Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Return to Hawks

Last year at this time I wrote about the Franklin Institute Hawk Cam and Celtic Augury. I continue learning as much as I can about augury; however, this year I am watching hawks nesting, not online, but in my own backyard.

Two young Cooper's Hawks started building a nest in one of my silver maples, and for over a month now have built, guarded and roosted their, I suspect, very first nest. Thus I have auspicious birds right out my kitchen window! Yes, gentle readers, this is awesome!

I have also been learning more about Celtic augury and not just my Cherokee traditions. Folks over at Tearlach Roibeard Luder's yahoogroup Celtic Nation steered me and other learning augurs to the wonderful book: Birds Of Ireland: Facts, Folklore and History, by Glynn Anderson. In this great resouce, Anderson writes of hawks:

"In Ireland, Hawks were connected with the willow. They were regarded as messengers between this world and the "Otherworld." They symbolized clear sightedness and deep memory."

The only common hawk in Ireland is the Sparrowhawk (spiorog), a smallish hawk that feeds on insects as well as small animals. They are more clever at hunting than our larger Red Tail and Red Shoulders hawks here in the states; due to their small size they are more likely to imitate smaller birds when hunting, in order to get close enough to strike. Anderson notes that Gerald of Wales in his 12th century voyages to Ireland commented on sparrowhawks, and that the 14th century play The Colloquy between Fintan and the Hawk of Achill, features hawks as the oldest of all creatures, and thus the wisest.

As has happened before, I am gobsmacked at the similarity between Celtic beliefs about hawks, and my own Native American family traditions. Hawks were taught to be as auspicious due to their ability to travel to God, a somewhat Christianized version of how to name holy. By traveling from God to earth, hawk brings messages of luck and good fortune from God's realm. I was brought up to pay attention to hawk.

Over and over, in world traditions, hawk is a messenger. The Egyptians held hawks sacred, as Ra assumed hawk as one of his forms. In Welsh Arthurian tales, Gawain was called Gwalchmai, "the hawk of May," and in early Welsh stories, Gwalchmai is a well known warrior. Later in Wales, St. Bartholomew was angered when a hawk killed a seagull, and caged it, but could not stand the hawk in captivity and finally set it free to return to God. The Aztec peoples descend from a snake-eating birds, and in Aztec culture snake hawks were worshipped for connecting to this auspicious ancestor. Hawks go from world to world.

Now the hawks in my yard are fairly busy - adding to the nest, roosting, guarding the nest. So far I haven't seen them off to Ra or the snake-eating bird of Aztec ancestry. But I do see them, morning and night, winging over my head and hunting high above the ridges here in the alleghenies. On the rare sunny day this spring, I see them flying thermals while hunting across the hollows, and they can fly up and down the mountains while I, rootbound, garden in my seemingly huge yard, which to the hawks must seem as small as a postage stamp. On those lovely days, the hawks are flying in heaven, indeed.

And I admire their work. They are new at nest building, rather as I am new in college and a new career, and i feel a common bond with this work of creating a new life. Soon those eggs they are roosting will hatch, and then I know what they are in for, having reared three kids of my own in my own nest. Yet soon enough the hawk fledglings will be ready to fly, as my own are approaching their own nest-leaving as well. It may be a shorter season for hawk, yet this new world of nests and flying free is a part of us all.

Despite a freeze warning here in the mountains tonight, spring is coming. Birds are nesting. Hawk is in my yard with a message of new beginnings, and while I and my kids work away, we are all building a freer flying world.

Watch for hawks, gentle readers. Sometimes they show up in your own back yard.