Monday, March 23, 2015

Love's Knight Errant

Muttering and mumbling 
like the White Knight 
of Wonderland 
a new voice begins to sing…

“We feed upon 
the bread of the Sea, 
and in turn 
we give of ourselves 
to feed others… 
but does anyone 
ever listen to me?

We push along 
sheltered by our armor, 
yet with grit in our eye, 
we grumble… 
‘Til a gem of wisdom 
forms within our head. 
Then, oh yes, then 
they’ll pry us from our bed!

Therefore, Remember! 
Each of us contains a 
shining form of excellence, 
Luminous and 
From our own trials 
magically spun.
Within our roughened exteriors, 
it forms and waits for our attention.
We protect this emblem, 
the Queen of the Sea, 
like all secrets, with silence. 

We serve Wisdom on a half-shell,
passive yet potent.
Trust your intuition,
ride the ebb and flow 
of Nature's rhythms. 
Thus will you find
twixt body
and soul.

to the smallest changes,
We will teach you how 
to find your Balance
to set a firm foot 
on solid foundations
and filter out anything 
unnecessary or harmful
These are truths 
that will set you free.”

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Mark P. Henderson and Jaguarwombyn for naming this Teacher! 

“From the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger, all animals are to be found in men and each of them exists in some man, sometimes several at the time. Animals are nothing but the portrayal of our virtues and vices made manifest to our eyes, the visible reflections of our souls. God displays them to us to give us food for thought.” Victor Hugo 

“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” Federico Fellini 

“There is nothing in Christianity or Buddhism that quite matches the sympathetic unselfishness of an oyster.” H.H. Munro 

Mollusks were, understandably, a more prominent Native American Totem in coastal areas, especially in the Northwest America or island areas. This probably holds true to most cultures. I remember reading about the enormous middens found in the Pacific NW areas as a young girl in history clas,s and wondering what the peoples lives were like. Such middens have been found all over the world though. Oyster is one of the 112,000 species of Mollusks found in our Seas and rivers. So many creatures feed upon them, that they are considered a keystone species, and they can be found in the history and lore of many cultures. 

They are filter feeders that draw water in through their gills, breathing very much like fish, and over their cilia. Plankton, and other particles get trapped by the mucus in the gills and transported to the mouth. They prefer warmer waters, temperatures above 50 degrees F increase their feeding activity, and healthy oysters consume algae and other water-borne nutrients, each one filtering up to five liters of water per hour! Oysters filter pollutants too, and either eat them or shape them into small pseudo-feces that are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless. 

Bodily, Oysters consist of two rough shells held together with a muscular hinge at the narrow end. The shell is generated by the mantle, a thin layer of tissue that separates the shell from the soft body. Mouth, palps, stomach, intestines, cilia, small three chambered heart, hinge (abductor muscle) anus and gills are all found within the soft body. Oyster’s typically live at depths of only 8-25 feet and stay in one place their entire lives. They breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Their hearts pump oxygen and colorless blood to all parts of their body, while their kidneys under the abductor muscle purifies the blood of any wastes or, hopefully, toxins. Red Tides, dangerously toxic algal blooms, and other such pollutants endanger these filtering creatures. 

They can change their sex many times throughout their lives and one cannot tell from the exterior if an Oyster is male or female. Typically they start out as male and end as female though. They are protandric, which means that during their first year they spawn as males and will release sperm into the water. Over the next couple of years they will grow larger, become female and release eggs into the water. An increase in water temperature will trigger a few initial oysters to spawn. 

This begins a spawning ‘chain reaction’, which clouds the water with millions of eggs and sperm. A single female oyster can produce up to 100 million eggs a year! The eggs are fertilized in the water and develop into larvae, which eventually find suitable sites on which to settle. Those that attach to another oyster’s shell are called “spats” and never get much larger than 25mm. In the tropics it is rather common for them to develop on mangrove roots which will become exposed during low tide. Hence it is commonly said there that “oysters grow on trees”! The organs responsible for producing both eggs and sperm surround the digestive organs, and are made up of sex cells, branching tubules, and connective tissue. Oysters are usually mature at one year. The largest oysters can be up to 3 feet long, but most span only a few inches. 

Oyster reefs form inviting habitats for anemones, barnacles, and mussels which in turn invite more creatures like striped bass, black drum or croakers (fish). When threatened, they will clamp their shell tightly shut with their strong hinge muscle. When a grain of sand or other irritating substance gets between an oyster’s shell and mantle it causes them to secret nacre which coats the irritating bit and forms a pearl. Most mollusks form pearls, but only a select few create the lustrous marketable pearls so prized by humanity, fresh or saltwater. Pearls carry their own symbolism and Wisdom which we will discuss later. 

Oysters can be eaten half shelled, raw, smoked, boiled, baked, fried, roasted, stewed, canned, pickled, steamed, broiled (grilled) or used in a variety of drinks! They are low in food energy though, one dozen raw oysters contain approximately 110 calories, but they are rich in zinc, iron, calcium, and vitamin A. They have been considered an aphrodisiac by many cultures and were often eaten to encourage fertility. The many large middens found the world over testify to their popularity as a food source that dates back into prehistory. Over fishing and pressure from diseases and pollution have sharply reduced Oyster populations, but they remain a popular treat the world over and there are several places that celebrate them with oyster festivals. 

We can learn many things from the humble Oyster. The importance of remembering that it is only natural to protect ones softer side with a hard exterior. This in only a line of defense though and not meant to separate you from the society of your people. Taking reasonable precautions in protecting our selves is not only our right, it is our duty. The trick is learning when to open up and when to stay safe inside our shells. “Clamming up” is a common expression, and silence is another excellent defense.

There are many reasons for, and benefits to silence. When someone confides in us, we honor their trust by keeping their intimate details to ourselves and giving them our best advice. When remembering someone who has passed, a moment of silence is observed. Silence has many personal benefits too. When we are not talking, we are listening… increasing our odds of gaining Wisdom. Sometimes, difficult as it may be in a given situation, saying nothing, refusing to engage in an argument, or petty behavior is our most beneficial response.

Another equally vital piece of Oyster Wisdom is turning negatives into positives. Often times we learn more from that which irritates us than that which soothes us! Life is full of shell-cracking predators, and the vexations we find along our path are as numberless as grains of sand. Yet, Oyster alone knows how to turn a simple annoyance into a beautiful pearl. What a World it would be if we all followed this example! Easier said than done though, like much in life, but well worth the practice. I know myself that it is often a major struggle to lovingly coat the grit I find in my own life with something as beautiful as the nacre Oyster uses to create Pearl. 

When I find myself becoming frustrated or ungenerous in my thoughts or words, I make a point of going off by myself to sit in silence and let the heartbeat of the World carry away such petty annoyances. Then I look for the lesson, for there is always something to learn. What did I learn from the source of my irritation? Usually I learn that I’ve let something rub me the wrong way or upset me when in reality…it has no real bearing on my life.

Oyster’s protandric nature is very instructive too. Firstly, it indicates a two-spirited nature as was discussed in Buffalo Totem. The term “Two-spirited”, is new to me but highly useful and appropriate. It was derived from interpretations of Native languages used to describe people who displayed both characteristics of male and female. Traditionally, the Two-spirited person was one who had received a gift from the Creator, that gift being the privilege to house both male and female spirits in their bodies. Thus, such people were gifted with a greater vision, a more balanced view of the world as a whole. 

Much respected and sought after for their broadened perspectives, Two-spirits were considered a gift to society from Creator. There are many Singers in Nature that teach us the value of Two-spirited beings which is much at odds with the popular opinions of many people today. For a truly balanced perspective in Life, we should nurture, develop and honor all sides of our selves; masculine, feminine and divine. Each has their merits, each has their unique pitfalls and each is inextricably entwined with the others. 

 In one Native American tale people were released into this world by Raven when he was trying to crack open a tightly sealed clam. In another tale shellfish are banished to a life in the sand by a jury of animals for being a malicious gossip. Venus the Goddess of Love appeared upon the Sea in an enormous clam shell.

Balanced Mollusks tend to be homebodies who turn dirt into priceless pearls, learn when to be silent and when to open up, filter through life’s garbage to feed upon the smallest particles of wisdom, and are equally comfortable with both their masculine and feminine natures. Unbalanced Mollusks are constant complainers likely to spread gossip like a disease, improperly familiar, excessively bashful, or hermit-like in behavior, and quite possibly gender confused or facing a difficulty with either masculine or feminine identity. How does Oyster appear in your life? 

Potential balancing energies 

Sea Otter/Otter, Octopus/Squid Water/Ocean , Seastar , Earth, Plankton, Pearl, oyster drill snail, oyster leech, finfish such as drum, and birds such as Raven or the oystercatcher, Dragon, Snake, Turtle, Whale, Moon. 

Key Concepts: Silence, Creation, Love Eternal, Feminine and Masculine energy, Two-spirited Wisdom, Wisdom, Knowledge, Fertility, Purity, Excellence, Beauty, Innocence, Chastity, Lunar Energy, Bliss 

Associated with: Venus/Aphrodite, Raven, Maat, Ho Hsien-Ku, Kwan Yin, Lakshmi, Maha Sarasvati, the Moon  

Bonus Teacher Post Script~ The Pearl

’Til a gem of wisdom forms within my head. 
Then, oh yes, then they’ll pry me from my bed!

Therefore, Remember! 
Each of us contains a 
shining form of excellence, 
Luminous and 
From our own trials 
magically spun.
Within our roughened exteriors, 
it forms and waits for our attention.
We protect this emblem, 
the Queen of the Sea, 
like all secrets, with silence

“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.” Ralph Marston

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Winston Churchill 

“There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, 
And that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all.” Ogden Nash

Luminous, miraculous, and delicately tinged with mysterious colors it is no surprise that Pearls have been so long admired by humanity. They have represented many things over the course of time; the Moon, a pure soul or simply the state of Grace, Wisdom, Elegance, Serenity, Truth, Innocence, Dignity, Love, Luck, Purity, Honesty, Integrity, and the Sea itself have all been represented by this gemstone. Perhaps more than any other concept though, the lustrous Pearl represents Excellence, Perfection. Pearls are a tangible reminder to create a miraculous life of Beauty around the ever-present irritations we will find along the way. Pearl teaches us to live every day striving to be the best that we can be, for we all carry the potential for perfection within us.

Pearls are considered to be feminine receptive stones, and have been given to women in countless cultures as a visual flag to alert others that here is a woman of Queenly or even Divine Grace. Pearls are thought to give wisdom through experience, to quicken the laws of karma and to cement engagements and love relationships. They are thought to keep children safe.

There are many types of pearls: natural (made without human interference), cultured (when a foreign substance is intentionally inserted into a living oyster, a method begun in 1893), baroque (irregularly shaped), freshwater (those that form in freshwater mollusks and resemble puffed rice), Biwa (irregularly shaped freshwater pearls from Lake Biwa), blister (pearls that become attached to the inside of the shell), Mabe (cultivated blister pearls), black pearls (gray-black in color, very impressive), and seed (tiny pearls used commonly during Victorian era for jewelry and on clothing).

The largest pearl is currently known as the Pearl of Lao-tze, and was recovered from a giant clam on May 7th, 1934 by an unknown diver off the coast of the Palawan Island in the Philippines. The Pearl of Lao-tze is 9.4 inches long and weighs about 14 lbs. The San Francisco Gem Laboratory has valued it at $40 million dollars. Interestingly enough, modern pharmaceutical industries continue to use pearls in medicine. Pearls which are of inferior quality, unfit for jewelry, are ground into fine powder and used to make high-quality pharmaceutical calcium! 

Myths, beliefs and legends about pearls can be found just about anywhere. Medieval Europe, Arabia, China, India…almost every culture have used pearls for a wide range of medicinal purposes ranging including aphrodisiacs, cures for insanity, memory loss, insomnia, liver ailments, snake bites and even as proof against lies! 

Hindu culture associates pearls with the Moon and are symbols of love and purity. It is said that Krishna found the first pearl and presented it to his daughter on her wedding day. Pearls are still a common feature or gift at weddings of many cultures. The Koran speaks of pearls as one of the great rewards to be found in Paradise and is a symbol of perfection. The Parable of the Pearl remains an important symbol to Christians the world over. 

Pearls are also said to symbolize tears, to provide love and fertility, to symbolize purity, and to ward off evil. Pearls are the official birthstone for the month of June according to the American National Association of Jewelers as of 1912, and is therefore closely associated with both Gemini and Cancer sun signs. Pearls symbolize all the best within us, and their Lesson/Wisdom is to use the hardships we face throughout our lives to fully realize and become the best that we carry within us; personal excellence. 
They remind us to Walk in Beauty, to live with Dignity, and honor even the hardships that allows us yet another lesson or opportunity to live this way. Pearls can lift our spirits, evoke calm, beauty, femininity, or any of the many qualities that they represent. It takes time to form a Pearl, which is a reminder that our own growth and transformations take time too. 
A large part of accepting ourselves is being patient with ourselves and allowing a proper amount of time for the changes we wish to bring about in our lives. Sacred to all Sea and Water deities, pearls are also very useful in stimulating and balancing various Chakras. Pink pearls, for example, are especially useful to the heart Chakra. A momentary irritation transformed into amazing Beauty, the Pearl inspires us to live up to the best potential we have within us.

Potential Balancing Energies: Oyster , Otter , Seastar , Water , Elephant , Earth, Amber, Amethyst, Fish like Salmon, Frog/Toad , Dragon/Snake , Whale, Dolphin, Shark, Turtle , Moose , Crow/Raven , Peacock, Swan , Bison/Buffalo , Lion , Wolf , Fox , Owl, Crane

Associated with: Venus/Aphrodite, Kwan Yin, White Tara, Heqet, Fand, Ambaji, Gemini, Krishna, Water elementals/faeries, Sky Nation especially Rain, Ho Hsien-Ku, Lakshmi, Maat, Manat, Salacia/Amphitrite, Thalassa, Poseidon/Neptune, Artemis/Diana, Athena/Minerva, Pontos, Leto, Selene, Cailleach Bheur, Branwen, Mari, Tiamat, Manannon, Lir

Key Concepts: Excellence, Feminine Wisdom/Power/Excellence, Balance, Beauty, Love, Knowledge/Wisdom, Exemplary Living, Immortality, Spirit, Soul, Lunar energy, Purity, Perfection

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