This is a super thread, I've been enjoying reading the entries over the years and participated in, and great story lostinthebush to start your corroboree career, ripper!
It just happens I wrote a story along these lines on an FB page I started for my garden. There's a bunch of photos that go with it, but I'll just paste the text here as importing the photos over is a huge job as each one would have to be resized. I'm not too keen to link to FB from here (it's good this site has kept independence from there), but you can easily find the page by googling "Micromegas' Secret Garden" if you're interested. But here is the story, on point I think, if you read though it you may find items that connect with your own personal experiences.
Auspicium Ex Avibus: 50 bird species in the Secret Garden
*15 minute read, this will be of interest to not only the typical "twitcher" but anyone who ever received a "message", an omen, from a bird.
There was a time in my psychonautic heyday, now passed, that I was unusually interconnected with birds. I used to have well-developed relationships with a number of species and some key species in particular. At first it was all in the general sense. For several years my thoughts would strangely "synchronize" with external bird behaviour whenever I was outdoors. It started the morning after ayahuasca sessions in the Amazon around 2006: choruses of birds, caciques and orioles, in the forest down river from Iquitos seemed to sing of revelations and "healings". It was pretty incredible at the time and continued on when I came back to Australia.
This one can be chalked down to wishful thinking. The birds would *probably* have been singing had I been there, or not. In this sense, one can project one's mind outside oneself, into the environment, and find all sorts of agreeances there, we do this all the time. A general interpretation can therefore be given via "psychologism", along the lines of, as mythologist Levi-Strauss has pointed out, that birds are the most obvious and accessible analogue for human societies. We can easily project onto them, and find in their avian actions, an inversion of our own human communities, fears, hopes, dreams, and behaviours:
“Birds… can be permitted to resemble men for the very reason that they are so different. They are feathered, winged, oviparous, and they are also physically separated from human society by the element in which it is their privilege to move. As a result of this fact, they form a community which is independent of our own, but, precisely because of this independence, appears to us like another society, homologous to that in which we live: birds love freedom; they build themselves homes in which they live a family life and nurture their young; they often engage in social relations with other members of their species; and they communicate with them by acoustic means recalling articulated language. Consequently everything objective conspires to make us think of the bird world as a metaphorical human society: is it not after all literally parallel to it on another level?” (Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, 1962)
So birds got worked into global mythology as a fundamental basic operation of thinking at the dawn of human consciousness, although there is more to the role of birds in mythology than this psychological reduction can explain. But that is tangent for another day!
Instead, this entry is about "AUSPICIUM EX AVIBUS" - divining from birds.
At a certain point, for me, the general awareness of bird activity turned into bird-correspondence that seemed, extremely, statistically unlikely. Via the operation of the Huachuma Mesada (san pedro ritual) that I had learned (from don Howard Lawler, see "an Ode to El Nino" entry in the gallery: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/...), I became able to "call" birds at certain times and days in ways that seemed statistically improbable. As this went on, I developed strong relationships with certain species. In a different phase of my life I used to roam through bushland in all sorts of out-of-the-way places, or in my own garden, carrying with me a wooden stake, with two lovers entwined in carving and with a depression on top, from which I would nasally imbibe liquid tobacco - a process known in Peru as the "singada". I would give singada "to the birds". I did this thousands of times, probably, the singada. I used to relate to places and birds in this way, walking around, doing singada, sympathetically "raising energy". In this process, and then over into my "normal" life, many small, and some huge, genuinely remarkable instances, of bird "synchronicity" occurred for me over about a decade.
When I transitioned to land management as a career and calmed down a bit, the birds continued to "speak" to me. I would read their behaviour - especially of my key species - to know where I was at in my life, to assist in making decisions, and so on. I checked my mental state and made decisions - often major ones like buying a car or a house or changing jobs! - by watching birds. A bit crazy, right? It certainly seems so, in retrospect!
Over time I settled down. The "path" became hard, the signals and the general information I was receiving via the shamanic learning process became steadily more abstruse and cognitively and emotionally restrictive. This is not an indictment on shamanism; it merely reflects my own personal process, personal life experiences, and perhaps something about the problematic intersection of western neuroses with native traditions. At a certain point, I switched to a journey of rationalisation or logical deduction. This page is evidence of that shift. I entered the world of theory. I started to ask objective, theoretical, historical questions about my introspective, subjective experiences: what does it mean to read omens from birds? Why are birds so important in mythology? Why and how did birds appear to read my innermost thoughts and feelings? WHAT IS IT ABOUT BIRDS! As my "shamanic" intensity declined and my "theory" developed (perhaps eventually to be fused into one, one day), my garden ascended, and new bird species popped up everywhere.
That is where this story begins: fifty species in the Secret Garden.
I have neglected the birds of late. I haven't made a post about them, nor updated my species list - the first folder ever in the gallery - for some time. I have found six new species since August 1 and haven't bothered to post them up. That does not perhaps AUGUR well! But, in truth, I started the SG page to keep track of the birds: to AUGUR and take my AUSPICES from them, in a less intense way than I did so previously! No more tobacco juice up the nose! So one might say that my prior fascination with the divination and reading of signs from birds, their synchronicity with my thoughts, has been transferred into a preoccupation with gardening a home for them, and understanding the THEORY of bird-watching, not merely in the standard sense, “twitching”, but in the "auspicious" sense.
And, in this respect, this week I reached a milestone: 50 bird species photographed in Micromegas’ Secret Garden, where the cardinal rule is that the photograph will be taken with both feet inside the property. In the entry prior to this, you can see the six new species, and I think there's about ten more I can get; and in this entry i've placed some bird activity over the last few months. Fifty species AUGURS well and even though the 50th species was, ironically, the common garden sparrow, the fact that the sparrow has been so hard to photograph when it was once the dominant bird means this is an AUSPICIOUS OCCASION.
What does it mean, these words in relation to birds - AUGUR and AUSPICIOUS?
The answer begins at the founding of Rome, c.750 BCE (BCE = Before Common Era. For the pedantic, BC/AD is going out of fashion). The twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, were wandering about near the place of their birth, Alba Longo, a city-state in the west central region of the Italian Peninsula (there are many primary sources of the Romulus and Remus myth – I have paraphrased from Wiki “Romulus and Remus”).
The children of the vestal virgin (priestess of the goddess Vesta), Rhea Silvia – the pregnancy is variously explained – herself daughter of the former King Numitor, the two twins were a threat to the rule of King Amulius of Alba, their grand-uncle (that is, brother to Numitor and uncle to Rhea), who had earlier deposed his brother from the throne. As such, Romulus and Remus are exiled by Amulius from the kingdom, abandoned to die. They are saved by a river god, Tibernius, of the Tiber River, and later and most famously, suckled in a cave by a she-wolf to adolescence, an episode frequently depicted in Roman and Renaissance art (see, e.g., the Capitoline Wolf c.1100 CE). They become shepherds, ignorant of their kingly heritage, but as natural leaders garnered widespread community support in the ongoing strife between Numitor and Amulius over the kingdom of Alba.
Remus is captured by King Amulius and Romulus organizes to set him free. In the process they learn their royal parentage, and join up with their grandfather to restore him to kingship. Having dispatched Amulius and restored Numitor as King of Alba, the twin brothers, on the back of their community support, set out to found a city of their own. This city is Rome.
They wander about in the area of the “seven hills” and disagree over which hill to build on: Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill, above the Lupercal, the cave of the she-wolf; Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. Unable to settle the dispute they decide TO WATCH THE BIRDS to ascertain the approval of the gods. They have a CONTEST OF AUGURY VIA AUSPICIUM: Remus first saw six "auspicious birds" in favour of Aventine Hill but, soon thereafter, Romulus saw twelve, and claimed a victory for Palatine Hill, where the most ancient part of Rome now stands.
These two brothers, as such, were both AUGURS – diviners - and they practiced AUSPICIUM – divining from birds (we’ll unpack this in a moment). Ennius, in his second century BCE poem “Annales”, describes the scene of the founding of Rome:
"So now the people, fearful, looked for signs
To know whose prize the mighty realm would be.
Meantime the fading sun into the shades
Of night withdrew and then the shining dawn
Shot forth its rays. 'Twas then an augury,
The best of all, appeared on high — a bird
That on the left did fly. And, as the sun
Its golden orb upraised, twelve sacred birds
Flew down from heaven and betook themselves
To stations set apart for goodly signs.
Then Romulus perceived that he had gained
A throne whose source and proper was augury."
Subsequently, believing in his triumph in the debate and tired of arguing about it, Romulus dispatched (murdered) his brother with a flying spade (or one of his supporters did)! Yikes! After giving his brother full funerary rites with some regret over the murder, Romulus founded the city of Rome on Palatine Hill, reigned for a long time as its first king, and created many of its lasting institutions in government, the military, and religion. That's all because of the birds.
Now the story of Romulus and Remus is fascinating in its own right. Although the historical accuracy of the founding of Rome by Romulus c. 750 BCE is questionable – although some scholars believe it has a factual basis – what it does indicate is the transfer of cognition away from “myth”, proper, of the Greeks and earlier the Near East, toward “history” as we understand it today. The story of Romulus and Remus, while containing mythic aspects - including reminiscences of a proto-Indo-European pair of mythical twin gods that appears from the Balkans across to India (i.e. the "Divine Twin" theme) - is also a historical foundational narrative: the polytheistic pantheon is fading into the background of the "human age". So, Romulus and Remus are complicit, in the founding of Rome, of something approaching modern "historical" forms of understanding. Except, that is, for the birds! That’s what I want to talk about now.
In the story of R & R, when the brothers settle their dispute with divination, the six and twelve birds they both see are vultures, and what the brothers are doing is “AUGURING VIA AUSPICIUM”: “Everyone knows that Rome was founded after an auspicium: Romulus, after having a vision of twelve vultures, was chosen by the gods as king and founder of the city. Thus, he was the first augur in Roman tradition” (Yves Bonnefoy ed. “Roman and European Mythologies”, 1992, p.115).
This function of inaugurating places by watching birds was, indeed, a common undertaking in early Rome from Romulus onward - somewhat like me making decisions based on bird sightings in my psychonaut heyday - as is indicated, indeed, in the word inAUGURate!
(One will note here the similarity with the foundation myth of the Aztecs, who were guided by Huitzilopochtli, the "Left-handed Hummingbird", to the central valley of Mexico. Here, at Lake Texcoco they saw an eagle holding a rattlesnake in its talons, perched on a nopal - opuntia - cactus. This fulfilled a prophecy for the Aztecs and they built the city Tenochtitlan on a manmade island, now the centre of Mexico City – because of the bird sitting on a cactus! So, although the words are from Latin and the story of R & R is eurocentric, clearly, reading of bird omens was a global phenomenon, explainable in part by the insight from Levi-Struass, above.)
To explain more precisely, the first word of importance here, “augur”, is from the Latin root *augus, “full of mystic force”, and from this is derived the word “augurium”, a “sign of supernatural manifestation”, and the “augur” is the person who reads the signs – a religious official, or diviner, if you will. So today we say “it augurs well”, or it doesn’t. That’s all from this Roman period, from the Latin *augus. (If you were tempted, as I was, to make a link between "augur" and "auger", you know, that corkscrew type device used to bore holes for fenceposts etc. on account of being “full of force” we were both wrong. “Auger” the hole-driller is from Old English “nafogar”, something like “pointed piercer” – but a connection would have been cool!)
Right, so “Augur” is a person who reads divine signs of the gods to plan activities, like I was once doing. R & R were augurs too, and Romulus the more successful; Remus got foisted with a spade for his paltry count of only six vultures!
But this “Auspicium” is what’s really cool. We use this word today, “it’s auspicious”, we say – “conducive to success” – inauspicious, and so on. Well this word comes from WATCHING BIRDS! Romulus and Remus were AUGURS DOING AUSPICIUM: watching birds for divine signs. Here “auspicium” is a derivation from the Latin “auspex”, itself a compound from “specere” – “to look at” – and “avis” – “bird”. So auspex is, literally, “bird seer” and “auspice” denoted, originally, the practice of observing birds to discover omens, that is, to ascertain the approval or disapproval of the gods. So today we say “that’s auspicious” – but remember, when we say that, although we have forgotten the etymology, historically IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BIRDS!
Now, the auspicium can be conducted “EX AVIBUS”, “from the birds”, in one of two ways. Through the “Oscines” which gave their auspices through song; and through the “Alites” which gave auspices by flight. In the first class the Romans placed ravens (corvus) and crows (cornix), owls (noctua) and hens (gallina); the second the higher flying birds: eagles (aquila), vultures (vultur) and so on (see https://contentcatnip.com/.../ancient-word-of-the-day.../ and Wiki ‘Augury’, and Cicero, below) (presumably there was a longer list for each category, lost to antiquity). I’m thick headed and don't listen well as a rule, so I took most of my auspices in my “heyday” from the Alites – I was always attracted to high-flying birds, but found differentiating bird sounds somewhat difficult. (Auspices could also be read Ex quadrupedibus, from “four-footed animals”, but these were usually private augurs and were not formalised in Rome as bird omens were.)
So that is the general gist of “Augur” and “Auspice”, ex avibus, “from the birds”. Writing in 44 BCE, the Roman statesman and “academic sceptic” (Wiki) Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) had words to say about this widespread and important divinatory practice in his “De Deivinatione” (from public source text: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/.../de_Divinatione/1*.html) (P = Paragraph). Around this time, the auspicium practice was in decline, and Cicero can be seen as recording factually an archaic tradition passing slowly out of style (being replaced, e.g. by sacrifice-divination through inspection of the sacrificial victim's [animal] liver, the "haruspices", from "hira", "artery", and "specere", "look at"), while at the same time pondering on its efficacy (P4 “I, too, am in doubt as to the proper judgement to be rendered in regard to divination”). He wrote the following passages on auspicium ex avibus:
(P16) "In ancient times scarcely any matter out of the ordinary was undertaken, even in private life, without first consulting the auspices… For just as to day on important occasions we make use of entrails in divining… so in the past resort was usually had to divination by means of birds. And thus it is that by failing to seek out the unpropitious signs we run into awful disasters. For example, Publius Claudius, son of Appius Caecus, and his colleague Lucius Junius, lost very large fleets by going to sea when the auguries were adverse. The same fate befell Agamemnon”.
Of the two forms of auspicium:
"(P53) The Divine Will accomplishes like results in the case of birds, and causes those known as alites, which give omens by their flight, to fly hither and thither and disappear now here and now there, and causes those known as oscines, which give omens by their cries, to sing now on the left and now on the right. For if every animal moves its body forward, sideways, or backward at will, it bends, twists, extends, and contracts its members as it pleases, and performs these various motions almost mechanically; how much easier it is for such results to be accomplished by a god, whose divine will all things obey!”
So that is the story of the “Auspicium Ex Avibus”, finding the divine signs by watching the birds, a technique of deep antiquity crystallized in the founding of Rome, and eventually falling out of favour. As for me, there was a time I learned many things and planned many activities on the basis of omens of birds, AUSPICIUM EX AVIBUS, and particularly “Alites”, birds in flight. This is not unusual in a historical sense. Says Cicero (P1): “I am aware of no people, however refined and learned or however savage and ignorant, which does not think that signs are given of future events… [and who do not] think that the future is declared by the songs and flights of birds, which they regard as most infallible signs”. But now I am more like the sceptic Cicero himself: “I, too, am in doubt as to the proper judgement to be rendered in regard to divination”.
I'm on the fence and don’t trouble with a final answer over the possibility of "divination", or take it to heart, in the way I may once have done, although the “problem of synchronicity” maintains a particular philosophical hold on me. I don't pass judgment one way or another on reading omens ex avibus but I do, still, always watch the birds!