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Totems: Northern Cardinal

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

Red is for lovers, war, passion, vitality, appetite, stimulation, and for directing attention toward something. When you see my bright scarlet against the evergreens, you are reminded of Christmas. You think of the color red for heart-based things. On Valentine’s Day you array your sweetheart’s gift in red. Red roses signify love. A strong heart pumps rich, red blood. When the heart chakra spins freely, the heart feels passion for life. Your root chakra color is red and brings up matters of survival, vitality and grounding. It is the doorway for kundalini to rise. Red is the color of my crest, symbolizing your seventh chakra. The gland associated with that is the pineal which opens like flower petals in union with "All That Is."

I AM CARDINAL. My mate and I are equal partners. We signify the tender side of passion, maintaining our courtship our whole lives. Do you have that passion for your mate, ever renewing itself as you both evolve? I hold the unopened sunflower seed in my beak and give it to my mate rather than myself. Is this not the same care you show your family? We build nests together for our young. Day by day, in ways small and great, we build our lives together. We do not worry for the morrow. We are here now. We do not regret the past. That would take away from our lives now. So much energy has been wasted or forfeited to the past and future when all anyone has is NOW. We are offering you this precious gift. Will you learn from us?

Northern cardinals can live for fifteen years in the wild. For about eight years, a cardinal couple has been living in the isolated brambles and thickets behind the house. They are mated for life. Like chickadees, cardinals will stay the winter in New England. I see them more in winter and spring, probably because in those seasons, I am filling the bird feeder with one of their favorite foods, black-oil sunflower seeds. Suddenly I notice the bright scarlet male proffering a prized sunflower seed to his mate as a bonding behavior. She is not as striking in her coloring as he. She, along with her pale green and lilac speckled eggs must be camouflaged to escape predators. How festive they are, robed in their Christmasy red against the white snow, caroling loudly their "whoit cheer, whoit cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer." The male stares at me, but when I go to pick up my binoculars, he’s gone. The female tells me the message is in the visual. "Don’t scrutinize, theorize or analyze. Just see the color" she says. "Red means physical vitality, prophesying renewal. You can let the rest go."

Have you ever just sat and watched birds, say coming to a feeder, taking the seeds, and flying to a nearby tree to eat? They are totally immersed in what they are doing and the world around them. That moment holds all beauty, awareness, alertness, and even passion for life. If a problem like a predator arises, they are then in that moment dealing with what is happening then. One might think letting go of everything besides the present moment would make one passionless, detached. In fact, the opposite is true. In bringing ourselves into current awareness, we are free to be our true selves, free to live as a child does, fully in the moment. If something occurs that we need to give attention to, we bring our complete self, with all our resources, both physical and spiritual to bear on what is before us. This lessens stress tremendously. So, ask yourself often, the following three questions after bringing awareness to your surroundings:

1. Where am I right now? 2. What is good about this moment? 3. Is there anything I can do about (blank) right now? If the answer to number three is nothing, trust that your crest (Higher Self) will take care of you. You’ll have what you need at the precise time you need it, not a moment before, nor after. Doing this eliminates worry, stress, guilt and fear.

The male Northern Cardinal is a large crested finch, vividly red, with a black mask and chin and a strong triangular bill for cracking open seeds. That vermilion red is important to the male, for the brighter ones reproduce more, get more food and deliver more food to mates and young. Nature is so brilliant: females choosing brighter colored males also insure their sons inherit the genes that will give them brighter plumage, and daughters tend to choose colorful mates, just like mom. And yet, when the male shares the task of incubating the eggs, his colors turn drab like the female to help camouflage him. Male cardinals and men with this totem are very protective of their families. What makes that red color anyway? When male cardinals eat wild grapes, sumac, cherries, mulberries, blueberries and elderberries, they metabolize carotenoid pigments that will turn their plumage red when it is time to molt and grow new feathers in autumn.

Cardinals are very popular birds with humans, who are attracted by their beauty and song. In fact, seven states have adopted the cardinal as their state bird, and many sports teams name themselves after them. They were once prized pets, often caged until the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 freed them to be prey to wild hawks, shrikes, owls and squirrels. Snakes, chipmunks and blue jays will eat eggs and chicks.

Have you had a past life experience as a priest, monk or nun? Cardinals were named after the officials of the Roman Catholic Church, who wear red robes and crested hats. Cardinal is Latin for "important." What is most important to you in life? What are you doing about that? A group of cardinals (man or bird) are called: a conclave, college, deck, radiance or even Vatican. The cardinal’s range extends all up and down the East coast, continuing west and south into Central America, and another unusual place. The Northern Cardinal was introduced to Hawaii in 1929 and is now common on all eight main islands. Cardinals have adjusted well to humans. They have adapted to farmland, orchards, roadsides and gardens. As long as there is sufficient cover, they feel just fine about living in the suburbs, as there are bound to be lots of bird feeders with food meant to attract these beautiful songbirds. Sound is an important part of cardinal medicine. Their anatomy is made for it, from their voice boxes to their brains. Specialized control centers in the brain help songbirds produce and remember complex melodies. If this is your totem, you have an excellent memory. You can recognize a song in two notes, and remember lyrics. Cardinals have a specialized syrinx, a sound-producing organ consisting of two voice boxes. Cardinals use the left voice box to produce lower notes, while seamlessly producing high notes with the right voice box. They also have extra syringeal muscles, enabling them to have exquisite control over the sounds they make. If this is your power animal, there’s a good chance your primary art form is singing. It may even be your life’s work.

Each note of sound increases the chances of surviving and reproducing. While courting, both male and female sing softly to each other, with outstretched necks and erect crests, while swaying their bodies from side to side. Song also asserts their territoriality. Song is a challenge to rivals. By holding territory, cardinals assure themselves of a stable supply of food, especially during the critical nesting period. Since egg incubation is only two weeks, cardinal pairs have up to four batches of young. Now, how interesting is this? The male often cares for the first brood, while the female incubates the second clutch. Even so, he will continue to feed his mate and then hatchlings. You can be sure that parents with this medicine share parental duties and are attentive, loving parents. These parents may even adopt children in addition to their own biological offspring, just as cardinals will often feed other cardinal young if their mouths gape (beg) for food. The gaping mouths of chicks trigger a Northern cardinal’s parental instinct. Father bird brings insect after insect to those young bills. One Northern cardinal was even observed feeding goldfish that had learned to gape so people would feed them. As adults, cardinals are primarily seed eaters, though they eat fruit, grains, insects, cicadas and snails as well. Is it time to pay attention to your diet? Need to add foods that ensure vitality, especially in the winter when your energy is normally lower? Eat heart-healthy food, and maintain good circulation.

Are you afraid to wear bright colors for fear of drawing attention to yourself? If so, you are probably afraid of your power. Power is living your truth and sharing it through art form. When you see a cardinal or hear its loud whistle, pay attention. It may be telling you to awaken that power. Be humble. Ask cardinal to help you have the right relationship with power. Power includes balance between the pleasures of physical life, and pursuit of one’s spiritual joy. Both require attention and balance.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Star-woman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for 36 years. If you want Healing for you or your animal companion, Flower Essences, Training, or her Book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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