Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The contention of hawk and crows


Bird-watching in human history has been the favorite form of divination, second only to dream interpretation. The most famous Greek dream interpreter, Artemidorus wrote a (lost) book on bird omens as well as his classic work The Interpretation of Dreams fom which Freud borrowed the title of his book a mere 1,700 years later. The Romans were devoted to getting messages from the behavior of birds. Before making any important state decision, top Roman officials, accompanied by the council of augurs ("bird-watchers) would go up on the Capitoline Hill to observe what was going on with the birds in a certain quarter of the sky. From the numbers, flight and voices of the birds the augurs would determine whether it was a "good day" or a "bad day" for state action. In recent years, I have wondered whether we could have done any worse - in the management of national and global affairs - if our leaders had based their decisions on the behavior of birds rather than the prognostications of economic forecasters and expert advisers.
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I value bird signs highly among my personal omens, in the category of omina oblativa (to borrow the language of the ancient augurs) which means the signs that are "given" by the play of natural phenomena. rather than "provoked" through a divinatory practice. A red-tailed hawk, in fine shape, usually gives me the sense that a day will go well.
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Like other everyday oracles, bird omens can be ambiguous or obscure. Take my experience this morning. On my first walk of the day with my dog, I observe a tremendous flurry of activity among the crows that gather in great numbers in this season in a neighborhood park. Thirty or more are wheeling and flapping, cawing and squalling. I realize they are trying to drive away a red-tailed hawk, a female to judge by her size. The hawk isn't easily driven. She lands on a branch of a leafless maple, maybe ten feet from the top. Crows land above her, croaking and jabbing their beaks at her. Others flap in midair, as if trying to sweep her from her perch. A daring crow dives down at the hawk, talons outstretched, braking and wheeling away just before contact. The hawk is unmoved.
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The crows are suddenly distracted by the appearance of a second hawk in the distance. Many take off after this new threat. One - now two - stay at the top of the maple, keeping watch on the hawk perched below, leaning so close to their branches that they temporarily lose the profile of birds and look like part of the tree. The other crows come back. No sign of the second hawk. Half a dozen - now more - of the crows join the sentinels atop the maple. Others flutter around, cawing but less aggressive than before. The hawk waits. When she moves, it seems it will be on her own schedule.

I watched this avian drama for twenty minutes. It's not clear to me what it means, but if I were a Roman augur I might suggest that this is not the day to rush a decision. I might feel that the day was revealing itself as one of the dies intercisi, one of the "divided" or indeterminate days that are neither fasti (when things are "allowed") or nefasti (when they are not). Then again, if I were an augur with the Senate depending on me I might have been willing to stay in place, on a cold morning, to see how the stand-off between the hawk and the crows played out. Instead, on the day before Thanksgiving, I'll just stay open to what the rest of today brings. Later, with hindsight, I can look back at the bird contest and try to determine whether it provided clues to something that happened later. I may have missed those clues this morning, but maybe I can get a message quicker next time I see a hawk engaged with a murder of crows.

15 comments:

Lou Hagood said...

Good Morning Robert, Happy Syncranicity! Yesterday morning, I too walked my dog around Gramercy Park in NYC and saw a flurry of activity up in the trees. Blue Jays were squaking and dive-bombing our resident Hawk ( named Ruggles by my neighbors for the founder of the park in the eighteen-thirties), who was as unimpressed as yours. This was the day after you asked that I post my New Orleans Hawk visitation on your Causeway post below. Happy Syncranicity!

Robert Moss said...

Hey Lou - How much synchronicity can we take? Last weekend, I was back in the Gramercy Park neighborhood for the first time in more than a decade. Long ago I rented an apartment in the Gramercy Park Hotel (which was then in a seedy - and affordable - state, nothing like its opulent new version). Happy Thanksgiving!

Lou Hagood said...

Hi Robert, There's better synchronicity between us when I spell it correctly. I too stayed in the seedy Gramercy Park Hotel with my wife, daughter dog & cat after the Coned steam-pipe explosion spewed asbestos all over our newly-purchased coop twenty years ago. I'm sure we shared the same ghosts( including the bootlegger, Joe Kennedy, and his doomed family, who lived there once).

Betsey said...

Robert,
When I witness the scene between the crows and the red tail hawk I know I will be bombarded with inconveniences for the day but to stay calm and hold my course.

cobweb said...

Dear Robert,
I read with interest your comments on the observations of birds. I have always believed birds have a psychic link to events in our lives and deaths and on 2 important occasions of deaths close to me birds have heralded the passing in very intense and obvious ways, but it is not that what I wanted to say today, on Saturday morning I awoke to find 2 Peacock walking around my courtyard they remained in my yard all day and roosted on my roof that night the following morning they were gone.
I do not live in a village in India, but in a village in the Blue Mountains of NSW Australia, so thought long and hard about these visitors deciding they were visitors bring comforting greetings from a dearly loved and missed son of my former lover, deciding they were both 'present' and silently bonding with me once more. It was a deeply moving and comforting experience.

Savannah said...

Hey Lou ~ Oh please don't straighten out the spelling! I thought that was so clever and assumed you were talking about cranes (you know, the birds...). Right up there with the infamous synchronocity Robert's always mentioning :-).
Having been dive-bombed by crows myself on a few occasions and relinquished my territory each time, I feel rather cheery thinking this time I will stand my ground and I will be immovable (symbolically speaking, anyway...).

Robert Moss said...

Betsey - I think you're a natural as an augur. That's excellent counsel, and I've handled a number of "inconveniences" (so far) today very much in that spirit.

JaneE said...

Hi Robert, Your auger report is timely. I had a bird fly into my window/skylight this afternoon. This is after a hummingbird flew into my living room two weeks ago and tried to fly out that same skylight, and a few days later a bird flew into the same window, trying to get in...That's three in less than three weeks. Any ideas on "if this were your bird experiences"? Happy Synchronistic Thanksgiving!

Ginta said...

Robert-
I'm so glad you've got this bird story-line going on!
About a month ago, I had a hawk sighting that I've been wanting to share.

I was strolling through a tiny bird & butterfly sanctuary just off of Lake Shore Drive (amazing the bits of nature that can be found in the middle of Chicago!), and saw

1) a hawk, flying due west, being chased from above by what may have been a blackbird (was too small for a crow). Humiliating defeat.

2) some minutes later, the hawk returns, flying east this time, (to my right) aiming for a small bird fluttering around among the tops of the prairie plants. The hawk dives after the other bird, but misses and has to struggleto extricate itself from prairie grasses. Frustrating failure, but at least this time the hawk is the one doing the chasing.

3) some more minutes later, same hawk reappears. Again flying east. this time to my left. Dives after another small bird, this time making the kill.

A life lesson on persistence from the hawk, eh?

In this same B&B sanctuary, I saw a garter snake, low-flying bumble bees (passing uncomfortably close to my head), and the most beautiful miniature black panther - which meowed a greeting, but wouldn't come close enough to touch.

It was fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Adelita Chirino said...

Hi Robert,
I don't think a red tailed hawk goes by that I don't think of you and of the excellent omen I'm witnessing.

I started a dreaming blog; come visit me:http://litadreaming.blogspot.com/
Thanksgiving blessings and ache,
Adelita

Robert Moss said...

Hi Jane E - Your bird signs (if they were mine) would be a great opportunity to play at developing some practical superstitions. I'm being deliberately provocative, because there are lots of hand-me-dwon superstitions that generally make it out to be a very bad omen if a bird flies into your house or just into your window, and I'm not inclined to go with any of that without checking (A) my feelings and (B) any follow-up to the incident and above all (C) helping the bird in question to get where it needs to be. I'm assuming the hummingbird left in one piece, yes? That's a bird of such great heart; it has the strongest heart, in proportion to its body mass, of any warm-blooded life on our planet. My hunch would be that it entered my space with a message relating to matters of the heart.

The other birds banging against windows or skylights (if I have that right) may also be trying to get a message through to me. Of course, they may be just flying at their own reflections, or unable to recognize an invisible barier - and I guess I would ask myself whether either of those possibilities could reflect in any way my own situation.

Robert Moss said...

Labas Ginta - Wow, I'm so glad that hawk found some space and some lunch in the end. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Robert Moss said...

Hola Adelita, and welcome to the blogosphere! Thank you for all you are giving to spreading the gifts of dreaming, not least to children. I hear every week from people all over the world who are working with the marvelous "Way of the Dreamer" DVD series you and Jim helped to create, which provides depth - and fun - instruction in the core techniques of Active Dreaming, helpful both for those who cannot get to a live workshop and those who wish to deepend their practice in order to lead dreaming circles or qualify for my Dream Teacher Training.

Worldbridger said...

I think that a crucial aspect of interpreting an omen is the state of mind and the direction of one's thoughts at the time one's attention is drawn to the event (birds or whatever.)

If the event recurs, a relationship is being established. As time goes on, does the relationship develop? If so, how?

Daughter of God said...

Black birds sybolizes the dark side and evil. The hawk represents the light.
The hawk withstanding the barrage being sent to it, means that, one alone, can withstand all that the dark side has to offer.
The hawk needs other hawks to arise and emerge and stand with the lone hawk, in order to fulfill prophecy and bring the darkness to an end.
The Hawk derives its power from trust in and prayer to God. When all around us is a lie, when we can trust no one, when the end is near...when we question all, the only safe place to go is directly to God ( regardless of what name as a human you give Him/Her, or what "manmade" religion you subscribe to, all begin with and are a part of GOD.
However, the line has been drawn; you cannot serve two masters.
Either you trust in God or you trust in man...based on history and on the fallibility of human beings, I certainly would not put my trust in any human being.

The message is clear...it is always more important than the messenger and it always comes from God. Get rid of idols and symbols. Go direct. YOu'll be glad that you did..for only God can fix the unfixable that mankind has created and that mankind can no longer control.