Non-Binary Mysteries 2: Solar and Lunar Symbolism

March 7, 2015 § 3 Comments

(This is my submission for Prompt #2 of the Non-Binary Mysteries. See the masterpost here.)

The sun rises, dawning color and warmth into the world, nurturing and burning, illuminating and changing. It visits any given area for longer and shorter times throughout the year, rising through the sky, falling through the season. Hours and seasons are set by its movements, heating and cooling, growing and harvesting.

The sun sets.

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, a researcher found that people who fit solidly into the gender roles proscribed by society were far more likely to assign gender to words and objects than people who didn’t fit so cleanly into societal gender norms. Read up on Gender Schema Theory by Sandra Bem and the fascinating research and ideas within it. It’s a bit dated and incomplete, and yet it has usefulness within its limitations, like any model.

During a cognitive task study, people who were strongly gendered and gender-normative (“sex-typed” in Bem’s theory, meaning they process and integrate traits and information in line with their assigned gender, conforming to the cultural definition of what it means to be “male” or “female”) tended to remember more traits assigned with their gender role, and processed “sex-type congruent” information more efficiently… perpetually reinforcing their concept of gender normativity, a continual process of confirmation bias. When given a list of words to cluster either by semantic meaning or by gender, they were also more likely to cluster words by gender. They are “gender-schematic”.

In contrast, “cross-sex-typed” individuals (in Bem’s theory, people who processed and integrated information and traits in line with the opposite gender role from their assigned gender) had the lowest percentage of words clustered by gender, followed by “androgynous” individuals (people who process and integrate traits and information from both genders). They are “gender-aschematic”.

Strong gender-schemata provides a filter through which people process incoming stimuli… making it easier ability to assimilate information that matches the stereotypes, which further solidifies the existence of gender stereotypes. It is one model through which to approach reality, and a highly dominant one in a number of societies, enforced and reinforced throughout the culture. It is incredibly prevalent, too, in much of Neo-Paganism: Lord/Lady, God/Goddess, Male/Female, elements and correspondences all sorted into Masculine and Feminine. Sun God and Moon Goddess, in so much of mainstream Paganism.

The moon rises, lining the world in silver and shadow, the cool colors of night. The face of the moon waxes and wanes, cast in growing shadow, brightened in growing light. Months are measured by its cycles. Its pull sets the rhythms of the oceans, the tides and waves, and perhaps it even influences the rhythms of mind and heart.

What, then, for those of us who are gender-aschematic?

I am fortunate in that my tradition leans gender-aschematic, itself. Kemetic philosophy is non-dualistic and polyvalent, the One and the Many, both/and. Many seemingly contradictory things can be true all at once. There are deities with the title of “The Great He-She”. There are deities that are explicitly hermaphroditic, deities that are very male, deities that are very female, and deities that are downright sexless. There are deities that are more concept than person. There are deities that merge into one another, split into pieces, and those pieces join with pieces from other deities to make new ones, fission and fusion and fluidity.

The sun is a goddess and the sun is a god and the sun is a scarab. The moon is a child and the moon is a god and the moon is only rarely a goddess, but the gods of the moon are not strongly masculine. The sun and moon are not so much gendered as they are personified in many different ways.

The sun takes the form of scarab, cow and bull, lioness, falcon, cat and leopard, cobra, vulture, and heron. The sun is nurturer, warrior, queen, king, healer, lover, creator, avenger, guardian, mother, father, and son. The moon takes the form of ibis, baboon, and falcon. The moon is healer, defender, scribe, protector, creator, child, traveller, embracer, time-keeper, mathematician, magician, judge, mediator, arbitrator, counselor, and scientist. Both sun and moon are incredibly multi-dimensional, and go so far beyond gender.

Wepwawet is my Parent deity, and I associate Him with shadows and night – though not the moon itself. So often for me, He is gentle soothing darkness, and also an edge of mischief and unknown mystery. He is the moonlit crossroads where your shadow stretches black and long before you at the point of choice and possibility. He is a magician and something of a gambler, a warrior and a scout, the standard-bearer and guide. Yet He has never seemed strongly gendered to me, this wolf-wanderer of the ways between.

Bast-Mut is my Beloved deity, and She is most definitely the sun. She is Bast on Her throne, Bast Who is Mut, the Devouring Lady, the hunting-cat goddess crowned with uraei. She is an Eye of Ra, a title given to a number of martial or protective solar deities. Fierce yet motherly, regal yet warm, and I see Her in the kind of sun-warmth that invites basking, the sun that warms me slowly and gently down to my bones. For me, She is the revitalizing warmth of the sun, and I feel Her most strongly in the dark of winter when the sun shines forth and brings me back to life. She is joy and care, protective nurturing.

The sun has many different faces to me. There is the harsh beating sun-in-summer, Ra as King and Sun, the Apis-bull, Sekhmet’s wrath. There is the warming sun-in-summer too, Mut and Heru and Wadjet. There is the cool distant sun-in-winter, hawk and scarab, watching, becoming. There is the warm revitalizing sun-in-spring, Hethert returning from Her travels, Bast crowned in glory. There is the fading sun-in-autumn, Hethert-Nut as the Wandering Eye in Her departure.

Sometimes the moon sings to my blood, intoxicating and invigorating. Sometimes the moon is a rabbit and sometimes the moon is an ibis as Djehuty or a falcon as Khonsu. Sometimes the moon is a mystery, magic, and the hunt. Sometimes the moon is madness, its fullness corresponding with a spate of crisis in the mental health centers I’ve worked in. Always, the moon is genderless. Never have I experienced it as feminine, and never have I identified with the menstrual cycles that so much of modern mainstream Paganism associates with lunar cycles. I love the moon and thrill to the sight of it, sparking dreams and visions in my mind.

The sun is a different thing entirely. I connect so strongly to the sun, and I am keenly aware of its seasonal increase and decrease. The seasonal rites of equinox and solstice resonate with my heart and biochemistry, not for their celebration of the cycles of agriculture but rather for the marking of the sun’s departure and return. My mood brightens with sun’s presence and suffers significantly in its absence, seasonal affective disorder weighting my body and mind. The hawk in me is a solar creature, thriving in the daytime, hunting in the sun’s light. The phoenix I identify with at the core of my soul is solar above all else.

The moon sets.

The sun rises.

North Wind, Winter Sun, Rough-Legged Hawk

May 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

When I speak of hawk, I speak of Buteo lagopus, rough-legged hawk in North America, rough-legged buzzard everywhere else. I do not speak of the true hawks, accipitrinae, goshawks and sparrowhawks and such, bigger and rounder than falcons but still sharp-edged. I speak instead of buteo: heavy-bodied, opportunistic hunters, not too proud to scavenge; broad-winged soaring birds.

There are far more tales of falcons than of hawks, and often people mistake the two. Horus is a falcon, not a hawk, and certainly not a buzzard; Freyja is falcon-cloaked, not hawk-cloaked; and so on. Finding legends and myths of hawk as hawk – not falcon mistaken for hawk, or conflated with hawk – is nigh impossible. Searching for totemic interpretations of hawk just brings up “messenger, protector, visionary” over and over, and a lot of writing about red-tailed hawks.

How to discover myth within rough-legged hawk? I could begin with a list of facts: northern bird, rodent-hunter who won’t pass up carrion, feathered all the way down to its talons. Buteo lagopus will hover over open ground, looking for prey; it’s one way to tell it apart from other hawks. It nests in cliffs and Arctic treelines; it hunts in tundra and prairie from the air or from a perch. It builds its nests from sticks but sometimes even from caribou bones.

It’s a poor start, little more than bones and air. It’s difficult to extract symbolism from something that is so tactile, so present, so here-and-now. Hawk is the hollowing of my palate into a beak; hawk is the cramping of arms into wings; hawk is prickling feathers beneath my skin; hawk is high-alert, sensitivity to environmental stimuli, birdpanic; hawk is the sense of the eternal now, present-moment without real awareness of future days or past weeks. Hawk is an ever-present experience. How do I view it as myth and archetype when I can’t even find cultural myths to guide my sensing?

I’ll start with symbols. Associations.

Rough-legged hawk is not air so much as wind, spring wind and north wind; it is the rustle of high-plains grasses. It is a sun-bird, too, but not the hot southern summer sun of Vulture, nor the fierce pounding warrior-sun of Falcon. Rough-Legged Hawk is a colder star, arctic sun over tundra and winter prairie, warm enough to ease the chill of winter, bright enough to illuminate mouse-skitter and hare-movement.

Rough-Legged is a creature of borders, nesting where cliff and tundra meet, prairie and treeline. Hunter and scavenger both. Rough-Legged Hawk feels like early spring, late fall, the edges of winter – as contrasted with Red-Tailed Hawk, which I always associate with warmer times: late spring, summer, early fall, the warm summer sun; more direct. Rough-Legged Hawk is a bird of in-between times and places, transitional.


If I were to make my own stories of Rough-Legged Hawk, I’d write how he came by his colors. His chest feathers are like an impressionist’s watercolor painting, as if Monet dabbed his brush on the rough-legged’s breast. Or like snow on frozen high-plains earth. That’s what strikes me each time I see one up close, at the local bird rescue, or in pictures; rarely in the wild, so near the bottom of its winter range. Did the snow fall on her as she nested, and she refused to move, and the winter left a smattering of white across her head and chest? Was he too foolish to find shelter in a storm, or too stubborn? Did the spirit that painted the animals run out of paint when it got to Rough-Legged Hawk and have to spread it out as best it could?

How and why does he hover, when so few birds his size know how? Did he learn it? Rough-Legged Hawk isn’t so clever to steal the knowledge from others, like Crow or Raven might have done. But perhaps he scavenged it somewhere, if another bird or insect were so careless as to leave the trick of it lying about.


Hawk has taught me mindfulness, living in the here-and-now, present-moment. To really see, not just move from point A to point B without noticing my surroundings. To sit apart and watch, observe, focused and quiet. Open awareness, unblinking hawk-gaze.

For me, Rough-Legged Hawk in particular is about flexibility, practicality. He is not so consummately opportunistic as Grackle or Crow; there is a consistent core of constancy about Rough-Legged. But he is flexible within that core, not passing up elk bones when looking for nest material, not passing up carrion when looking for food. No use in being rigid, but remain true to what you are.

Simplicity. Too often I make things more complicated than they really need to be. Things are simpler for hawk: soar, nest, hunt, perch. Human-anxiety is a thing of words and worry, of racing thoughts, too much stuff, too many concerns. Birdpanic is a thing of too much stimulus, overwhelmed by the over-abundance of noise/sights/activity in an oft-human environment, my mind gone wordless, thinking reduced to pure sensory input. There is a distinct difference between these two types of anxiety for me, and I experience both. When I am human-anxious, it helps to become more hawk: simple, focused on the now, tactile, experiential; soaring, perching, feel the wind in my feathers. When I am in birdpanic, it helps to become more human, focus on human-thoughts and human-skin to shift away from sensory bird-mind; and it helps to indulge hawk-need, to remove myself from all the noise and bustle of a crowded place, get into open air where I can see sky; breathe. Both approaches involve simplifying – simplifying my thoughts, narrowing my focus, reducing the complexity of the situation.

Transitions, borders, the in-between. Nest in one environment, hunt in another. Migrate. Movement within a range. There are things that are Hawk in general and there are things that are Rough-Legged Hawk specifically; being a border-dweller is one of the latter.

Perhaps I’ve been more connected to Rough-Legged Hawk as symbol, myth, and spirit than I ever realized.


Expressing Hawk

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Once, I wanted a body long and lean, all bird-boned lightness. When I looked in the mirror, I expected on some level to see sharp features and steep angles and was startled every time by softness and curves. I envied the angular androgyny of some of my friends. I’ve come to accept that this is simply not my physiology. I am wide-hipped and broad-shouldered, heavy-boned and solid; even trimmed of excess fat, I won’t have the lean slender lines that aesthetically appeal to me.

I realized, as I began to mold my body through movement and nutrition into something more to my liking, that I didn’t want to be insubstantial or waifish. I realized that I liked having substance and solidity. When I began systematic bodyweight strength training, building heavy layers of muscle, I found that I felt increasingly at home in my skin. I developed an awareness and command of my body, my movements and limbs, that I didn’t have prior to strength training.

Rough-legged hawk is in the Buteo genus, heavy-bodied raptors with broad wings and a penchant for scavenging so that they’re called buzzards in much of Europe rather than hawks. This is in contrast with the Accipiter genus, quick lighter-framed raptors, goshawks and sparrowhawks, sometimes referred to as “true hawks”. Rough-legged hawk soars and sometimes hovers. Rough-legged hawk is not quick and agile enough to hunt most birds on the wing, but rather hunts rodents in an open field from the vantage of a high perch, launching from perch to prey.

There is substance to rough-legged hawk, weight and solidity and strength. To be buteo is to be a heavy bird. I want power in my limbs, I want heavy muscle, I want to be all controlled movement and potential forcefulness. The more physical strength I develop, the less dysphoria I seem to feel: gender dysphoria, body dysphoria, species dysphoria… they intersect in this instance. I appreciate GreyGhost’s point about flight as an expression of strength, weight as a stabilizer in flight, gravity as both ally and opponent. It resonates for me regarding buteo as well.

I express and manifest hawk in other physical ways as well: things that ease my discomfort with my body, that help my reflection in the mirror be a little less startlingly strange. I keep my hair cropped short in an undercut, a pinfeathered buzz of hair beneath a longer crest. The prickling shortness quickly grows to the softness of down until I shorten it again. I find myself preening my own hair (feathers), particularly just after cutting it; the feel of it is as much an expression of hawkness, for me, as the look of it is an expression of gender.

Certain activities express hawkness for me, or provide an outlet for it: dancing, sometimes, when I can reach an ecstatic trance state through movement and exertion, so that it’s more like shapeshifting, flying, soaring; being in high places, rooftops and upper decks and clifftops, perching on the edge (fearless) until worried observers call me back; running, on the rare occasions I decide it’s worth the aftermath of stabbing pain in my knees. That doesn’t do much for the reflection in the mirror, but it helps ease some of the pent-up bird-needs, which means hawk is a quieter influence in me, and thus helps calm the feeling that my skin doesn’t fit right.

I’m very tempted to get a tattoo, eventually: rough-legged hawk wings stretching across my back and shoulders and extending down the upper part of my arms. I don’t know that it’d do anything for the feeling of discomfort in my own hide, but it would be an external, visible representation of an integral part of me, and that has its own value.

Balancing Feathers and Pinions

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment


For me, it looks like this:

I stood in the central community building of my university, a tall airy structure of glass and concrete, open all the way to its ceiling several stories up. Classes had let out, and swarms of students poured in from connecting hallways and outer doors, passing through, stopping for conversation, yelling across the floor. A cacophony of noise and movement and people.

Something in my brain shut off, or turned on; but either way the chaos around me drowned out all conscious thought and words. My skin prickled with the realization of feathers beneath it, the roof of my mouth seemed to hollow and harden into a beak, tongue turned stubby and inflexible, lips motionless. I found myself hunching, wide-eyed, arm-wings held just apart from my sides, fingers splaying spasmodically.

A panic flooded my head. Noise / danger / loud / out! Despite the wideness and height of the building, I felt claustrophobic. Suffocating. I grasped blindly for conscious thought, words, humanity, but my pulse raced and my beak gaped. Overwhelmed.

Out out out out out out out

I shook from the effort of keeping control, walked faster than was seemly but I didn’t run and I didn’t shove anyone in my haste to get outside.

Fly flee escape fly

I pushed through the double doors and into the open air, blue above me, breeze in my feathers/hair, concrete below. There were people here too, and cars, but nothing for the noise to echo off of, and far more space. I drew in deep breaths of air, my heart rate slowing, my mind stilling. I focused on fingers, hands, words, the boundaries of my skin.

That was six years ago, and I still remember it so vividly.

I didn’t have this problem for the first couple years after consciously identifying as bird. It wasn’t until I started suppressing it, trying to deny parts of it, that I began experiencing intrusive shifts and increasing difficulty with control.

When something affects you, ignoring it or denying it doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it just affects you more adversely because you’re not being mindful of it and not taking steps to manage it. I don’t know what really causes the experiences I identify as “bird”, but trying to suppress those experiences or rationalize them away has more ill effects than not.

So I suppose the first step to balance, for me, was accepting that yes, I am avian in some way; and yes, it impacts my life.

I found some effective short-term tricks for controlling my shifting. The main one is shifting towards “human”. If birdness becomes sharply prominent in an environment where I can’t afford to indulge it, like at work, I focus on words, sentences, speaking; I focus on fingers, manual dexterity, things impossible with wings or claws; I focus on where my physical skin begins and ends, reminding myself that I am here and now and human. I imagine pulling my feathers in, pushing bird-mind down beneath the surface.

But this is a temporary solution, resorting to hard control and suppression. When that’s all I do, birdness comes clawing/flapping up more often, more harshly, harder to suppress each time – until it gets to be as difficult to control as in the above description. There are longer-term solutions.

I mentioned acceptance. That’s the first step. Then: striving for balance. For me, that means finding safe times and places to immerse myself in bird-thoughts, bird-awareness, feathers and beak. That might mean taking a walk in a park, or standing on a balcony and feeling the wind, or even – weirdly – dancing, at a club or around a fire (depending on your preference – I like goth clubs for this, myself; I don’t get bothered, everyone dances in their own space, and I can lose myself in music and movement, fly inside my mind while my body goes through the motions of it all).

Finding ways to express my birdness also helps. This doesn’t mean wearing birds on t-shirts or jewelry – no, what I mean is engaging in activities that are soothing or comfortable to rough-legged buzzard. Hiking at the intersection of cliffs and prairie, buzzard’s preferred habitat. Scavenging, in my own way; whereas hawk might go for roadkill meat, I scavenge the other leavings of deceased animals: bones, game-bird feathers, and the like. Perching in high places where I can get a good view of the ground below.

When I express my birdness regularly, in places and times of my choosing, I manage to find a better balance between human fingers and avian pinions. After a while, I stop needing to consciously make time to be “bird”, because the divide between human-mind and bird-mind blurs to nearly nothing, until I am at a stable constant state of bird-and-human-at-once, aware of both.

It took a while to get there. There were three years between the birdpanic experience detailed above and the following journal post, in 2008. This is what balance feels like, for me:

I have been comfortably, constantly aware of my birdness these past few months. There have been very few shifts; it’s been an ever-present thing instead. Not just frazzled pin-plucked feathers during times of anxiety or stress, I’ve not just experienced birdness in skittering frightened flapping-panic, but in contentment as well. This is rare, and it’s wonderful, and I’m really liking the constant sense of feathers.

Not prickling and itching under my skin like I sometimes perceive the feathers, but just there, everywhere, fluffing with cold or pleasure or happiness, standing on end with threat or irritability, slicking back in fear or worry or miserableness.

I have felt more fully bird than I ever have, and it is day to day and ever-present. My feet are bird feet, long and clenching-opening-curling; my mouth is also a beak, hollow palate, nibbling-tasting-testing everything (pens, necklaces, the edge of my shirt collar or sleeves); I am aware of movement and my own movements and the strangeness of my eyes.

It hasn’t felt unusual at all, though. It took me a few months to realize how constant my awareness of my birdness has become, because it feels so natural.

A Raptor’s Primary Senses

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

My eyes are weak.

I’ve had vision problems since childhood. Astigmatism. Severe near-sightedness. Glasses, contacts. I’ve always been protective of my sight; I read so much, I depend on my sight for so many things, that going blind is my greatest fear.

People talk about being “eagle-eyed”, about seeing as sharply as a hawk. Vision is a raptor thing, their primary sense, right? You hood a falcon to keep it warm, restrict its sensory input. You cover bird cages at night. Some birds (some songbirds, and budgies) see in the ultraviolet spectrum. Sight is a primary mode of perception for many birds, most of whom have a poor sense of smell (vultures being an exception), though quite a few rely on hearing as well.

What, then, for a near-sighted hawk?

Here’s the thing: while I rely intensely on sight, it is not my primary sense. I am not a visual thinker. I am tactile, I think in texture, I translate my perceptions into tactile imagery, and I feel this makes a certain sense for a bird-person.

Think on it. Feathers in the breeze, communicating a host of information on air pressure, wind speed, and wind direction. Flight is not a visual feat, but rather a tactile one. Filoplumes feathers are sensory feathers, transmitting information on movement and vibration much like a cat’s whiskers, indicating when a contour feather is out of place, and possibly even helping the bird gauge airspeed.

Touch is one way birds bond. Allopreening is mutual grooming, and the bird being preened exhibits visible pleasure. Parrots are visible examples of allopreening as they are highly social birds, but ravens do it too, as do mourning dovesowls,caracaras, and there is even interspecies allopreening. The mated pair of red-shouldered hawks at the wildlife center I used to volunteer at also engaged in allopreening.

So perhaps it isn’t so unusual for a hawk-person to think in texture and rely on tactile feedback as a key sense, particularly a near-sighted one like myself.

The Alien Avian

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Humans are social creatures, pack animals by nature, apex predators, and of course – mammals. It makes sense, then, that other apex predators, other mammals, and social apex predators in particular would translate more cleanly into human bodies, and be more recognizable. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the disproportionate number of wolves in the therian community, and of big cats.

In comparison, birds are alien creatures: of the sky and sometimes the ocean, with only rare species residing primarily on land (ostriches, emus, cassowaries, kiwi). They occupy a different sphere entirely, treetops and cliffsides and wind. They are hollow-boned, feathered, and beaked; they are egg-layers and nest-keepers.

Many people have a good grasp of body language and cues when it comes to mammals. Some of this is due to early and frequent exposure to cats and dogs, and some of it might be simply that the cues are similar to human ones: a mobile face, lips curling in a snarl for canines and humans both, eyes widening or narrowing, a hunched slinking posture when threatened or a big forward posture when threatening, and so on and so forth. We can read “feline”, we can read “canine”, and even “equine” or “bovine” are comprehensible with little previous exposure. The nuances might take study to learn, but beyond that, humans speak the same basic language as most other mammals.

Birds speak a different language. It might be motivated by the same things (fight/flight, fear/aggression, hunger, territory), but it doesn’t look the same. A bird’s expression doesn’t show in a mobility of facial features, but rather in the subtle pinning of pupils, in a gaping or clacking beak, fluffing of feathers (and there’s a difference between contented fluffing and a threat display) or slicking back of feathers, head-bobbing, head-weaving, preening, plucking…

Social birds are easier to relate to, and easier to study; they’re more motivated to communicate. It’s far simpler to study a parrot (and the psychology of african grays, for instance, seems similar to that of humans), which is a highly social flock bird, than to study a raven, which is social on a much smaller scope. Their intelligence may be similar, but it’s trickier to demonstrate the intelligence of ravens than it is for parrots, perhaps in part because so many of our measurements of intelligence (and methods of taking measurements) are based on intensely social, mammalian humanity.

Translate a bird into a human, and what do you get?

People often have a hard time reading my tells. It takes conscious effort and it’s taken a lot of self-training to make facial expressions, to display feelings and affect through standard facial (and vocal) cues. When I am not feeling well, I often don’t make the attempt at facial expressions, usually because I’m more focused on my mental state than on communication of that state – and in some respects, I think I fall into the behavior Tsu described: “an injured bird hides.”

When I am anxious or agitated, it shows in my physicality: shifting my weight from foot to foot, clenching and unclenching my feet repeatedly. Fidgeting with my scalp, short-shorn hair like pinfeathers and down, stress-preening, feather-picking. My eyes go wide and staring when there’s sensory overload, too much stimulation for hyperalert hawk-mind; my head swivels to look at every sudden motion. My breath rate increases, going rapid and shallow under intense stress; this is a normal physiological reaction for anyone’s anxiety, but it’s not joined by an anxious expression, it doesn’t display on my face. My face lacks emotional expression to the point where I have had coworkers, managers, and casual friends walk up to me when I am in the midst of a full panic, and they choose that moment in which to comment on how calm and laid back and mellow I always seem to be.

It’s not just stress and anxiety that manifest primarily in body language, either. Interest expresses as a sharpened intensity, hawk-stare, turning the entirety of my attention to a single point. Often my mind is split several ways, but when something trulycatches my attention, it commands all of it, all of my focus. I lean forward, my gaze is as still as my face; I fidget less. When fully engaged, fascinated, I become less animated, more still, more intent. I seem more serious when I’m very interested in something, razor-edged. Happiness is a softened gaze and fluffed phantom feathers; relaxed contentment means slower movement, increased comfort with physical contact, swaying side to side, limbs loose.

It’s different socially, too. This is more of a hawk thing than a general bird thing, because plenty of birds are highly social, flock creatures: parrots and geese and crows, to name a few examples, though I’m sure their form of socialization looks very different from mammalian pack dynamics (and I would love to hear the social perspective from a flock bird person at some point). Rough-legged hawk is a solitary bird, or pair-bonded at most, apart from sometimes roosting communally in winter territory and forming small flocks in migration. I understand group dynamics and hierarchy thanks to observation, study, and social psychology classes; it’s not an ingrained knowledge or an instinctive understanding. Thanks to being human as well as hawk, I am a social creature, and I need social contact and meaningful relationships in my life. However, socializing with people who are intensely hierarchical can be strange and stressful for me, and I react poorly to attempts at shoehorning me into a hierarchy in a group setting. (I deal with it better in a work environment, where I’ve learned to accept it and can see the efficiency around it; but in social, casual, or friend groups, I see no point to it and deeply dislike formations of hierarchy.)

I have no patience for dominance displays in general. Fortunately, I do not trip the dominance/hierarchy-aware instincts of most of my intensely hierarchical friends (wolf-people and even some cat-folk). That’s where I prefer to be, in a group setting: non-hierarchical, outside a hierarchy if one exists within the group, seen neither as a threat to dominance nor someone to be dominant over. It sometimes means I fit oddly in a group setting, or don’t mesh with the larger social fabric of a group; a part and apart at the same time. It can make finding meaningful, nourishing community difficult. Most of the time, though, I don’t mind.

A bird is not a mammal, and it’s hard to describe what it’s like as a bird in human skin when all our language is mammalian, when my body is heavy-boned and featherless, soft-faced, toothed instead of beaked. It’s like trying to translate a complex concept from German or Japanese when there’s no word for it in English: it takes paragraphs and pages to convey even half of it, and so much is lost in the translation even then. Bird is alien and other – closer, maybe, than reptiles with their cold blood and scaled thoughts; closer, perhaps, than the wet world of fish, or the colony-existence of bees and ants. Yet it’s alien in comparison to cats and foxes, wolves and horses, a psychological uncanny valley of almost but not quite comprehensible.

Storm Trapped in Stone

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written in May 2006.

she is a thing of wind and wings –
one moment solid, one moment fey –
her eyes alight with starfire,
her mind away in flight,
now hissing in birdwarning, now starting in birdfright,
flapping up a fury –

and the sky is dark with fury
of clouds and raven wings,
and the air is charged with fright –
garbage bags whipping like something fiercely fey,
like birds with tattered wings seeking to take flight;
they startle her to instinct, that primal flickering fire –

– like the heat in her belly, anxiety-fire,
as her heart beats a tattoo of thrumming fury –
caged in ribs, trapped from flight,
raging against too-heavy bone, ghost-wings
stretching, straining, reaching for the wind so fickly fey –
ground-chained bird, no way to flee from fright.

thus the panic settles in her breast, the feather-fright
flickering like candleflame in the storm, fearfire
an answer to the shotgun of thunder; she dances fey
and wild, shying, skittering awkward from the fury
of skydrums. she breathes, then, to settle the wings
in her chest and her thoughts, and takes flight –

– not launching freely into air, but flight
on asphalt and concrete; the birdfright
passes, thumpthumpthumping out through the wings
that are her feet, and she is consumed by fire
in legs and lungs; the road soaks up her fury
and becomes her tar-soaked sky, turned fey

and feral by the birdness pouring down, fey
as the moonpaths to another world. this is flight –
or as close as she can get. her body knows the fury
of wind trapped in stone; her mind knows the fright
of the jessed hawk. her spirit bathes in phoenixfire
and within a human shell stretches feathered wings.

there is a feyness in the intimacy of fight and fright –
she knows the feel of flight; she knows immolating fire,
and a fury of feathers fills her dream of wings.

Animal People

November 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

Written in February 2004.

She hunts for the wild in humanity.

These are the tracks that the wild leaves: shadowy depths of something not-quite-human lurking behind the eyes; the restlessness of being wingless or clawless; feral wariness of motion and reaction. Her trained eye recognizes the signs, and with study, the form that leaves them.

Wolves are direct and rough, no-bullshit and no-nonsense; there are many of them. There is a tall rangy male, scruffy, with a slight beard and unkempt hair: he is a cocky juvenile wolfdog. He looks in some ways as Hollywood depicts the werewolf in man form, and he moves with a cocky sureness that leads one to expect his tail to be curled up and his tongue lolling.

There is another wolf, a heavyset woman in her 30’s, middling height, with soft dough-pale skin and seal-brown hair. Not the sort you’d peg for lupine by her appearance. But it’s evident in her dark eyes, piercing and intense; in her almost-wary movements, the way she seems to bristle and verge on a snarl when startled or hemmed in by too little space.

There is the one nicknamed Old Wolf – he of grizzled salt-and-pepper hair, heavy brows, intense dark gaze. He moves like the old wolf he is: stiff legged, almost stalking at times. His voice is rough, his words blunt and gruff, and one can almost see the ears flick back and forth, flatten now and again in displeasure. He has a sense of smell nearly equal to a true wolf, and his nose wrinkles at distasteful scents, or flares wider at interesting ones.

She found a stag, once; a stag who claimed wolf, but she could never see it. He prances, tosses his head, watches with clear bright eyes, reacting to every noise and motion. He verges on paranoia, though one wouldn’t know it to watch him bound and preen and prance. Physically he seems almost like a wolf, with a beard and long hay-hair and a stout-muscled build – but the movement’s wrong, and the behavior. He’s a flirt, a buck in rut, right down to the combativeness. A peacock, someone once called him, for his prancing and posturing, but he’s all antlers and hooves, not strutting feathers.

There is one that she cannot quite figure out; this young woman is either horse or cat, or perhaps both. She too prances, but her prancing is proud high-crested horse rather than dancing deer. Her eyes flash, head tossing back, seal-brown mane flying. Cat’s there too, in the love of texture and touch and the predatory eye for movement. Two natures manifest oddly in her; at times there’s a quick movement and she seems to shy away, kicking horse-like at earth and air. At others, she stares fascinated, and one can almost see a twitching tail as she stalk-stalk-pounces. She has a feline’s dignity, where a loss or fall brings first a flashing fire in the eyes, and then a laugh and a grin and a manner that says “I meant to do that.” Defeat in sparring brings out that spark of flame that almost seems like anger, and then fades to acceptance and a laugh or smile, and it’s hard to tell if either is more equine or feline.

She knows a puma, and he was one of the easiest to spot. He’s a grizzled graying mountain lion, long in the teeth he retains, stiff of limb and joint. Cranky grumpy snarling cat, preferring his den to all else. He’s tall and lanky, all limbs, with a rough gray beard and a segmented ponytail that swings like a false tail. Proud beyond measure, and just as territorial, but it’s age-pride, toothless dignity, and he avoids the conflicts by staying within his den, in his uncontested turf.

There was an owl. Her build suggests faerie – thin, near to waifish; black hair like raven wings liquefied; pale skin over sharp features. It’s the eyes that give her away, though – storm-gray eyes as reflective as a glassy lake, settling on one object, dissecting it for a long moment before shifting to the next, rarely blinking, dispassionate. Neither restless nor steady, unlike most peoples’ eyes; instead, they’re unsettlingly intense on the item of interest, yet never rest long on any single spot. She is almost expressionless; facial movements are like afterthoughts, twitching awkwardly from stoicism to brief smile and back again with no transition. Leaning forward is like perching; she seems rarely relaxed, never sprawled back or slouched in a cushioned chair. She looks at people, sometimes, as if they are a meal, that mirror-surfaced gaze showing little, reflecting much, and dissecting the flesh of the observed individual layer by layer.

There are some who have no animal inside, no hint of the wild; they are utterly completely human, and perhaps that leaves them less than human. She probes and stares, watches hard and long, but she cannot find a glimmer of wild; they are all wires and concrete, all perfect normality. Has the wild been trained out of them by disapproving glances and social prodding, or was it never there to begin with? Do they know of its absence? Do they miss it, long for it, or do they fear it so much that they’ve locked it away beyond all retrieving?

For herself, she clings to the wild within, and seeks it in others. She feeds it with woods-walking and cloud-staring; she breathes it with words and with wordlessness; she releases it on the streets, eyes pigeons with temptation, and walks the city as a hawk.


November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written in November 2006.

Crisp coolness of autumn air. Naked trees stark against the sky, no leaves to obstruct observation of the ground. Stiff brown leaf-fall highlighting mouse-movement. Ripe nuts and fruist enticing squirrels into harvest-frenzy.

Autumn is good for the prey, and so autumn is good for the hunt… and the hawk.

We walk the woods often this autumn – the changing one, the cat, and the hawk. A river runs cold and shallow, banked with rocks and bridged with fallen trees. The cat leaps with fluid grace to one fallen tree, stalking its water-worn trunk; she is all feline now, and stares wide and fascinated at the shiftings beneath the river’s surface. The changing one watches without motion or sound, entranced.

Branches crackle and dead bark falls as the cat leaps into a pine and up, clawing and pulling from limb to limb. The upper branches seem too small to support even her tiny frame, but she paws at the base of each and they hold. She crouches thirty feet up, wide-eyed and silent and watching.

I am caught between feathers and skin, staring up into trees I cannot reach, wings loose and uncertain. Hawk wants altitude; hawk wants the vantage of height to watch and wait and listen. The trees stand bared on a steep hillside; I am only partway up its height.


The hilltop calls. I crabstep upwards, careful, awkward; each step crunches sticks and leaves. The ground is noise and treachery, shifting and slipping beneath my clenching claw-feet. I’m aware of the sound of hissing, soft and wary, before I’m aware that it’s me, beak agape and breath hissing past an inflexible tongue.

Ground is not safe!

Stop, stare at the cold-autumn blue past a lattice of branches. Safer up there, more natural – but I can’t reach it.

Get higher.

Step, crunch, step. Careful of the weak knee, watch the sliding ground. There – big fallen tree, well covered, and I can make my cramped gawkish way up to its middle and perch, high above the cat and the river and the changing one.

Hawk-thoughts fill my head; I am all beak and blood, now. Feathers fluff against the autumn chill; talons grip the weathered tree. I am immobile, all silent observation, watching for every minute motion.


Leaf-crunch, fur-rustle; the cat has returned to earth. She stares and sniffs, prowls on all fours. I watch, unseen; she creeps silent behind a tree as the changing one returns from the river, and he does not notice her nor me.

Skinside Out

November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written in February 2006.

What is therianthropy? The usual definition is something along the lines of “the state of a person being strongly connected to a nonhuman animal species in some way”. What is generally meant by that is that therians are humans who are also, in some manner, non-human animals.

There are all sorts of structures and rules and addendums that go along with this definition in the online therianthropy community, of course. But, like anyone else, I have my personal definition, and it’s a wordless feeling that doesn’t quite translate to a nice dictionary-style sentence. It requires poetry and imagery and metaphor. So that’s what you get.

Therianthropy is animality. It’s a state of being, a state of living – walking about in an ill-fitting skin, mind caught awkwardly between human and animal. Animal floods through your veins, flutters in your head and heart, twitches your muscles. It is what one is.

Therianthropy is human and animal combined. It is having a furred thing under your skin, or something feathered or scaled or even antennaed. It is living as a human, born and raised and embodied as a human, but something wild whispers in your veins and stalks inside your mind, and sometimes the animal-that-is-you peers out of your human eyes.

Therianthropy is living skinside out. Your fur is on the wrong side, itching underneath the surface. You have fangs and tails and claws, yet they exist only to your senses, overlapping and underlapping with human skin and human hands. You don’t quite fit inside your hide; your body’s the wrong shape.

Sometimes it feels right, being this mixture of human and animal; it feels like the most natural thing in the world, to the point where you can’t imagine one without the other. Sometimes it feels wrong to the point where you want to rip your skin off like a confining eggshell. Sometimes you want the animal with its too-strong flight-instincts or fight-instincts gone, you want to be rid of the reactions that get people looking at you oddly, you want the instinctive reactions that nearly get you in vehicle accidents to disappear. Or sometimes you want to shed your human hide, become on the outside what you often feel like on the inside and lose all human thought and worry, become just a cat or just a bird or just a wolf and not something stuck oddly between that and human.

And then, of course, logic sets in and you have to admit that life as an animal in the wild would be short and brutal and you’d probably not survive long; and yet you can’t imagine life without the wild creeping under your skin.

Why are there therianthropes? What is the nature of this condition? What is its cause? Honestly, I don’t know – and equally honestly, I don’t really care. Debating whether it’s spiritual, psychological, magical, allegorical, archetypal, genetic, chemical, totemic, or something else entirely is a purely intellectual exercise, and one without any real meaning beyond that.

All I know for certain is that I am human and I am bird, from skin to soul. And really, as far as therianthropy goes, that’s all I truly need to know.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with therianthropy at Of Horn and Ivory.