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THE VULTURE AS TOTEM


(click image)

The Golden Purifier
(CATHARTES AURA)



PRESENTED BY:
the Wanderling

The vulture is a very powerful totem. Its cycle of power is year-round. If you have a Vulture as a spirit guide or totem, it can show you how to use energy powerfully and efficiently.  It glides effortlessly on the winds, soaring high but using little energy.  It symbolized the distribution of energy so that gravity (or cares) do not weigh it down.  The Vulture uses air currents against the pull of gravity.  It does not use its own energy, but uses the energies of the Earth instead, the energies of the Earth being ONE of the mainstay sources in The Power of the Shaman. A very valuable lesson.


"One day, when I was around ten years old or so, I went for a hike deep into the desert unescorted. When my Uncle discovered I was gone he went looking for me. During my walk I happened across the carcass of a dead rabbit and was fascinated by it for some reason. When my Uncle found me after cresting a small hill he saw me squatted down with the carcass. Joining me in a circle with the rabbit were three vultures. When my Uncle told his estranged wife about the incident she suddenly was very interested in me. You see, for some reason, in today's neo-Shaman environment there has been a stress placed on finding one's "power animal." The contemporary neo-Shaman workshops have a tendency to blind people to the fact that real animals are also spirit and power, and every bit as important, or even more so, than than a spirit guide that appears in some vision. His estranged wife, a Midewiwin Medicine Woman, knew that. In workshops, the totem-animal-visions of participants are never frogs or gophers, they are always wolves, bears, eagles, and falcons. If it were only so." (source)


The scientific name for the Turkey Vulture is CATHARTES AURA which means GOLDEN PURIFIER because as it goes about it's lifetime business it purifies the landscape and environment in it's own natural way, ensuring the continued health and life of other living things. The Vulture is a promise that all hardship was temporary and necessary for a higher purpose.  Once a Vulture enters your life as a totem or guide, it will remain with you for life.

Vultures live and work together, both in cooperation and friendliness. They communicate with friends and neighbors when they find something to eat. They let the others know where the food is. And when there is a big feast they communicate with neighboring flocks in distant roosts. Also, Turkey Vultures that range within California Condor habitat areas, when they find food they will go to the Condors and lead them to it. One roost was observed when they had a dead cow in their neighborhood. They somehow contacted a roost of 100 vultures about 30 miles away to come join them. Several days later, before they finished their feast, two more cows died. Within a day the vultures had contacted another roost to join them. At night all the birds visited together in the same or neighboring trees. There were now three different roosts living together. When the cows had been cleaned up the several visiting roosts went home. (source)

In Greek mythology, the Vulture is the descendant of the Griffin.  It was a very Buddhist-like, Zen-like symbol of the non-dual oneness of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, good and evil, guardian and avenger.  The Vulture is the avenger of nature spirits.    Ancient Assyrians believed the Vulture was, like Nagarjuna's middle way, Sunyata, the encompassing overall non-separated union between the day and night. Ironically, regardless of the less than good image the vulture is typically granted by most, think about it:


Unlike the needs of nearly all other living creatures, vultures do not kill.

Their prey either dies or something else kills it.



Herodorus Ponticus relates that great men of legend were always very joyful when a vulture appeared upon any action. For it is a creature the least hurtful of any, pernicious neither to corn, fruit-tree, nor cattle; it preys only upon carrion, and never kills or hurts any living thing; and as for birds, it touches not them, though they are dead, as being of its own species, whereas eagles, owls, and hawks mangle and kill their own fellow-creatures. That very same overall innate nature imbeded in the actions and life of the vulture, never killing or hurting a living thing or its own fellow creatures, is reflected for the most part, in and by the the actions and life of the person that truly has the vulture as a totem animal.

The noted Athenian writer Aeschylus (c. 525 BC-456 BC) says,- - "What bird is clean that preys on fellow bird? - Besides, all other birds are, so to say, never out of our eyes; they let themselves be seen of us continually; but a vulture is a very rare sight, and you can seldom meet with a man that has seen their young; their rarity and infrequency has raised a strange opinion in some, that they come to us from some other world; as soothsayers ascribe a divine origination to all things not produced either of nature or of themselves."

Be as it may, the Assyrians, Greeks and other early civilization city-states were actually late comers to the use or representation of vultures in ritual, religious, or shamanistic rites.

In the 1950's the husband/wife archaelogist/anthropologist team of Ralph and Rose Solecki began excavating a cave site 250 miles north of Baghdad along a tributary of the Tigris River called the Greater Zab that rises out of the Turkey-Kurdistan border area. The cave had been used for burials by an ancient tribal people called the Zawi Chami around 8870 BCE (plus or minus 300 years, according to carbon-dating) --over 10,000 years ago-- which is well over 4,000 years before the beginnings of any of the various cultures mentioned above. In their dig the Soleckis found a number of wing bones of large predatory birds, which turned out to be Gyptaeus barbatus (the bearded vulture) and Gyps fulvus (the griffon vulture).



Vulture image with a headless man at Çatal Hüyük
One image depicts a human figure in a vulture skin


In 1977 the journal Sumer published an article by Rose Solecki entitled Predatory Bird Rituals at Zawi Chemi Shanidar where she described the findings, going on to suggest that the wings had almost certainly been utilized as part of some kind of ritualistic costume, worn either for personal decoration or for ceremonial purposes. She connected the finds with the Vulture Shamanism of the proto-neolithic Çatal Hüyük community in Central Anatolia which, by the way, was 2000 years later in time, and several hundred miles away in distance. Recognizing the importance of their discovery, however, Rose Solecki concluded the article by saying:


"The Zawi Chemi people must have endowed these great raptorial birds with special powers, and the faunal remains we have described for the site must represent special ritual paraphernalia. Certainly, the remains represent a concerted effort by a goodly number of people just to hunt down and capture such a large number of birds. Either the wings were saved to pluck out the feathers or they were used as part of a costume for a ritual. One of the murals from a Catal Hayuk shrine ... depicts just such a ritual scene; ie, a human figure dressed in a vulture skin"


Can Göknil in Creation Myths From Central Asia To Anatolia: Images From The Creation Myths Of The Turks writes:


"Shamanism is a system of belief common to the Turks of Central Asia. Both men and women could be Shaman priests and among old Turkish groups they were called Kam. Kams dressed in elaborate garments to display their supernatural powers. Accompanied by the beating of drums in their rituals, they believed they could fly with the aid of their own guardian animal. During such flights they reached various levels of Heaven or the Underworld. Upon returning to this world, they used the information they had learned during their journey for the benefit of their followers".


Each place and location has its own power and potency. By raising our consciousness about the geo-cosmic specificities of gravity, light, magnetism, solstices, equinoxes, lunar cycles, indigenous plants, animals, climate, and so forth in any given area, we can come to value the variety of diverse cultures and regions whose multiple knowledges all serve to enhance life everywhere on our planet. Most of these geo-cosmic teachings can only be acquired in the particular region in which they occur. If we are to awaken our own Shamanic abilities, perhaps lost in the mist of time, then we must attune ourselves to precisely those same forces as they manifest themselves in our own bio-regions. In some cases this may require us to learn about our region from the indigenous tribes in our area; in other cases we must set about discovering the power of the places in which we live on our own. We need not run away to other "exotic' cultures, but begin exploring our own backyards.



WE DO NOT HAVE SHAMANS:
The Case Against Shamans In North American Indigenous Cultures








The Egyptian Goddess Maat is usually depicted with the wings of a Vulture.  Maat is the personification of the order of the world.  She and her totem represented the norm of things, the way the universe worked, the conduct of its creatures.  They represented morality, justice, social and cosmic order -- the balance and harmony of the universe.

To the Pueblo Indians, the Vulture was the symbol of purification.  Its medicine would restore harmony to that which had been broken.  They used Vulture feathers for grounding during shape shifting ceremonies to make sure that they would return to their own body and mind.  The Vulture also dispelled evil, discharm objects and recover slain warriors.

In alchemy, the Vulture is the symbol of sublimation.  The confirmation of the relationship between the volatile aspects of life and the fixed aspects of cosmic and psychic forces.

People with Vulture totems often can see auras and colors around people and things.  The Vulture can see the thermals rising from the earth and uses them to soar into the sky.  The Vulture can also teach you patience.  It will soar for hours, high in the sky, using the air currents.

Vultures can teach you other things as well. Turkey Vultures live and work together, in cooperation and friendliness. They communicate with friends and neighbors when they find something to eat. They let the others know where the food is. And when there is a big feast they communicate with neighboring flocks in distant roosts. Also, Turkey Vultures that range within California Condor habitat areas, when they find food they will go to the Condors and lead them to it. One roost was observed when they had a dead cow in their neighborhood. They somehow contacted a roost of 100 vultures about 30 miles away to come join them. Several days later, before they finished their feast, two more cows died. Within a day the vultures had contacted another roost to join them. At night all the birds visited together in the same or neighboring trees. There were now three different roosts living together. When the cows had been cleaned up the several visiting roosts went home. (source)




The Vulture saves the World


In the earliest of times, the sun lived very close to the earth - so close in fact that life upon the earth was becoming unbearable. The animal world got together and decided to do something  about it. They wanted to move the sun further away.

The fox was the first to volunteer, and he grabbed the sun in his mouth and began to run to the heavens. After a short while, the sun became too hot, burning the fox's mouth, and he stopped. To this day, the inside of the fox's mouth is black. Then the opossum volunteered. He wrapped his tail around the sun and began running toward the heavens. Before long though, the sun became too hot, burning its tail, and he had to stop. To this day the opossum has no hair upon its tail.

It was then that vulture stepped forward. Vulture was the most beautiful and powerful of birds. Upon its head was a beautiful mantle of rich feathering that all other birds envied. Knowing that the earth would burn up unless someone moved the sun, the vulture placed its head against it and began to fly to the heavens. With powerful strokes of its wings, it pushed and pushed the sun further and further up into the heavens. Though it could feel its crown feathers burning, the vulture continued until the sun was set at a safe distance in the sky away from the earth. Unfortunately, vulture lost its magnificent head of feathers for eternity.


The Vulture and the Trickster


One day when Trickster was walking about with no particular destination he heard a shriek from above. When he looked up, there unexpectedly was a very large bird headed right for him. It was a Turkey Vulture (cathartes aura). When it got near, Trickster said, "Well, younger brother, you are certainly lucky to be able to fly around and have such a good time! I wish I could fly like you. You could carry me on your back, if you had a mind to, for I like the way you do things, that is why I say this." "All right," said the Turkey Vulture, "you can climb on my back." So Trickster mounted up, but the bird had to exert itself mightily to get airborne, indeed it had to use all its powers to leave the ground. Finally they were soaring high in the air, and Trickster was full of enthusiasm, "Indeed, my younger brother, this is a fine time we are having. It is very pleasant to fly about like this." Then the vulture dipped his wing and peeled off so that it was all that Trickster could do to hang on. He shouted, "Be careful! When you fly like this I could fall off!" So the vulture righted himself and glided as he had before. Trickster was once again happy and chattering about how much he was enjoying himself.

Now this vulture knew full well what sort of man Trickster was, and how he acted; so he decided to give him a little of what he had been giving others. He circled about until he came directly over a hollow tree without a single branch; then, suddenly, he pitched violently when he was over the tree, and Trickster fell right into the hollow. "Alas," cried Trickster, "what an evil thing to do. You have turned the tables on me!" Thus the Turkey Vulture had tricked the Trickster, one of the few creatures in all of Native American lore to have the "power" and guile to one-up the Trickster.




THE GOLDEN PURIFIER


In Buddhism the Golden Purifier is COMPASSION, Karuna in Sanskrit. Compassion works for us in allowing us to perceive the pain, anguish, affliction, agony, torment and distress of others clearly, through allowing it into our experience also. It is then something that has moved further out of the realm of the ignored or the unconscious into the realm of the included, the accepted, the conscious. Compassion is spacious, allowing the way things are to exist, to change, and to end. Particularly it allows pain to end. This means that it must be patient, not in any hurry to force pain to end or to try officiously to get rid of pain. It is the active side of wisdom and is the Buddha's supreme or GOLDEN PURIFIER. The Buddha's compassion allowed him to realize that there is still something that can be done by a fully Enlightened being. It was compassion that motivated him to teach "for the benefit of those with dust in their eyes".(source)


Do you then approach the study of Zen -- or Shamanism -- with the idea that there is something to be gained by it? This question is not intended as an implicit accusation. But it is , nevertheless, a serious question. Where there is a lot of fuss about "spirituality," "Enlightenment," or just "turning on" it is often because there are vultures hovering around a corpse. This hovering, this circling, is not what is meant by the study of Zen. There is no body to be found. The birds may come and circle but they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the "nothing" that was there, suddenly appears. (source)




ODAC DARA ARAD CADO
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See also:
MEDITATION ALONG METEOR CRATER RIM

LEGEND OF THE GIANT BIRD

FLYING OINTMENTS

VULTURE PEAK

THE TREE



"Zen and the Birds of Appetite" by Thomas Merton


DO YOU THINK FLYING IN

THE SKY IS MAGICAL?

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HIKING AND MEDITATION

ALONG METEOR CRATER
RIM





Smashing The Black Lacquer Barrel





KAM

Kamship is an important part of the pre-islam Turkish belief system. Kam, Kaman or Shaman leads several ceremonies for communicating between this world and the world of sprits. They also lead several rituals for birth, death and marriage, the periods of transitions. They fight against bad sprits with their symbolic knives or wooden swords. The wooden sword, representing the justice, is a symbol for the peaceful solution of disputes. One can not learn kamship, instead one should descent from the family of a kam. It is believed that the sprit of the grandfather passes to the grandchild, this is very similarly observed in dedeship in Anatolia.



RETURN TO:
SHAMANIC JOURNEYING


Totem information provided through the gracious services of:
Lin's Web
as well as:
ANIMAL SPEAK: Dictionary of Bird Totems


VULTURE GRAPHIC COURTESY
Keith Wedoe