Tuesday, 13 January 2015

On Badgers and Emergences

Among the Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest, the solitary North American species of badger, Taxidea taxus, is a primordial friend and ally; indeed, as Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko observes, it was a she-badger who made possible the migration of humans and other beings from the Fourth World beneath us into this, the Fifth World of our current existence:

The people found the opening into the Fifth World too small to allow any of them or any of the animals to escape. They had sent a fly out through the small hole to tell them if it was the world which the Mother Creator had promised. It was, but there was the problem of getting out. The antelope tried to butt the opening to enlarge it, but the antelope enlarged it only a little. It was necessary for the badger with her long claws to assist the antelope, and at last the opening was enlarged enough so that all the people and animals were able to emerge up into the Fifth World.

This is not an account of Badger’s biological origins; she emerged from the Fourth World fully formed as we know her today; her evolutionary history or mystical creation is not the point of the story. Rather, the origin account here is of a different kind, not of species, but of relationship: “Life on the high arid plateau became viable,” Silko argues, “when the human beings were able to imagine themselves as sisters and brothers to the badger, antelope, clay, yucca, and sun. Not until they could find a viable relationship to the terrain, the landscape they found themselves in, could they emerge.”[1]
Badgers are all about emergences. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a number of definitions for the verb and its underworld resonances. Of relevance to our purpose here are 3a and 4a: “To come forth into view; to pass out, issue, from an enclosed space, area of obscuration, etc.” and “To rise into notice, come forth from obscurity.”[2] Drawing on these definitions, we find that, in the human imagination, the earth-dwelling badgers are always emerging and submerging--our relationships to them are shaped in large part by their rise from and return to the earth, their surfacing fully formed from the chthonic underworld of primordial mystery and, to some degree, beyond the reach of human constructions of ever-obscured originations. Indeed, in a survey of various myth cycles and historical references to badgers, it seems a consistent pattern that badgers preceded humans into this world, or at least into territories that humans seek to claim as their own. When humans and badgers interact in these traditions, it is generally badgers who have had a defining influence on humans, not the reverse. (In daily practice, however, human impacts on badger populations are generally negative.)
If there had been badgers in Eden, it is far more likely that they would have been the name-givers to those strange bipedal apes mooning around fruit trees, not the other way around. Perhaps they might have prevented that fateful Fall. For those anxious primates, the emergence from Eden was a curse, and a torment inflicted by a wrathful Father God; for Badger of the Laguna Pueblo account, the move from the Fourth World to the Fifth was far from a calamity--it was an honouring of Mother Creator’s gift. 
And it was Badger, among others, who made it all possible.

[1] Leslie Marmon Silko, “Landscape, History, and Pueblo Imagination,” The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, eds. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm (Athens, GA, 1996), p. 273.
[2] “Emerge, v.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. <http://dictionary.oed.com>

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