Throughout history societies have used bits and pieces of the natural world to symbolize concepts that have meaning to all of us, and pull us together in harmony with our surroundings. Nature inspires, it calms, it excites and it connects. Think about how you feel when you see a butterfly for example – its beauty, its serenity and its gentleness evokes a feeling of joy. It makes us smile. And it reminds us that we can spend weeks (or longer) crawling around and eating everything in sight, then wrap ourselves up in a chrysalis of sadness and solitude… and still emerge beautiful and ready to fly.
When I was in college I worked at a camp for kids with emotional and social disabilities, in the woods of southern New Hampshire on a beautiful lake. Each of we counselors had a cabin group – with names like the Hawks, the Pandas, the Beavers, Chrysalis, etc. – and then some of us also taught an activity. I was the Nature Instructor, or, as most of the kids (who were almost exclusively from Boston and environs) called me: “NAY-cha Lady,” or just “Naycha.” Four times per day I taught groups of kids with emotional disabilities of varying severity to appreciate the world around them. I taught about the growth of seeds into plants with the help of a hand puppet named “Evert the Racoon,” and they sat mesmerized. I explained why mosquitoes and black flies bite to these kids who didn’t experience these pests in the city, and that it was okay to smack them if they landed on you, much to their relief and joy. I patiently redirected kids who were terrified of frogs, wondering if they would bite, and whose curiosity might endanger animals they didn’t realize could be squished so easily. The vast majority of first-timers to the camp had never seen a frog before, never even seen more than one tree at a time, and had never been in a place that got so, so dark at night. And I also had to be careful of those (remember this is emotional disability, and some of these kids had no sense of empathy or remorse, and a few already had signs of sociopathology) who might want to hurt the animals on purpose.
For the most part, kids who had trouble sitting still during the skill-based activities at the camp (since they had no tolerance for their own learning curve, and acted out if they felt inadequate or “stupid”) sat full of wonder and excitement, with wide eyes and mouths agape, as I explained how nature worked, and how pervasive it was in our lives.
“Naycha! Look what we found!” came the jubilant cries as kids brought me cups of huge spiders or other bugs at lunchtime, or a bucket with a massive carp in it (they refused my pleas to put it back in the lake and begged me to please keep it in the Nature tent just for overnight until they could release it later – but a crafty racoon unfortunately had other plans – so we discussed the “circle of life”), or any number of slithery, leggy or slimy denizens of their new paradise. After a while the Nature tent became home to salamanders, efts, newts, a snake (which bit me as I tried to release it on the last day), untold numbers of bugs and no shortage of eggshells, skins, rocks, seeds, leaves, mosses, flowers and all sorts of beautiful products of our spectacular planetary home.
There are so many symbolic meanings of the natural world that I would need many blogs to describe them all. Most of them have been around for many centuries, and across many cultures. Some symbols of nature are well-known. A “shooting star” is an opportunity to make a wish, as is a dandelion seed. Clovers with four leaves symbolize good luck. An owl symbolizes wisdom in our culture (though I learned that it symbolizes darkness and death in others). An eagle is the American symbol of patriotism. The sun symbolizes the Yang elements of life; the moon symbolizes the Yin. Water is the symbol of emotion, and also cleansing and release. Air symbolizes intellect and knowledge. Fire is the element of action and movement as well as anger and aggression. Earth symbolizes stability, wealth and groundedness. The tree reminds us of our connectedness to the earth, and how we need roots as well as limbs. Fish and frogs symbolize abundance. Dragonflies (and frogs) are symbols of transformation. Feathers of Angels. Pineapples of hospitality. The list goes on and on. My work reading Bones draws on many of these archetypical (and some of my own atypical personal quirky) symbolic meanings to interpret the channeled wisdom of our ancestors.
What are your special symbols? Not everyone has the same perceptions of what symbolizes what. For example, a coyote claw in my Bone set usually symbolizes a conniving man, but that didn’t make sense in the context of a reading I was giving someone when it came up in her reading. When I told her I thought it meant something more positive for her, she said that, indeed, the coyote is her Spirit Animal and a very powerful and strong message for her. A cat may symbolize a cuddly companion to one person, and a source of miserable allergies to another. A bad experience with a dog such as a childhood bite could dramatically change the way you see “man’s best friend,” or what to some is a part of the family. It’s all personal, and relative, in the world of symbolism.
In addition to my readings, I also make art, and much of it is nature symbolism. Interestingly, I almost never put people, or buildings or vehicles in my artwork. I love images of plants, rock formations, land masses, water features, and all sorts of creatures. To me, they each have meaning, and they each speak to a different part of my soul and of who I am. I represent the elements of nature in my art – fire, water, earth and air. I represent colors and the changing seasons of my part of the world. I try to represent the sounds, smells, tastes and other ways of sensing our earth in my art, within the limits of the medium I use. And in the spirit of being the Naycha Lady, I am also interested in teaching others to find appreciation of the world around us, especially since we so often forget to look around as we go about our busy lives.
One of the stained glass series that I make are my bird suncatchers. Each one has a hang tag that tells of the symbolic meaning of the particular species of bird. For example, the Bluebird symbolizes happiness and joy. The Blackbird is a symbol of survival. Robin, the harbinger of new beginnings. The Dove, which is a universal symbol of peace. And the Cardinal, for remembrance.
The Cardinal suncatcher is my best-selling piece by far. Here’s what the hang tag says:
It is said that a Cardinal signifies a message from loved ones who have passed on – an assurance that they are content, safe and sending love to the ones they left behind. Seeing a Cardinal is a gift from Spirit! A Cardinal in your window will remind you that those who have passed over have not gone – they are now just free of their earthly body and can watch over you always!
I believe that this is true. I have had cardinals and other birds and animals visit me in my times of despair, and bring me the distinct feeling that a departed loved one is supporting me. My friend Steve sends me four-leafed clovers to show me he hasn’t gone anywhere. HUNDREDS of them. In fact, I’ve found so many four-leafed clovers (and five, and six, and eight, and even a twelve!) that I have taken to giving them away rather than keeping them. Everyone can use a little luck.
In August and September I will be teaching Art and Healing classes at Stained Glass Express in Manchester, Maine, and we will make a Healing Dragonfly and Healing Cardinal, respectively. I will discuss the symbolic meanings of the Cardinal and Dragonfly, and how embracing the symbolism of these beautiful creatures can help heal the wounds that loss and change can inflict. If you’re interested in taking either of these classes, please call 207-213-4126 to reserve your space today!
In the meantime, search for your personal symbols, and learn to appreciate their presence in your life – they surround you!