Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Squirrel as Gatekeeper

US Fish and Wildlife Service, Public Domain
I've been thinking a lot about Gatekeepers lately.  In ADF ritual, the Gatekeeper is invited both as a spirit that aids the opening of the Gates to our Ancestors and the Shining Ones, and often also as a guardian that protects the ritual space from more malicious spirits.  Trying to establish relationships with more nature spirits and nature-oriented deities of the various Germanic pantheons, I've been having some trouble finding a deity that is interested in the job on a long-term basis.  Freyja helps out on occasion, and for our Grove's Norse rites I usually call on Heimdall, but He's pretty clear that it's a community duty for Him, and I am Not His.

I just returned from Midnight Flame, a wonderful ADF festival (more on this in another entry!) held in Michigan.  What struck me most about that land in contrast to my own was two fold: first, the trees are so skinny!  And perhaps because of this, I don't recall seeing a single squirrel, of the typical type that is found practically wherever one steps in eastern Nebraska.  Upon coming home, I was struck by the ubiquitous nature of this animal; and also by the connection that I'd built to them over my life.  I talk to them, and often they will chitter at me as I sit on the back porch invading "their" space.  They literally play with my children, scurrying up and down our trees like they invented hide-and-seek.  I thought of Ratatosk, the legendary squirrel mentioned in both the Poetic and Prose Eddas, traveling between the roots and the boughs of the World Tree to speak to the creatures dwelling there.  I thought of our squirrels, who build nests high up in our trees, and bury their nuts near their roots.  Of all the nature spirits who spend their lives with us in this suburban city, the squirrels seem like the most natural and obvious example of a Gatekeeper.

I was thinking on all this throughout my first morning back home; and that afternoon my husband asked if I would mow the lawn this time around.  I like to look around when I'm mowing and practice some nature awareness with at least one of my senses, so I did some quick centering and headed out.  It was in my front yard, underneath the giant maple that watches over our house, that I found pieces of a squirrel nest scattered.  Laying below were two small, probably adolescent squirrels; their flesh mostly eaten but their fur and bones remaining.  Their skulls were crushed, presumably damaged in the fall.  I wanted to lay them to rest by burying them beneath the tree that was their home, and as I picked up the second squirrel, the end of its small, furry tail came off in my hands.  It was totally free of flesh, and dried as if it had been tanned.  I consider it a gift of the nature spirits, an acknowledgement of my desire to pursue a relationship with the squirrel spirit.  After burying the dead and making my offerings, I brought the tail inside to freeze, to remove any mites or other stray creatures; after which it will sit on my altar next to the Tree - a fitting memory, and the beginning of a new journey.

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