Thursday, October 27, 2016

September Totems: Chicken

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. September's totems are Pig, Vine, and Chicken.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Swine (Torc/Muc) – hunt, search, nourishment, putting up a fight
Vine (Muin) – prophesy, prediction, rebirth, and omens
Chicken (Cearc) - fertility, battle, sexuality, watchfulness

September is a month of sacrifice, blood, and feasting. All of the totemic beings for this month are associated with food (vine = wine), and they have an underlying association with death and rebirth.  Their blood is the "sea of blood" that surrounds the Castle Perilous, and theirs is the blood/wine of the Holy Grail that is the treasure of this Castle.


Fowl have been domesticated for over 8000 years and have a long history with man as a provider of both meat and eggs. They originated in Thailand and Vietnam and were descended from a wild bird species called the red jungle fowl.

Chickens are diurnal creatures, and while the crowing of a rooster is synonymous with daybreak, any farmer will be happy to tell you that his roosters crow all day long.

Chickens are very social and have complex hierarchies within their groups. Pair bonding is unheard of,. Yet despite this abundant promiscuity, there is tremendous territoriality and rivalry between two roosters as to who gets to mate with whom. The same applies for the hens. Both hens and roosters will get quite aggressive in defending their exclusive right to mate with whomever they deem "best." These aggressive qualities can be violent in the extreme, and farmers have to take precautions to keep adult roosters away from each other, least one kill the other.

This aggression has been exploited by the sport known as "cock-fighting." Indeed, etymologically, the use of the terms "cock" and "cocky" to describe an arrogant and aggressive male -- or his penis -- is due to the proud strutting and arching confidence of the rooster.

It is no wonder that the rooster has been seen as a mythical symbol of courage throughout many civilizations in the world. The Romans associated chickens with Mars, the god of war, owing to this aggressive and territorial behavior.In Greek myth, Ares (Mars) took advantage of the rooster's watchfulness and aggression by setting him as a guard to watch over Aphrodite while she slept, that none might disturb her.

The "mother hen" is a different sort of archetype associated with this fowl. Brooding and clucking over her young, the female chicken is a significantly maternal animal, particularly associated with the fecundity of spring -- although, in fairness, hens lay eggs all year round. She is the quintessential "nesting mother," though even she has a dark and cold side. Chickens, like pigs, are known to eat practically any organic thing that is put before them. It is common practice to feed baked and ground eggshells back to the chickens who produced them. Sometimes, though, the hens start eating their own eggs (often due to accidentally puncturing one, mistakenly eating it, and then developing a habit).

Cerridwen, who is the Silver Queen of the Castle Perilous, transformed into a hen to devour Gwion Bach when he became a grain of corn to escape her.  Cerridwen later gave birth to the bard Taliesin, who was Gwion reborn.  Because Cerridwen is both the great sow and the devouring hen, these two animals are sacred to her and the month that she reigns over in our tradition.

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