Animals, Metaphors, Superstitions and Current Events
‘Les espèces sont choisies non comme bonnes à manger, mais comme bonnes à penser´
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Le totémisme (1962)
Many animal myths, fables, allegories and metaphors, use animals to think with.
Every culture has accumulated folklore, superstitions and beliefs around different animals with resemblances crossing cultures and times. Figures of speech, art and literature use animals as symbols based on a common knowledge. By transference we see things in ourselves that otherwise would be hard to recognize.
Using this age old notion of using animals to think with, here is my take on current events. Who are the truth tellers of our time? What kind of life are we leading and where are we heading? How much say and freedom do we really have in our lives and what are we willing to fight for?
Who are your Oracles?
animated oil painting
‘I know of no people, however enlightened and educated or however brutish and savage, that do not believe the future is revealed in signs and can be read and foreseen by certain individuals’ Cicero, On Divination
The Romans established an official body to oversee and regulate the practices of augury, the interpreting of omens from observed behaviour of birds. They kept a collection of sacred chickens, which were consulted in decision making of the Roman Empire. The Pullarius (chicken keeper) would put out grain and watch the feeding habits of these sacred chickens. If they ate greedily, dropping some grain on the ground as they fed – the signs were positive, special attention being paid to the sound and force of the grain as it hit the ground. If they refused to feed or moved away – the signs were negative and whatever was being contemplated would be postponed. These chickens were consulted in important decisions of one of the world´s greatest empires.
How do we make decisions and who are today´s oracles? What are their methods to interpret the present and foresee the future? Where do we get our information?
Will people in the future look back at us and see our methods of predicament and the people we listen to for advice in the same way we see these Augury practices?
Arising from the ashes
animated oil painting
In ancient mythology, the Phoenix is a magical bird, radiant and shimmering, that is said to live for 500 years before it dies by bursting into flames. A new phoenix is then born by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.
The myth of the Phoenix reflected the human experience of natural regeneration and the never ending cycles of the years. It has been incorporated into many religions, signifying eternal life, destruction, creation and fresh beginnings.
The phoenix represents the idea that the end is only the beginning.
We can be reborn from the ashes. Let´s not lose hope.
Are you living in a golden cage, or building a coud cuckoo land?
In 414 BC, the Greek comic dramatist, Aristophanes, wrote ´The Birds´ - a political fantasy about two Athenians, fed up with taxes, over regulation and life in the city. The two set out to find a better place to live. They end up negotiating with the leader of the birds to establish a ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ in the sky.
‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ has since been used as an expression meaning a state of absurdly over optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state. Someone said to live in ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ thinks that things that are completely impossible might happen. Someone seen as ‘crazy’ by most but also exhibits cleverness at times in ways no one else would think of.
This expression has entered the language of politics as well. It is used to dismiss calls for politic change as pure fantasy and naive. Margaret Thatcher famously used this phrase in a speech in 1987, saying that anyone who thinks the ANC is going to run the government in South Africa is
living in ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’. Seven years later, the ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, won the first election in post-apartheid South Africa.
Recent events have shown us the magnitude of how our current system is failing and unprepared for the future. It showed us how fragile our democracies really are (those of us that have them). The society we live in is headed for a massive change in many ways and no one really knows what will happen.
In times of great change, the forces of good and evil fight to determine the future. Will you help build the next Cloud Cuckoo Land or just try to shelter yourself and hope the forces of evil aren’t too strong?
From ´The Birds´-
Leader of the chorus: Who are they? From what country?
EPOPS: Strangers, who have come from Greece, the land of the wise.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS: And what fate has led them hither to the land of the birds?
EPOPS: Their love for you and their wish to share your kind of life; to dwell and remain with you always.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS: Indeed, and what are their plans?
EPOPS: They are wonderful, incredible, unheard of.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS: Why, do they think to see some advantage that determines them to settle here? Are they hoping with our help to triumph over their foes or to be useful to their friends?
EPOPS: They speak of benefits so great it is impossible either to describe or conceive them..
LEADER OF THE CHORUS: Are they mad?
EPOPS: They are the sanest people in the world.
Let yourself be cuckoo.
Los Pueblos Vacios
The industrial revolution brought massive population shifts in many parts of the world. From rural areas people moved to the cities to find new forms of making a living. This changed societies in many ways.
One of the consequences of modern life is distancing ourselves from nature. The concept of nature itself didn´t exist in the past. It didn´t need a word because it was an inherent part of life. Global warming, air pollution, waste - they happen because it’s easy to do and those of us living in the wealthy parts of the world don’t see the consequences of this and dismiss it. Nature looks threatening and useless.
The corona virus pandemic has shown us the interconnected totality of our natural surroundings and of our communities loud and clear.
There is an urgent need to create more sustainable communities. We need to connect back to nature and to our community and their importance for our survival and well-being. We still need Mother Nature in our core and we know it. Technology and modern life evolve much faster than our genes. We all know that great feeling of being outdoors. That breath of fresh
air that fills your lungs and your soul. No virtual reality can replace that. No virtual reality can replace the feeling of being part of a community.
Will we listen to this wake-up call and create a better world to live in?
Can we go forward, innovate, and create new forms of living that are more sustainable? Will there be a shift back to nature, back to the countryside maybe in an innovative, creative way that moves us forward toward a better, more inclusive society?