Let’s face it: most folx I know are not that enamored with the common grackle. Ravens? Mystical! Crows? Mythical! Grackles? A plague upon the land, a noisome nuisance, worse than a rowdy gang of drunken pirates on shore leave as they pillage our parking lots and dive-bomb our unprotected french fries.
Even their name, GRACK-uhl, seems harsh and aggressive, especially the “K” sound in the middle of the word (otherwise known as a voiceless velar stop). A passerine bird native to North and South America, grackles are part of the Icterid family (See? Even their family is icky!) and are about the size of a robin or pigeon. Ravens, on the other hand, are about the size of a hawk, and crows, while close in size to grackles, are entirely black.
Grackles have piercing yellow eyes and though black, in the sunlight their feathers take on an iridescent rainbow of colors. Unlike ravens, whose call is a deep croak or burble, and crows, who caw, the grackle’s call sounds like a rusty gate. They also emit a shorter, clucking type of sound.
I never gave grackles much thought before moving back to the South after a dozen years in the Midwest. When I was a child in Texas they were everywhere. Now for the first time in years I’m able to have an outdoor altar, which I arranged in a corner of the back yard under an oak tree and next to a concrete bird bath we inherited in the move. And of course bird bath + water = birds = grackles.
While I’ve noticed the blue jays and mockingbirds hanging around I’m fairly certain the grackles are recent arrivals to my outdoor spaces, even though here in Florida they are year-round residents. It’s more likely they’ve been lingering close to me for a while and that I’ve only just now looked up long enough to note them. These past several days I’ve noticed several grackles hopping and fluttering, swooping and exploring all over my altar.
What do they have to teach me?
Because they often move in such large groups, grackles can decimate crops, particularly corn, which they love. It makes sense that a group of grackles is known as a “plague” or “annoyance”. They’re true scavengers, stealing worms from robins, sometimes stealing eggs, and of course raiding outdoor trash bins for leftovers. To me, this speaks to shadow work, to scavenging in the unconscious or subconscious for the “leftovers” yet to be fully processed.Grackles practice “anting”. They’ll hunch down over the ground, allowing ants to crawl over them. It is believed they do this because the ants secrete a liquid that kills feather mites, but no one really knows exactly why they “ant” (over 200 species do, so grackles are not terribly unique in this behavior).
This reminds me of the fires of transformation through which we all pass at one time or another (or several times, or even serially). Of stepping into the metaphorical fire in order to cleanse ourselves, rid ourselves of the emotional or spiritual gunk we may have accumulated. “Anting” also reminds me of the value of endurance and of patience, as well as creativity and making use of the resources we have at hand.
“My” little plague (insomuch as one can call wild birds “mine”) has been fully exploring my outdoor altar, absconding with the rope I do my knotwork with, trying to make off with one of the smaller crystals I have marking the North Quarter, and fiddling about with my antler and skull pedestal. This reminds me that nothing is sacred, and everything is Sacred.
Will I miss that little piece of rope, one of the remnants from Pagan Spirit Gathering’s Rite of Passage into Young Manhood three years ago? Absolutely. It had great collective energy. Do I need that little piece of rope in order to do my knot spells effectively? Nope. And it’s no skin off my nose to put the crystal back in its place on the altar and set the skull aright on its pedestal. If anything, needing to do a bit more daily stewardship in my little sacred grove simply serves to raise and keep the energy up out there.
Grackles as companions on my Path? Why not? Every being on Earth has something to teach us, if we but take the time to be still, be quiet, watch, and listen. I welcome them into my life, and I look forward to learning from them.