April fools us with five Mondays this year so Michelle and I have decided to each do a one-off tale of our own choosing. I selected The Bremen Town Musicians because it’s been a favorite of mine since childhood. Since then I’ve revisited this tale several times, always with the same sense of delight. I can pinpoint exactly where this sentiment resides – right at the top of my tummy – waiting to erupt into a gleeful sound, something between a chuckle and a gurgle.
In retrospect I see that I loved the idea of animals (read non-entities and minions) upsetting the established order of things. Their cheerful aplomb and raucous courage cheered my own rebellious heart. I attribute that rebellious streak and longing for independence to my (at the time) terrifyingly angry mother, the strict hierarchy imposed on our family by the military culture we lived in, and the genetic disposition inherited from Dad’s determinedly individualistic family. The self-determination of the donkey, dog, cat and rooster endeared them to me. To this day they remain great favorites of mine.
Male donkeys represent stubbornness, vulgarity and laziness. Though originally associated with Ra the Sun god ancient Egypt, later they became aligned with Seth the ‘evil’ brother and shadow side of Osiris. Female donkeys, on the other hand, represent knowledge, symbol of humility, poverty, courage and peace. They appear twice in the Christ story – once to carry the Holy family to safety and again to carry Christ on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Apuleius also made use of the donkey in The Golden Ass. He transformed his protagonist into a donkey in order that he might work through his thoughtless foolishness and eventually regain human form under the divine auspices of Goddess Isis. The juxtaposition of Donkey’s differing traits remind me of the Tao, the spiritual path we must all, sooner or later,set foot up.
Being born in the year of the dog gives me a great affinity for canines. Their wild ancestry sings in my bones and allows me, at least metaphorically, to run with wolves. Dogs above all else, symbolize loyalty, an attribute I appreciate in others and aspire to myself. Because of their dual nature (wild and domestic) the dog is said to walk between worlds. Dogs are often guardian figures such as Anubis or Cerberus or the companions of powerful Goddesses such as Hecate, Diana, Hel, and the Caillech. The hounds of Hell, who run with the Wild Hunt through Celtic nights, are sometimes called The Hounds of the Mothers. Cave canem! Beware of the dog who can focus her wild nature through the lens of her loyalty and fight to the death to protect what she loves.
Ah cats, who can deny their insouciance? Sacred since time immemorial in both their domestic and wild guises they remain to this day creatures of portent and mystery. Long demonized by The Church because of their affiliation with the Feminine Divine, cats have managed to retain their popularity in spite of being drowned, hung, skinned and burned at the stake. One reason is their ability to destroy vermin. Unlike dogs who serve man out of love and loyalty, the cat makes a pact with humanity in which both parties are expected to fulfill certain conditions. Cats love the night and seem to have a special affinity for the moon, reflected in the luminous orbs of their dark-adapted eyes. Their purported nine lives make them a symbol of transformation and rebirth.
The Rooster is known for his courage. Long associated with the sun he is a solar symbol in many cultures around the world, venerated for bravery, kindness, raucous good nature, eroticism and ability to keep time. His appearance in dreams may be a call to “wake up” or, if he appears in full plumage, a sign to strut your stuff. In Christianity the rooster stands for the risen Christ, but he is also affiliated with the Greek trickster god, Hermes. Good fortune belongs to Rooster, but his self-assurance and confidence can slide quickly into vanity and fool-hardy “cockiness”.
All these animals are rich in meaning, they appear in dozens of tales around the world as both bit players and heroes. I could go on and on about any of them, but I can already see a pattern emerging. Self-reliance, connection to Spirit, rebelliousness, good humor are all qualities I prefer and can lay claim to on my good days. Their shadow sides are mine as well. I am glad my old friends don’t hesitate to crow, bray, screech or bark when I get too vainglorious, stubborn or aloof. This story reflects so much of my own nature. It’s interesting, gratifying and very humbling to me to see how little has changed, how much remains the same.
For some reason I gave this Germanic (notice the dachshund) tale a Japanese setting – perhaps because of the import these creatures retain in so many diverse cultures around the world. Their meaning differs, sometimes radically, but these four animals all make their home in our collective unconscious. They are messengers from our deepest selves and most ancient community, bearing lessons and rewards for those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear.
As a child, I never noticed this story was about old animals being discarded by their community. Now, my own aging eyes and ears perk at tales dealing with the end stage of life. After seeing my mom in and out of several nursing homes and watching my dad’s decline into old age, I am poignantly aware of how many of our old relations are shuffled off to deteriorate in death’s waiting room. It’s an awful way to go. I thank whatever gods may be that both my parents died at home, surrounded by family. My own ageing process remains both fascinating and frightening . I hope to meet it in the same spirit as Donkey, Dog, Cat and Rooster meet theirs. You’ll notice I used a lot of color (our prompt from Leah for April) in portraying them and yes, I used the word hope, upon which I cast such aspersions in the previous post. The story speaks to me of color – the rainbow colors of diversity and change, creativity and novelty, courage and carnival, persistence and possibility. I really like this story. I like it even more now than when I first heard it. It’s a noisy tale. It says, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”