Augury of Birds
I am an American. These last days we have been subsumed with prophecy, prognostication, polls, projections, predictions. We have been subjected to forecasts and spreadsheets and odds-making and hand-wringing, illustrated by giant multi-colored charts that can morph at the touch of a finger, spewing numbers and percentages illustrating the most grandiose—and the most miniscule—movements up or down or split to the left or right. What’s the result? When will we know for sure?
It isn’t just the US election. With the coming of the coronavirus we have lost sight of our future. Less than a year ago a person typically thought more or less a year ahead: Christmas at mother’s, spring break at the beach, going out to Georgie’s graduation in June, summer neighborhood party at our house this year….. and so on. Now we can’t accurately predict where we will be or what we will be doing once the current lockdown here in the UK lifts in December, much less once the virus is under control. We are uncertain about our livelihoods, our kids, our communities, our planet. Those magic interactive whiteboards don’t give us a clue. What? When? How? Our future is uncertain. How are we to know?
Tonight I want to talk about the Augury of Birds.
Since the distant past, augury has been used to interpret omens, or the will of the gods, from the observed natural world:
· from the sky, especially thunder and lightning, which indicated the presence or mood of the Divine
· from animals, such as the fox, wolf, or horse
· from “portents” or abnormal events and
· from the birds,
o their birdsong,
o their flight paths,
o their “sacred dance” when they have alit
o the number and positioning when present
o the time of day when they are seen
In the Celtic tradition, crows have a particular meaning: it matters whether a crow lands on the fence or the rooftop, what direction it faces upon alighting or taking off, whether it brings or takes food. If more than one, the number is significant. Children used to memorize a counting rhyme: One crow for sadness, two crows for mirth, three crows for a wedding, four crows for a birth, and so on.
I thought tonight in midst of our uncertain futures we might try a little ornithomancy or bird divination by taking a journey. You can think of a question to carry with you if you want.
Close your eyes.
Center your mind and pay attention to your breath. If it helps, try a count of 4 on the inhale, hold for 2 at the top and 4 on the exhale. Let go of any tension you are holding in your body as you breathe. Breathe energy and light in on the inhale, through and out on the exhale.
Feel yourself totally present in your sacred space. Without opening your eyes, imagine a window looking out into the world, the sky and the land beyond your room. As you are looking, the window becomes a door and you feel beckoned to come outside.
A path leads away from your dwelling to a wooden gate with a three-step stile. You climb the stile, pausing for a moment at the top to see the path continuing on ahead alongside a stream or quiet waterway into a copse of trees in the distance. Breathe here. Come down onto the path and continue walking.
Pay attention to your surroundings. What is the path made of ? Trodden grass, pebbles, or earth? Is the path dry or wet? Can you hear or sense the nearby water? What kinds of vegetation are you passing—hedgerow, meadow, field of crops? How does the air feel? Is it moist or dry, is there a breeze? Is the sky daylight or night, cloudy or fair? Feel your own body as you walk, your muscles, your breathing, your feet touching the earth.
After a time you enter the grove. Continue on, being aware of the presence of the trees—their bark, their branches, their leaves rustling. At last you come to the end of the trees; the path widens out to an open clearing, fenced along one side, with large stones scattered about. One of these stones invites you to sit—it almost feels alive against your back and legs.
Take a few moments to enjoy your surroundings, letting your thoughts drift, if you have a question, hold it gently in your mind.
You hear the sound of wings, and when you look, a bird has come into the clearing and landed. It seems comfortable with your presence, yet you hold very still as you study the bird—its feathers, its legs and feet, the length of its tail, its head and beak. Its eye. You feel that the bird and you share an awareness, that the bird has come here specifically to meet you. Enjoy this unspoken communication for a moment or two.
If you have brought with you a question, you may ask the bird for an answer. This answer may be a word or a song or a movement. Listen and watch deeply. Hold yourself in silence for a few moments.
At last, the bird lifts its wings and pushes off into the air. Watch it as it ascends and flies away. Keep your eyes on it until you cannot see it anymore.
Take another few breaths, then stand and turn back to the path. Walk back through the woods, acknowledging the trees along the way. When you come back into the open, you will sense the water alongside you as you walk. When you come to the stile, climb the three steps, then stand at the top and feel yourself steady and strong. Come down the steps and walk back to your dwelling, taking note of your natural surroundings as you go, noting any changes since you set forth.
Enter the doorway and come into the familiar surroundings of your room.
Open your eyes. Hello.
I tried this bird augury not long ago in Princeton. I was fed up, cranky, fighting against the isolation and restless in the continued lockdown. My overriding question was WHEN WILL THIS END? I walked along down on the tow path between the canal and the river and I rounded a bend and there not 8 feet from me was a beautiful blue heron who looked at me as if to say, it’s about time you got here. I came to a halt and looked at it. And you know herons, they are silent. It’s a rare day when you hear a heron’s voice. And when they stand in the water they are so still you can’t always tell where the heron ends and the reflection begins. And I knew the message. Be still. There is beauty where you are.
Have a beautiful rest of your day or night wherever you are.
Listeners were urged to comment if they chose. Twenty different birds were mentioned as having entered into contact:
Blackbird Blue Jay Buzzard Crow Eagle Eagle Hawk
Golden Eagle Hawk Heron Jay Kestrel Kingfisher
Magpie Owl Raven Robin Snowy Owl Sparrow
White Dove Wren