Jesse Wolf Hardin's Earth Magic
"I am the Shining One— bird, warrior and wizard. I have no equal— not even one. Never in vain do I wage nightly battle— for mine is the magic that brings back the sun!" -Aztec song for Huitzitzilopochtli
There's a particular cave where I spend much of my time-- a shallow hollow blown out of solid volcanic rock, and the hands that sculpted it were New Mexico's wind-lashed rains. The gentle inward slope of the walls create the most marvelous effect, a natural amphitheater amplifying every diverse sound of this magical canyon. When the breeze is just right, the giggling of water over river-rock fills its humble maw. The calls of contented shorebirds are lifted from the canyon bottom like reverberations off a drum head, are pocketed in the earthen womb, penetrate my sleeping mind, and serve as the soundtrack to my dreams.
Most of my moments in this cave seem eternal, free of the fitful passage of linear time, absent the burden of constant comment, of abusive self-consciousness, of endless wordy thoughts. Usually my mind is as clear here as the crystal sky suspended above this pilgrim's rock, my animal being opened to a panoply of sensation, to the infusions of instinct rising from the bedrock of the self. It's particularly pitiful when I give in to the soap opera of the brain, set upon by the "ten thousand words" screaming to be heard one above the other, blending into a single high pitched drone like Sartre's Furies. I'm drawn down inside myself as if by some clever ruse, until I no longer notice the flowering stalks of the yucca crisscrossing against the turquoise horizon, or acknowledge the plaintive cry of the puma a single ridge away. I become possessed by past and future, my consciousness migrating to places other than here and now, falling head-first into the hall of mirrors, the labyrinth of the narrow self. I see and hear nothing that's really here, nothing that surrounds and touches me. I become as one asleep, delivered to a busy dream, sacrificed to hubris, life losing out to reflections of life. It's at such times that it comes, redirecting my attention, commanding my presence.
Its appearances are always unexpected, a brilliant visage appearing suddenly out of nowhere, roaring in place with an uncanny avian vibrato.
It will swoop in front of me, inches from my face, at once vanquishing all images and concerns not physically embodied in the hallowed moment, the present, the place. Like the lively snapping of the fingers, it opens my eyes to a world of pertinence and song, delivers me back to divine presence, to Nature, to now. With each of its visits my heart triples its rhythm, sitting up to behold a veritable explosion of sparkling gemstone colors. It is thus that one more day my sun will have risen, on the wings of the pochtli, the jeweled sorcerer, the hummingbird.
The first gift of the hummers is that of enlivened experience, for they are known as "the ones who bring life." In a flash they are there, right in front of us, demanding our immediate concentration. "Wake up!," they tell us, with their wildly beating wings, alerting us to the intensity of the present and the joy of simple existence. Through the delightful mediums of beauty and shock the hummingbird brings us "to our senses," into a state of heightened awareness through the stimulating chemistry of awe and surprise. The hummer is a warrior, but it will not hurt you.
Its battle is with the busied darkness dimming your awareness and clouding your mind.
For the Toltecs of ancient Mexico, the word for warrior and bird were the same: Tozcatl— meaning "life bringer." Spreading the pollen from flower to flower with its long beak. Stimulating the production of grain seeds and fruit. Seeming to usher in the return of yet another rainy season to a thirsty land. Rain bringer. Life bringer. In Navajo, it is Da-hi-tu-hi, "one-who-brings-new-life."
Hummers can be seen almost any summer evening in their range, diving madly at one another in what the Aztecs believed to be mock battles.
Each day they would practice for nightfall, and the renewal of their war against the powers of darkness. According to this legend if we ever lost the birds' help, if we ever let them go extinct, the sun would no longer rise from above the mystic mountains— and human consciousness would be doomed to perpetually look inward through an obfuscating dark.
The Aztecs tell a story of when they were a nomadic people in search of a new home-site. Their leader was a great warrior named Huitzitzil, "Shining-One-With-The-Long-Weapon," attesting to his prowess with a spear. He wore arm bands and bracelets made of the iridescent feathers of the hummingbird, talismans for success in love and war. They soon found themselves under attack, and a great battle ensued. In time they fought off the much larger tribe, but not before the great warrior had taken an arrow through the heart. They were amazed to see a small and proud emerald bird, spiraling upwards from where his body had been. He'd taken the form of the combative little hummer, and would be known ever after by the spirit name of Huitzitzlopochtli. From that time on, the spirits of all those people and creatures killed while defending their homeland would be reborn to take flight as hummingbirds. They'd be treated to fields of pollen-laden flowers, while preparing for dusk and the always fateful struggle with oblivion.
For all of us the appearance of hummers is like a flash cube going off, a purposeful display of luminescence. They bring a brief defeat for noisesome internal dialogue, the temporary elimination of those distracting pictures from the past and busy plans for the future.
"Lighten up!," they seem to say. The effect is like a splash of cold creek water on our faces, only it's a splash of chilling light instead.
It's light interpreted through a spectrum of ever-changing color, crystalline hues shimmering and twinkling in the brightness of day. The first Europeans to land in the "New World" were amazed at the bird's tiny size and the effervescent play of rainbows in their miniature plumage:
"For color shee is glorious as the Rainbowe, as shee flies shee makes a little humming noise like a humble bee; wherefore shee is called Humbird." -William Wood (New England Prospects, 1634)
The Mayans told of how Xo-ma-xamil's coat of many colors came as gifts from the other birds of the forest, including the magical Quetzal. The great Sun was pledged to anoint each hummer with a solar blessing.
As viewed in the shade of a tree or during an overcast day the hummers appear decidedly gray, without a hint of their regal palate. Many of the more brilliant feathers depend on the sun's touch to bring out the shifting purples, reds and gold. The neck and cap feathers are actually black, with a fascinating layer of clear material filled with microscopic bubbles of air. This layer bends and refracts sunlight, splitting into its component spectrum and bouncing them back at the observer. They reflect the fanciful colors of the blossoms they feed from, pushing their noses deep into the flower's tight interior with great exuberance and joy.
There always seem to be some who prefer to sing, and others who would rather dance. The hummer is a dancer, transporting its show on blazing, twirling wings. Its flight patterns are perfectly choreographed ballets with aerial pirouettes, dramatic stops and the motionless building of suspense. It rockets fifty feet in the air, plummets to within inches of the ground, maneuvers unerringly through the thick foliage of a bush, and hovers effortlessly a foot from your head. It establishes its territory and attracts its mate with hushed movement rather than competing songs of threat and allure. Modern civilization could learn a thing or two from its ability to brake, and then immediately angle off in a more advantageous direction.
This talent for hovering in place, mid-air, is shared by few other creatures. Of these, both hummingbirds and bumblebees are found only in this hemisphere. Of three hundred and forty-some species of hummer, most live close to the equator, and over half of these are in South America.
Ecuador has over a hundred and sixty kinds, more than any other country, and all of which are being threatened by government sponsored development in combination with the multinational oil industry. While some migrate to the far north and south, most remain in the tropical and temperate zones where the perennial flowers bloom.
To the early Spanish invaders it was Colibre', adapted from the Taino
(Carib) word for "bird of the sun god," adapted by the Germans into kolibre and the Dutch into kolibrielje. In the Spanish colonies it was likely to be called a picaflor ("piercer of flowers"), and one still hear's chupamyrta ("sipper of myrtle") in the southwest where I live. To the Portuguese-speaking colonists of Brazil it was a "flower kisser," beija-flor, while one indigenous tribe preferred "rays of the sun," Ourissia.
Tozcatl, "the one who brings life," is also the legendary bringer of wind and water to a parched land, igniting those blazing blossoms that provide its sustenance. You can find the hummer painted on the water vessels of certain peyote cults, or even formed in fire pit ashes after an all night session with the wise Spirit of the cactus. The jeweled masters seem to fly in on the first wind-swept clouds, dropping to the earth with chatoyant sheets of rain. They seem to paint the ground with flowers with each sweep of their graceful tails— a joyous reminder of the rewards of heightened sensitivity, the pleasures of sensual immersion.
In a related Pima story it is the hummer, Vipisimal, who saves the people from the effects of a long drought, arousing the wind and rain spirits and bringing them back to the land of the people. Sometimes, however, these monsoons come sooner and crash harder than expected, soaking the topsoil, swelling every rivulet into impatient streams, dyeing the rivers brown and prompting them over the banks that would contain them. Such a scouring evokes obvious spiritual parallels, the earthen nature exceeding our attempts to control it, washing away our pretension and artifice, drowning our constructs, and depositing the seeds of new life in the soil it leaves behind. The Pima tell as well of an immense flood and the hummer who led them to land. It is said that if any harm is allowed to come to the species, the floodwaters will return and finally cleanse the Earth of the transgressors.
For the Chayma of Peru, the many hummers were considered to be the flitting souls of their ancestors, and to harm them was strictly taboo.
While they would kill many other species for the feathers for their ceremonial garments, the hummingbird was to be left unharmed. Legend has it that a particular band of Chayma were so elated after a successful battle that they ignored the prohibition, slaughtering dozens of the tiny hummers for their skins in preparation for a victory celebration.
As soon as the feathered dancers circled the ground beneath them began to quake, and sudden fissures erupted with boiling tar from the bowels of Mother Earth. They were sucked into its molten depths, a tar pit that one can still see in the hills of that enchanted island— a clear warning of the bad things that must surely follow the disappearance of the teachers of awakeness, the Bringers of Life.
Quick to investigate anything brightly colored, hummers often zoom in and out of the open windows of my cabin. They poke at the altar candles, tease the crimson beads on a Hourani necklace, and are completely baffled by the window ornament of dried flowers mounted in cut beveled glass. I always feel a little guilty for fooling them this way, expending some of their precious metabolic energy frustrated by faux flora.
One Spring morning it was too cool yet to open all the windows, but far too sweet (smelling and sounding!) for me not to open at least one. An unfortunate hummer made it in, but was then unable to find the only way back out. For what seemed like twenty minutes (but was probably only an anxious few!) the little warrior of the sun repeatedly battered its fragile body against the ungiving panes. I tried in vain to get another window open and direct it out it, and was finally moved to chance picking it up as it lay in the corner of the sill, panting and heaving.
Knowing how hard and fast their hearts beat normally, I was afraid it was having a heart-attack while I stood by helplessly. Ever-so-carefully I slipped my fingers around it like a basket and carried it outside.
Sitting it in the shade of a juniper tree I watched in horror as it ceased breathing altogether, and its eyes steadily closed.
I sat down in the grass as it seemed to stiffen and discolor. I was ashamed. It was my house that had killed it. It was the same glass I love to look at the Kachina Cliffs through, tricking the Life Bringer into challenging the illusion until it killed it. I wondered what song to sing for it, what prayers of love and apology to say over its stilled form. Should I honor it by saving the magic plumage, wear it like the warriors of old to insure an enlivened journey? Or should I bury it intact, with no further violation? I rose and rubbed my legs to get the circulation going in them again. I was on the edge of losing myself to repetitious thought, self-incrimination, should-have-beens and will-be-next-times. On the edge of forgetting where I was, and the ecstatic sensation of being. I was ready to fall back into my mind, exiting reality at the whim of sorrow— when it came. It spun before me once more, wound-up and whirring, revved-up and revived, dancing skyward again! It was alive, this bringer of light, bringer of life.
Huitzitzilopochtli taken wing.
Call it pulling out of shock or "torpor," the hummer's proven ability to slow down their metabolic rate almost to nothing in reaction to food scarcity, frigid weather or direct threat.... or call it a miracle instead. Tozcatl, the hummingbird, was alive.
And thankfully, so was I.
*Jesse Wolf Hardin* is a teacher of Earth-centered spirituality and nature magick, living seven river crossings from a road in an ancient place of power. His latest effort is _Gaia Eros: Reconnecting With The Magic & Spirit Of Nature_ (New Page 2004), a book acclaimed by Starhawk as "a must-read for those who want to worship nature not as an abstraction but in ways sensual, practical, and transformative.” When not presenting at conferences and festivals he can be found hosting seekers for retreats, quests, events, workshops and resident internships at their enchanted wilderness sanctuary: Animá Center PO Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830 email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Jesse's website by going here http://www.animacenter.org/
©Jesse Wolf Hardin 2005 Reproduction in any form is prohibited without express written permission from the author.