Bobcat Magic

The house is wreathed in bobcat energy. I looked up from my breakfast the other morning to see a small bob-kitten moving through the rocks, deer weed and poison oak at the side of the bowl that rises up beyond the pool terrace. Too young, it struck me, to be entirely without supervision, its mother never showed itself and I assumed the parental role and watched over it for a few minutes. But this fanciful assumption may have run counter to the true nature of my relationship to this wild thing: was it watching over me?

Note the narcissistic tone here: either way it's all about me. In our collective unconscious are housed the archetypes of all creation (if we are to believe Jung) and an animal's physical manifestation, in certain circumstances (Ellen Macfarland), can trigger the free-flow of unconscious archetype to conscious understanding. Perhaps our relationship was bi-lateral; each aware of the other's physical presence (I moved close to the window and I think that we made eye contact) each triggering within ourselves a connection to each others archetype.

We inhabit a world of ideograms which are hard-wired in our brains and these patterns limit (or structure) the pathways of both our thoughts and our creative constructs (Levi Strauss). This bobcat, and others in its family, have laid a web of their archetypal energy over this house and us: we are conjoined, for we have similarly entered into the animals' conscious and unconscious understanding of their surroundings.

The cat represents an atavism, a reprise of our genesis on the savannah (Cave and Rock) - an element in our earliest racial memories. We twenty-first century Americans spend precious little time connecting across the millennia to the 'time before history', as ColinTudge calls it; to the time of our continental wanderings as we emerged from the grasslands of Africa to conquer the planet somewhere between 50 -100,000 years ago - as fully modern homo sapiens.

Our arrival on this continent was comparatively recent. The coastal migration theory (or the Kelp Road) is now widely accepted in debates about the peopling of the Americas and it is believed that Paleo-indian peoples settled the Channel Islands about 13,000 years ago (An Island on the Land). Evidence of this initial landfall on the Americas has been reinforced by the discovery of a Clovis-like fluted point on the coastal plain of Hollister Ranch which suggests Paleo-indians roamed the area using large flint-tipped spears to hunt ice-age mega-fauna - an activity previously believed to have been confined to areas around the land route from Beringia (the so-called land bridge continent) down through the retreating ice-flows into the heart of North America.

This afternoon, with time to kill in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles, I walked over to the La Brea Tar Pits. Here the observation pit, set aside from the more than one hundred excavations that have been dug since 1915, has been left to show the bones of animals as they originally appeared to the researchers mired in a sticky trap of tar and oil. In what appears to be something like a giant's midden, bones of mastodon, sloth and sabre-toothed tiger are scattered amongst skeletons of the dire wolf, western horse, camel and bison. Elsewhere on the site, the bones of extant species such as the bobcat, coyote, fox and badger have been un-earthed from this fabulous store of ice age fauna dating from 10,000 to 40,000 BP. It is not entirely coincidental that the larger, more lumbering fauna experienced a precipitous decline and finally extinction right about the time that man appeared on the scene. 

Perhaps as a reaction to the die-off of these easy prey, around 9,000 years ago a new adaptation emerged locally, characterized by a seed grinding technology (hence Milling Stone peoples);  settlement along the coastal plain and foothills of the central coast became sedentary and focused on seed gathering and the collection of shellfish. About 6,000 years ago a new hunting people emerged archeologically evidenced by small projectile points and animal bone middens of antelope, big-horn sheep and mule deer; and then, by three to four thousand years ago a recognizably Chumash culture had developed characterized by a diversified material culture, the use of acorn flour and a sophisticated political and religious infrastructure. But the larger Chumash coastal settlements that may once have housed up to a thousand inhabitants were mostly abandoned by the early 1800's as missionization decimated the Chumash people and undermined their economic and sociopolitical systems.

There was one brief spark of resistance to their seemingly inevitable extinction. In 1824, after the vicious beating of an Indian at Mission Santa Ines, the Chumash were galvanized into open rebellion at Santa Ines, La Purisima and Santa Barbara missions. The revolt was harshly supressed and many of those who had fled to the back-country elected not to return to the missions (Phantom Dwelling). But worse was to follow: Mexico, having gained control of California from the Spanish, secularized the missions in 1834, which abandoned, then fell into disrepair. The Chumash survivors were dispersed into a foreign society where they attempted to take jobs in towns or on ranches. By the 1880's it is estimated that there were fewer than 300 Chumash still living and of those a handful were eventually relocated to the Santa Ynez reservation, established in 1901. (Jon Erlandson)

Bobcat, fox and coyote have outlasted the indigenous peoples who, millenia ago, contributed to the demise of the mega-fauna; small, fast and cunning these animals eluded spears, clubs and later, arrows, in sufficient numbers to avoid extinction. Instead, they went on to become intimates of the native peoples in myth and magic - as spirit helpers, jokers, talismans and totems.

We are shunned by the coyotes who roam Koenigstein and howl in the Bear Creek gorge to the east of our neighbor Margot's property; foxes are ghost-like - appearing like phantasms in the gloaming at road's edge but never showing themselves close to the house. Only the bobcats' have chosen to include us in their lives. A review of the collected internet wisdom on the role of the bobcat as a shaman's spirit helper seems to suggest that they are a useful adjunct in the transcendance of time and space - a particular obsession with Chumash shaman whose schtick primarily comprised altered states of consciousness (Mining Gravel). They assist (we are told by such as in understanding psychic knowledge and ancient mysteries. The animal shows itself, it seems, to those on the path of developing natural internal power and psychic abilities.

What was it that made me trek today to the ancient buried bones of family Felidae? Bobcat magic? You decide.