Leaping Man, Leaping Carp, Leaping Dragon: The Animal Ancestor
In the last few days a friend sent me this image above.
He thought I would like it. And I did. But it was sent without any sense that it had any meaning beyond “this is a cool image.” Being on the receiving end of an image like this can set you to either quickly delete it or wonder about it a bit. So I wondered. There are probably lots of directions such a wondering could go. Here is the way mine went.
In China carp are revered as signs of abundance and affluence. Additionally, as the mythic folklore goes, they can also, under the right conditions, turn into dragons. Particularly if they leap the Longmen Falls on the Yellow River.
Maybe this image is the frontispiece in an unseen triptych
Panel 1:Human men in business attire turning into carp.
Panel 2: Carp returning to water, their ancestral home.
Panel 3: Carp turning into dragons, their destinal home.
In Chinese folklore dragons are considered water protectors and there is a foundational story of dragons as an embodiment of the peoples of China.
The story is strange and brief but perhaps illustrative. Yandi, an ancient tribal leader and mythic figure, was born of the telepathic sexual union of his mother and an ancient dragon. Yandi, with his dragon nature and being a protector of water, had a home in the Yellow River. But along the river lived many disparate tribes who didn’t always cooperate despite their proximity. So Yandi went about unifying the tribes of the Yellow River Valley in the way that many bonds have been made – marriage. Yandi, in his dragon form, married each of the animal totems of each of the tribes of the valley in a full blown ceremony. To show his sincerity towards each of the peoples he took on their form into his own.
Hence the dragon has a beard of a goat, the horns of a deer, the ears of a cow, the claws of an eagle, the hands of a tiger, the scales of the carp, the tail of the snake, the head of a lion, the eyes of the shrimp, the nose of the dog. And this is how the people of China became unified and the dragon its national totem…as the story goes, make of it what you will. This is certainly glossing over some rough roads for the unification of China, to be sure. The animals vary in different stories but the stories are unified in this regard – there are non-human ancestors that are deeply claimed and not considered metaphorical. Even if the myth does gloss over civil strife (which we know happened), there is a remembering in the story of these totems. The animals. These people.
There are Ant people in the American south west.
There are Bear people and Salmon people.
Virtually every indigenous people around the world hold this to be the case; kin extends beyond the blood of their grandparents and that their deepest ancestry is not human. Whether that is scientifically true is not the point (though I’m all for science). The mythic understanding is an important one – that their wellbeing in the world, their strength, and their capacity is reliant on some animal where they are who they have come to know deeply.
It may be that this piece of art is asking to not forget your non-human ancestors and to claim them.
In the human centered world that we inhabit we could do well to learn the home-making skills of welcoming such ancestors back in our lives.
Primal Derma isn’t a magic wand to suddenly remembering your animal ancestors. But maybe our little jars are a tip of the hat in that direction and not a bad start. That said, it is worth remembering that cows fed all of your ancestors with their pulling of the plow, with their manure feeding the soil, with their milk, and with their meat, their bones, their blood, and certainly their fat. Your ancestors were likely married to their land in concert with cows just as surely as Yandi was married to the totem animals of the Yellow River Valley. And knowing all that it isn’t too bad that your skincare includes tallow.