The Power Animal for the month of August, 2015 is Lion. This article is dedicated to Cecil, the world’s famous and beloved black-maned lion who was recently lured out of the safety of Zimbabwe’s National Park by two pouchers, and paid $50,000 by an American dentist, to trophy hunt and kill him.
This painful story is important to hold in our hearts, for it raises awareness of the plight of other lions, literal and symbolic, as well as our own deep love and connection to all beings. When we stalk the details of the story and feed them metaphorically, grief gives birth to insight and transformative healing.
To this end, a group of dreamers gathered recently to tend this news story of Cecil’s death, and also the dreams that came to community members immediately preceding the tragedy, about Lion. We practiced a process of intuitive attentiveness created by Stephen Aizenstat and advanced by Craig Chalquist, to explore a blossoming concept called “Archetypal Activism”. What follows is the “gold” that arose from our waking dream of addressing tragedy imaginatively and creatively, within a loving and supportive community.
The wounding of animals is abhorrent to many of us across the Earth. The sorrow, grief, rage and bitterness we feel can be hard to swallow; alone or together. The King (and Queen) of the forest would not swallow his anger: he would roar ferociously against injustice; he would risk his own life to protect his loved ones from harm. Many of us would do well to find our own voices and express ourselves more courageously like Lion, particularly to defend the young and vulnerable. Yet, felines also purrrr.
There is a vast veldt of cross-cultural myths which demonstrates the love and devotion Lion shares with other creatures. The most famous, perhaps Is Aesop’s fable of Little Mouse, who wakes Sleeping Lion, who considers eating her, but when she makes him laugh, he lets her go. When he gets a thorn in his foot, she risks everything to save him. One of the morals of the story is friendship. Another is equality. Perhaps this is one of the generative myths for our era: where the mightiest are meek, and the meek are mighty. There is profound strength in vulnerability. To discover this, we must face our wildest fears and longings. The hunter likely longed for an encounter with nature and a trophy, perhaps to share with others. If only he had found a way to fulfill his desires without denigrating or ending an innocent life. Empathizing with both hunter and hunted may be what heals our hearts and our planet, and propels us toward change.
Revenge and hatred don’t get us nearly as far. The trophy-seeking hunter’s violent impulse may be a karmatic imprint from the past: an ancient ancestor perhaps devoured by a lion: a forgotten, inter-species feud now being played out in a ten thousand year old cycle of revenge and power struggle. In the iconic film, “Apocolypse Now”, Colonal Kurtz, the rogue commander puts the heads of his perceived enemies on sticks, like Vlad the Impaler did in the Romanian wars in the middle ages; as the Mexican druglords of today still do.
When people are so terrified others will do to them what they have done to others, they draw upon ancient forms of terror to make themselves appear big like lions to feel safe. Like little boys and girls fiercely holding on to their stuffed animals at bedtime; adults with large shadows trapped in waking nightmares need ever bigger antlers, horns, tusks and fangs on their fortress walls, to keep them safe at all times. If only they can be made conscious of their primitive and ritualistic impulses, and the effect their choices are having on others, they could substitute the tragic taxidermy with an inspiring or soothing painting or photograph.
It’s important to understand the root of violence is fear. The antidote to the venom of fear is compassion. It’s hard to move past rage when acts of violence are committed, until we begin to deepen into the outrage: to plant our roots in it, and sink deeper. If we go far enough, we discover a rich love under the fertile soil. Love for the humans and the other species we have lost; love for all that is wild, strong and vulnerable: Lion and Mouse. Empathy, openness and compassion are the genesis of change.
Sacrificing the satisfaction for revenge requires us to become kings of our own forest. Cecil and Hunter may even have sacrificed themselves, unconsciously or consciously, so that this story of blind selfishness and mindless slaughter can save other animals; save our own, collective Soul. Stories abound that link Lion to Sacrifice. In Disney’s “The Lion King”, little Simba’s father dies trying to protect his son. Aslan, the Lion of Narnia from C.S Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, highlights Lion’s God-like magnificence, power and compassion, and again is also sacrificed in one of the later books. Christian Theologians understand Lion’s role to be an allegory of the Christ story; the sacrifice the son of God makes to wash man of his sins.
The word “sin” in Spanish means “without”. Perhaps the popularity of Lion and Christ, whether viewed as divinities or as states of consciousness, is that they alleviate us of our greatest suffering, which is the feeling/idea of going without: without love, companionship, communion. The word “sin”or “syn” in biblical Hebrew originated in archery and literally referred to missing the “gold” at the center of a target, but hitting the target in error. This is a remarkable “syn”-chronicity, given that the hunter in the news used a bow and arrow and literally missed his mark. Perhaps this hunter, starving or “without” his own energy, courage and strength, sought to co-opt the Lion’s Power. His yearning to have the strong and fatherly presence of Lion King/God grace his “walls” and to feel the “pride” of communion with such a magnificent beast (make his father proud with the pride of a lion) may likely be the gold at the center of the target. But by turning the longing into a killing spree, he misses it’s mark by 360 degrees, has shot himself in the proverbial foot and killed his own reputation. The man who wanted to feel like a lion becomes the mouse! (The same can be said of religions when the gold within their sacred texts, turns into something leaden and dead.)
The particularities and parallels of these intertwining stories are curious: when Lion was injured by the hunters bow and arrow he wanders alone and suffering for 40 hours, before losing his head which is to be hung on a wall. 40 is also the number of days Christ wandered in the desert, alone, afraid, and facing visions of Snake and wrestling with his own demons and shadowy nature. Snake is feared by many for it’s venom and ability to speak with forked tongues. Yet, that venom can be transmuted into medicine that when placed on the tongue, heals. Two intertwining snakes form the caduceus: the image that graces Hermes’ staff, and symbolizes the modern medical/pharmaceutical field, which like snakes, and our beloved wild animals with sharp teeth and fangs, are double edged swords.
The Lion in the news is wounded by the arrow that shoots from a bow. This calls forth the image of Cupid, the childish, immature, trickster version of Eros: the God of love and longing. There is longing for union in this story, but Cupid’s presence suggests one that is immaturely and unproductively expressed. Perhaps his longing was for wildness, for running wild in nature like our common, 200,000 year old African ancestors, to be Tarzan, or a child again. One can imagine the confines of a dental practice where his job is to eliminate all semblance of animal left in his clients mouths, grinding, bracing, capping away all traces of our evolutionary past. Fantasies of looking down the roaring throat of a mangy, many-fanged beast would be more than understandable. If only our own culture offered opportunities for wild and exuberant expression that served families and communities, instead of wounded. If only fathers taught their sons men can bond as easily over hiking through a forest as killing their way through one. Cecil’s blood is on the hands of us all.
Which leads us back to ourselves. We can push thorns through our fingernails. Or, we can give ourselves a rose. Recently, I dreamed of Lion nuzzling his mighty mane against my face and neck, in a loving embrace, retracting his claws and putting a paw on my shoulder in a sign of support. The host of the house where we tended these sleeping and waking dreams showed us a picture she had been planning for some time to hang on her wall: a Chinese Imperial Guardian Lion, called a Foo-Dog. Like their canine counterparts, these fierce looking, feline protectors are depicted as laying in relaxed but alert stance: always ready to defend their loved ones. Another dreamer envisioned ten lions at the top of an arena in this Foo-dog pose, and a snake slithering under the rafters. All were going unnoticed by the crowd, waiting for some kind of performance and surprise. In a sunlit room, (which I imagine filled with flowers) a lion approached her, and hugged her. She was scared, but surprised afterward to realize he did not mean her harm.
According to the news story, the hunter who took Cecil’s life was very surprised to learn he had killed a lion known for being passive and friendly. In the dream, two Lion Caretakers gently pried the beast away from the frightened girl, bringing both to safety. Where were Cecil’s caretakers when he, when we, needed them most?
These lions dreams are as much collective as it is personal. What are they asking of us? How can each of us, in our own unique ways, be caretakers of Lion, literally and metaphorically? How can we be caretakers, the kings and queens of our forests; the people and creatures wounded by thorns? Today, take one action to honor Lion. And if you are really courageous, one to honor the archetype of Wounded Hunter.
For, we all have thorns in our paws. We all wear a crowns of thorns. We all sling arrows.
We are all the rose.