The Natural Balancing Act of Predator and Prey!|
Posted: June 18th. 2001
Times Viewed: 9,163
The white egret seems a little embarrassed lately, Wren noticed. Perhaps it is because he finds a human presence at his lunch counter a bit strange. Perhaps it is because Wren often tells him, "Give it up, dude. You're just not all that good at it." And so, perhaps it is because he doesn't like being rated on his fishing technique. ("Well, if he can't take a little constructive criticism..." she mutters to the turtles.) But there is no genuine rancor in either Wren's remarks or in the posture of the egret for obviously the big white bird is very much an effective predator. He was designed by Nature with a six-inch beak just to spear fish. He also has learned that he was not designed to spear fish that are bubbling up the water in a feeding frenzy when Wren tosses out the fishie food. After a few comical tries at staccato- stabbing the water- Oh, here's one...oh, there goes another one...oh, oh, here's some more!- he quickly learned that a fish-feeding-frenzy amounts to just 'too much information'. Since then, Egret has gone back to what he knows best- the stealthy stalking, the zeroing in on one single target and then the incredibly quick strike. Sometimes he gets a fish breakfast. And sometimes- as in all predator/prey dramas- it is the prey that wins.
The relationship between predator and prey has interested humans since the beginnings of our existence. The earliest cave paintings found in various parts of the world depict both predator and prey animals. Within a very short time of these most primitive drawings, another form began to appear on the cave walls: a human figure either dressed in animal skins and wearing antlers or a human head superimposed upon an animal's body. Since our most ancient Ancestors left no captions beneath their artwork, researchers can only speculate what these animal-human forms might mean. But both archaeologists and anthropologists are fairly certain that these figures represent perhaps the earliest emergence of the spiritual expression known as 'shamanism'.
Shamanism may be the universal 'common denominator' present during the births of all of the ancient religions yet known to have existed. Elements of shamanic expression can be found in the myths and legends of nearly all of the peoples of the world. These remnants show themselves in fairy tales and metaphors and in the heraldry symbols of families, clans and even of nations. One distinguishing feature of shamanism is the use or recognition of 'totem animals'. Much has been written in books and is available on the internet concerning the various techniques of 'acquiring/meeting' a totem animal and of the qualities/attributes of the various animal spirits and so Wren will leave the reader to do their own research into this area. Since Wren has only bought one modern book about totemism- which she quite promptly tossed unceremoniously into the trashcan- she doesn't know how many of these resources touch on an important element of totemism which she was taught: In the natural world, the bond between predator and prey is essential. In the spiritual world, it is the same. When one 'adopts' a predator animal as a totem, one automatically adopts its prey animal as well. Undoubtedly, this may be horrifying news for all of those 'Big Bad Wolfboys' out there in Paganland. But that's just the way it goes. And those of a gentle nature who respond to the iridescent beauty of a Hummingbird or the cheerfulness of a Chick-A-Dee may be more than disconcerted when they discover that they also have a real 'Tiger in their spiritual tank'.
Much criticism has been leveled at the Pagan communities for 'stealing' the shamanic elements of Native Aboriginal tribes. Some of this is indeed warranted when modern Pagans take what is essentially a cultural aspect not their own and simply use it as though it were. More respect might be requested and ultimately granted on both sides if Pagans really knew what they were looking for in these Native Traditions. Because our own mainly European shamanic roots were forgotten, glossed over- or even overwritten- by newer religions, modern Pagans are looking for clues that may lead them back to those practices. While the living European shamanic roots lie in the mists of many centuries ago, the Native American and Australian Aboriginal systems were still up and operating only a few hundred years ago. Many continue in some form to this day. It is indeed natural for modern Pagans to look to the most accessible material available in the quest to rediscover and recover their own spiritual shamanic heritage. But it is rude and arrogant to simply take what is currently available and claim it as one's own. Surely we can ask Native Elders to help us- to use a commonplace metaphor for a spiritual concept- 'learn how to drive'. But we should also make it clear that we are not coming to steal their car. When we're ready to drive, we'll get our own vehicle.
Predator animals and prey animals keep Nature in balance. So it is with the spiritual totem animals. Understanding that one can't have one without the other should be a 'no brainer' for any who follows a shamanic or earth-based Path. Predators need to feed on something to survive. Prey animals need predators to weed out the sick, lame, too young or too old animals in order to keep populations in balance. If either the 'predator' side or the 'prey' side go out of balance, the entire eco-system will collapse. And so it is with the spiritual life.
For every Bear dwelling within a person, there is also a Salmon. For every Wolf, there is a Rabbit hiding in a spirit hole. For every Mouse, there is a Snake and for every Snake, there is an Eagle. Within humans, there exists strength and weakness, aggressiveness and submissiveness, good and evil, predator and prey. Some of the 'darker things' that many Pagans sometimes feel creeping up on them-that side of us that we often call the 'Shadow Self'- may be nothing more than our own unacknowledged opposing-yet-complimentary predator or prey animal. Many a shamanic Pagan who embraces a 'Bear' or a 'Wolf' totem may find that the 'Rabbit' within is apt to give them a good psychic 'kick in the gut' bout of insecurity or illness now and again just to remind them that they are there. Many a 'Hummingbird Gazelle Girl' may find that there is indeed a raging 'Lion' of anger or frustration nipping at her spiritual heels for some attention. Likewise many a 'Tiger' has snarled his/her challenge to a Fluffy Bunny only to discover (much to his/her shock and surprise) that little old 'Buns' really has the alter ego (and alternative totem animal) of a 'Kodiak Grizzly Bear'. Oops! THAT'S gotta hurt!
And then, there is the third group (Wren is ever the Celt and there is ALWAYS a 'third thing') of totem spiritual animals: the Scavengers. The Crows and the Ravens and the Jackals and the Vultures are part of the predator/prey dance and yet outside of it at the same time. Lurking on the fringes of the life-death drama, Scavengers exist-both in the natural world and in the spiritual world- for one reason and one reason only: to clean up the mess. Often depicted as the 'Trickster' animals, the totem Scavengers will show up in your life on those days when everything just 'stinks'. You may have had a fight with someone or done something dishonorable or NOT done (Procrastination is considered a delicacy to Scavengers, by the way.) something that you promised to do. Suddenly everything starts going wrong. You're cut off in traffic. Your cellphone dies. Your significant other just doesn't want to hear about it. The very last person that you want to talk to rings you up with a big problem just as your favorite television show comes on. Your check bounced- again. Well, HELL-ooh Tricksters!
You want to get those Trickster Jackals out of your life? Stop carrying that stinking rotting carcass of resentment, of hatred, of procrastination, of old 'wrongs' around on your back. Is there some 'Scavenger' always sniffing around your personal sore spot? Pushing your buttons? Maybe they are trying to tell you that it's finally time to scrape off that old decomposing bit of psychic or emotional carrion that you've been dragging around with you for years. Resolve it. Get therapy. Let it go. Drop it. And the Scavengers will lose interest and simply go away. Poof! No mess, no Scavengers. Nature is a pretty clever Teacher, eh?
The natural world is in a continuous balancing act of channeling predator and prey and scavenger energies. Humans as part of Nature mirror this same eternal struggle for balance within ourselves. The totem animal spirits have much wisdom to share with us. Knowing when to call upon the predator or the prey animals- knowing when to fight and when to flee- is a lesson in wisdom. One can call upon predator energies for strength and courage as needed as long as one also realizes that the predator does not always win. (If the predator spirit is not right for your situation at the time, you can well go hungry.) And when gentleness or compassion are called for, one has an alternate prey animal to engage- as long as one also realizes that occasionally bunnies do in fact get eaten. (Sacrifices are sometimes necessary.) Nature is wise. Learning to balance these forces within us; learning to recognize when to be strong and push forward and when to be passive and stay in one's burrow until things blow over can help us to become wise as well.
Sniff! Sniff! Oh, yeah... and always, always remember to clean up your mess.
Walk in Love and Light,
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