Falcons, Myth and Meaning

Every once and awhile, I go blind in my left eye.

It is an irritating and inconvenient thing to have happen, an unfortunate side effect of frequent migraine attacks, themselves a product of Lyme Disease.  Blood vessels constrict against the optic nerve, my line of vision blurs and distorts, washed out from the migraine’s aura.  The eyelid droops, an old leftover of the Bels Palsy that never completely released its grip.  If I clap my hand over my right eye and try to look (if you can call it that) solely through my left, I get much the same result as one would get looking through someone’s prescription lenses, pain and vertigo.  However, if I lay down in a room with very low light (such as candlelight) and repeat this exercise, strange images become manifest.  Whether they be the product of agitated nerves, my imagination filling in the blanks created by crippled vision, or something else entirely (all of the above, perhaps?) I’m not sure.  I can lose myself in such reveries for hours, trying to dissociate myself from the pain, and trying to decipher the seemingly arcane images dancing before me.

These psychedelic, visionary experiences remind me of a very strong link to a very ancient myth.  In the Contention of Horus and Set, the Ancient Egyptian falcon god loses an eye while combating with his uncle.  His eye is later restored by Thoth, a deity of balance, speech and writing.  There is an allegory here.  In this story I find reminders of where I’ve been, where I’m going now.  The eye that was torn out has become for Horus a source of power.  My own left eye allows me to “see” in ways I was unable to before, the pain a reminder not of a weakness or handicap, but of an inner strength through lessons learned.  Although I do not identify as pagan, as a falcon anvianthrope I find a deep connection through this shared experience.  It is during these migraine episodes that the past and the present converge across eons.  The myth mutates and lives on.

In Egypt, the falcon was the manifestation of the masculine and solar god.  Farther west, the story changes.  To the pre-Christian Northern Europeans, the falcon was symbolic of the feminine.  In Nordic myth, Freyja and Frigga both possessed feathered cloaks with which they would transform into falcons, and archeological sites have yielded falcon bones interred in the graves of women.  The association of falcons with the feminine is not without some literal merit.  With raptors such as falcons, the females can be twice as large as the males, and twice as strong.  As such, they were more prized than the males with their ability to take down larger prey.  In falconry, it was custom that birds regardless of sex were addressed with the female pronoun until proven otherwise.

This holds meaning to me, as someone who does not fit traditional gender roles.  I am female-bodied, but present as androgynous/male and identify as asexual.  I, like a tercel (male falcon, not the car), am small, lean and lightweight.  I have no external gender characteristics that would betray my biological sex to anyone, and I am occasionally addressed by the female pronoun to those who may not know any better (some relatives and strangers).  I find, in the liminality of my gender, associations with how humans project their ideas of gender onto falcons, as well as how may falcons address gender roles amongst themselves (as when breeding or competing for food).  There is a certain feedback cycle between the human perception of falcon gender and the gender dynamics of falcons, nurtured originally by the partnership between the two animals in the sport of falconry.  When human and falcon combine, said feedback becomes internal.

I was never a fan of fiction or fantasy, but the desire for myth and meaning is part of the human condition.  It is present in myself, in seeking that connection it gives meaning and inspiration to my androgyny, and to the chaotic misfirings of neurons and blood vessels in my brain.  This process of finding meaning within the mythology can become a character-building experience, and how we interpret these myths, stories and superstitions in the end can tell us more about ourselves than the subjects we write about.

Some References:

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3 Responses to Falcons, Myth and Meaning

  1. Meirya says:

    I didn’t know that about falconry, that the feminine is the gender-default; that does make sense though, due to the size difference.

    I also find it really interesting that you mention falcons and gender. Hawks have the same thing going on – the females are typically larger than the males but that’s generally the only visible difference, and it’s only noticeable in comparison and if you know what you’re looking at. The relationship between my birdness and my gender (or lack thereof) – allegorical or symbolic at the very least – has occurred to me before, and it’s interesting to see another falconiformes-person mention it.

  2. Hmm. This is a really neat post. There’s nowhere near as much about non-mammal critters in spirituality, and you’ve drawn on a nice selection of resources besides. I really like the connections you’ve made here between gender, spirituality, and Otherness; thank you for sharing.

  3. Aethyriek says:

    My, your writing is fabulous! (: The connections between your experiences with your eye and Egyptian mythology were especially interesting. I certainly agree that we can learn about ourselves through exploring stories.

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