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Swallow Language: the Voice of Light

‘One swallow doth not a summer make’
Aristotle 384-322BC

Alton Priors Swallow 2009

Swallows returned to their nesting sites in the chill temperatures of a shed in Northern Scotland on Monday last week. My heart rose to meet them. There were two of them. A third arrived yesterday. It seems like a very long time since I heard swallow song – that swooping, diving ‘weet-weet’ of recognition – in these cold north latitude skies. They left as a massing cloud on autumn equinox last September, fully three weeks early. And, as if on cue, winter started soon after and went on relentlessly until spring equinox. If you look at it from a swallow’s-eye-view, they’ve been gone fully six months.

Swallows: first sign of summer

No wonder we celebrate the sight of the first swallow. They presage summer. They symbolize transcendant spirit over adversity, They are the original bluebird.

I’m not alone in my excitement at their return: in the balmy skies of southern California, they’ve made a study of local ‘swallows’ into a science and tourist attraction. At the eighteenth century Alta California mission of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, they do special swallow tours and swallow welcome rituals, especially for the return of the winged beauties, Stelgidopteryx serripennis (there they’re actually martins, but who’s arguing?) on San Juan’s Feast Day, March 19th. That’s a month and a half ago. Lucky ducks.

In other parts of Britain they celebrate too. In Orkney and Shetland, the return of the ‘hirondelle‘ coincides with May Day, ancient Beltane, the festival that heralds summer. Meanwhile at Bretton Lake National Reserve in West Yorkshire their Hirundo rustica have been back nearly a month; that means they braved snow and hail to get here.

At least mine arrived on a warm wind. And a full moon.

When Britain was a naval power, the swallow was like a mascot, a bird of good fortune and luck. Swallows were invariably seen over the mainmast when a ship came within sight of land. They implied ‘safe return’ after a long voyage. In even earlier times, when tea clippers plied to and from the Orient, swallow tattoos were an oceangoing tradition, an unspoken language, if you like: one tattoo for crossing the equator one way; another when you came back. In vessels to farther seas, a mariner earned his swallow tattoo for going ’round the Horn’ – Cape Horn in Antarctic waters of South America, and the Horn of Africa between the south Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. In another tradition, a sailor had his chest tattooed after he’d sailed five thousand nautical miles (5750 miles). So a sailor with a couple of bluebird tattoos was experienced, trustworthy, one with the gods in his corner. He was first choice for a captain looking for crew. In legend, if the fates stepped in and he drowned, the birds would alight on his soul, lift it from the swirling waters and carry it to heaven.

The bird implied loyalty, faith, honor, love, hope and safe return.

In some cultures still, the first swallow of spring signifies an omen of financial success or a surprise windfall. Two swallows – popular as a tattoo in barrio culture – represent freedom.

In indigenous American culture the swallow or bluebird totem, as a herald of summer, brings warmth and protection to the home. She incorporates the spiritual principles of objectivity and perspective, as well as communication in a group environment.

Hollywood created the ‘bluebird of happiness’ for the song Zippedy doo-dah’ in Walt Disney’s 1946 movie ‘Song of the South’, and the cartoon was based on the totem principles of contentment and joy to be found in everyday life, in its suggestion that we dance and sing with every step. That we enjoy what is happening now, or what is about to happen in our lives.

Swallow formation Alton Priors July 2008, formed in two stages, presaged solar eclipse nine days later

Perhaps it is this sense of anticipation I feel at the little bird’s return to the North – such a tiny creature, such a long journey. The European swallow weighs no more than three-quarters of an ounce, 20g. She has flown – from southern Africa to the shores of Britain – a total of 6000 miles.

So what are we anticipating? What surprises do this year’s aerial messengers bring?

Not crop circles. Not a single apparition. Not yet.

None so far in Wiltshire and Hampshire fields. But it’s still early days. The oil seed rape (canola) crop is only just reaching its flowering height. And it’s far too early for a resonating mandala to appear in barley or wheat.

In previous summers, swallow crop circles appearing in Cotswolds and Plains farms have been interpreted as presaging solar activity: eclipses, solar wind surges. electromagnetic disturbances.


While this video shows an interesting rendition of NASA’s SOHO transmission last week (April 25-30, 2010), its interpretation is better explained at the following link which cannot be converted to an image for ‘security reasons’. The commentator explains carefully and meticulously the presence of ‘two suns’ – an unknown very bright object within the orbit and corona of our own sun, which does not coincide with the orbits of any of the inner planets. I recommend viewing it at:

http://www.disclose.tv/action/viewvideo/44078/Wow____Possibly_Two_Suns_/

While the crop circle phenomenon has in past years delivered consciousness-changing designs or peace-inducing sonic mandalas, this year it looks as if we may be treated to the astral phenomenon first before the glyph appears as an embellishment in the crop.

It is not surprising that NASA has so far made no comment about the bright light-object. Nor am I surprised by my inability to transfer a link from the ‘Two Suns’ video to this page. I eagerly anticipate the first crop circle immediately following this SOHO object’s appearance.

Perhaps the swallows’ return three days early this year is a good sign: an indication that this summer will be hot, nay, blistering, and the hirondelle population may burgeon once more. It needs to. Despite British birders (‘twitchers’) considering their number as one which hovers in the ‘normal’ range for a migrant species, what they call a ‘species of least concern’, I worry about them.

I hope the summer they presage becomes one we can enjoy: not one where earth changes dominate. We have already experienced three earthquakes of major proportions over the winter, a volcano which is still erupting – themselves highlighting human dithering and unpreparedness; and the present oil-spill mop-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico will take every available human resource from two continents to avert a wildlife and environmental disaster. If the swallow totem signifies hope and happiness – if the bluebird hirondelle has its say and we are prepared to listen once more – we might learn a thing or two. We might rekindle our ability to focus: to concentrate on creating peace, joy and happiness for ourselves and in our world. After all, as my last guest blogger remarked: we create our own reality. And what we focus on increases.

One swallow may not make a summer. But three? There’s hope.

Welcome home.

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April 30, 2010 Posted by | ancient rites, birds, calendar customs, crop circles, culture, environment, festivals, nature, seasonal, traditions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Solstice: It’s About Light

Aurora borealis or Northern Lights

As December moves towards the shortest day, we all panic a little. It’s not the present-wrapping still to do, the festive mince pies to bake, the cards to write: though those and other events on the to-do list seem endless and we’ll never get it done.

We will. That’s the point: we’ll get there.

But there is something else. Somewhere deep in the collective unconscious (thank you Carl Jung) there is an unfounded fear that when the shortest day arrives, the sun will not only stand still but may never rise again. That may sound crazy to someone who doesn’t look up at the sky much; who sees ‘light’ as something akin to the strange offerings on Photobucket under that search item: a neon tube.

But there are others among us, myself included, who look to the skies in these fast diminishing days and wonder if the light will return. I miss it so. In the so-called temperate zone, we lose the light at a rate of roughly four minutes per day until December 21st, when the sun ‘appears’ to stand still. And then it turns round and light increases at the same rate until equinox. I blogged last week about how the light-deprived Scots celebrate solstice in Burghead at the latitude of Alaska. No Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for them

The Norwegians, too, know all about that latitude: over half their huge country lies north of the 57º parallel. In Murmansk, on the White Sea, they keep the street lights on from October until April. They’re not just street lights either, they are specially formulated UV, designed to trigger serotonin in the SAD population and offer some hope to a city starved of sun for five months of the year.

Yes, serotonin is the hormone secreted by the human brain in the process of joy. It’s what we as a species need to keep going. Joy and light. And at this season when all the shops are declaring it is time to be ‘merry’, joy may be hard to find, unless we consciously engender it.

So it may be relevant to fostering a little joy that I give you a small ditty which appeared in today’s Daily Mail and one which the people of Norway are still pondering over.

I won’t add the comments from the unbelievers (failed Russian spacecraft, holographic searchlight); the positive view is that it is – in the middle of Arctic winter – a light in the sky. Not exactly aurora borealis, but something electromagnetic and atmospherically-unusual. A spiral of light in the sky. There’s hope.

Light over Tromsö, Norway

Aurora, now. That’s another delight we may witness at our latitude if we’re lucky, at this dark time of year. It might even be seen as a magical mechanism devised by solar wind and earth’s magnetosphere to whisper awe into our unresponsive consciousness.

But to stand on a hill on a starlit night, hot water bottle wrapped round kidney region, three scarves and wool hat in place, furry boots and six layers of woolly jumpers over frail human body, and watch as the firmament wheels for an hour in cathedrals of light, is something not to be missed.

For that I will go through another dark winter in this wild northern latitude.

On January 12 last year the population of Siguida, Latvia experienced the light equivalent of an ice storm: over the city’s streets hovered a cloud of light which then descended into pillars. Scientists attributed the columns of light which hung suspended in air for more than five minutes to frozen crystals of water or minute particles of ice. But to a child it must have looked like a winter fairy’s magic wand had waved.

Ice pillars of light over Latvia last January

There will always be the view of the jaded reporter, the overworked NASA scientist, the prosaic explanation of a failed Russian nuclear test to write off phenomena like these.

I fancy the childlike fairytale explanation myself.

In the dark days of what amounts to a period of hibernation for humankind in the northern hemisphere, isn’t it wonderful to know that the Cosmos is still bringing us its own version of Son et Lumière? Those unexplained shimmering beams of light bent by electromagnetic forces relatively few of us yet understand, spinnning constantly round our Blue Planet.

You thought Crop Circles were cool: in midwinter, Light is even Cooler.

December 10, 2009 Posted by | ancient rites, astronomy, consciousness, environment, nature, sun, weather | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments