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Friday, August 18, 2006

Batty for change

I came home from my morning coffee today and noticed a small bat hanging on the window screen in my apartment building's stairwell. I'm sure bats aren't uncommon, even here in the big city of Chicago, but I certainly don't see them every day. So, my mind being prone to search for symbolism and omens in what are generally just random life moments, I did some looking into our flying Mammalian friends.

Note: The pictured bat is similar to the one in my stairwell, but not the actual critter.

I found a site called The Animal Files that had both info on bats as mammals and as mythological symbols. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the information, but it fits my needs so I'm referencing it below.

First here's the scientific scoop on bats:

  • They are the only true flying mammal
  • There are over 900 species (the second largest mammalian group after rodents)
  • They are nocturnal
  • Most are insectivores using echolocation to find their prey
  • Others species eat fish, fruit, small animals, or the blood of large mammals
  • They live in dark places like caves to avoid predators
  • Most species give birth to only one young each year
  • Bats can live up to 30 years
Here's what the site had to say about Chinese mythology

In China, the bat is a symbol of good luck and happiness. This is probably because the word for bat, "fu" sounds like the word for happines. The Chinese god of happiness is called Fu-xing; he is often represented by a bat and in human form he has bats embroidered on his robes. Five bats together symbolize the 5 blessings of health, long life, wealth, love of virtue and a good death. Some people believed the bat had a very heavy brain that forced it to roost upside down. Bats were sometimes used as ingredients of aphrodisiacs.
In other cultures the bat is a symbol of death, demons and the underworld -- but in a metaphorical sense this relates more to change and transformation, which leads nicely into the symbolism in shamanism.

In shamanism, bats are frequently associated with death and rebirth. An upside down hanging position, such as the bat assumes when roosting, is seen as symbolic for learning to transpose one's former self into a newborn being. Thus the bat's appearance may signify the need for transformations, for letting go of old habits or ways of life and adopting new ones. Bat shows how change is necessary although it can be painful to let go of the past. As an animal of night and the dark it can also guide people through the darkness of confusion and help them face their fears. It is sometimes said to grant the gift of clear hearing and of 'listening between the lines'.
The bat as symbol of change, is something that has particular resonance for me. In many ways I think we're living in a transitional period during which decisions will be made that will fundamentally shape society for future generations. Whether the outcome of those decisions will be beneficial or baleful is beyond my ken, but recognizing the critical juncture we're in should guide us to be careful about the choices we pursue.

The past year has included a number of changes for me personally. One of those changes was a deeper commitment to community activism here in Rogers Park. Through that activism, I've worked closely with Jim Ginderske and I'm now helping him as he tries to unseat the incumbent 49th Ward Alderman. After 16 years under Joe Moore, the neighborhood is definitely in need of "letting go of old habits or ways of life and adopting new ones." As they say, all politics are local and change begins at home.
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