Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" You'll think I'm making this up, but go ahead and Google it. Today, September 4, 2010 was International Vulture Awareness Day, observed on several continents! We are trying to change hearts and minds all over the world -- to reach out and gain disciples for the Sacred Thunderbird!
Today I journeyed to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. This was the only place in the vicinity that was having an International Vulture Awareness Day program. And what a program it was! A pair of wildlife rehabbers from the Red Creek Wildlife Rescue talked for a whole hour about turkey vultures and displayed a whopping fine specimen who had been raised by a human and cannot be re-released into the wild. Pinky swear, that vulture (named Hannibal) knew that he was the center of attention and did all he could to charm his highly interested audience.
Hannibal's handler rattled off the usual facts about vultures, the ones I've often quoted here as Holy Scripture so will not repeat. However, it just goes to show that no matter how much you think you know about Sacred Thunderbirds, every new sermon will have new information in it.
How about this: Have you thought about a vulture's carbon footprint?
Most of us Pagans have wistful moments when we imagine leaving a neutral carbon footprint on Gaia. Step aside, human race, and let a winner lead the way!
Vultures leave a negative carbon footprint. Every day that they get up and go to work, the Earth becomes a better place. This is something we can't even strive for. We can't eat rancid meat. Our "droppings" are toxic. (Vulture droppings have no toxicity, although they're pretty acidic.)
As much as I've thought about vultures over the years, I never thought about their carbon footprints. I should write a whole new Psalm about this. Worthy art thou, o Thunderbird ... (good start)
It's not often that wildlife rehabbers have to give an hour-length program on a single species, but these brave folks did, and the dude held the 7-pound vulture the whole time. When an hour starts nearing its end, you get down to some arcane knowledge, and this is where I felt a schism brewing between myself and the vulture preachers.
The first point of contention was the vulture preacher's demand that we not call vultures buzzards. He said that vultures aren't buzzards. "Buzzards" (actually, bustards) live in the British Isles and are a kind of raptor not found in the New World. Ergo, if those birds are "buzzards," then our New World vultures cannot be "buzzards."
Sacrilege! Blasphemy! You've got this straight from Anne Johnson: Go ahead and call them buzzards.
I say this and back it with logic. What do you call that pretty little backyard bird with the red breast who hops across your lawn and pulls up worms? Oh! It's a robin! But wait. There's a little bird with a red breast that only lives in the British Isles, also known as a robin. So which one is the robin?
When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they adopted many Native names for wildlife not found in Europe. But the settlers also endowed other species with names of Old World critters they resembled. That is how our New World vultures got to be called "buzzards." And how robins got called "robins." So what's good for the robin is good for the buzzard. I say we can use buzzard and vulture interchangeably, unless of course we're talking about condors.
The other thing that I found fault with in today's sermon was the preacher's admonition that it is illegal to own vulture feathers. This is indeed true -- except if the feathers are used for religious purposes. When I pointed this little quibble out to the preacher, he said, well, yes, if you're a "card-carrying Native American," you're allowed to own vulture feathers.
Friends, I have a vulture feather on my wand and a primary flight feather on my altar. Both of them were picked up off the ground, not pulled from a live bird. Those feathers are a part of my Ritual practice, and I don't need to carry a card, or be a Native American to use them. Bring it on, Fish and Wildlife! Saying I have to be a Native American to revere the vulture is like saying you have to be able to prove descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be a Jew! That's just preposterous. (If you refer to last March's "buzzard worship" sermons, you'll see that I got full approval from the card-carrying Native Americans to be a vulture Shaman, no questions asked about ancestry.)
Anyway, to wind up this sermon about a sermon, I just want to remind you yet again that we humans can never hope to measure up to the high standards set by vultures when it comes to aerodynamics, carbon footprint, or non-aggression. In everything you do, and everywhere you go, please spread the good news about buzzards. People actually kill them out of fear of them. This practice must end! It's hard to imagine a dirtier world than the one we currently have until you face the prospect of extinction for all vultures. Say it will never be so!
The word of Vulture for the people of Vulture. Thanks be to Vulture.