Thursday, January 26, 2012

January Totems: Blackbird

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. January's totems are Wolf, Blackthorn, and Blackbird.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Wolf (Faol) – guardianship, ritual, loyalty, free spirit, intuition, shadow
Blackthorn (Straif) – blasting magic, guardians, boundaries, no choice
Blackbird (Dru Dhubh) – territoriality, omens, enchantment, gateways


The Blackbird notoriously sings at twilight and dawn -- the liminal times -- making it a guardian of the gateways and between-places.  This makes it an ideal totem of January, the time when one year ends and another begins.

Rhiannon's birds were said to be blackbirds, as they are enchanted birds of the otherworld.  They were said to "wake the dead and lull the living to sleep", another nod to their liminal singing, and a hint that the blackbird is capable of the shamanic work of dreamwalking and spirit communication.

The blackbird, or ousel, is the first animal Culhwch asks regarding the whereabouts of Mabon, as it was the oldest animal that Culhwch knew of.  Again, the blackbird stands as the gateway to the animals that remain in the quest: stag, owl, eagle, and salmon. 

The blackbird in Culhwch's tale, here named the Blackbird of Cilgwri, answers that he is so old that he found a smith's anvil when he first came to Cilgwri, but that time was so long ago that the anvil has long since worn away from his pecking at it.  The blackbird is  especially sacred to blacksmiths.  In Irish ghobadhu means both blackbird and blacksmith.  The blackbird has the unique habit of bashing snail shells and nuts on stones, much as a smith would use an anvil.  For these reasons, and his coal-black feathers, the blackbird is sacred to smith gods, such as Tubal Cain.

Blackbirds are territorial, and seeing two together is considered a sign of good luck.  It is also good luck to have a blackbird build its nest on your roof, or anywhere near your home.

In North America the red-winged blackbird is perhaps the most iconic of blackbirds.  One Native American legend states that the blackbird tried to warn the people of a village that a man had set the marsh on fire.  The man angrily threw stones at the bird, wounding its wings and staining them blood red.  Thus, the blackbird is a bringer of omens, and of self-sacrifice.

1 comment:

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