T’wixt fiery Sun and empty Sands
a potent shadow soars.
Boldly this Singer comes
to teach us of Life’s grand score…
“I was given no voice with which to sing,
yet my lessons are inevitable,
vital as the Spring!
Actions speak louder than any words,
revealing your true worth
No matter your position,
someone is bound to have it better,
and others… far worse!
Do you see the energy inherent in all things?
I will teach you to understand,
direct and properly employ
the silent powers of Life,
as all around you dances, sings
Bearer of the fire divine,
I feed upon death,
yet administer the breath of life
Bringing harm to none!
I deliver subtle signs
reveal Truth and Transcendence
Adorn ancient shrines
Teach balanced independence
I even teach all women
to move through each phase of life
Herald of Mother Isis
Ma'at weighs your heart
against a single feather
from my coat.
I am Life’s first mortician.
I both inspire and ease disgust, fear…
yet I am the first to aid in all transitions."
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?
“Without an understanding of myth or religion, without an understanding of the relationship between destruction and creation, death and rebirth, the individual suffers the mysteries of life as meaningless mayhem alone.” Marion Woodman
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Audre Lorde
“The mere possession of a vision is not the same as living it, nor can we encourage others with it if we do not, ourselves, understand and follow its truths. The pattern of the Great Spirit is over us all, but if we follow our own spirits from within, our pattern becomes clearer. For centuries, others have sought their visions. They prepare themselves, so that if the Creator desires them to know their life’s purpose, then a vision would be revealed. To be blessed with visions is not enough…we must live them!” High Eagle
“We’re your friends… we’re you’re friends… we’re you’re friends to the bitter end!” the Vultures from Jungle Book
Turkey Vultures are large carrion birds who, until recently, have been categorized as Raptors. In 1994 though it was discovered that the American or New World vultures (seven different species including the Condor) are actually more closely related to the order Ciconiiformes (family Cathartidae); Ciconiiformes include: storks, spoonbills, herons, egrets and ibises. Old World or European vultures are only superficially related to the Cathartidae and are found under the order Falconiformes (raptors), family Accipitridae. There are 15 different species, including the Egyptian Vulture. Buzzards, a term frequently and incorrectly linked with this Teacher, actually refers to the soaring raptor Buteo Buteo, or Common Buzzard, which looks much more like a Redtail Hawk.
New World vultures don’t have the strong gripping feet and powerful beaks that helps to put the Old World vultures into the Raptor category. So New World vultures can’t lift or carry off food, or handle some of the tougher bits of a meal like their Old World cousins. As always, particular attention should be paid to the specific Creature Teacher you feel drawn to, as well as the rest of their immediate family and near relations. In other words, if you feel called by the Turkey Vulture, you should examine all 7 species of New World vultures as well as the 15 European ones. For our purposes here, I will speak about vultures in general with specific references to the Turkey Vulture, the Condor, and the Egyptian Vulture.
While most vultures are carrion eaters and prefer the freshly dead to the long dead, they are not particular about what kind of deceased carrion they eat other than showing a marked preference for herbivores over carnivores. Some, like the more aggressive Black Vulture, will occasional pursue and kill small prey like rabbits or mice, but vultures are just as likely to sit down to a nice meal of decaying bear as they are to enjoy a squashed roadside turtle. Should this Teacher appear to you in conjunction with another Creature Teacher, say feeding on a deer carcass, then I would examine that specific Teacher as well.
“Purification of the mind is attained through humility, integrity, and a sense of justice.” Sri Sathya Sai Baba
“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that troublesome.” Isaac Asimov
Vultures have several interesting defenses to protect them from the many harmful bacteria encountered while chowing down on their carrion. Firstly, their featherless heads make it less likely that they will collect and retain bacteria from sticking their heads in an out of a carcass to eat. Their excrement and their urine acts as a sanitizer as their uric acid is so strong it kills bacteria! This is one reason why the vulture will urinate on its own legs, to cleanse itself of any bacteria collected while standing in and moving around its food. Because they don’t sweat, the other reason is to cool itself off when the heat gets to be too much.
Another defense from bacteria is known as the horaltic pose, and Turkey Vultures are often seen standing about in a sunny spot holding this pose with their wings spread. They use the heat of the sun not only to dry off wings after a messy meal, or to warm their bodies, but they literally bake off bacteria! Perhaps this seemingly reverent pose directed towards the sun, along with their amazing soaring ability, is why they have such a close association with solar energy and sun deities. They are often viewed as unclean animals because of their feeding habits and close association with death and disease. However, this Teacher actually accentuates the importance of Purification of body, mind, and especially spirit!
“In Southern Africa, the name for an Egyptian vulture is synonymous with the term applied to lovers, for vultures like pigeons are always seen in pairs. Thus mother and child remain closely bonded together. Pairing, bonding, protecting, loving are essential attributes associated with a vulture.” Ma-Wetu, The Kiswahili-Bantu Research Unit for the Advancement of the Ancient Egyptian Language
“For she is a fair maiden, fairest lady of a house of queens. And yet I know not how I should speak of her.” J.R.R. Tolkien
Vultures in general are rather gentle and non-aggressive creatures. Their link to Death is obvious in their feeding habits. However, they create Life by feeding on Death which shows their association with not only Life and Death, but the entire process of Rebirth. Masters of Transition and one of our most important members of Nature’s clean-up crew, the Vulture is actually a very ancient symbol of maternity and rebirth!
In Egyptian lore, Nekhebet, the vulture goddess, and her sister Uadjet, the cobra goddess, are closely linked (reinforcing that connection between Snakes and, apparently, all Ciconiiformes). Together they represented this eternal cycle. Nekhebet was a mother goddess who gave the pharaoh his divine nature, and is often depicted wearing the White Crown of Egypt. She suckled royal children and gods, represented sovereignty, ruled over all wild birds, and was a guardian of childbirth.
Mut, one of the most ancient Mother deities, was placed even higher than Isis (also associated with the vulture) in esteem and is also closely associated with the vulture. Ma’at, an underworld goddess, was not only present at all funerary events but also judged the dead. Her red feather was placed on the opposite scale from the heart of the deceased, and how it weighed out determined their afterlife. These ancient associations have the Vulture hovering protectively over kings, adorning the crowns of queens, flying in protective formation along the roofes of tombs, attending births, deaths and the funerals that send us off into the afterlife.
“Oh you sing,” said the Gryphon, “I’ve forgotten the words.” Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
“Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix.” Christina Baldwin
“Do not boast, old woman. Your death sits in that cage and she hears you.” The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, in which the Unicorn speaks of Celeno, the harpy
The vulture has also been long associated with the mythical Griffin. The Griffin combines the energy of Eagle and Lion, and symbolically they have represented: the sun, wisdom, vengeance, strength, duty, justice, royalty, vigilance, guardianship of divinity or Fae, and salvation. Embodiment of Nemesis, this regal creature has also represented the divinity of Jesus Christ (eagle) combined with the earthy energy of humanity (lion). Symbolically, I can see how the Vulture was easily linked with all of these things.
Personally though, the Vulture has always reminded me of another mythic creature, the fabled Phoenix who lived immortally through a continuous cycle of rebirth from it’s own ashes. The Vulture’s long association with Rebirth, Maternity, Transition, and Divine or Queenly women has made her a symbol of the Triple Goddess concept in my mind. With her clear sight, gentle manner, strength of purpose and awesome survival abilities the Vulture is a wonderful Teacher to ask for aid in our own transitions through life no matter what gender you may be.
Perhaps the first mythical creature that would leap to mind when discussing the vulture is the Harpy. Daughters of Typhon and Echidna in Greek mythology, harpies were originally described as beautiful winged women, and only later took on the form of a bird (always a raptor-like bird, sometimes an eagle body and other times a vulture) with a woman’s head. Most famous for their persistent torment of Phineus who had angered Zeus by revealing too much with his seer’s gift, harpies are most often seen as agents of punishment, violence or sorrow personified; cruel, greedy, vengeful, and destructive spirits of the Wind. Valkyrie-like, they have an Angel of Death aspect and are closely associated with various winds and storms. Totemicly, it would be reasonable to relate the worst qualities of the Harpy with unbalanced Vulture energy, or the best qualities of these mythic creatures with this very real Creature Teacher.
The California Condor, the largest flying bird in North America, is also considered by many to be the legendary Thunderbird of Native American tales. One of the few recognizable cross-cultural elements of Native North American mythology, the Thunderbird was a powerful spirit creature in the form of an incredibly large bird who could bring thunder with a clap of his wings, and lightning with a clash of his mighty beak.
In some traditions this bearer of storms was a benevolent spirit and in others quite malevolent. Anyone who has ever witnessed first hand the awesome power and majesty of the California Condor can easily see the link between it and the magical Thunderbird. This bird is easily the largest flying or soaring bird in all of North America. It can reach wingspans of 9 feet and a weight of just over 18 pounds, which is even larger than the mighty Eagle! A condor in motion is absolutely breath-taking, and the closer they come the harder it is for the mind to accept just how large they truly are!
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” W. Edwards Deming
“If we human beings learn to see the intricacies that bind one part of a natural system to another and then to us, we will no longer argue about the importance of wilderness protection, or over the question of saving endangered species, or how human communities must base their economic futures – not on short-term exploitation – but on long-term, sustainable development.” Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day
Once plentiful, this incredible Creature Teacher has almost been wiped from existence by the predations of Man. It is estimated that there were roughly 150 condors in the wild as of 1950, and only 21 as of 1980! In 2002, a pair of captive-reared California Condors broke the 18 years of failure that the breeding program has struggled with and successfully bred. As of 2005, estimates put wild condors at around 270 with an additional 125 successfully released from captivity. Very good news indeed!
Aside from size and general appearance, the condor differs from the vulture in a few ways. It does not have the extremely keen sense of smell that turkey vultures possess. Condors tend to be more gregarious than the more solitary turkey vulture, although they do not nest in colonies like so many of the Old World vultures. While the condor’s nests are not large or elaborate structures, they do build nests unlike the turkey vulture who lay their eggs directly on ground, in caves or crevices, abandoned burrows, in hollow logs, under fallen trees, or even in abandoned buildings!
Condor’s lay only one egg at a time and the youngling is dependent upon it’s parents for more than a year. Thus, condors typically only breed every other year. Young condors do not acquire full adult plumage or breeding capability until they are 6-8 years old! Turkey Vultures clutch 1-3 eggs at a time and young hatch 30-40 days after laying. Parents will care for the hatchlings for 10-11 weeks and family groups will remain together until the fall.
Despite similarities, the Egyptian Vultures are dramatically different from both the Condor and the Turkey Vulture. Their adult plumage is predominately white with black flight feathers at the wingtips and their bald head is yellow rather than red. Their mating displays are more reminiscent of Eagles than either the Condor or the Turkey Vulture. Their nests are much more permanent structures, lined with rags, fur, or skin and cemented with droppings. These are often used for years! Their young fledge (become fully feathered and leave the nest) anywhere between 70-90 days after hatching. Egyptian Vultures achieve adult plumage at 5 years although they may breed before that age. This vulture is noted for it’s tool-using abilities, and also for it’s tendency to clean leaving cattle of parasites like ticks!
All three of these Teachers are all but silent, making no sounds other than hissing and occasional grunts. They will defend themselves, as adults and nestlings, by vomiting. Predators either catch a stinging eyeful as the vulture makes it’s escape, or is more interested in the food left behind than in pursuing the bird! All three are soaring birds, and have the ability to see thermals. Thus, they expend less energy to stay in the air longer than most other birds.
“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.” Rachel Carson
“It is our task in our time and in our generation, to hand down undiminished to those who come after us, as was handed down to us by those who went before, the natural wealth and beauty which is ours.” John F. Kennedy
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” J.R.R. Tolkkien
The Vulture holds lessons on the proper use of energy, no more or less than necessary. Those called by this Teacher may find that they begin to see the energy or auras of people and things, and Vulture is an excellent Singer to turn to if you would like to develop this ability or need help in gaining, storing, or properly utilizing energy. Once the Vulture has claimed you it will stay with you throughout this life and likely on into other lives!
They ask us to soar to our highest potential, over all perceived limitations, and into the realm of creative thought and progressive action. Vulture people, like vultures themselves, should be judged by their actions rather than appearances, but sadly many people today never look beyond the surface of anything in life. Well-balanced Vulture people can expect to contend with others’ misconceptions and perceptions of them.
Unfortunately, Vulture people often seem to have difficult, unpleasant or just plain messy situations collect around them as they are often so good at turning negatives into positives, destructive situations into constructive ones. Thus, they can gain a reputation for attracting bad luck, or in a more positive light but equally burdensome to the Vulture individual, a rep for being an amazing problem solver!
We must have faith in our Creator that not all things are ours to correct or even to interfere in, and sometimes you just have to “let go, and let God.” Unbalanced Vultures might suffer from stress, depression or suicidal thoughts, doubt about the Universe’s ability to provide for them, uncertainty about their place in the Universe or their life goals, or may actively encourage those messy situations that crop up!
Aromatherapy is useful to those called by the Vulture with it’s keen sense of smell. The turkey vulture’s sense of smell is so keen that it can smell mercaptan, the gas produced by the beginning of decay, even under a dense forest canopy! Perhaps more than any other lesson though, these Teachers assure us that despite the many trials and hardships so plentiful in life, we can overcome great odds to achieve constructive goals in life with proper focus, intent, and awareness.
“There’s a big world out there. Bigger than prom, bigger than high school, and it won’t matter if you were the prom queen or the quarterback of the football team or the biggest nerd. Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it.” Josie from Never Been Kissed
No matter who you are in this life, no matter what you have experienced, you are guaranteed that someone has it worse and someone has it better. Comparing our experiences with those of others is, most often, a waste of time. Vulture would be the first to tell you it is best to stay focused on your own personal goals. The only person we are ever truly in competition with is ourselves! Besides, change is the only true constant and whatever circumstances we are dealing with are only temporary in the grand scheme of things.
Vulture often appears to us when we are being asked to deal with a particularly messy or unpleasant situation; to transform it into something positive and constructive. Well-balanced Vulture people often display the same patience and resourcefulness so easily seen in the life of this self-assured Teacher. Because the Vulture has no real voice, it is very important for Vulture people to always be mindful that actions speak louder than words. It is not enough in life to go about talking endlessly about all that we would or could do, we must take action.
Particular attention should be paid to the health of your digestive tract and bowels. Vulture people may find that their dietary needs will change. Something that we once enjoyed eating and had no trouble with may become unpalatable or upsetting, and foods that we once avoided may suddenly become very compatible. Overheating, another potential physical difficulty, is pleasantly solved by taking the time to soak your legs and feet. I recommend a nice bubbling stream, personally.
First letter of the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet, symbol of queenly motherhood, master of all transitions; The Parsees of Bombay did not believe it proper to bury the dead or cremate them. Instead they left their dead to be devoured by this sacred bird! Revered by many cultures, the Vulture brings harm to none, creates life from death, holds eternity in it’s regal claws, and , in some tales, sacrificed it’s beautiful head plumage to set the sun in the sky for all to benefit from. This powerful Singer can teach us how to look within the darkness of our own Shadow, recognize and overcome all that we most fear. How does this magical Teacher appear in your life?
“Moderation is the secret of survival.” Manly Hall
“In a world where change is inevitable and continuous, the need to achieve that change without violence is essential for survival.” Andrew Young
“We live in a time of transition, an uneasy era which is likely to endure for the rest of this century. During the period we may be tempted to abandon some of the time-honored principles and commitments which have been proven during the difficult times of past generations. We must never yield to this temptation. Our American values are not luxuries, but necessities – not the salt in our bread, but the bread itself.” Jimmy Carter
Potential Balancing energies: Birds like Crow/Raven or Heron ,Deer , Skunk , Sheep and Cattle, Buffalo/Bison , Rabbit , Snake , Flies , Hawk , Eagle and other Raptors , Earthworm, Fish like Salmon , Rodents like Mice or Rats , Mushrooms and Fungi, the Sun, Trees like the Oil Palm (espcecially for Palm Nut vultures), bacteria, hyenas, Lions , cougars and other cats , Wolf /Fox / Dog /Coyote , plants like pumpkins (Turkey vultures adore end of season pumpkins and, in warmer climates, overripe coconuts!) , Sunflowers , thyme, asclepias or angelica, Lepidoptera like the Monarch , Ants , Bees , Spiders , Dragonfly and other Insects, Elephants , Bears , Otters , Frog/Toad
Key Concepts: Transition/Transformation, Feminine power/strength/intuition/divinity, Life/Death/Rebith cycle, Faith, spiritual growth, removal of decay, Solar energy, Transcending Fear, Shadow self/work, Purification, Visioning/Shamanic journey, Patience, Silence, Healing, Problem/Puzzle solving, Compassion (Golden Purifier), Seeing/Working with Energy, Strength through Gentleness, Vigilence, Natural Law/Magic, Order from Chaos, Coupling Right Thought with Right Action, Inspiration, Fertility and Motherhood/Sisterhood
Associated with : Griffins, Phoenix, Harpies, the Sun, Isis, Mut, Ma’at, Nekhebet, Nemesis, Ares, Prometheus, Hercules, Zeus, Hades, Nasur, Neret, Urubutsin, Heresa Heri , Pallas Athena, Fene-Ma-So , Arawn, Dis Pater, Saturn/Cronus, Sumul