In our garden there is a medicine wheel where I do daily breath and elements practices. They keep me sane. But, missing something deeper, I had begun praying to broaden beyond these personal body/soul basics into connection with the soul of some nature being. Ritual is what opens my energies to the energies of the animated Field all around us. I honored my longing for connection, but had no idea which being to try to contact or how to proceed ritually.
We had read that a mysterious disease, which was killing birds up north, had now reached our area. We were advised to take down feeders to enforce social distancing, knowing that there was plenty of food out in the garden and forest for the birds to eat, like elderberries and blueberries. Of the birds most affected by the sickness—grackles, robins, starlings and Blue Jays—the jays are the ones that come to our feeders. I had been concerned for them. I love their varied flute-like calls. Other calls have been described as “nasal screams,” like the ones they make to imitate the Red-Shouldered Hawks that live in our woods. Cleverly, jays seem to make hawk calls to get the smaller birds to scatter so a jay can approach the feeder. Jays are very social birds. When they are around, all feels well.
— Blue Jay
Synchronistically, my husband, David, told me he had come upon a pile of Blue Jay feathers near the moss garden. There was nothing else left, just those beautiful black, white, and brilliant blue feathers. Probably it was the work of a hawk. The pile of feathers the hawk left looked almost like a mandala—a predator-to-prey expression of gratitude from hawk to jay.
— Blue Jay + Hawk
Immediately, my ritual instinct set about refining the mandala as a prayer for the birds. I rearranged the feathers only slightly to make it a bit more circular, a bit more dynamic. As I worked, tweaking it here and there, I prayed for Blue Jays, making body prayers visually on the ground rather than verbally in my head.
— Blue Jay + Hawk + Me
The circle needed a center. Blue Jays eat acorns. There were no acorns left from the previous season to honor the jays, only some small drought-aborted ones dropped from the tall southern red oak that shades the moss garden. I gathered those and placed them in the center. Blue Jays also eat hickory nuts. I wasn’t sure if they eat black walnuts, but I placed empty black walnut and hickory shells in the center as mediators to the nut world, inviting it to join me in prayers for the health and well-being of Blue Jays. Nuts feed Blue Jays, Blue Jays feed hawks, here was a small glimpse of the plethora of interconnections in the forest.
— Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Me
Blue Jays are a keystone forest species. They gather and hide acorns, thereby distributing oak seedlings. They are birds who play an important part in ensuring the great renewal of the forest. A jay will select an acorn for its quality by examining it and testing its weight to make sure it’s healthy. If so the jay adds it to his pouch. He can carry 5 or so acorns, 3 in his crop, another in his throat and one or two more in his beak. He flies up to 1½ miles away with this mouthful and buries each acorn, putting leaves or moss on top for mulch. Each jay has multiple cache sites at the forest edges or in clearings.
Left to their own devices oaks would drop their heavy acorns directly below their branches, and many would not grow because they need sunlight to germinate. This “scatter hoarding” by the jays assures that the acorns are carried away from the dark forest into sunlit clearings. Each jay can cache up to 5,000 acorns in a season. Blue Jays are smart, like their kin the crows. So they remember where their caches are and retrieve the acorns, but inevitably some are left uneaten and sprout. Blue Jays are being valued for their potential to reforest areas after fire and to move species northward as the climate warms. Sadly, Blue Jays are declining.
— Oaks + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Me
Oaks are the great nurturers of the eastern deciduous forest, especially important now that the chestnuts are gone. Throughout their long lives, they give food and shelter to more insects, mammals, and birds than any other plant. We are planting more oak trees, because they are the most important tree to include for pollinators. They host the caterpillars of over 500 species of our beautiful moths and butterflies. These, in turn, feed the babies of our beloved birds. Sadly, oak trees are declining.
— Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Me
Synchronistically, while writing this I listened to a talk by dream worker Robert Moss about divination. He described an oracular site called Dodona in northwestern Greece that was the oldest Hellenic oracle, dating to around 1,000 BC., perhaps earlier. The oracle was within a grove of oak trees in the sanctuary of the Mother Goddess, Dione, later joined by Zeus. The priestesses were called birds, pigeons. Pigeons were well known at this time for their ability to carry messages. People came to ask the great oak tree questions. The rustling of the leaves or the sound of chimes hung on the branches, blowing in the wind, provided their answers. The pigeons listened and spoke what they heard.
— Oracle + Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Me
I refuse to take myself out of the equation. We are not separate from nature. And, increasingly we are responsible for trying to save birds and oak trees. At the ruins of ancient sacred sites, and through the myths that emanate from them, we humans are taken into the realm of the gods and goddesses. The oak leaves, the wind, the birds are the intermediaries between the needs of humans and the wisdom of the spirit world. “There is no separation between mind and matter. It’s all a dance of consciousness, of energy,” Robert Moss said.
In the chain of being, Spirit joins the myriad creatures, which includes us humans. When I longed to move beyond the confines of myself to wider nature, it was like asking a question of the Great Oracular One: How? Synchronicity is the most common everyday form of divinatory answer.
— Spirit + Oracle + Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Me
There are many kinds of rituals–ones you do in community, ones you co-create with a friend, and ones you do daily to keep your body grounded, your mind aware, and your heart open. There are benefits and blessings to all of these. But the rituals that I enjoy most, that feel the most immediately relevant, love inspired, and interconnected are the simple ones that arise spontaneously in response to a present need of the heart.
The next day I went back to the surprisingly untouched feather mandala and gave thanks for Blue Jays and for Spirit speaking to me there under the oak tree. How often something emerges suddenly when there had seemingly been nothing. Belonging suddenly emerges out of aloneness. “Is synchronicity the same as answered prayer?” my friend Perry had asked. In this case, yes.
— Spirit + Oracle + Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Me = Gratitude for All
Still wondering if Blue Jays eat those big black walnuts, I asked the Google oracle my question. What came up was an advertisement that in their shop the Toronto Blue Jays sell a Black Walnut Cutting Board. I still don’t know if Blue Jays eat black walnuts, but it seems that the Great Oracular One has a sense of humor.
Text and photo (C) 2021 Betty Lou Chaika