Cernunnos is known by many names. The Horned God, God of the Hunt, Lord of the Animals. He can be found in the sacred grove in the heart of the forest, in the call of the rutting stag. Of all the names he is known as I grew up knowing him as Herne the Hunter. As I generally make female dolls I was quite surprised that Cernunnos appeared, maybe I was inspired by the fallow deer stags I got to hang out with this summer.
Click on the Etsy button to view in the shop
Fallow deer stags, West Sussex, England
The ‘Stag’ from the Wildwood tarot
BBC Box of Delights – Scene with Herne the Hunter – click on the image for a video from the series
The Ancestral Mothers Wheel of the Year
We are approaching the threshold between Lughnasadgh and Autumn Equinox. Summer has felt endless, a groundhog day repeating itself over and over. For me, summer started with long lingering Scottish twilights and progressed to Appalachian nights full crickets and cicada lullabies draped in a clinging humidity with a constant thread of spiders webs.
Yet I can feel the threshold approach, whispering change. It’s ushered in by the wing tips of an age-old figure, Talieasker. She’s been with me most of my life, and no doubt made herself know to others before me. She was there when my teenage self raged with anger with a desperate longing for something modern life no longer holds, even although then I didn’t know what that was. She and I danced in my need for catharsis, an outlet to hold the screaming in reaction to what we are doing to the world.
Showing my crow self
I am descended from a long line of wise women – for I too am a shapeshifter, a mythmaker, a woman who has always had one ear to the ground and a foot in the other world. Sometimes my shadow shows my other self, sometimes crow sometimes the shadow of a bear, I am She Who Wears Antlers.
This morning she appeared, the green woman curled up as if returning to the womb. It is the call of nature herself announcing the coming change, for change is the only constant. Galaxies swirl, new stars are born, birds hear the call to migrate, spotted fish at the bottom of dark lochs swim in certain patterns and the repetitive cycle of birth, life and death repeats.
So with the sign of this curled up woman it will be soon to mark this point of the wheel in an ancient ritual I was taught – a small green doll (I don’t know her name or her story), only that she must return to the earth, marking the beginning of the dark of the year, crossing that threshold from light into dark.
Pay attention to this approaching threshold, maybe the swish of a dark wing might brush against you, look to the greenery, the sky, the stars and know that change will come – whatever your situation. Maybe you’d like to join me in a journey around the year honoring of the Ancestral Mothers – warriors and women who honored the way of bear, of great whales of the ocean, seals, of reindeer, Goddesses, and age-old crones. Join me in a tradition of marking these festivals in ritual with art and story, community and journeying between the worlds.
Orca with the Isle of Eigg in the background and the peaks of Rum in the distance. Click photo for source – Wilderness Scotland
It’s been an emotional journey following the lives of Tahlequah, her calf, and her pod in their heartfelt grief ritual. Killer whales are one of the most widely distributed species, although many of the individual pods are severely threatened. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a nonprofit group which maintains the ‘“Red List” a global list of endangered and threatened wildlife. While they haven’t put killer whales on the list many individual pods of orca are facing widespread and localized threats to their survival.
Before I introduce the Scottish orca pod to you I had to share this recording (made by the Whalemuseaum.org) of Tahlequah and her pod communicating. This was recorded on the 29th July, 5 days after Tahlequah’s calf had died. Click on the whale to listen to them.
The top photo isn’t Puget Sound but an orca swimming off the coast of Eigg in Scotland. This is where I run my Ancestral Mothers of Scotland retreat each year. Just a few months ago the same pod was spotted in the River Clyde!
The home territory of the ‘West Coast Community’ orca pod
The West Coast Community
Britain occasionally has visits from transient Orcas who travel down to Northern Scotland in pursuit of their prey. Many of these visitors are from the Icelandic population of Orcas. Transient Orcas can be spotted from Shetland, Orkney, and Caithness where they are regularly seen. Scotland however, has its own resident pod of 8 Orcas that are regularly seen around the Hebrides, where it is commonly referred to as the West Coast Community. These animals are sighted year round, throughout the inner and outer Hebrides, particularly around the Small Isles and the Isle of Skye. These resident Orcas never mix with the transients from the North.
Research from the University of St Andrews in Scotland and North Carolina State University carried out a study, published in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology which discovered that the main difference between the transient pod and the residential pods is their diet. Residents eat fish, whereas transients hunt and eat marine mammals, including seals and porpoises. In the 40 years that these animals have been studied, scientists have never seen a resident eat a mammal and never seen a transient eat a fish.
Each of the Scottish resident Orcas can be identified by their unique markings, and have been given names: John Coe, Floppy Fin, Nicola, Moon, Comet, Moneypenny, Aquarius, Puffin, and Occasus.
The body of Lulu, one of the West Coast Community orca pod who washed up on the Hebridean Isle of Tiree
‘Possibly one of the most contaminated individuals in the world’
Last year, the body of a female orca was found on the shores of the Isle of Tiree, Scotland. Her name was Lulu and she was one of the West Coast Community pod members. She died after becoming ensnared in fishing nets yet after analysis it was found that her body produced surprising results, as Rebecca Morelle reports for the BBC reported, her body was found to contain one of the highest concentrations of pollutants ever recorded in a marine mammal.
The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and the University of Aberdeen conducted an in-depth investigation of Lulu’s corpse and found that analysis of her blubber revealed a PCB concentrate 100 times higher than the accepted toxicity threshold for marine mammals. High PCB levels are linked to poor health, impaired immune function, increased susceptibility to cancers and infertility. The investigation revealed that Lulu was at least 20 years old but apparently never reproduced, despite being much older than the average age for maturity in killer whales. Brownlow called Lulu’s apparent infertility an ominous warning and said it is “increasingly likely that this small group will eventually go extinct.”
Scotland has known orca’s around the Hebridean isles for thousands of years. Some of the earliest people to these islands might well have swan with these great creatures in their hand-built boats as they came to spend the summer gathering and hunting. This Samhain I am launching an Ancestral Mothers of Scotland online Wheel of the Year course which will cover an ancient Scottish wise woman, Cee-al, who has a unique connection with the creatures of the Hebridean seas!
Click on the image for the documentary trailer
The Fate of Captive Orca’s
There are currently a total of 60 orcas held in captivity (27 wild-captured plus 33 captive-born) in at least 14 marine parks in 8 different countries. I remember campaigning in the early 1990’s when I lived in Brighton, on the south coast of England to free Missie a dolphin who I think had been in captivity for around 20 years (I was the same age). With great campaigns all over the country, the majority of these businesses shut down and closed their doors forever. Missie, the dolphin from Brighton was released back into the wild in the Caribbean (with several other UK dolphins).
A great short film created by the International Marine Animal project discussing Sea world’s lies of happy and healthy captive orcas and the real alternative of returning them to a sea sanctuary.
Organizations to support
Links and source articles
Swimming With Tahlequah
Last night under a dark moon Tahlequah said her final goodbye to her calf. In her closing gesture, she let go. Maybe she glanced down as that little body disappeared into the dark depths. To us humans, the dark depths of the sea hold so many secrets, hold so many fears and unspoken experiences, things we shove away to the dark recesses. How do orca view the dark deep of the ocean for they cannot reach those depths.
Like them, we are emotional creatures, moved by the pull and release of the moon and go through our own emotional tides. All life came from the oceans and before that the stars. Last night in the final gesture of her ritual meteors rained down from a dark sky. Perhaps this great mother looked up or saw the falling light reflected on the water’s surface.
She carried her calf one day for every month that it had grown inside her. She carried her calf for 17 months as it grew, for seventeen months she sang to this little one. For seventeen months she carried the hope of her pod, each of them knowing each calf born in the last three years has died.
She Who Holds the Wheel (with the spirals of Newgrange overlaid)
She wasn’t alone in these 19 days as her family around her supported her. They took turns in holding her calf afloat and brought her food. These days carrying her calf was an act of love, an act of holding on, it was an act of ritual. This is why I called on people to make art, to offer a gesture of ritual. Ritual, art, ceremony these are the things that keep us sane, these are the things that help us see how things really are. What are Newgrange, Loughcrew, the Clava Cairns and Callanish if not our ancestor’s way of honoring, of making sense of coming together to honor the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown.
Brighid is our midwife, she helps souls to be born into this world and she helps them on in their journey leaving this world and into the otherworld. On this dark moon night, Tahlequah allowed her calf to be reborn as she too was reborn as we in our shared grief with her. Rebirth is a powerful ritual. It is the turning around of despair and apathy, it is a need to do something, to make something matter and not let it be forgotten.
Last night I swam in dark waters, rolling on my back to watch meteors fall above. There were many others there in spirit in whale form. We helped her in the last stage of her ritual, we supported her in her letting go. Her grief speaks to outwardly spiraling circles, it is reborn in many ways. Through us it gives voices to the mama pig stuck in a gestation crate (magical creatures who like to sing to the moon), through us it gives voice to the mama cow whose udder is aching and full and her heart is breaking at the sound of her calf crying who has been taken away from her. Our everyday lives cause unmeasurable suffering, nearly all species are in decline apart from humans.
‘We are the most compassionate, the most violent, we are the most creative and we are the most destructive creatures ever to appear on this planet’. Carl Safina
But my point isn’t to lecture, we know these truths, my point is that art and ritual can allow our unspoken grief to be reborn. Weren’t we grieving for ourselves as we grieved for Tahlequah? Didn’t she give us an invitation to release so many things we just can’t give voice to? My point is that we can turn around those feelings and do something to help the plight of so many animals who are suffering.
Yesterday a dear friend invited me to use the Dark Moon to ritualize the grief felt by Tahlequah, the orca whale with her dead child. I was lost in my own grief around my husband’s health and, though my heart ached for this dear, sweet being-ness, I didn’t think I could respond. As it was, I was stuck and immobile. However, the more I thought of this beautiful whale and her child, the more my heart cracked open and so I went to the canvas. As an artist, it is my go to when I need to move energy.
I felt I was to paint water… waves of emotion… so with only 2 colors and my fingers I began to work. Then I felt led to add a touch of the Kintsugi concept of filling our cracks/wounds and grief with gold. The flower of life stencil also kept calling, but I wasn’t sure it “fit”. Then words began to flow – not in the raw, visceral way of most of my writing, but rather more hopeful.
On the surface, a simple little painting, but as with life if one looks below the surface there is soooo much there, so much more visible if only we look.
…a deep, primordial soulful offering to Tahlequah and indeed all of us in this time.
A mother Pilot whale grieves over her dead calf – click on the image to view the video
Carl Safina’s Ted Talk – What animals are thinking and feeling, and why it should matter
I’ll be posting more about gestures of ritual and overturning our grief (not erasing, not pretending it isn’t there) but inspiring us into action. Sometimes ‘activist’ is a word that shames us – we’re not doing enough, we aren’t doing anything. I totally get, for I speak for myself, in sometimes being completely overwhelmed.
This Samhain I’ll be launching an Ancestral Mothers Wheel of the Year – some of those ‘mothers’ are ancient wise women who I know from the land in Scotland. We engage with their ancient stories with art and ritual. There is Breejah, a priestess of Brighid, who honors Brighid in her bear form, Cee-al who is connected to the legends of the Selkies, there are Scottish Amazons, stories of the Gathers, sacred maps, ancient descent stories as we journey into hibernation with bear. Women such as the bird shapeshifting Taliesker, the great crone the Cailleach and the priestesses of the great antlered one, the women who run with the herds of reindeer.
If you’re not already on the mailing list sign up by clicking the above logo. Please send me any stories of your ritual with Tahlequah or stories of your connection – I’d love to feature them on the blog.
Send via the Sisterhood of the Antlers facebook page (click the antlered woman logo) or email me – judelally (at) celticsoulcraft.com
Most folks by now have heard the story of Tahlequah, the young orca whale whose calf only lived a very short time after birth before she died. She was last spotted was spotted two days ago which marks her grief ritual of 17 days long of carrying her dead calf.
You’d need a stone heart not to be moved by this and her story and grief speaks deeply to me. It speaks to the woman who keens, the woman who honors the need for death rituals, our human need for ritual and ceremony. It also speaks to me as a Human Ecologist, the activist who know it is us humans who have created this chain of environmental events which has accumulated to cause the starving condition of this pod and their poor birth rate.
It’s been interesting to see the reaction of people to this story from animal communicators, to those who believe she is sending a message to humanity and to those criticizing these anthropomorphic interpretations. We are empathic creatures, extending our empathy to other creatures in trying to understand is a good thing, however, not recognizing the signals and blindingly overriding them is not so good a thing. This article invites you into a deep magic, to swim with Tahlequah, you’re also invited to share your art and join us in our Facegroup group to share the art and tomorrow I’ll post on practical ways to help.
A Dark Moon Invitation
Tonight is a dark moon and if you have clear skies you might see some meteors from the Perseid meteor shower. The dark moon is also an ancient tradition of setting intentions. Not some new age wish or a fancy car or big new house but a time to consider your work in the world. A time to consider the steps you next need to take which are aligned to your soul’s purpose, your true work in this world – work that creates a creative action against this crippling grip of patriarchy. The mess we are in today is a natural progression of a death culture which has no regard for the endless supplies of resources it needs to feed the ugly, hungry monster of capitalism.
So this dark moon I invite you to sit by your altar, sit out under the meteor shower and allow yourself to feel. Swim in the waters with Tahlequah, feel the weight of her pain, her grief. Feel the collective pain of the pod and allow yourself to swim through the cool water currents. Swim with her, help her keep her calf afloat – we know she must be exhausted as well as starving – body and soul crushed by her grief. Her’s is a beautiful grief ritual, it allows her to feel her pain and connect to our own pain – to that part of yourself that feels the destruction of habitat, the degradation of river systems, seas and oceans and the stories of so many animals, insects, wingeds and wild ones who are suffering.
Keen for her, let go of the grief that you are used to carrying yet shoved it somewhere as your never ready to deal with it. Cry, sing, chant, tone for her – use your voice as much as your body. Play wild music, dance your feelings, sweat your prayers to her.
Be gentle with yourself, hold your heart for this is heartbreaking work. use your own language of a simple gesture of ritual or ceremony it can be as simple as breathing with Tahlequah, it can be as simple as imagine holding her calf with her. The deep trough of grief she expresses show the deep love she has for this small one who has moved on to the otherworld.
Be gentle with yourself. You might want to lie down with some soothing music, move your body as if you are swimming through the deep, dark waters. Send her strength, understanding, and love, whisper to her.
Be gentle with yourself once you’ve finished your ritual. This is real stuff – record your impressions of being with her – write, drawn, paint. Collage your feelings, make this matter!
Tahlequah by Leah Pinken Kolidas – click image to view her page on facebook
All feelings and interpretations of this mother whale’s grief are relevant yet they are lost if we don’t take action in helping the plight of the entire pod. They are starving due to the lack of salmon and yet they face other stresses such as pollution such as the level of PCB’s found in the salmon, the noise and the sheer volume of marine traffic in the Pudget Sound. Tomorrow’s post will outline those who are working to help this pod of Orca’s and have been doing so. We can help support those doing this work otherwise we simply turn our head away from Tahlequah.
Feel free to share your evenings ritual, your art here in the comments or join us in the Sisterhood of the Antlers facebook group.