Augury – the practice of reading signs and omens in natural phenomena1 – is at best an inexact science. Our modern attempts to practice it are hampered by our disconnection from nature. People regularly ask me “I saw a crow – could the Morrigan be calling me?” That’s possible, but crows are found all over North America – it’s far more likely it’s just a crow doing crow things.
Last week I saw some animal behavior that while unusual was not unnatural – this was no green glowing bird. Now, it is entirely possible all of this was simply a series of low-probability events. Random chance says that a specific series of low probability events will eventually happen. This is why there are PowerBall winners, even though you never win.
But I’ve been unable to let go of this. And since we’ve been talking about discernment lately, I think it’s worth walking through my own process of interpretation.
I think this augury is only for me, though some of you who work closely with me may find it rings true for you as well. But I think the story may be beneficial for us all.
Run rabbit run
As I was approaching the parking garage at work one morning last week – in the liminal zone of pre-dawn twilight – I noticed a rabbit running down the street at top speed. Followed closely by a large dog, also at top speed. Followed not so closely by a 30-something guy with an empty leash in his hand, running significantly slower.
I have no idea how it ended. I only got a short glimpse of the situation before I turned into the garage. I got a snapshot… a snapshot that felt like a Tarot card.
Something in my head said “pay attention.” My inner skeptic said “this is normal animal behavior.” That something in my head repeated “pay attention.”
I parked, dropped my computer in my office, left my clothes in the locker room, and went outside to walk. It was lighter then, but the sun was still below the horizon – still in liminal time.
I was outside for less than a minute when I saw another rabbit running. This one was being chased by a cat. They both disappeared under a fence – another snapshot, another Tarot card.
Now I was really paying attention.
Ian Fleming – who served as an intelligence officer in World War II before he wrote the James Bond novels – had one of his characters say “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
Or in this case, three times is Otherworldly action. I was looking for the third rabbit.
I had to wait a bit for it, but it came. Another rabbit running at top speed. Except this one wasn’t being chased, at least not by anything I could see. Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t being chased by something.
Run rabbit run.
The skeptic speaks
Wild rabbits are common here in suburban North Texas. I see them all the time at home, in parks and such, and pretty much any place with a bit of greenery. A few live in my back yard. That’s a good place for them. There’s plenty to eat, the fence keeps out anything much bigger than a rabbit, and our cat stays indoors.
Seeing rabbits is nothing remarkable. And running is what rabbits do. They can bite and scratch, but they’re no match for bigger predators. One of the “yard bunnies” knows me and doesn’t bolt when I show up with a camera – or when I start doing ritual – but if I get too close it will run. It’s a survival instinct.
People walk dogs all the time and occasionally they let their dogs off leash. People keep cats and sometimes let them go outside. And rabbits run. Nothing I saw was unnatural. Seeing them all together is unusual, but “I haven’t seen this in a long time” unusual, not “I just won PowerBall” unusual.
I should write this off as rabbits doing rabbit things.
But that voice in my head keeps saying “pay attention.” And that voice is rarely wrong – intuition is real.
So the question becomes “what does this mean?”
One of the problems with augury in an animist worldview is that it subtly denies the sovereignty of non-human persons. It tells us that crows and rabbits and such exist to deliver messages to humans, rather than to live crow lives and rabbit lives as they see fit.But perhaps the rabbits aren’t what’s Otherworldly in this story. Perhaps what’s Otherworldly is me.
More specifically, the fact that I was in the exact position to see these three scenes – none of which lasted more than a few seconds – defies the odds (again, not impossible, but highly improbable). Rather than assuming Someone – say, Cernunnos – manipulated rabbits and dogs and cats to send a message to me, perhaps He manipulated my driving and walking times to put me in the position to see three things that were going to happen anyway.
Why rabbits? Why not just speak to me Himself? I don’t know. Maybe He is and I’m not paying attention – wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe this was going to happen anyway and it was too convenient to not use.
What I know for sure is that I’m paying attention now. Very close attention.
Divination works best when it begins with a question. A good, simple, straightforward question creates a framework from which we can interpret the cards or runes or visions in the hot coals of a fire.
Augury rarely begins with a question – this one certainly didn’t. And so before I could start trying to figure what the running rabbits mean, I had to figure out what situation they were addressing.
I started writing about the green glowing bird within a couple hours of seeing it. I let the rabbits sit for several days. As strong as these three vignettes were (if I could draw I would create Tarot-ish pictures for them) I couldn’t find the right question for them to answer.
Walking the same path days later – with nary a rabbit in sight – it finally came to me. I was looking for a universal context. But this augury wasn’t for the world, or for the Pagan community, or even for the minority of Pagans who see the world more or less like I do. This was for me. Once I realized that, the meaning was clear.
I’m the rabbit.
And while nothing is chasing me, my need to keep running is every bit as important as is theirs. Or at least, my need is great to keep running toward my spiritual goals, and to accomplish what certain rather demanding deities have put on my plate. If something has to be set aside – and it very well may, I have my limits and they aren’t getting any fewer as I get older – it can’t be this.
Why did Someone feel the need to make sure I heard this message? I don’t know – that’s the really scary part.
Run rabbit run.
Why I wrote this post
Mostly I wrote it for me. Writing has always helped me work through problems and difficulties. And it creates a permanent record I can look back on in a month or a year or ten years. I could have written in my private journal, but I’ll do a better job if I write for publication.
But also, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one having this problem – not with the rabbits but with the process. How do we recognize signs and omens in nature? How can we make sure we aren’t seeing something where there’s nothing? How can we figure out what something means when we don’t even know what it’s about?
It isn’t simple and it isn’t easy, but it can be done. Context, knowledge, observation, analysis, and synthesis. All of which lead to a decision – in this case, to make sure my spiritual work remains my top priority, even if that means something else has to wait.
This won’t convince atheists and skeptics that these were anything more than rabbits doing rabbit things. That’s OK – this isn’t about them.
This is about me.
It may be about you – if not here, then with a different augury at a different time.
Run rabbit run.
1 Some references say that augury refers only to divination by the observation of birds. However, a quick survey of modern Pagan sources shows it being used for pretty much any signs and omens in Nature. Perhaps someday we’ll have so many diviners we can specialize in birds or rabbits or the patterns formed by falling leaves. Someday.