on the catastrophe theory of a man named Rene Thom. Because this abstract painting is centered on catastrophe it is co-resonant with the idea of the swallow as a Prophet of Catastrophe. In the fourteenth century Scots poet and minister Robert Henryson wrote of poem of forty seven stanzas on the swallow which ends as follows;
“…the swallow then took up the self same rhyme: woe for them that will not beware in time!”
But some folks are aware in time as we find with Father O’Sullivan. From 1910-1933 Father St. John O’Sullivan was the Priest at The Mission San Juan Capistrano in California. (photo from the Orange Co. Register).
It was said that he saw one of the local city folks knocking the swallow’s nests of the walls of his house and upon being asked why the resident complained about the mess they made. Upon hearing this then Fr. O’Sullivan said, “They can come over to our Mission then!” And apparently the next day they were seen building nests at the church! since then every March19th when the swallows return there is a great celebration. In 1940 Leon Renee wrote a song called, “When the Swallows Return to Capistrano” which proved to be a hit with several different performers including The Inkspots and Glen Miller. Since then Leon’s piano and other memento’s have been preserved in a special room at the Mission. But modern times change things and with increasing population, and environmental issues the swallows are not able to find the food they need these days and so now special efforts are being made to bring them back to Capistrano and so with the help of local folk and bird experts much is now being done to encourage the swallows to return.
If you want to help The Mission of San Juan Capistrano and it’s swallows there is a homepage at www.missionsjc.com
Returning to the personal aspect -as for myself – well my own local Swallow now christened “Mrs. Swallow” came to my window for about a month-in fact it may have been 28 days as in the legend—and it could not be ignored as she came to the window every three or four hours! she had three or four phrases she would chortle as swallows don’t sing but they sort of cheep and murmur! unfortunately there was controversy in a another bird’s nest near my kitchen window with one bird laying eggs in the nest of another and baby birds were violently rejected out of the nest and onto the ground. The author was upset at this and Mrs. Swallow too may well have take exception to it. So she no longer came close to the Casita for two weeks but now again comes in the morning. It seems swallows love a peaceful and amicable atmosphere around themselves. So I was much saddened by her departure but was indeed glad when her cheerful voice once again came to the perch at the window! I had not expected such a small creature to have so much meaning in the world and in my life. To love what one has is indeed a double blessing!