If you came back as an animal, which one would you most like to be, and which would be your last choice? That question was posed to me once, and there were lots of possibilities I flirted with for the first, but one that stood out hands-down for the second—a chicken. I mean they don’t seem to have much in the brains department, are fearful and fretful, and seem to be helpless prey, right? Think of how it’s used in our vocabulary—a taunt that school kids hurl at each other “Chicken!!” Or a description for hysteria, “She was running around like a chicken with its head cut off”. The theory is that the animal you least would like to be may be the one you have the greatest lesson to learn from. One might even say it is your “shadow”. I would imagine that most of us think of the Jungian concept of “shadow” as something big and dark and scary—the foul slavering beast kept repressed in the cellar. But mine seems to be fowl, rather than foul.

Chicken synchronicities began pecking at me a few weeks ago, telling me it was time to look a bit more closely at what I might need to learn from this creature. It began when I wrote a piece on my website about fear, as I thought of making some big changes in my life. A friend in my favorite online community told me that I didn’t have to worry about my friends there ribbing me about the fear—no one would call me a chicken. He then proceeded to post a hen picture the next day as the community’s icon.

My next chicken encounter that week was not so humorous. Driving, I came up on a truck transporting chickens to slaughter. The sight/energy of it slammed into me, a wave of horror. I thought they were dead until I got close enough to see they weren’t– and wished they were. Jammed in so tight they were on top of each other, wings crushed against metal bars, crippled, in obvious pain. I was crying and babbling incoherent phrases…”No, no can’t be true… not right….no, no….” The swirl of emotions included shame—that I have contributed to this nightmare, by eating chicken, knowing they live in awful conditions, but not really wanting to focus on it.

I was still reeling the next morning, as I sat to read and to write in my journal. I opened A Voluptuous God, and on the page in front of me saw the word “chicken”. Huh? Yes, a story about a chicken. In which a guru tells his students to take a chicken somewhere they can’t be seen and kill it. And the student who comes back to tell the guru it’s not possible because no matter where he went, the chicken could see him, is the student who gets the lesson right. The Divine spark is in us all. The next time I picked the book up, I’d just gotten off the phone with a friend, telling her about my chicken synchronicities, and again on the page I opened to was the word “chicken”. An Annie Dillard quote…”There is no one here but us chickens.” My curiosity piqued, I decided to scratch and peck a little deeper.

Animals bring so much to my life—as friends, teachers, bringers of joy and color. I often research what their “medicine” is to enrich my understanding. As I read about chicken’s medicine, my resistance to them began to dissolve. Descended from wild red jungle fowl of India, they have an exploratory, inquisitive nature, loving to scratch in vegetation and uncover “treasures”. They have patience and determination—will peck away at an obstacle until it is gone. Personal space is important to them—they can become aggressive if confined. They symbolize nourishment. (Source for this information—www.sayahda.com/cycle.htm).

I asked my online community what they knew about chickens. One friend from the Netherlands told me of his chicken, Mrs. Rapture, who would call to the other hens when she found a worm, so they could come and share. He also wrote:

Three ladies in the garden will make a lovely coven, very spiritual. Nice feathers to collect and make dreamcatchers of. They have a lovely language and chat all day long.

Another friend said,

Chickens are smart enough not to cross the road, usually… Their voices are such sweetness to hear. There’s nothing like a flock of sweeties happy and beautiful and clucking quietly and getting the chance to use their native wits outside.

And another told me about her rooster, who if you gave him a cracker, would go share it with each hen, until they’d all eaten, before he’d have any himself.

The more I learned, the more my heart softened towards these creatures I’d excluded from my inner menagerie. I began to open to their energy in me– imagining not having to be “important” or “successful”, to be happy with no more agenda than to peck in the dirt, part of a flock, sharing the occasional worm with my sisters, clucking in pleasure. To give of myself completely to nourish others. We don’t value those sorts of qualities much in our society. We don’t see them as sparks of divinity.

I’ve been determined most of my life to make sure it is known I have claws and an intelligence that you’d better not take for granted, that I am unique. For me nourishing another has too often been confused with being devoured by them. And all I have to do for these fears to be confirmed is to look at the world around me—countless images of people consumed by consuming—no balance in giving back or respect for the generosity of our earth. Everyone may talk about chicken soup for the soul, but there is no soul in how we most often make that soup.

However, experience has taught me that pushing a part of yourself away, no matter how much it scares you, never leads to wholeness. Since chicken has come pecking on my door, I feel it is time for me to acknowledge that even if it doesn’t seem safe in this world, I’m tired of shoving my inner hen back in its cage. I want to let out that simple soft nourishing part of me, and see where she roosts…or flies.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

[William Carlos Williams]

As a post script to this entry, the day I was readying it to send I opened a new book (this one by Arnold Mindell, The Shaman’s Body) to find a story about a ritual in which an African shaman rubbed a live chicken all over the body of the person he was healing. I hear the gods laughing…or maybe clucking.