Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taxonomy:





The Panther Song in You'll Always Come Back ends with a bit of not-quite-Blake. "What hand or eye indeed, framed your awful symmetry?" Here's the William Blake poem, written in 1794, that I swiped the line from:

The Tyger:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

When Brent commented that he thought the eyes, seen in moments of musical revelation, might be a tigers, it started me thinking about categories of imagined cats, and wondering what sort of cat, exactly, that I encountered in my lucid dream.
I like to think that it is a black jaguar.

A few years ago I had a writing job that took me to a lodge in a park that will remain unnamed in Eastern Kentucky. Near a stream I saw some cat-looking tracks, bobcat I assumed. When I met the park ranger I asked him about the tracks, and he agreed that they were probably bobcat. I volunteered some of the panther sighting stories I'd heard, and he told me that there were mountain lions in that park, he'd seen them, but that had to be off-the-record, because the wildlife biologists insisted that they were not there, so officially he wasn't allowed to say he'd seen them. Mountain lions, or cougars as they're sometimes called, are buff colored, not black. All the panthers in the stories I've heard are black, but maybe that's just because black is scarier? If the panthers are entirely mythological, and just imagined by the people who see them, then black is easy.
Of course any animal can be dark-colored, if it is melanistic, but melanism is even rarer than albinism.

If mountain lions are not officially allowed to be seen in Kentucky, the jaguar is even further out of consideration, unless you allow for time warpage. There's a cave in Tennessee with jaguar tracks in it, but they were made over 10,000 years ago. Just a little north of my house a shell gorget was found with a design that has been interpreted as representing a jaguar, made around 600 years ago. But the closest officially sighted jaguars are currently in Arizona, very wary and rare creatures, long rumored to be there, only recently photographed. They were the regular gold & black spotted ones, not the less common black.

When I was in the Yucatan I went to a temple called Ek Balaam, Mayan for Black Jaguar. The pyramid was being excavated at the time, and some wonderful stucco sculptures had just been uncovered. My photo shows the right side of a portal - the curved shapes that line the frame of the threshold represent jaguar teeth - the doorway is a mouth. The Mayan guy who took us (my sister and nephew were with me) on a walk into the jungle said there was a jaguar den in a cenote in that area, but that it wasn't a good idea to go there. My sentiment exactly. But it was thrilling to walk in a jungle where jaguars were living, maybe watching.



Atop the temple of Ek Balaam






















The right side of the portal.

There were so many things that I wanted to ask Mr. Calhoun, the man who taught me some Tsalagi (Cherokee) songs, and bits of this and that. He was wise, and he knew the myths. We talked about the Uktena, but not about the three kinds of panthers known to the Tsalagi. I wish now that we had. The word for "panther" is tluntu'sti, presumably for the mountain lion. But there was also an ama-tluntu'sti; a "water panther;"...and the atsil'-tluntu'tsi; a "fire panther." Fire panthers are comets or meterorites, but what water panthers might be is a mystery to me. They could be denizens of the Underworld, an underwater realm entered through the springs that emerge from caves, like Pete's Spring.

There's a story of a hunter who, on a hunt deep in the woods on a snowy winter day, encountered a panther. Somehow the hunter and the panther felt a kinship to each other, and the panther appeared to the man as a hunter like himself. The panther asked the man what he was hunting for, and the hunter replied that he was hunting for a deer. The panther proposed that since he himself was also hunting for deer, that they might hunt together, and the hunter agreed. Together they stalked a deer, and the panther leapt upon it and killed it easily. Then the panther wrapped his tail around the carcass and lifted it up on his back. They walked until they came to a mountainside. The panther spoke, and a doorway opened in the side of the mountain and they walked inside. Inside the mountain was another land. It was warm there, the trees were green and lush, and the sun shown brightly, for it was summertime. It was the land of the panthers, and the hunter was invited to feast with them on the fresh deer. After they had eaten, the hunter told the panther that he had to return home. The panther took him back to the doorway, opened it, and bid him farewell as he stepped back into the snowy forest. Then the doorway closed and no trace of it remained.

The hunter headed homeward through the snow, and soon met a search party, sent out to find him. He thought he had only spent a day in the land of the panthers, but many days had passed in his own town. Not long after he returned home, the hunter became sick, and soon died. If he had stayed with the panthers, he would have lived.

I've wondered a lot about the ama-tluntu'tsi ~ what exactly might it be? Was it a creature of this world, or one of the other world? Jaguars are said not share in the general aversion cats have for water, and to like swimming. On the other hand, Tsalagi taxonomy is organized differently from the one Linnaeus set forth in his 1753 "Systema Naturae." The name "water panther" could indicate any creature of the general size, ferocity, and (especially) hunting methods of a panther. It could be a giant amphibian, like the ones stalking around here 350 million years ago. If you've ever watched a salamander on the hunt lash its tail, exactly like a cat, you'd know that you wouldn't want to meet a hungry jaguar-sized one in a dark cavern.

Concerning the Uktena, an extremely dangerous giant horned rattlesnake with a fabulous crystal in its forehead, Mr Calhoun said, "I wonder if that Uktena could have been one of those dinosaurs. They say that they all were gone before there were people to see them, but I wonder."

7 comments:

Cathy said...

Fascinating. Why does the negative panther look so much scarier than the other one?

A long-ago English teacher pointed out that Blake spelled it 'tyger' to elongate the vowel and make the word sound more sinister - as opposed to AA Milne's 'tigger,' which made the beast sound cute and cuddly.

Dan Dutton said...

Why? One word and it's from Nina Hagen ~"Antiworld." I wonder if that's true about the y?

I have a facsimile of Blake's notebooks. Beyond the obviously fascinating content of his art, the next most interesting thing was how he filled margins of pages with rants about his neighbors.

Now why is it that tyger does sound more sinister than tigger? Do vowels have character? (besides being characters?)

Cathy said...

The way it's voiced, maybe - AAIIIII vs. ih? The vowel in tyger seem to come from further back in the throat.

Dan Dutton said...

"What Sounds Sinister" sounds like the title of a study I'd like to read... Psycho-linguistics?

Context / aberation?

Seems like I remember there being a cross-cultural study of "baby sounds" - that found a similarity in "ma ma" type syllables as universal. & with words for "water" tending to have "ah" sounds...

In music the Greek modes were, and are, said to convey particular emotional states of being - (minor modes sound sad, etc.) and in India, the ragas (a bit like the scales in "western" music) are associated not only with moods, but with particular times of day and night.

The question of whether a particular sequence of vibrations evokes a particular response is close to the question I'm pondering at present concerning music and trance, or even just trance. The theory that came out in the 60s, I think, that what we call trance (and the definitions vary, especially between cultures) is caused by certain kinds of sounds has been debunked. Some states called trance happen in conjunction with music, as part of an expectation, and some happen without it, but as far as I can tell there's always a cultural context.

Is the internet the current trigger? I wonder....

Dan Dutton said...

We'll probably never hear about the most in-depth studies of "psycho-acoustical phenomena" - conducted, of course, by the military, in search of the sound o' doom. (sub-bass, I think...)

Apifera Farm said...

I really love the energy in the drawings....the story of the hunter was wonderful --- but any stories of cougers [since you mentioned them] makes my hair stand up. I've heard so many real cougar stories, about how they are the most formidable hunters and hardest to track. The thought of coming upon one terrifies me, and we supposedly had a sighting a 1/2 mile from the barn this summer [I was skeptical, considering the sourcece, and also that the cougar had supposedly 'left' 2 small deer , one 1/2 dead. We think it was a coverup for a poacher, but, it still scared the heck out of me.}

On the color black - I often look out at the browner sheep and they can appear black or close to it in certain light - caught up in a moment, I can see where someone might think a cougar, or even coyote at a distance, to the novice would look big and black.

Dan Dutton said...

I think any big cat encountered in the wild should scare the bejeezus out of anyone.

If you see any animal in silhouette you could mistake it for being black. But the last story I heard, (from a friend - you know who you are!) - was that her parents, who live just a ways north of here, saw something that looked like a black panther, in daylight, in the field next to their house and watched it for some time. I'm sure wildlife biologists would scoff and say that it was a house cat and they mistook the proportions at a distance.

Dream cats, of course, have exactly the proportions they appear to have, in the instant they appear.

I have another scary black cat story, well actually several black cat stories... One day I was in the Louvre, and headed to one of the basement galleries to look at the Greek sculpture. Not so many people go down there, they just stand and gawk at the Mona Lisa. (sorry, but a bit boring - even in that room there are better paintings...)
Anyway, to get to the Greeks I went down a long hall that had a row of gigantic (over twice my size) seemingly identical black basalt statues of Bast, the Egyptian cat-headed goddess. No one else was in the hall, and it was quiet. Somehow the image of a row of giant identical cat-headed women un-nerved me, and I remember that I even sped up so I could get on out of there! Bet they really were a freak out in their original temple.

It's funny ~ I went on to look at some fantastic Greek statues, if I'm remembering right the "Aphrodite" attributed to Praxiteles is there - but I don't remember that so much as trying to get away from those giant cats.