Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feeling Hawkish...the hawk in Native American lore

"Red Tailed Hawk" photo by KL Wood
On August 15, 2015, my husband, mother, and I attended the Nansemond Pow Wow held on tribal land recently returned to the Nansemond people by the city of Suffolk, Virginia. We were invited to experience this amazing event by the head male dancer whom we met at our home this summer in Edenton, North Carolina. The drumming and singing and dancing were spectacular and touched a deep-seated connection within me. Although we know nothing about her, family lore has it that my great-great grandmother was Native American. Physical connection, or not, I certainly felt a spiritual one, especially with their relationship to the natural world and its deeper other-worldly relation with animals. One of the highlights of the day, for me, was the opportunity to pose for photos with a gorgeous, female red-tailed hawk. As she was held aloft behind me, the wind from her beating wings wafted against my head stirring my hair in her avian breeze. I loved it!

"Male Dancers" photo by KL Wood
The hawk is an important symbol of many Native American tribes across the continent. It is seen as a protector in the skies and associated with the elements of rain, wind, lightning and thunder, known by some as the Thunderer. Iroquois tradition has the Thunderer armed with a bow and flaming arrows as it fights a continuous battle against the forces of evil.

The author's Power Animal for the day.
 The feathers of the red-tailed hawk are considered sacred by many and used in religious rituals and ceremonies. They are worn as an honored part of Native American regalia. (One of the things I learned at the Pow Wow is that the appropriate name for the traditional clothing worn at such an event is never "costume," but always "regalia"--a costume being an outfit one wears when pretending to be something they are not.)

The hawk is a "Power Animal" or "Spirit Animal." The best definition of Power Animal I have found is at . Here is a quote from the website: "Power Animals are strongly associated with the Native American Indian belief in Animism that is a belief based on the spiritual idea that the universe, and all natural objects within the universe, have souls or spirits.  Power Animals are believed to be a supernatural power that embodies, attaches or conveys influence empowering a person with the powerful traits and characteristics of the animal. The doctrine of this belief is that everything is alive, and possesses an inherent virtue, power and wisdom. Power animals represent a person's connection to all life, their qualities of character, and their power. Power Animals are  regarded as guides who appear in dreams or Vision Quests in the form of an animal. Power Animals, or spirit guides, walk through different stages of life with a person, teaching and guiding them,
"Pow Wow Dancers" photo by KL Wood
and in some instances protecting them."

As a Power Animal, the hawk is a Messenger and represents Guardianship, Far-Sightedness, and Strength. Coming into such close contact with the beautiful red-tailed hawk, I could feel how she would symbolize all those qualities.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Close Encounters of the Wolfish Kind...Amarok of the North

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ever since I stroked the thick, coarse hair of a wolf in "goodwill ambassador's clothing," I have had a fascination with wolves. Many years back in my college days at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting wolves brought a pair to campus for a hands-on experience. They also showed us an informative and heartrending film about the plight of the wolf in the wild--how it was hunted down for its coat or for its undeserved reputation as a savage killer. I would like to think such actions are now a thing of the past but, having recently encountered a man in Alaska who bragged about how many wolf pelts he bagged on a regular basis, I am disheartened to know such exploitation still exists. OK. Now that I've gotten that particularly bitter pill out of my system, I will share the Inuit mythology of Amarok, the Wolf God. 

Amarok is a wolf-being of enormous stature, far larger than normal wolves. It is thought the
By Scott Flaherty [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
basis for Amarok may be in the real life interaction between the Inuit people and now-extinct animals, particularly the Dire Wolf, a formidable predator that prowled the northern landscape until the end of the Ice Age. It was about 25% heavier than the largest of modern wolves. Skeletal remains put them in at about five feet in length, from head to tail, and between 150 and 200 lbs. 

Unlike ordinary wolves, Amarok does not hunt in a pack but is the quintessential "Lone Wolf." It is said he is quick to kill anyone who is foolish enough to hunt alone in the dark of night. Perhaps he is just culling the herd as real-life wolves do when they kill the weak and sick, an action that increases the health and strength of the herding animals. Instead of pulling out the weak caribou, he is eliminating the weak-minded humans! (And, of course, I mean weak-minded in the sense of foolish--not mentally challenged.) 

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Although Amarok is known as a fearsome deity, there is at least one story told of his kindness. There was a young Inuit boy who was chided and bullied by people of his village due to his stunted growth and subsequent frailty. In frustration he called out to the Lord of Strength to help him. Amarok appeared and wrestled the boy, easily pinning him down with his heavy tail. In the struggle, several small bones fell from the boy's body--bones which, Amarok explained, were prohibiting his growth. He told the boy to return each day and he would wrestle with him to build up his strength. The boy trained with Amarok until he was so strong he overcame three large bears with his own hands. That duly impressed the other villagers who then held him in highest regard.

Although I did not get to see a wolf, myself, on our journey through Alaska, my husband
Wolf Print by Copper River, Alaska by KL Wood (author)
encountered one at dusk while walking our two small dogs. We were the lone campers by the Copper River near Wrangell St. Elias National Park and I was busy inside our little travel trailer making us cups of tea. Bill burst through the door and practically threw the dogs in ahead of himself. He had seen what at first appeared to be a very large dog closely monitoring their progress but, when it disappeared into a ditch and then reappeared ghost-like much closer to them, he realized it was a wolf. Tawny and gray, with intent, intelligent eyes focused on our little, black shaggy pups. The next morning, I saw and photographed large canine-type paw prints just a few yards from our trailer. When the larger of our dogs, Betsy--weighing in at 25 lbs, stepped on the ground, she barely made any indentation at all. As you can see from my photo, the wolf's 4-inch long prints made a very visible impression. Wow.

Lessons learned? Don't go out hunting...or walking your dogs...alone at night (or at dusk) in the northern wilderness. Unless, of course, you are that wolf-killer I mentioned earlier, then...go ahead, make my day. All Hail Amarok! 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now!