“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all –
I use my journal to work through things. Sometimes I use a prompt to grease the wheels, but I had no idea how far this particular question would take me: What is the symbol of your magic? Now that was a tough one…and chewy, too. It was like a rawhide treat for the brain. How could I choose just one symbol to define my spiritual practice? I went through a mental Rolodex of Wiccan symbols: the pentagram, the triple moon, the chalice, the athame, and so forth, but none of those really hit the mark for me. They were charged with too many layers of meaning, and I am just one modern witch trying to make a difference. I wanted something more personal and representative of my life’s purpose.
Okay, so what do I do? What am I? I write. I’m a writer. I’m either writing prose or I’m plucking out songs on my guitar. Okay, so what symbolizes a writer? A pen? Well, not just any pen…a quill! Of course! It’s even in the title of my blog. How could I have missed that? Hmmm.
I wrote it down in my journal—the quill symbol—and thought a little more about what my “magic” is in this life…this writing that I do, why I bother doing it, etc. I write mostly for myself, because it’s how I have always coped. If what I have to say helps others on their individual paths, then it’s a lovely bonus.
I attended a songwriting workshop recently, and the presenter started off by saying, “I don’t know how to write a song. I can’t tell you how the rabbit gets inside the hat.” Well, I can’t tell you, either. All I know is that when something is right, when it rings true, the goose bumps happen, and the magic is made.
The day after I wrote about the quill symbol in my journal, my husband came in from a morning walk and presented me with a blue jay feather. He had no idea that I was contemplating the symbolism of quills at the time, so I placed the feather on my altar, sensing that it was part of a larger message. Perhaps it was confirmation that I had chosen wisely. Nature doesn’t walk through your door without a purpose, and even small, delicate things contain volumes. If I have learned anything from my shamanic studies, it’s that the universe is constantly trying to get our attention. The problem is that we want the burning bush in the desert and the words written in stone right before our eyes, so we often miss the subtler, gentler ways in which it communicates.
A few days later, we were on the road to visit my family in North Georgia. It’s a six-hour drive from Savannah, and anyone who has driven I-16 will tell you that it’s a monotonous stretch of highway bordered by cotton fields and not much else. I had been dreading the trip, not just because of the drive, but it meant facing a harsh reality. My mother’s health is declining from an autoimmune disorder called Multiple Symptom Atrophy. It is slowly claiming her ability to walk, her ability to speak, and her desire to live. I have felt her receding further and further into the mists for quite some time, but I didn’t want to actually see this happening. I preferred to recall the vibrant, creative woman who styled my unruly hair in pigtails and painted flowers on my bell-bottom jeans. I loved her fiercely, and I wanted her back.
I was pondering all of this as we stopped somewhere around Metter, GA to walk our dog and take a break. Baxter sniffed and roamed around a grassy area behind a fast food place, oblivious to everything except the previous markings of other canines. I glanced up at a lonely dove on a power line. I felt just like her—perching on a wire and bracing myself against the wind. She shed one of her lovely plumes, and it floated to the ground in a hypnotic little dance, landing just a few feet away from where I stood. My husband said, “Look! She’s giving you a feather!”
She was indeed, but why? Maybe I needed more validation that I’m supposed to be staring at a blank screen and trying to fill it up with words. I put the feather in the glove box, offering my thanks to the dove.
Fast forward to the return trip. I was on the phone with a friend, explaining how the past few days had gone, how my mother had cried on my shoulder, how frightened she was, and how drained I felt. He said, “I have something for you. I know how much you love the white egrets, and I found one of their feathers near the dock. I want you to have it.”
I was stunned. This was the third feather I had been given in a week’s time.
I placed the dove and egret feathers on my altar next to the more colorful one from the blue jay. Maybe the birds themselves were trying to tell me something, since all creatures represent certain characteristics. According to Ted Andrews, author of Animal Speak, “When we pay attention to and acknowledge a nature totem, we are honoring the essence that lies behind it. We are opening up and attuning to that essence. We can then use it to understand our own life circumstances more clearly. We can share in its power or ‘medicine.’ ”
Blue Jay, Dove, and Egret feathers
Delving deeper into the world of avian symbols, I learned that the blue jay teaches about the proper use of power. Rather than getting distracted or having too many projects going at once, they remind us to develop our abilities to the fullest. I needed to take a longer look at where and how I was expending my energy and what really deserved my full attention. Could I stay focused on my goals, even if others needed me?
The dove represents the maternal instinct, peace, and prophecy. No wonder she appeared right before I visited with my mom. We were locked in a classic role reversal where the child becomes the parent, and the parent becomes the child. I was beginning to see how she probably felt when I was going through my own dramas, and she wanted to take away the hurt. I wanted to do the same for her this time, but we each have our paths to walk. There is only so much we can do for those we love. Pain is part of the journey—peace only comes with acceptance of what is, not how we think life should be.
My last feathered teacher arrived just in time to remind me that I can’t afford to be stuck in the mud at this point in my life. The egret teaches balance, the ability to progress and evolve, and the confidence to walk into deeper waters. I have observed these graceful birds so many times out on the marsh, and they always inspire me to try a little harder…to wade out a little further. If the ground isn’t solid enough beneath them, they just spread their wings and fly to a better location—a lesson we can all appreciate.
I bow with deep gratitude to the way all things are connected and to the power of a symbol to speak louder and clearer than a thousand printed pages. I bless the blue jay, the dove, and the egret for their roles in my journey. May we all become more open to the many ways we can experience Divine guidance.