Tag Archives: animals

Druidry and Animals

Modern Druidry includes quite a bit of animal lore. There’s what various people have gleaned from mediaeval Celtic sources, from folklore, folk song and other sources no doubt more and less historically accurate. Like most Pagan paths, our creature lore tends to focus on larger, higher status animals. The Druid Animal Oracle is a fine case in point here – it’s a lovely pack and I treasure my copy of it, but there’s more missing from it than is included.

So, what about all those other creatures? The ones we don’t have myths for. The ones that don’t crop up in Pagan conversations about animal spirits and Celts and whatnot? We’ve lost a lot of larger mammals from the British landscape, and these must have been significant to our ancestors. We’ve lost the stories that go with them, too. And size isn’t everything – some of our tiniest neighbours, like the earthworm, are intrinsic to life as we know it.

In the coming weeks I’m going to explore some of these creatures as best I can. I’m going to be focusing on the ones that don’t have roles in epic tales, that aren’t traditionally used as metaphors for human behaviour. I’ll be drawing mostly on personal experience and things that I have feelings about, so it’ll be a random list with no obvious logic from the outside. I’m totally open to suggestions for what to include – depending on me knowing anything at all about the being in question!

Mammal communications

On Sunday, a heavy horse pressed his nose against the palm of my hand, and snuffled a bit. It was a moment that I found both affecting and affirming. Mammals do a lot of communicating through touch, and use touch as a part of social bonding. Most mammals are willing to touch and be touched as part of encountering and interacting with each other. Non-human mammals cheerfully extend this courtesy to humans, but we often aren’t very good at it. As mammals who have decided that we are separate from the animals, we don’t really do much touching in the normal scheme of things. Not by other mammal standards.

When it comes to humans, the question of who is allowed to touch who, and when, is complicated, rule-laden and tends us towards non-contact. Unlike other mammals we don’t touch to communicate with each other, most of the time. And yet, there’s a great deal of information to be gleaned from whether, or how a person touches you. Touch can express kindness and affection. It can also be an expression of control, or power over. It can be withheld as a form of punishment, or as an expression of unacceptability.

Professional humans who work with animals use touch to soothe and reassure. Professional humans who work with humans do not use touch beyond what the role demands and we are collectively pretty clear that on the whole, touching in a professional context is inappropriate. Even if the other person is crying and obviously in great distress.

Most mammals seem able to embody what they’re feeling and act upon it. I have an animal body, but I have no real idea how to embody anything. I can use words, which create a distance between what I feel and whoever I might be offering it to. I can and will talk calmly about how I feel, but I find it unspeakably difficult to rock up as a mammal and let my body speak for me. I am always surprised when anyone, any other living mammal, chooses to touch me. Be that a horse, or a person. I find it easier to know what to do with the creatures, because I don’t think they judge me on the same terms. So long as I am not afraid of them and move gently, they are likely to accept me. I’ve never really worked out what the rules are for people.

Maybe it is simply that, as I am more inherently afraid of humans than most other creatures that the mammal response to fearfulness plays out just the same as it would with a dog or cat. Is it my own fear that causes other people’s hackles to rise sometimes?

I’ve been round this line of thought before, always coming back to Mary Oliver’s lines about letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves, and wondering how that could be so simple and so painfully difficult all at the same time.

Badger spirit

Here in the UK the government are planning the mass killing of a resident mammal. The badger. Now, if someone was talking about killing a third of all African elephants, a third of the wild lions, lemurs or anything else that iconic, the whole world would be up in arms. We don’t have much in the way of big, majestic wildlife here in the UK. This is because we already killed off the wolves, bears and giant, hairy cows.

There can be a tendency in nature conservation to support the cute, the memorable and the iconic. Getting people to save tigers is always going to be easier than trying to interest them in some ugly bug.

Badgers are lovely. They are very communal, living in big, extended families. Nocturnal, they roam around at night, mostly rooting up earthworms. They eat most things though, they are slow moving, wide arsed opportunists and they adore peanuts. Seeing their cute, stripy faces appear out of the darkness is a joy. Watching them play and feed together is delightful. I’ll say it again: Badgers are lovely.

However, badgers suffer from tuberculosis, and are probably implicated in giving TB to cows. I‘m not convinced it’s just the badgers, I think a closer look at the frequency with which we move livestock about in the UK needs considering. But, badgers have long borne the brunt of the blame. For all of my life, farmers have been trying to get badgers killed. My grandmother used to go out to try and prevent the then popular solution of filling in most of the holes into the set, and gassing the trapped badgers.

If we were talking about a really careful, well organised system of putting to sleep those badgers who are suffering from TB, I could see the point. We aren’t. We’re talking shooting badgers wherever there is a lot of TB, on the assumption that this will help. If the science said that yes, a badger cull would be bound to reduce TB in cows, and overall reduce animal suffering, then that might be tolerable. The science says it probably won’t help, and there’s evidence it could make things worse. So that’s a lose for the badgers, the cows and the farmers. This is madness.

The solution is to vaccinate badgers. If we eradicate TB in the badger population, they can’t spread it, the cows are fine. There are vaccines available, there are test studies. It will take time and cost money, but the key thing is, it stands a fighting chance of working. It will work for the badgers, who get to carry on their badger business, neither being shot at, nor getting a horrible disease. If the badgers really are causing the problem, it will work for the cows, and if it doesn’t, it might get us closer to nailing the sources of the problem. Solving the problem is what the farmers need here. Actions that do not solve the problem, do not help the farming community. Gassing the badgers did not solve the TB problem when I was a child. Shooting them now will not solve it either.

Please help. Go to www.teambadger.org/ to see where you can get involved. Make noise. This shameful act should not go ignored and uncommented on. If we were talking about lions, there would be international outrage. I move that badgers are just as alive, just as lovely and just as important as any other, more iconic creature out there. Let’s not send a message to the world that government sponsored wildlife massacres are ok.