Butterflies & Grackles & Bees (oh my)

I’m on the island of Roátan this week. It’s a magical place. My husband scuba dives, and I tagged along.

I managed to get up in time for breakfast today. I’m not a morning person, and we’re an hour ahead here. It’s taking me longer than usual to clear my head and get grounded. It doesn’t help that I did not pack my beloved Black Blood of the Earth.

I’m going to take you with me on a little journey of Shamanic assessment of the critters that are catching my attention. First I try to connect. I also observe what they’re doing – what caught my attention as well as displayed behavior(s). Then I do a little research on them and see what catches my attention. I meditate on that. Rarely do I bother with what other people have written about their medicine, unless it’s already part of my lexicon; it’s talking to me, not them, and those resources are so often unexamined appropriation anyway. One exception would be Ted Andrews, but I don’t have his books with me.


So I’m sitting in a palapa, just above the beach, being yelled at by a grackle (not the one in the photo).  They have great-tailed grackles here; they’re different than the grackles I remember from Texas (although my research suggests otherwise). Of course, as soon as I start writing about them, they disappear. I did ask him (more black than brown) what he wanted, but I didn’t get anything.

Great-tailed grackles are medium-sized birds (larger than starlings and smaller than crows; 38 cm (15 in)-46 cm (18 in)) with males weighing 203 g (7.2 oz)-265 g (9.3 oz) and females between 115 g (4.1 oz)-142 g (5.0 oz), and both sexes have long tails. Wingspan ranges from 18.9-22.8 in (48-58 cm). Males are iridescent black with a purple-blue sheen on the feathers of the head and upper body, while females are brown with darker wings and tail. Adults of both sexes have bright yellow eyes, while juveniles of both sexes have brown eyes and brown plumage like females (except for streaks on the breast). Great-tailed grackles, particularly the adult males, have a keel-shaped tail that they can fold vertically by aligning the two halves.

Skutch, A.F. (1954). “Boat-tailed grackle” (PDF). In Miller, A.H.; Pitelka, F.A. (eds.). Life Histories of Central American Birds

In doing some research, I also find that they are communal, do many things on a base 7 structure, and can solve puzzles. I love intelligent birds, they’re so much fun.

In Mexico, where it is known as the chanate or zanate, there is a legend that it has seven songs. “In the creation, the Zanate having no voice stole its seven distinct songs from the wise and knowing sea turtle. You can now hear the Zanate’s vocals as the Seven Passions (Love, Hate, Fear, Courage, Joy, Sadness, and Anger) of life.”

Wehtje, W. (2003). “The range expansion of the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus Gmelin) in North America since 1880”

As I note below in talking about the butterflies, iridescence is symbolic of transformation, and when it’s paired with black, it calls to mind for me the dark moon, The Old Ones, and crossroads.

Seven is the number of bringing the Divine into the physical world. Seven shows up in a LOT of cultures as a significant number. Heck, we use it as our basis of a week.  The seven passions are obviously distinct from the seven sins, which are human instinct taken to detrimental extreme and often make up the bulk of the shadow self.  The Passions might be seen as the motivating emotions of human action.

And there has certainly been a lot of talk about sea turtles this week. There have been sightings on the dives, and they’re a protected species – you’re not supposed to hassle them or even touch them.  In the States, there’s a significant fine attached.


They have butterflies on the beach here. Like the grackles, they are an iridescent black. We saw one who appeared not well, out at night after its compatriots had all powered down for the night. I chatted with it a bit, asked what it needed, tried to suss it out. It was disoriented, but was definitely trying to get my attention.

When I sit in my preferred orientation here in the Palapa, they fly along the beach right to left and front to back. Butterflies in general are about transformation, as is iridescence. Right to left indicates moving into intuition; front to back indicates in the past or in the subconscious.

Its caterpillar absorbs toxins from the host plants, and therefore tastes poor to bird predators; it has an orange “forked gland”, called the osmeterium. When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake’s tongue, everts and releases a foul smell to repel predators.

Lederhouse, Robert C.; Silvio, G. Codella Jr (1989). “Intersexual Comparison of Mimetic Protection in the Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio polyxenes: Experiments with Captive Blue Jay Predators”

The Papilio polyxenes demonstrates polyandry and a lek mating system, showing no male parental care and display sites. Females are therefore able to choose males based on these sites and males are the only resource the females find at these sites.

Lederhouse, Robert C. (1982). “Territorial Defense and Lek Behavior of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio polyxenes”. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

The species is named after the figure in Greek mythology, Polyxena, who was the youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy.

Castner, J.L. “Electronic Data Information Source”. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Polyxena is the Trojan woman who betrayed Achilles and was demanded as sacrifice in return for the Greeks having favorable winds on their way home from the Trojan war.

This caught my attention because one of my guides, my main guide as I started channeling, is the oracle Cassandra of Troy (sister to Polyxena). I’ve found and pulled out my Apollo prayer beads, which I conveniently brought with me, as I’m writing. The running joke, of course, is that I could tell you what she’s saying, but you wouldn’t believe me anyway. In all earnestness, though, I made a decision fairly recently to start channeling every day again and I haven’t been. So there you go. That’ll most likely be a separate post though.

Other Critters

We’ve seen agouti, at least 3 cats, lizards, some bats, sand flies, and mosquitos. I’m not feeling like any of the rest of them have anything for me beyond their basic function, though. I mean, maybe the lizards, because they have an ongoing association for me with a group of my friends and being able to find the Divine where you seek it.


There’s a lot of bees here. Bees are often associated with Shamanism, though it doesn’t tend to be my form of medicine. On our first full day here, I picked up my can of soda to pour more into my cup of ice, and I felt a buzzing under my finger. I put the can down, the bee flew away and took all her friends with her as I was apologizing and thanking her for not stinging me. I only get bees showing up now when other people are around, and the bees are mostly interested in the other folx. So I’m not sure the bees are for me. We obviously had a do-no-harm encounter, and I saved one that fell in a cup of hot chocolate this morning, therefore I’m taking a look.

Bees pollinate. They operate on a shared-mind, dare I say “hive” mentality. They are vital to many food sources. They are associated with sweetness. They sting when provoked, and that act kills them. I personally associate them with abundance and healthy nature.  These particular bees feel peaceful to me, and they don’t seem to be struggling to survive or fighting for their own survival, unlike so many of the bees I run into in Southern California.  I’ve only heard thus far of 2 people getting stung on this trip, which is pretty good, considering how many bees there are. They do seem a little lazy, going after people’s food and drinks, rather than the bazillion flowers.

Both bees and butterflies are pollinators. Pollination is a major way plants propagate.  (As an aside, did you know mosquitos are apparently also pollinators? It made me less annoyed at them when I found that out.) Even if you don’t like vegetables or flowers, if you eat meat, your food eats plants, so you want plants to keep doing their thing. Bees have the same vibe, to me, as some of the cells in the human body – most notably the white blood cells. Which brings me to the association that, if there’s more bees here than perhaps there should be, and they’re going after things they don’t normally go after, what about this place is infected? 

More meditation on this last idea is indicated. Maybe that’s where I’ll start with Cassandra.

Other Critters

We’ve seen agouti, at least 3 cats, lizards, some bats, sand flies, and mosquitos. I’m not feeling like any of the rest of them have anything for me beyond their basic function, though. I mean, maybe the lizards, because they have an ongoing association for me with a group of my friends and being able to find the Divine where you seek it.

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