Ekunyi's Embers

Posts Tagged ‘Keystones of the Sacred Land’

Frog as a Cultural Keystone

Two weeks ago I spent several days in my childhood home in Maryland, visiting family and taking care of some planning for my upcoming wedding. Each night, after a busy day of visits and organization, I was greeted by the voices of hundreds of native treefrogs. The slow rising, alto creeeeeeeek of the upland chorus frog formed a polyphonic chant with the soprano chirrups of spring peepers. I did not see them on this trip, but recalled with joy being in my early years and finding the little creatures crawling on the sides of my parents house, loving that they were so small and yet had such a tremendous voice.

The return of the chorus frogs was always, for me, the first sign of the return of the warmer months. School would soon draw to a close, and a summer full of adventures would soon begin. So too would my personal new year be arriving, my August birthday arriving only a few months after the frog song began, and even when little the choir of ribbits got me thinking about what it would be like to be another year older, wondering about the year behind me, and the year to come. I would lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to the rhythms of amphibian music, dreaming and pondering about new beginnings until eventually sleep took me.

This emphasis on Frog as a representative of new beginnings on the east coast of the United States once reflected fresh starts on another shore: that of the Nile delta. In Ancient Egypt, immediately following the annual flooding of the great river, thousands of frogs would seemingly “emerge” from the soil, as the sodden earth provided a greater expanse of habitat, and the various frog species began to mate and reproduce. Though my research has not yet lead me to which of the following endemic amphibian species to the Nile valley region (egyptian toad and mascarine ridged frog) most likely existed at that time, one or both contributed to the ancients’ understanding of the goddess Heqat: lady of rebirth, midwife to the gods, giver of life to the human bodies that potter Khnum created upon his wheel. When the frogs returned after the flood waters subsided, so too would crops begin to grow, new projects could begin as the silt was once again rich with nutrients and the sky rich with frogsong.

It cheers me that these various species on both sides of the globe remain listed as unthreatened, though the Egyptian frogs have declined substantially in the past 10 years due to overharvesting for university study. Hopefully something can be done to protect them, as the frogs serve not only as a symbol of renewal, a current cultural keystone within the Americas and a historic cultural keystone of the Nile delta, but also as a source of food for other predatory species seeking sustenance as they enter their own breeding seasons, a source of protection from imbalance as they keep insect populations in check.

The frogs are necessary to balance, necessary for new life. Their song must continue to be sung.

Spiritual Places Without and Within

I will not live the live my parents led, and I am fine with this. As musician, artist, and scholar, hopefully someday counselor, my home will not compare with the home of two lawyers that I grew up in: again, I am fine with this. My home is huge in comparison with the homes of many. Three rooms full of instruments and art and books. My home is open to those friends and family who need shelter. My home is full to brimming with the affection between two human-bodied and two feline-bodied people. There is space in my home for the ancestors to visit, if they choose, a small space always left for a father, two grandfathers, and any other relations to drop by in whatever form they might take. There is space in my home for gods and spirits, a Kemetic shrine and animist altar well tended in separate rooms for separate moments of worship.
 
My home exists in the liminality of the mountains and the city. Sturdy brick with nearly 70 years to its name surrounds me, with human neighbors above and below. Yet the deer walk the small patch of woods behind my home, as do chipmunk and squirrel. The robins greet me in the warmer months, the crows laugh when the weather begins to cool. Wild turkeys occasionally posit themselves directly in front of my car, reminding me that nothing is so important that it can’t wait a few more minutes for them to strut on by.

In my mind my “territory” extends about a mile east, to the avenue that holds both my favorite cafe and my nearest big park. I wrote my masters thesis, in its entirety, in the local, family-run coffee shop. I know the people there better than I do the ones in my own building. After working and writing for hours on end, I can walk up the same street to my park, get lost in the trails that during summer are shielded from any roads. I can view the Allegheny river from here, greet a broader range of avian life: mallard ducks, Canadian geese, chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, grackle… the list goes on. Only recently, courtesy of the animist course I’ve been taking, have I looked on a smaller scale. Ants, wee spiders hiding in the bark, inch worms, lady bugs… a world I’ve not given nearly enough notice to. The plants as well: a newly acquired Kindle has allowed me to download a guide to the wildflowers and trees. My goal is to know the park that has given me such joy since I claimed Pittsburgh as my new home three years ago. I owe it that much, if not more.

Yet my home extends beyond this physical space. My heart strings are taut. The core, bass strings are drawn out of love and duty to my parents and Maryland; these are also pulled fiercely to Texas where my sister, best friend, and heart-kin lives with zir mate. Higher pitched strands guide my soul to Colorado, North Carolina, Illinois, and West Virginia. These are the homes of friends, family; so many loved ones I cannot ever see nearly enough for my own liking. Pittsburgh remains within driving distance of many of these places, and I am grateful for that. For the places more distant, it grants me compensation: in being near other spaces important to those I love, it gives me the option to see them when they travel. It also provides me both the water I grew up with, albeit three mighty rivers instead of the one great Bay, and gods bless it for the mountains.
 
It is unsurprising to me that the places I travel in my meditative journeying efforts reflect the reality of the physical that feeds my soul. My internal temple, while Kemetic in design, was built within a natural clearing in a vast forest. It is near a great river where I work with Heqat and Hatmehyt, and the forest itself is rolling and wild, a part of some unknown mountainous region in my mind. I run the woods with deer and hound, I soar above the trees and see great valleys and other, unknown tributaries with Great Horned Owl. As my physical self, I seek similar places out in my actual travels. I clean litter from the aforementioned park when I visit, trying to protect what small corner of my ecosystem is within my neighborhood, my little human territory.

I would shrivel up without access to the woods, the water, the birds and the green. It is as much a part of my spiritual life as ritual and prayer.