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Animal Symbiosis as a Model for Approaching Difficult Astrological Aspects

June 2010

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Following the Wolf as Wolves Follow Ravens

In this series of posts so far, I have been exploring the use of astrological symbolism as a point of departure for a much deeper journey into the unconscious realms. In the previous post, I discussed how animal totems can be potent guides to this journey, using my own association of Mars with the wolf as illustration of this possibility. The wolf, who came to me in a dream during a transit of Mars to my natal Mercury-Mars square, has become a guide to understanding and becoming more conscious in relation to this difficult aspect in my chart. In this post, I want to continue this story more deeply into the lair of the wolf to see what else it has to teach us.

To continue the story from my book, The Seven Gates of Soul (pp 366-369):

"As I was moving back through the memories of my cyclical history, I was drawn to make note of a book I happened to be reading at the time of the accident in August, 2001. The book was entitled The Mind of the Raven. Why I felt compelled to note this particular book, I don’t know. I just trusted the fact that I did, and then moved on with the cyclical history. Often this is the way we begin to flesh out aspects of the resonant pattern that are inaccessible to our conscious mind. If something intuitively seems important, it probably is, at least within the subjective context of soul space. In any case, it turns out that I had bought the book on a trip to Arizona, when Mars was opposed my Mercury, one half cycle before I actually started reading it. Now my sense of resonance is aroused, since buying and reading the book are part of the same astrological cycle. In light of this information, I feel fairly certain I have stumbled onto an important clue that will take me more deeply into the area of soul space associated with this pattern.

It was also interesting to me to note how I bought this book, for it was an unusual process. Normally, when I buy a book, I either know what I am looking for, or I find something while browsing in an area of general interest, but this book caught my attention somehow out of the corner of my eye, as I was about to leave the store. I could not see the title, nor even the cover when I was pulled to walk over to it, but once I picked it up, I knew I had to read it. So I bought it – one of the few impulse buys I have ever made. Though it would not have occurred to me at the time, I can see now how this kind of peripheral vision is, in its own way, an antidote to the vulnerability I experience when I am broadsided, albeit in a very different way than through the assertive focus of the wolf.

As I discovered when I read this book, which is subtitled Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, wolves and ravens have a long-standing symbiotic association. Ravens follow wolves, because at the end of the trail, they know they will likely find a fresh kill, of which they may be lucky enough to partake. But wolves also follow ravens, because ravens can see what wolves cannot - namely potential prey too far away to be seen on the ground. The ravens find food, and the wolves secure the food for themselves and the ravens, while keeping competitors away. Without the wolves, the ravens would often be last in the pecking order of those in line to eat, but without the ravens, the wolves would be less successful in finding food. It is a symbiotic arrangement between two radically different species, in which strengths and weaknesses complement and counterbalance each other.

Similarly, the astrological square between Mars and Mercury in my chart is also an arrangement between two radically different species, where the challenge is to find ways to counterbalance weaknesses and synergistically complement strengths in order to more effectively deal with whatever opportunities for learning and growth – such as the tendency to be broadsided – the square might attract in soul space. Could it be that this symbiotic relationship between wolves and ravens might somehow serve as a symbolic model for handling this challenge? Could it be that bringing peripheral vision together with an assertion of masculine energies associated with Mars would provide a more effective antidote to being broadsided than either resource could alone? This, at least, is what the symbolism suggests – something I did not consciously recognize, by the way, before I began this foray into the unconscious dimensions of soul space.

Ravens and Mercury

As it turns out, the raven has many attributes that are traditionally associated with Mercury – it is highly intelligent, curious, resourceful, socially gregarious, mischievous, and playful. Ravens are also mythologically associated with the archetype of the trickster, which is a cosmic function associated with Mercury. Does this mean that Mercury and the raven are somehow generically equivalent? No, not necessarily. Intellectually it is tempting to make this connection, although others far more deeply versed in these matters have cautioned against it (Karl Kerényi, “The Trickster in Relation to Greek Mythology,” The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology, pp. 188-191). More important than a recognition of any intellectual rationale for this symbolic equivalency, however, is the fact that within the context of my own experience, these two symbols seem to converge. In fact, during the years that I was identified with the medicine name of Redwolf, I remember being “followed around” and taught valuable lessons by ravens.

Once while handing a raven feather to a woman whom I wanted to acknowledge for her contribution to a workshop I taught, a raven swooped down to buzz us, something I had never seen a raven do. Years later, when I was contemplating doing something foolish that would have taken me on a detour far removed from the path I had chosen through life, I walked out to my car to find the biggest raven I had ever seen, perched on the hood, cawing loudly with a sound that I could have sworn was laughter. During the first Gulf War, when I was camping in a remote spot in New Mexico, I had an important encounter with ravens, in the midst of one of those broadsided experiences of vulnerability related to this pattern I am exploring.

About that experience, I previously wrote (“Raven’s Joy,” Full Moon Meditations, p. 171):

'I was standing in a field of green... the sky was ultra-blue, and the serenity was tangible. Into the midst of this idyllic scene ripped two stealth bombers, burning through the entire expanse of sky in seconds. One of them flew directly overhead, its sleek robotic underbelly displayed in frightening detail. I went numb. A Pavlovian ripple of fear coursed up my spinal column. It was instinctual. I thought immediately of the war now going on in the Persian Gulf, and felt my fear smolder at its core with anger.'

This will no doubt by now be familiar to the reader as yet another expression of the pattern we are exploring – complete with emotional transition from well-being to sudden vulnerability to anger. What happened next was the symbolic antidote to this habitual response offered by the ravens (“Raven’s Joy,” Full Moon Meditations, p. 172).

'In exactly the same formation the jets before them had taken, two ravens flew above me - one directly overhead, the other to its left at a distance. This in itself would not have caught my attention, as ravens fly overhead all the time in this place. But these ravens were not just flying. They were riding the thermals, wings outstretched, effortlessly. Most remarkable of all, as they caught an air current, these ravens would abandon themselves to it, roll onto their backs, and coo. I had never seen or heard anything like it.'

Wolves and Ravens, Mars and Mercury

In that moment, I knew that the ravens knew something that I didn’t know, but that I was eager to learn. I was consciously beginning to integrate the energy of Redwolf, and was feeling less and less vulnerable as time went on. But there was still something missing, and in that moment, I felt certain that the raven provided the symbolic key to that missing piece, though I didn’t understand what that piece was until just now. Ravens and wolves are inextricably connected to one another – in life, and in the same resonant soul space in which my Mars-Mercury square operates. Wolf provides the courage, the focused intention, the strength and the vigilance; raven provides the peripheral vision necessary to keep the intensity of this concentrated form of masculine energy from becoming a liability.

Wolves hunt, while ravens play. When wolves and ravens run together, the hunt turns playful, and the play becomes productive. If I happen to be broadsided in the midst of a focus that gets derailed, my inner raven offers me the opportunity to ride the thermals, roll on my back and coo. This, of course, is in stark contrast to my habitual pattern of getting angry, and often a more effective strategy for dealing with the situation. Then when I’ve been on my back too long and my focus begins to unravel, my inner wolf helps me to pull it back together. Or put in more basic sensory terms, when Mars gets too hot, heavy, and deep, the raven can teach me how to keep my cool, lighten up, and rise high above the intensity. When Mercury starts to flutter, agitate or disorient me, my wolf can sharpen my focus, pierce to the heart of the matter, or bring my process down to a more palpable level.

Out of this synergistic combination of energies comes a perspective and a combination of resources that are otherwise not possible. How I incorporate this understanding in the living of my life is an ongoing challenge that does not end with a simple moment of understanding. But the understanding itself is a direct consequence of my foray into the unconscious dimension of soul space, using the symbolism of my chart as a point of entry. The understanding itself is less important than this inner connection with the energy of wolf-birds and raven-trackers, which will continue to infuse my soul space to the extent that I allow it to, and provide me with options that I would not otherwise have."

From a startling event – a car accident associated with a Mars transit to natal Mercury-Mars – to a recognition of sensory and emotional correlates to a pattern; to an exploration of dreams; to a discovery of animal totems to planetary symbols; to a deepening understanding of the true nature of the original natal aspect represents in toto a meandering journey from known to unknown and back again. This journey allows me to approach whatever issues I might associate with Mercury-Mars in a more instinctual way – one that at its most conscious is in harmony with the natural order of things, as it is reflected in the symbiotic relationship between wolves and ravens.

Animal Totems and the Realm of the Sacred

There is, however, yet another level to explore, for the animal totems themselves are – in the mythologies of the world – merely the familiars of gods and goddesses in whom they invest their attributes as teaching devices to human beings. Despite our so-called superior intelligences, we are often the slowest of learners, far less capable of taking our appropriate place within the whole web of life on this planet than our animal ancestors. As the familiars of the gods and goddesses, our animal totems then are not just guides to human behavior that is more in line with the natural order than that imposed upon it by our rational minds. They are also guides to the realm of the sacred, where we strive as souls to become like the deities in whose image we have been created.

In the last post in this series, I want to explore this last possibility for following Jung’s “perennial rhizome beneath the earth” to the sacred space where “the mother of all things” is rooted.

The last post in this series is Into the Realm of the Gods Where Astrology is Rooted.

To read more blog posts, go here.