“The Watch-Guardian: Mongoose Energy and Symbolism, Part I” (11/8/2008)

Part I:

(Link to Part II)

As I’ve mentioned before in another writing or two, I feel that I have spent years now subconsciously putting effort into keeping my therianthropy separate from my totemism, but have this year tried to tear down some of those walls I had built up between them.  Part of that effort was motivated and aided by some associations and ‘interactions’, so to speak, with the red canine guide of mine, Kyoshe.  He has, however, taken some steps back from me, as he usually does considering he comes and goes at varying points and for varying lengths of time.  And yet because of my recent changes in life (for the first time since I was an infant I have moved to a different place, and thus left my family and my physical home behind, as well as starting back at a college—a university this time), I have felt like my spirituality is maybe at a point of being ‘paused’ or a plateau-point.  It’s not a feeling like I’m spiritually on decline again, and my mood and adjustment to the life changes has been well and certainly better than I expected, yet I still feel a sort of disconnectedness from my work and focus on my totemism.  I want to connect with some animals, as guides, of this general area/location or even some other ones, but I kept getting the impression that the lines of communication were essentially either down or on hold.  However, as I’m prone to do this subconscious flip-flopping between focusing on my therianthropy *or* focusing on my spirituality—which is something I have been trying for the past few months to balance out to not be an either/or situation anymore—I have found myself for the past few months, since I moved, focusing on my therianthropy: most specifically mongoose.

Now, this is in some ways typical of me, it falls in line with me experiencing a period of time in which I focus on aspects of my therianthropy or one of my particular theriotypes and observe myself and how those aspects correlate to the real, physical animals of those theriotypes.  From there I get the motivation and inspiration to write about my observations and to share my experiences, as I have been doing.  And yet, there’s another level to it this time that I didn’t have with cat or horse, a level of intrigue about the animal (mongooses, and certain species of them) that’s not just related to general interest nor my therianthropy.  I’m actually interested in reading more in-depth accounts and observations of these animals, even bits of folklore and myths about them, and rolling through the information and concepts in my mind as I slowly piece together what is more and more appearing to me to be an understanding of what Mongoose is to me as a totemic guide (spirit guide).  And this is something that is intriguing me further as I go along—I’m not trying to run away and separate these thoughts, associations, and overlaps between mongoose-as-me (therianthropic) and Mongoose-as-guide (totemic), instead I am opening myself up to it, even if it’s something that is slowly developing over the course of weeks or months.

There’s become an increasing understanding for myself as to the specifics of what it is like to be in part mongoose and in what ways I experience such, and the picture of that therianthropic part of me has become significantly more ‘complete’ within the past few months compared to how I viewed it earlier this year.  As also, I am almost simultaneously developing an increased understanding of Mongoose’s place in my life currently as a guide and figuring out what I can learn from him now and what lessons I feel he is associated with that maybe I could learn from later on.  Honestly, Mongoose associating with me as a guide makes sense to me, especially at this particular stage in time for me.  This is because, like with Kyoshe, it really helps me to connect better with a guide and to be more apt to listen to them and learn from them if there’s a “deeper” connection—more specifically in the sense of the guide manifesting in a more “internal-like” way, such as through phantom or mild mental shifts, or some other form of shifts.  With Mongoose, the basis of internalization is already there because mongoose is already me, on a therianthropic level, and it doesn’t have barriers built up around it yet to cut it off from that affiliation and influence from an external guide.  Mongoose-guide can work through mongoose-as-me to aid me better in maintaining and further developing my spirituality, most especially now that I am living on my own, in a different location, and am back in college again (which has been prone to drag me from my spirituality previously), and he can help me adjust to this “new environment”—physical, geographical, social, et cetera.

The social mongooses particularly are what I am connecting with most recently, although that’s a combination of therianthropic-basis and totemic—since I feel I am most correlated therianthropically to a couple of those social species (yellow mongoose and meerkat; though a few more solitary ones correlate with my theriotype as well).  It’s to the advantage of Mongoose to work through them and some other social mongooses (dwarf and banded mongooses) to help deliver and teach his lessons to me more efficiently.  I also wonder if maybe the concept of geographic habitat of the yellow mongoose and meerkat (at least where they are often, though not always, found) has some significance to me now, because of them thriving in semi-desert and scrub habitats, some even on the edges of sand-dune desert, which I think is an interesting symbolic representation of a “transition phase” in my spiritual and deeper self development that I have been going through (i.e., my “journey out of the Desert and into the Grasslands”).

When it comes to particular totemic lessons, archetypal concepts, and such things of Mongoose, my mind has found difficulty separating them out into specific aspects and translating them into written word here.  I have a tendency to describe my guide associations with animals in ways that are mainly reflective of what I have personally experienced or learned from the animal guide and generally steer away from describing other aspects of the animals that I had no work or dealings with during their guidance of me.  Yet with Mongoose I have been nevertheless still enticed to explore these other potential lessons and aspects, regardless of whether or not they are ones for me to specifically take heed of and learn from.  It’s just the task is difficult of doing them justice by putting them into words and taking them out of the realm of what has only been jumbled thoughts and musings in my mind, and although it’s no necessity for me to write about them, I have only felt the desire myself to put them into the medium of my written words.

One key aspect of Mongoose is the concept of being a sentinel, which is important enough to me that I have written about it in a separate essay regarding mongoose as a theriotype of mine (although the essay is currently incomplete).  Therefore I won’t make a second elaboration on it here on the account that I do cover in that essay some more symbolic associations of the ‘mongoose-sentinel’ role; mainly in regards to myself.  There is, however, another concept of Mongoose related somewhat to the sentinelism: that being certain forms of “altruism”. 

Sentries and Altruists:

Speaking in terms of behaviors of non-human animals, there are numerous examples of some species or individuals displaying what are deemed altruistic acts—actions that are, essentially, done to the benefit of another and to the detriment or disadvantage of the one making the action (which is normally, though not necessarily, limited to those of family/blood relation in social groups of animals).  Some social mongooses, though, take it to another level of animal altruism, in that numerous accounts of mongoose families have been documented caring for a sick member in the group—an act that can result in highly detrimental consequences to the members making the altruistic act or to the whole group.

Recently I have been reading Anne Rasa’s Mongoose Watch which is an extensive and detailed documentation of her observations and studies of dwarf mongooses.  One particular chapter I read through stood out in my mind and truthfully brought tears to my eyes as I read through it.  It described the slow (months-long) decline in health toward death of a mongoose (Tatu) in the family that had been chronically injured on one of her front legs, and thus she managed to survive because of the type of injury which allowed her to still forage for food with the group, yet she couldn’t get the proper nutrition she needed.  I won’t summarize the entire events described in the chapter, but I’ll note the most significant ones.  Eventually in her decline, it turned out that her family members had been providing about half of her food for her (although still not enough to sustain her)—which is notable because prior to that time, in the numerous years Rasa had studied and observed dwarf mongooses, she had not seen them share their food with another adult mongoose.  They live and survive in a tight-knit family group, but their food-foraging is highly independent in that they do not share the food they catch.  Thus it was an unusual behavior for them to share food with Tatu.  Later on, within the last few days or so of her life, her family spent a large amount of time staying around her, even to the point that for a day they did not go forage for food; choosing instead to all stay near or huddled up to Tatu outside the termite mound.  Even after she made it into the mound home that night, the next day the whole family still stayed mainly inside of the mound with Tatu, only venturing out for brief times to forage a short distance from the termite mound and to attend to other daily tasks, but returning to the burrow nevertheless after a brief time.  This process went on for six or seven days before the family finally left the mound to forage further away and leave behind Tatu.  However, Rasa quickly found out that the family had actually remained there, in and near the mound, risking starving and/or dehydrating themselves or being found and killed by predators, while Tatu had already been dead for days.  Rasa had also gone on to later test this with her captive group of dwarf mongooses, and a very similar scenario took place there as well, with that group refusing to leave or move much distance beyond the sick and then dead body of a family member, until excessive decay had set in. (Rasa 255-263)

This, among numerous other things about mongooses, has me fascinated, and reading that chapter about Tatu was a mixed emotion of intrigue, wonder, and some ‘tear-jerking’ emotions as well.  It wasn’t a fake account, or some fiction story with anthropomorphized characters showing their ‘honorable’ attachment to someone close to them—it was instead a real account of a group of non-human animals, and ones in which rank, age, sex, etc. of the animal were not that important or a core reason behind the drive.  It’s a strange behavior, and in the wild it’s a rather dangerous behavior, which is no surprise as to why it’s so rarely displayed in animals.  The specifics as to why it exists in some types of mongooses is unknown, though people and scientists have of course speculated on it.  Nonetheless, regardless of the why to this concept and display of altruism (in general, or specifics, such as toward the sick and injured), I continue to understand Mongoose energy as including altruism within it, a lesson that can be complexly applied to the lives of individuals in a wide amount of ways.  Such as concepts of not being altruistic enough, or even being too altruistic (or striving to be) as what could end up being too high of a cost of yourself or significant parts of who you are, as well as application regarding need to be more or less altruistic in specific ways/forms or toward specific individuals or things.

In numerous ways, this is a concept that has some deep personal meanings to me, and I feel like I could have too easily become a person who could have put too much of myself and who I am at risk in order to protect and stand by someone I view as so close to me (my ex, whom I for years viewed as my “mate”).  Altruism can be a wonderful thing, and it can and has at so many times proven immensely valuable, and yet it also serves as a lesson that too much of even good things can be dangerous or otherwise harmful.  Mongoose stands as a reminder for balance in altruism—to be altruistic about various things, and be passionate about that altruism even, but to not let myself become almost ‘delirious’ through my drives and actions of altruism because I risk possibly losing too much by doing so.  Because alongside its value and benefits to those who are receiving the actions, altruism is also an unfavorable action to take when it comes to one’s survival and well-being; so Mongoose represents to me the importance of being conscious of those actions and steering away from the extremes (being too altruistic or not being altruistic enough).

Another type of sentinelism in mongooses comes in the form of the “babysitters”—usually about two mongooses who choose or are otherwise ‘chosen’ to take up the duty for a day (some do it frequently though for many days) to watch over and protect the family’s offspring while the rest of the group is out foraging.  This is a highly important duty because if successfully done each day, it allows the young to develop to a stage in which they can join the foraging group, and thus contributes notably to the continuance of the group’s survival, generation after generation.  These ‘baby-sentries’ have a large responsibility and it is also a dangerous job, although not necessarily difficult in an active sense for most of the time.  Yet when a threat enters the area around the burrow/home, the babysitters are the offspring’s only defense at that time against the threat, and yet because there are so few of the babysitters (two or three, generally) they are at a disadvantage as well with the rest of the family out foraging.  The foraging group could possibly return if calls are sent off by the sitters, but there’s also chance that the group could be too far away to hear the calls or too far away to make it back to the burrow in time even if they were to hear them.  Sitters also sometimes risk themselves in a more indirect sense for those ones that for whatever reasons volunteer themselves for the position on a frequent basis.  Therefore causing him/her to repeatedly miss out on foraging each of those times, and each mongoose is responsible for obtaining his/her own food—it will generally not be brought back to the sitter, because s/he is expected to take the time and effort needed to obtain his/her food.

The applications of this ‘babysitter sentinel’ concept could of course vary widely as a lesson for an individual.  Although an interesting lesson, I do not yet have personal experience to describe of it.

Courage, Tact, Cautiousness, and Immunity:

It’s uncommon for casual references and associations with mongooses to not include something about them and snakes.  Their associations and reactions to snakes are sewn into many tales, folkore, and other mentions of them.  There’s little if anything for me to talk about regarding me in relation to snakes therianthropically as mongoose, yet when it comes to Mongoose-energy (symbolic, archetypal, totemic, etc.), there’s more to be said on the subject.  The interactions between mongooses and venomous snakes are laden with myths from individuals and peoples over a wide course of time.  Tales of how “courageous” the mongoose is to fight against a venomous snake, particularly cobras—most notably depicted in Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”—and folklore stories of the mongoose’s supposed “immunity” to snake venom, or it’s amazing agility that made it seem undefeatable against snakes.

Some peoples believed that the mongoose obtained its immunity from outside sources, such as certain plants or herbs that the mongoose ate or rubbed on itself in order to not suffer from the snake’s venom if bitten (Hinton and Dunn 17).  Many scientific observers of mongooses realized for a long time that the mongooses weren’t always immune to the venom, and research so far seems to indicate a complexity in snake venom immunity in mongooses because it’s something that can vary from species to species (as to the species of resistance), and it can also depend on the type of venom, and thus it depends on various factors as to the “immunity”, or more appropriately the resistance against or tolerance of a particular snake’s venom for different species of mongooses.  Myths and tales also tended to attribute the mongoose as being agile enough to be a formidable opponent against snakes in general, rather than only certain types of snakes.  When in reality some species of mongoose, such as the small Indian mongoose, have an advantage over certain species of snakes, like biting cobras (the Indian cobra, for example), especially because cobras are relatively slow at striking compared to some other venomous snakes, among a few other disadvantages the cobras have to those other venom-snakes (Hinton and Dunn 14-15).  The mongoose, in general, is certainly agile and fast, but even it has its limitations when facing deadly, dangerous snakes, and there are just some types of snakes that have large advantage—particularly in striking speed and technique—over the little herpestid oppositions.  There were even tales about Egyptian ichneumon who not only stole and ate crocodile eggs, but that entered the gaping mouths of sleeping crocodiles and killed them by devouring their abdominal organs (Hinton and Dunn 3).

Although these stories and myths are mixed between some truth and fiction, when it comes to Mongoose-energy there maybe symbolic value in some of them, particularly the ideas of “venom immunity” (by whatever the means—internal or external), notable agility, and ‘courage’.  Along with these can be included the significance of tactician and cautiousness when facing enemies or other opposition, and also their diversity in ways to capture and kill prey, as well as the wide types of immunity or resistance to poisons from their prey that some mongoose species exhibit.

When it comes to hunting prey, the mongoose is not known for endurance or for chases, and though many species of mongoose forage primarily for insects and other invertebrates, there are times when they will hunt vertebrate prey, particularly rats and mice, but sometimes birds, lizards, non-venomous snakes, among some other small mammals.  They are most skilled instead in quick attack—biting the prey in a vital area to kill it as quickly as possible.  An interesting thing about this technique of theirs that they show most especially on rats and mice is that rather than clamping down a bite onto the throat and suffocating the prey or snapping the neck through a throat-bite, they land a fast bite into the back of the head of their prey and crush the skull (Rasa 96-98).  As also, an intriguing observation made by Anne Rasa was that the dwarf mongooses did not kill snakes through the skull-crushing bite, but instead bit lower down the spine in the neck, which she thought maybe a means to deter the snake from automatically coiling around its attacker, as would likely happen if bitten in the head (Rasa 99). However, because of their proportional jaw sizes (from species to species) the skull-biting can cause a limitation on how large of prey they can kill by this means, yet they also have diverse ways of killing other forms of prey and gathering other food (Rasa 98).

Some species have been documented for throwing food objects (such as beetles) backwards between their legs in order to knock the round object against something hard so that they could access the food inside.  They have a variety of ways of catching and killing a diversity of insects and other invertebrates, including their common foraging tactic of digging through dirt or sand to reach hidden insects, or rolling millipedes in the sand to remove some of their acidic defense secretions.  The ways in which they have the ability to obtain food are numerous and versatile, and have shown themselves to thus have killing tactics tailored to specific types of prey, rather than only one or two methods of succeeding at a kill.  This versatility may have useful application regarding obstacles, challenges, and means of obtaining important things in a person’s life.

This represents Mongoose as tactical, quick, and efficient in eliminating danger and opposition, but his energy also teaches to use this skill of quick-attack cautiously and wisely, and therefore using it with great tact.  When social mongooses encounter a snake, they tend to show a level of cautiousness, as they investigate and observe the snake.  Numerous ones, if not the entire group, gang up on the snake in the form of surrounding it, and in some species, performing a sort of ‘dance’ in undulating movements to chase the snake away, as they attempt to scare it off through their group size and cohesiveness together.  Mongooses also aren’t usually the types to go out of their way to kill a snake and tend to ignore them, walk away from them shortly after an encounter, or scare them away depending on the particular species of mongoose and the type of snake encountered.  However, some encounters do result in a snake being killed or directly attacked by a mongoose or multiple mongooses.

These actions can hold relevance toward concepts of applying caution in threatening or uncomfortable situations toward one or more oppositions, and also knowing how and when to execute different actions depending on the circumstances and the particular type of opposition or threat.  Sometimes cautiousness is best followed by passiveness and a choice to leave the opposition alone—to avoid confrontation—and yet there are also times in which cautiousness should be followed by “attack”, though rarely in a literal sense.  Attack can simply be some form of action or activism presented through assertiveness, surety, confidence, or other confrontation, and particularly for Mongoose are the efficient, quick forms of attack it is known to use.  Mongoose helps teach discrimination of how to handle a variety of uncomfortable, problematic, or threatening situations and emphasizes a need to understand when to be cautious, when to be passive, and when to confront a problem quickly and boldly, as well as allowing oneself to be versatile regarding handling a variety of scenarios.

Intertwined with those various killing methods are broad forms of immunity to venoms and poisons from the mongoose’s prey.  As best described by Rasa (106):

“The variety of poisons that the mongooses could withstand was truly amazing.  Irrespective of whether a creature had developed neurogenic poisons…or haemolytic poisons…or even protein-digesting fluids…or extremely strong acids like the Julid millipedes, it was all the same as far as the mongooses were concerned.  They seemed to be impervious to everything.”

This aspect of mongooses can thus have some significant symbolic applications to individuals.  It can involve being broad yet versatile in one’s manner of defense and the different forms of protection a person can utilize based on what aspects of him/herself are being sought to defend (mental, physical, emotional, etc.). Yet it also extends into concepts of not just preventative defense (not allowing the ‘attack’ to occur) but forms of more ‘innate’ protection as well that once offense or ‘attack’ has been made on the person, s/he can be well suited to manage the situation and not fall to harm or become a victim of the offense.  In a more physiological sense, Mongoose may also be denoting to the individual the importance of good immunity and its intertwinement with physical as well as mental and emotional health; that a person’s well-being and efficiency of defense on various levels of being can be affected by the other levels.

Works Cited:

Global Invasive Species Database, 2005. “Herpestes javanicus.” 16 March 2006
     [Accessed 7 November 2008]: 1.

Hinton, H. E., and Dunn, A.M.S. Mongooses: Their Natural History and Behavior.
     Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967: 3, 14-15, 17.

Rasa, Anne. Mongoose Watch: A Family Observed. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press and
     Doubleday & Co., 1986: 25, 96-99, 106, 255-263.

Taylor, P.J. & Hoffmann, M. 2008. Cynictis penicillata. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red
     List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. [Accessed 08 November 2008]: 1.

Wikipedia contributors. “Banded Mongoose.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 26
     October 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banded_mongoose>. [Accessed 7
     November 2008]: 1.

Wikipedia contributors. “Mongoose.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 6
     November 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongoose>. [Accessed 7 November
     2008]: 1.