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Red in Tooth and Claw

When Nora, Peter's grandmother, lived with us, our household was the nucleus of an active local Pagan community. Over time, dementia eroded more and more of Nora's ability to retain anything she learned about in the present, so she wound up discovering again and again that she was living in a family of Pagans.

Over and over, we would have made some reference to our Paganism, and Nora, having forgotten about it for the time being, would ask us to explain again what it was we believed. We would explain, yet again, about all of life being sacred to us, and nature being the source of our inspiration.

Each time we did this, we would reach the point in our discussion where she would protest, quoting the line from Tennyson about "Nature, red in tooth and claw." Nevertheless, we would insist that that was where we looked for the holy, and eventually, she would exclaim (just as she had the time before that): "Well, then, you're all heathens!"

When we agreed with her, she would nod with satisfaction at having figured us out, and add, "Well. That's all right then."

I'm still a "heathen." But Nora had a point. Nature is red in tooth and claw. And it certainly can be challenging to accept.

How can the world be good, and have such suffering within it? How can we believe in the presence of anything compassionate, loving, or engaged with us humans in the slightest, given the hard realities of hunger, disease, old age, and death? How can it possibly be that "love [is] Creation's final law" when so much of the world is such a mess?

One way of answering the question is simply to dismiss the world as fallen and flawed. I don't need to remind my Pagan readers that this has been the traditional approach of Christianity. If we accept that the world is not sacred, is rather broken and corrupt, then the apparent lack of love we find in its daily tragedies and deformities becomes unsurprising.

But how, as a Pagan, do I reconcile an unfallen creation with the state of the world?

Oh, I can dither for a little while, focusing on human choices to live out of balance with the natural world. But however I frame it, whether I choose to ignore the way that humans are very much a part of nature or to accept it; whether I choose to see humans as fallen or no; I ultimately have to admit that the natural world has a lot of things in it that repel, disgust, and horrify me.

HIV. Stillbirths. Heartworms and tapeworms and parasitic wasps. It ain't all fluffy bunnies and sunsets, that's for sure.

OK. I realize this a kind of grandiose way of leading up to it. But the fact is, I got bitten by a tick yesterday.

Two ticks, in fact. Despite the recent frost, despite taking all the normal precautions, I got bitten by two ticks, and one of them has absolutely left some kind of infection behind it. Hopefully not Lyme disease, because, honestly, that's all I need in my life right now.

Photo credit: Tomfy
Ticks. Ugh. (Shuddering)

I hate ticks.

For years now, I've suffered from recurrent nightmares about a variety of worms, bugs, planarians, and macroscopic amoebae colonizing my body. My nightmares are like the standard Bug Larvae Under the Skin scene in a certain type of horror movie, only better lit. My dreams not only terrify me, they make me wake up in a cold sweat, feeling like I want to take a shower inside my body as well as outside it.

Oh. I'm also an arachnophobe. Got some great dreams about spiders, too. So, given my fear of parasites and my fear of spiders, ticks completely freak me out.

Did I mention? I hate ticks.

Here's the thing. Though it took me a few minutes after the shuddering, flinching, ghastly process of getting the damn things pulled off me to remember it, I got those ticks in the course of an incredibly beautiful walk in our woods.

It was twilight, or even a little past it, and the woods were fading into murk, but the leaves of the hornbeams, which have all turned a brilliant, cheddar-cheese yellow, stood out like a dream against the gloom. Because the hornbeams are all saplings of about the same age, the effect was of a cloud of yellow lights, almost like paper lanterns, hovering ten feet above the forest floor. High, high up, the more mature maple trees glowed, too, in orange and pale yellow and still a bit of green, and everywhere black tree limbs and the green-black of hemlock branches framed the night.

Peter and I walked through a night that was almost silent, except for the tiny, reedy voices of night birds, and the distant sighing of traffic. We wrapped ourselves in the wonder of grey stones, brown, tea-smelling leaves underfoot, and paths now easier to see than in the hurly-burly of summer growth.

We found the chestnuts--the saplings left behind, still insistently trying to grow and overcome the lethal blight that has destroyed their kind. And I got to see for myself just what shade of yellow chestnut leaves turn in the dark night of a New England fall.

And it was totally worth it. Horrible as the mere thought of a tick makes me feel, let alone actually finding them, heads sunk into my skin, they are just the price of admission for belonging to a real, living ecosystem.

Not just the forest, but I myself am a part of this ecosystem. Ticks? Who am I kidding. I've long since been colonized by mites and viruses, bacteria and fungi of all sorts. I am myself an ecosystem, a forest, a jungle. Ticks, and the Lyme bacteria I fear they hold, are just more passengers on an already crowded vessel--my body.

We are not truly separate from one another. There are no safe, clean, reliable places in any living system.

The very cells of my body, whose metabolism allows me life, may one day mutiny against my rule, and kill me. But without that possibility, I die now, this moment. Life evolves. Life is opportunistic. Life sees a chance and it takes it, whether it means colonizing the body of a caterpillar, chasing down and eating a rabbit, or a blood meal from a human host. Life kills, and life is dying every day.

Because that's what life is.

I've always frowned on those people who claim to love kittens, but have no use for cats. The nature of a mature cat is always there, latent within the kitten. There are no kittens without cats, and if we could, somehow, freeze young cats forever at the age they are "cutest," we would not have done them honor, but destroyed something essential to who they are. We need, instead, to love them whole--kitten and cat--or not at all.

When I say I want to embrace life, I must acknowledge that that means I must embrace death. When I say I love my woods, I must own that my woods include white-footed mice, white-tailed deer, and the ticks that prey on them and on me.

None of us are our Mother's favorite children. And all of us are.

We must embrace the whole of the wheel of life, not just the parts we think we love. Because there isn't any such thing as life without death, woods without parasites, or love without loss. It's all one at the root.

Photo credit: Thompson Greg, US Fish and Wildlife Service
I still feel disgusted and horrified by the sight of a tick on my body. But I know: the tick joins me to the deer, to the forest. To the trees.

It's worth it. That's what Paganism is, I think. It's looking Nora in the eye, and saying, Yes. Red in tooth and claw.

And worth it.

I know no better world, and ask for none.


Daniel Wilcox said…
Hi Cat,

By the way our cats would love your name;-), especially Fizzy, who looks like those 60's tablets when dumped in water.

On to the serious: Again you have written with powerful style and depth of nature...brings back a time of awe when I was working on a ranch in Montana, bringing cattle down out of the mountains...and of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transparent Eyeball experience.

However,this post more than any you have written in the last several years shows why we are so very different in our outlooks, and shows that I am not a Pagan nor a modern Quaker.

For me, not only is nature unredeemed "tooth and claw"--and we are talking here about cancer and plague, and the Holocaust, etc., not only ticks--
but evil and Death are the last enemies, not to be embraced, but to be opposed, for in the ultimate destiny of God, there is Heaven, the Omega Point, Ultimate Reality.

And that my Friend, is the Good News.
By the way, I love spiders:-) though I do wonder why so many Daddy-Long Legs manage to find our bathtub.

In the Light of God,

Yewtree said…
Cat, thank you for this post - it needed saying.

Are there people who like kittens but not cats? That is just bizarre.

Daniel, I respect your right to hold that position, but it calls up far too many questions for me ever to entertain it as a possibility. I have actually tried to get my head around it, and failed massively.

Everything changes, nothing is ever lost.
Hystery said…
Cat, my personal Goddess is Hel. Such is life. Excellent post.
Hey, all. Thanks for your feedback.

Daniel--I expect that this post reflects a basic difference, not just between my theology and most Christians', but most Quakers', liberal or not.

I think my Paganism is showing here. I'm thinking of the Old English chieftain, who compared life to the passage of a swallow through a king's hall: entering from the darkness at one eave, we exit into darkness at the other.

The story has it that the chieftain saw that as the basic worldview of his paganism, and that he became a Christian convert over the difference in theologies on just this point.

I'm afraid I'm less sanguine. Sometimes I believe that there is more to come after death--Pagans speak of a summerland, and I've had glimpses that give me hope. But I remember that, up until Roman times, there was no Jewish teaching on an afterlife either. And, for me, part of being Quaker is being willing to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now, through faithfulness, rather than in a city of Pearl as depicted in Revelations.

I do not think we vanquish death. I see death as part of life, like birth and growth, and no more divorceable from it than the song is from the songbird, or roses are from dirt.

I'll admit that has its depressing side. I can see the old chieftain's point, though I do not accede to it. Again, this world, with all it's pain, is all the heaven I expect to have; I actively refuse to insist on more.

I do, however, believe that the evil we choose to do as humans is preventable. I know that there is a unifying, loving source that unites us and connects us, and can help us not to prey on one another out of hunger or fear. And I believe that, somehow, despite all expectation and logic, nothing is ever lost. I am not sure if "I", as an individual, will survive my death.

But I sense strongly that something does. I suppose then, rather than envisioning life as a bird flying from darkness and returning to darkness, I think we fly from Light and into Light, though I do not understand the nature of what that might be.

There's a reason I term myself Pagan as well as Quaker. And this post reflects the Pagan part of me far more than the Quaker, I suppose.
Daniel Wilcox said…
Hi Cat, again:-)

Intriguing comment you made about the English chieftain's statement "entering from the darkness at one eave, we exist into darkness at the other." That's almost word for word what the English mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell said, though he was a nontheist, not a Pagan.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It gave me much to reflect on.

Briefly, I have two main thoughts:
I'm not sure our "i"s survive the endless maw of death either, not our egos anyway. What I have hope for is that in God, all that is truly loving, pure, and good survives the temporal nature of matter, energy, and chance. Though I do admit much evidence is stacked against such transcendent faith.

Dawkins' famous mantra fits the nature of the cosmos much better. Is that not why even Paul said the meaning of the cross is foolishness to the secular world?

I must admit I don't see how your commitment to nonviolence and peacemaking is reconcilable to Paganism based in "tooth and claw" nature. I only have to observe our cats to see there is no ethical sense of self-sacrifice in them, though we try foolishly to train them not to destroy.

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Sierra Club member of many years and a former backpacker, but I never saw any peacemaking, ever, in the natural world, as beautiful and wondrous as it is, despite its survival-of-the-fittest way.

As far the natural world goes, outside of the sometimes restraining influence of humans, one need only observe the elephant seals on our coast here. Something like only 10% survive infancy! And only a very few bulls rule ruthlessly. Not a pretty site, if you are a seal.

Not even for humans. Last time I was there I saw a seagull methodically pecking away at a small baby seal right next to its mother. Evidently didn't make it. Not so different from many historical tomes I've read such as the one I am in now on the 30 Years War.

I am committed to the Ocean of Light, but I realize that maybe I am deluded.

Hystery said…
Daniel and Cat,

Oh, how I love you both and admire your thoughts!

These question are not argumentative but information gathering.

Daniel, as a committed Christian theist, do you believe that the Divine created the world and/or that the world is fallen? Would you be attracted to a kind of gnostic interpretation of the material world? How do you perceive the natural world in relationship to the Divine? Also, is it safe to say that you do NOT believe in an anthropomorphic God although you use the term "God" among the many other metaphors?

Cat, Given Daniel's observations of the cruelties of the natural world, what would you say about Pagan ethics in light of our core Neo-Pagan beliefs in the sacred nature of Nature itself?

I'm not in a rush for these answers. I'm always engaged in this internal debate- but still...if you have time...
Daniel (and Hystery),
My own answer to the question of how I reconcile my commitment to the peace testimony and my sense that nature, though not fallen, is indeed "red in tooth and claw" is this:

It is not wrong for the cat to prey on the sparrow, nor for the lion to kill the cubs of another male. It is not wrong for the HIV virus to kill human men, women, and children, nor for malarial parasites to do the same.

Each of these things is acting according to its nature. I do not believe that that is a bug, but rather a feature, and I do not anticipate a happy future in which the lion lies down peaceably with the lamb.

But I worship a god who is at one and the same time the predator and the prey. Herne is the stag who fights for the right to breed with the best does in the herd... and he is the hunter who kills that stag, and feeds the hungry people with it. There really is a circle of life--just not one Disney really wants to film.

And while I know my god as a god of death and the hunt and sacrifice and loss, I also know that he is a god of compassion and love. I know this experientially, because I've met him and found him to be so. And so, inconceivable as it may seem that a world so dark in blood can also be loving, it is. The wheel turns. Now we eat, now we die and feed others. And like the comic book character of Death likes to say, we each get "what everyone gets... a lifetime."

That's part of it. You might say that I've met death, or one of the many gods of it at least, and found it to be gentle even in the midst of his fierceness.

But beyond that, there is the Light, whether we call it Christ or the Source or whatever. And I've felt that, too, and I know that there is nowhere that Source does not go; nowhere that Light does not shine.

And it loves, and it wants peace, at least from me. And, unlike a lion or a virus or a parasite, I have a choice that I can make, to listen to that Voice and follow it.

I do not know what that Voice is asking of the lion, the tick, the earthquake. It wasn't so many years ago I didn't even hear it asking anything of me--and, while I now seem to hear it most of the time, I'm not so jaded that I feel that I can allow myself to get distracted from it by speculating on the parts of the story I don't get to know.

I know that I experience the Spirit of Peace as first, omnipresent, and compassionate without measure. And I know that I am called to be faithful to it.

Beyond that, I don't yet know. I trust, but I don't know.

Perhaps this is all clear as mud... I do admit, it's pretty complicated and confusing to me, too. Hence, three years and counting of blogging to try to figure out, with these seemingly contradictory theologies presenting themselves to me, what is it that I think is going on?

This is my best guess, as of today, Wednesday, October 14, at 4:08 PM.
Daniel Wilcox said…
Hi Cat (and Hystery:-)

Since, from past posts and blogs, you already know my Jesus-centered-compassion-focused faith, I won't repeat all that unless you wish further clarification. My wife always emphasizes as I start to talk (write) to give her the short version;-)

#1 Cat, as you further clarify your Paganism, I realize that I have almost nothing in common with your worldview. In fact I am totally against it. If I am understanding you right?

Keep in mind that I am a very analytical person. I don't see how your Paganism differs from Reformed theological determinism or any other system which tries to unite good and evil into One.

It seems to be similar in at least some ways to the modern Paganism of Europe as in Demian by Herman Hesse. (in contrast, I am much closer to Siddhartha, Hesse's counter Buddha novel).

When you say, "And while I know my god as a god of death and the hunt" it seems that you have (as I understand you) just justified the acts of all of the evil that humans do. I was tempted to give you a list of human hunters, but I'm sure you can think of plenty.

The essential problem I have with Paganism as you describe it is that evil then is a necessity and not a perversion or part of the growing through and past, or a temporary sidetrack of Reality. Indeed, it doesn't seem that different from the Paganism of the ancient past which I taught for many years in high school.

I must admit that any system of human thought which includes evil is one I want nothing to do with, since I've witnessed too much evil in my own life time (and read of plenty too). I oppose such thinking with all of my being.

Remember, I am a follower of John Woolman, Martin Luther King jr. etc. MLK has a line in his sermon "Recovering Lost Values" where he says "some things are right, some things are wrong, eternally so, absolutely so." That's my view.

But I do like you and deeply admire your powerful poetic style, even if I find your worldview so contrary to everything I hold dear and value.

I hope I'm not sounding strident. I don't mean to be.

More later. Oops, I'm late for an appointment. Daniel
Daniel Wilcox said…
Hello Cat and Hystery, again

I used to be a hunter of animals and almost became a hunter of humans (the Viet Cong), but I got side-tracked by a Mennonite girl who convinced me to do a careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount.

That with Thoreau's "Higher Laws" in Walden Pond, and I came out different from the Hemingwayesque hunter I could have become.

Instead, I became a peacemaker and am working on becoming a vegetarian (for the second time). I still eat fish, poor Nemo; and chicken with my family who are beef-eaters, so I guess that makes me still a "fowl" killer;-) Rather amazing since I grew up in the beef state of Nebraska and we used to get 3/4 of a cow and eat everything including the tongue and tail.

Hystery, I was going to answer several of your questions too, but will later.

In the Light of God,

Unknown said…
Cat, I'm a Quaker who's sympathetic to Paganism. I don't experience the Divine as Many or personal, I don't believe in magic, I'm suspicious of spiritual gatherings that involve elaborate clothing or props. But what you have written in this post is right now the core of my spirituality. "Life kills, and life is dying every day. Because that's what life is." The Wheel of the Year is a powerful metaphor for me, and I celebrate Samhain.

Holding all this in my heart, I have had a hard time perceiving the Divine as loving. I feel that current, that river, flowing through all things, but I've always felt it as neutral precisely because I know I'm not Mother's favorite child. I know I cannot expect rescue, not from illness, not from despair.

But your second comment here gives me much to think about. Your comments about Herne as hunter and hunted, compassionate and loving in both aspects... What if I think of the dance of light and dark as loving? I don't know. That great THAT which I have experienced, the That Which Is (and Is in a way which seems to dwarf all other isness), doesn't feel personal to me. I know it as true, know it to flow through all things, to be the ground of all being, know it to be worthy of worship. But not personal. And to be personal, to have the That notice me, seems necessary for it to be loving.

But the stories we tell ourselves matter. Our understanding is limited by our metaphors. Perhaps I cannot perceive the Divine as loving because I've been stuck on the same metaphor for too long.

- Robin
I must disagree that my reverence for Herne, god of the hunt (who is, himself, the spirit of the hunted as well as the hunter--a key point)is any any way a rationalization for or justification of human evil.

We in this modern era and land of great bounty have the choice to become vegetarians. But other animals, and humans living in other geographic regions and at other times in history, had no such options. I am not a Jain, refusing to boil water lest I kill I microorganism; I recognize that my body participates in this dance of life and death all the time, and will until my own death--at which point, I will myself become food.

That doesn't mean that I celebrate wanton killing. Rather, it means that I honor the life that dies for my sake. I also try not to take more of it than necessary: my dogs eat red meat. I don't--except, very rarely, as a sacrament, when I explicitly honor the fact that my life is a debt that I owe to other living beings on this planet, who die or labor to keep me alive.

Nor does recognizing the necessity of death to sustain life (be it only in the form of my active immune system and healthy appetite for veggies) mean condoning human evil. Death is: if man were to cease his indifference and cruelty to man tomorrow, we would still be mortal. Death is necessary to nature. Human cruelty, however, is not.

There is nothing in the recognition that on this planet, life and death nurture one another that elevates death or killing as a good, let alone malice or cruelty. You're talkin' apples and oranges there, friend--though in a conflation I often find among Christians with a dualist vision of the world, in which all things fall neatly into Good and Evil baskets.

What I am saying is that, yes, it's all good--provided we act according to our natures and (important stipulation for me--I am a Quaker, however oddly formed) the leadings of the Spirit of Peace.

However, all good things are not pretty or fun. Some are almost unbearable. Of course I prefer life to death.

But when death comes, I think I know the shape he will have. And I hope to greet him as a friend, and to trust to the goodness of the wheel that has fed me, and which I feed in my turn.

I agree, this Pagan perspective is perhaps diametrically opposed to most modern Christian thought. But it is not about evil--it's about acceptance, trust, and love.
Daniel--here's another way to look at it:

Suffering is inevitable, and not evil.

Cruelty is not inevitable, and there is a Spirit (and many gods, from a Pagan perspective) which urges us against it.

I choose to accept suffering. I do not accept cruelty, malice, or hate.
@ Robin:

"What if I think of the dance of light and dark as loving?"

I _experience_ it as such. This is not my theory; this is my encounter with the gods.

I have never been closer to the gods than when I am suffering. Now, I don't presume to predict that that will always be so; I don't pretend that I have some special inbuilt grace or ownership of any deity, let alone that unifying Source of All Being.

But the more deep has been my grief and my fear, the deeper has been my experience of the Lady, of the Lord of the Hunt, and, above all, of the Light. At least so far in this lifetime, the harder the struggle, the stronger the sense of the arms that uphold me--uphold all of us.

Life has been difficult lately here. But I can feel the power and strength of the love of God all around me, like a river in flood stage. I love that Light, I love that River.

I hope I will always sense its nearness (and do not for a moment think that those who do not are spiritually less--indeed some of those I find the greatest human sources of Light are the most doubtful of it themselves, so I know there's no correlation).

But, again, my words here are not my theories; they are my lived experiences in Spirit, as clearly spoken as I can find words to share them.

I trust the Light. And I trust, too, in the nurturing Darkness within it.
Unknown said…
Oh Cat, I know this is your lived experience. Your past posts are eloquent testimony. I rejoice for you and, I admit, envy you a little. Perhaps it may be so for me. Until then, let me wait patiently and with hope.

- Robin
Daniel Wilcox said…
Hi Cat,

Thanks for sharing.

Your understanding and experience of nature and the humans in it are certainly very different from mine.

Unlike you,I've see much cruelty in nature and much natural evil.

And I am dedicated to eliminating as much of the natural evil whether in lower life forms or in humans as possible.

As for your statement that Herme.."is not any any way a rationalization for or justification of human evil,"
I disagree with your philosophical reasoning.

There would seem to be no basis in your religion for "evil" since everything comes from the dance of life and death, from the circle of the wheel, from Herne. If Herne is the killer and the killed, then how does this not fit the situation in Afghanistan or Darfur or the millions of humans suffering from malaria, etc.?

Remember earlier you said that even "It is not wrong for the HIV virus to kill human men, women, and children, nor for malarial parasites to do the same," :-( :-(

I hate to say it, as I don't mean to sound uncivil, but your statements remind me of the kind of stuff I heard for years from conservative Christians, only instead of Herne it is God who is both the killer and the killed.

I definitely would never be a Pagan. If I ceased following Jesus, I would be like Albert Camus. Originally, Camus claimed a relativistic ethical stand. But later, he worked with all of his might to overcome suffering and evil.

I think it is time for me to leave and worship.

I thank you for being willing to center into worship rather than simply dismissing my words.

I think you have put your finger on exactly what is the least acceptable aspect of Paganism to many, many Christians--the rejection of evil and dualism, in the form of conceiving of life as a struggle between good and evil, that I think most Pagans will agree is at the heart of Pagan religions.

However, I am saddened that you think that an acceptance of participating in the dance of life and death in the form of the exchange between predator and prey, of the natural world, is equivalent to condoning acts of human evil such as the wars and murders committed in places like Darfur or Afghanistan. I think most of our human choices to war and prey on one another fall outside the circle of what is necessary in nature, even at its fiercest.

I suppose I am saying that I believe humans have the option to choose evil--the turning away from nature and the Light. And that we often do so does not make the cat that kills a mouse evil, or even death itself.

There are Pagans, however, who believe it is possible to be a warrior and in harmony with nature and the gods. I, however, have a very different sense, particularly since being convinced as a Quaker. I believe that humans are called to peace and compassion, and that is our nature, if we are willing to accept the help that is always standing ready--the Light that I believe you would call Christ. For humans, at least, I believe that to be the highest good.

But I don't necessarily think that Light objects to carnivores and death. I see them as different things from murder, torture, and war.
Yewtree said…
Hi Cat and Daniel - the way I see it, humans make conscious choices to be cruel or not.

A cat playing with a mouse is not being deliberately cruel; it just doesn't have the empathy and awareness necessary to make it see life from the mouse's point of view.

A human tormenting a cat, however, is aware that it is wrong to do so.

For me, that is one of the points being made in the story of the garden of Eden - that once the apple has been eaten, humans are conscious and therefore know the difference between good and evil. And that is what makes us different from animals. (Admittedly there are many acts of altruism done by animals which blur the boundary rather a lot.)

Great discussion all round. Cat, I would love to have your blogpost and your subsequent comments for the Pagan Theologies wiki.

Some of my thoughts on good and evil are also at the PTW.
Anonymous said…
Well you did it again. I've reread your post two or three times a day and still not sure how/if I should respond and as fate would have it I dallied to long trying to find words, that I have to leave. A short note, you have me asking questions that I haven't asked before. I know that we live in an inperfect world. An inperfect world is one that needs compassion, love and goodness.

I know that nature is "red in tooth and claw" and I as human I have participated it.

As a Quaker I feel called to try to move this "nature" towards a more compassionate loving life.

Bright Crow said…
Dear One,

Thank you for this post.

You write:

"We are not truly separate from one another. There are no safe, clean, reliable places in any living system."

If you strip away all the doctrinal and ideological interpretation layered onto the Hebrew creation story, you find something more in tune with the themes of this post, shown in an ambivalent yet positive light.

The Creator calls all of the Creation good--and mortality is part of the Creation, not a punishment for human sin.

See the ambivalence? Good yet mortal.

BTW, Walhydra got distracted part way through your post by the image of walking through a forest of cheddar cheese trees.

Liz Opp said…
Back to the tick thing. (Ick, ticks.)

1. I have been told by a Quaker biologist that if you can see the tick clearly, it is unlikely to be a deer tick, and that it is the deer tick that carries Lyme disease.

2. I am a fan of using alcohol to smother any tick I find on me-- The idea of using tweezers to pull the tick off of me just freaks me out, frankly. To about the same degree as finding a tick on me in the first place.

3. I will probably be much more careful about wearing light colored clothing, a hat, and tucking my pants into my socks when I know/remember that I am venturing into a wooded or grassy area that might have ticks. The hard thing is, I usually DON'T think about ticks until it's too late.

Ick. Ticks.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. Of the little bit I've read of the back-and-forth between comments about Paganism and Quakerism, I've appreciated the warmth, directness, and openness that you all are engaging in. It opens a door for me to look through and learn a bit more about these topics, without feeling threatened or imposed upon. Thanks, everyone.
Hi, Liz,
Your biologist friend gave you the simplified version of deer tick identification. In actuality, deer ticks go through three distinct life stages between their hatching and their death, over the course of a two year cycle. In the larval stage, the ticks are not infectious, as the blood meal is their first. In both the nymph and adult feedings, they can carry Lyme and other blood-bourne diseases, as they have already had their first blood meal.

The theory is that nymphs are the most likely to spread Lyme disease, as they are smaller and more likely not to be noticed for the 36--48 hour minimum exposure period to transmit Lyme. They are typically the size of a poppy seed... until they are engorged, at which point, it may be too late to prevent infection.

Adult deer ticks are also quite small, compared with dog ticks, for instance. However, they are large enough to be easier to spot. In the case of one of the two tick bites I got last week, the bite was actually painful, probably because the tick was infected with some form of illness. That was the only reason I spotted either tick; I had wrongly assumed that it was too late in the season for ticks to be a danger. The pain caused me to look at the leg; if I'd lived alone, or not felt pain from the bite on my leg, I would probably not have ever known about the tick on my shoulder blade.

Each life stage of the tick is a different size, and has a different peak season. But there's overlap, and adult ticks who do not get the blood meal they require to lay their eggs will go dormant over the winter, and rise early and hungry in the spring... or, indeed, on any winter day when the forest floor is clear and reaches at least 45 degrees F.

Isn't that happy news?


The ticks that bit me were certainly adult deer ticks. The consolation prize is that, due to whatever infection was contained in the first tick's bite, neither was latched onto me for very long. I seem to be recovered fully with no concerning symptoms.

The other consoling news is that I'm now part of the life cycle of my forest! Like it or not, I am a blood sister to the deer and the mouse... and the tick. *rueful smile*

I appreciate very much the fact that this discussion has been open and frank without becoming reactive and defensive, and I'd like to thank everyone who has contributed.
rather than divided by notions.
Anonymous said…
Great post, Cat. I've been ruminating on the idea that our fear of death is all about ego: "Oh, how could wonderful moi cease to exist?!" Such an affront! I don't wish to minimize the pain and fear that people feel -- but there's plenty of that perspective expressed, and so little expressed about how we might do well to be more humble about our place in the natural order. Even with our opposable thumbs, language, weapons and vaccines, it remains true that "sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you." A signficant part of spiritual life is learning to deal with that fact, gracefully.

~Robinne with no blogger account
My Gods created this world out of a monster, and it remains monstrous. They attempted to tame it, but that taming process was interrupted. It thus retains many of its monstrous forms. I do not have to affirm that monstrosity. I can choose to be a part of the completion of the world, its making-God, rather than making-Giant.
I also want to add that total affirmation of existence to me would be undialectical. Wyrd twists and turns. Our own repulsion from existence is part of existence itself and thus our resistance is meaningful.
"I can choose to be a part of the completion of the world, its making-God, rather than making-Giant."

This is an interesting concept, Siegfried. I'm going to sit with it a while.

It seems quite clear to me that the Wiccan/neo Pagan emphasis on the goodness of the world as it is--it's unfallen nature--is not one of the points of congruence between it and ancient paganisms (like Heathenism, for instance). Most of the world's polytheists do not attempt to see the world as good. To the Hindu, it is the age of Kali; to the Hellenic pagan, it was the age of iron. So often, the golden age is either past or in the future.

But not in Wicca, and not in the wholly modern Paganisms that are related to it. Is this because, as spoiled moderns living lives free of much of the basic anxiety over food and health that has beset humans in other times and cultures, we see the world as a Disney production, unrealistically destined for a happy ending and swelling music?

It's hard to rule that out, but I tend to credit modern Paganism's relationship with monotheism. The arrival of monotheism posed some powerful challenges to the polytheists of the ancient world, and in returning to a form of polytheism, modern Pagans have once again taken up some of these challenges. The whole concept of panentheism, in which Spirit is at once transcendent and immanent, I see as a response to the typically transcendent and world-denying perspective of the monotheist.

But there is something in the perception of being caught up in an all-encompassing wholeness--a mystical experience of monotheists--that speaks to more than one of us in the modern Pagan movement. It's more than intellectual, this sense that monotheists have gotten something right; visions of the whole and of something transcending the here and now are part of modern Paganism, not just to mystical Christianity or Islam.

I believe I have arrived at my own perspective, affirming this world and valuing that which transcends it, in an attempt to balance and reconcile the experiences of mystical oneness I have had, both as a Wiccan and a Quaker, with a Pagan perspective in tension with monotheistic concepts of the separation of God from Creation. I want to hang onto the potential for manyness of polytheism, and the sense of immanence that is such a part of my Pagan worldview, while doing justice to experiences of oneness that could easily be understood in terms of a monotheism I do not wish to accept.

Hm. A lot of blather--not the best writing I've ever done. But you can see you have started me thinking. Always dangerous before the first cup of coffee!

Thanks for your comments.
kevin roberts said…
Peromyscus rule!

Sorry. I once did graduate work on Peromyscus melanotis, and your photograph brought back memories of the Mexican Black Ears in the sky islands of Arizona.

Can't help myself.
Kevin--how cool! I did not know you were a biology geek. Excellent!
kevin roberts said…
Much worse than geek. I can prep a museum skin of any cricetid from trap to pinned in 12 minutes, not counting measuring or writing the tag.

Anonymous said…
This is something Ive bee struggling with a lot lately in my conversations with my mom.

She has cancer, a very rare and very agressive type and Grandma died in 2004 from Breast cancer and Aunt Helen who raised me to be a Witch also died of cancer.

Mom says, how can I worhip, revere, respect, etc nature when cancer is a part of nature and I find myself stuck-wondering that myself, Its like the heat here in Vegas, I hate the heat, it makes me violently ill and yet I love the sun and beautiful warm days, I love the flowers that bloom and the leaves on the tree just outside my bedroom window which would not exist were it not for the sun.

I guess I dont have a good answer for my mom, not one that would satisfy her and thats why Ive been doubting my place lately in Paganism but I do know that nature is balanced-Theres life, theres rain which makes me happy and soothes me, theres nice sunny days where I can head out to the beach and theres the hotter than all hell days where I can barely get out of bed but the tree is always there outside my window!

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