I really love symbolism, the idea that there are deeper meanings and ideas attached to things that seem ordinary and mundane.
As I was writing The Brumal Star, I became aware that I had included many birds and other animal characters in the book. But I didn’t research the symbolism behind any of it until after I was done.
I was struck by how accurately the creatures that I chose for the story evoked the themes and archetypes I meant to convey.
Elira, the Witch of the Larches, takes the form of a cardinal. They are a symbol of hope, vitality and faith, things Jamison desperately needs. He needs to “keep the faith” when his situation seems bleak and hopeless. They symbolize the circle of life and the cycle of renewal and restoration, which is the very cycle he goes through.
She is a “cardinal sign”, the first thing (or person) he sees after he survives the Ritual. They’re associated with winter, and Jamison is in a long, dark cold winter of his life. In the story, it is about to become winter.
The word cardinal has its origins in the Norse word kross and the Latin crux, both of which are associated with crosses or directional points. Jamison is at a crossroads as he decides what he will do next, since he cannot go back to his old life and must make a choice and pick a direction.
Goats mean many things in various cultures, but the highest expression of what they represent are sense of independence, curiosity, progress, achievement, and reaching your highest ideals. These are themes that are expressed through Jamison and his journey.
Revered as gods in ancient Egypt, cats are symbols of magic and mystery, birth and resurrection, especially in regards to their “nine lives”. They’re a fitting symbol of the strange, mysterious circumstances through which Jamison receives his magical gift as a child and the way he manages to bounce back or raise himself out of terrible, frightening, and life-threatening situations.
Dogs are symbols of protection and loyalty, courage, communication and cooperation, and as connectors between physical and non-physical realms. Berinon, Jamison’s shaggy hound, assumes the role of his faithful guardian at a pivotal moment in his life.
Bats are symbols of rebirth, secrets, initiation, facing darkness, transition and transformation, and understanding grief. Many characters are transformed by their dark experiences throughout the story.
They also represent exploring the underworlds of reality. Lorica literally does this as she travels with Jamison to the cave with her friend, a pipistrelle (a type of small bat) named Scout.
In the mythos of the book, the Chirelien are giant, mutant bats with wrinkly faces, massive, leathery wings, shaggy, lion-like manes and serpentine, tufted tails. They’ve been transformed by magic gone awry, so they’ve undergone a massive shift both in their physical appearance and life philosophy, and must come to terms with their new state of being.
A chickadee makes an appearance in a scene where two characters face off against each other arguing over trust issues. These tiny birds that thrive in cold climates are symbolic of hardiness, adaptability, ability to thrive in adverse conditions, trust, and serve as a call not to be closed off or be paranoid of others.
The Cave of Wrykirk is near a waterfall called Raven Falls, so named because of the colony of ravens that roosts there. Ravens have been regarded through many cultures as harbingers or messengers representing wisdom and knowledge.
They can also mean the shadow self, one of Carl Jung’s classic archetypes. The shadow self refers to a person’s inner darkness, fears, desires, shames, and weaknesses.
Many characters in The Brumal Star are forced to confront the darkest parts of their personalities as they go through their individual journeys.
Do you use animal signs and symbolism in your writing?