The Great Porcupine

Picture: Pearson Scott Foresman (PD)

In the spring of 2006, I was living in Madison, WI and going through a painful divorce. I decided the best remedy was for me to spend large stretches of time alone communing with nature. My work schedule at the time allowed me four days off after working three overnight shifts. So after work, I would drive five hours North to the Nicolet National Forest. The forest is a marvel of modern conservation. Reduced to clear cut stump fields by the turn of the century, it was restored by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. Today it is a lush, healthy second growth forest teeming with wildlife – even wolves and black bears.

After one of my many long drives to Nicolet, I parked my car in the gravel Parking lot of my favorite lakeside campground and backpacked down a cross country ski trail which at this time of year was completely deserted by humans. At the bottom of a hill I came to a “warming cabin” that I knew of that was designed for Cross Country skiers. It was April, at the time. The days were beginning to be warm but the nights were cold and patches of old winter snow still hung on in the shadows of the trees. Nobody used the cabin at this time of year, and it had a fireplace and a big wooden bench inside and was still well-stocked with firewood. It was by this time late afternoon, moving into early evening. The cabin looked so inviting after my rather muddy hike, so I decided to make a fire and spend the night.

As I approached the cabin, I noticed that there was a large hole chewed into the front door, which was latched shut. The hole looked like a cartoon mouse hole, only much bigger, about eight or ten inches high. When I opened the door and walked inside, I was surprised to see two large porcupines walking around inside. They had littered the floor with droppings. I speculated that it was a male and a female and that it must porcupine mating season. I later learned that this speculation was incorrect and that porcupines mate in the fall.

I picked up a broom and gently shooed them out of the cabin, then I swept out all the porcupine droppings. They looked like big oblong rabbit pellets. Then I gathered some wood and began to build a fire. As I got the fire going, one of the porcupines poked his head in through the hole again and began to come inside. I said “Hey!” and stamped my foot. The porcupine ducked back out. After I got the fire going, I put a large rock in the hole in the door, sealing it.

I began to hear scratching on the door. When I opened it, I saw the two porcupines still right outside and anxious to come in. When I opened the door, they walked off a little ways and stopped to stare back at me. I heard a chewing sound and looked over and saw that there was a third large porcupine, eating the tar paper on the underside of the little wooden shelter where the fire wood was stacked. The warming cabin was set in a low area at the convergence of three Cross Country Ski Trails. So from my Vantage point in the yard of the cabin I had a view up three different trails. I noticed that each trail had a porcupine, making its way down a hill toward the cabin. That’s six porcupines!

“What is going on here?” I thought to myself. I started to feel a bit bad, having the distinct impression that I was an intruder here, interrupting something solemn and important, despite the comical roly-poly appearance of the porcupines. I went back inside the cabin and sealed the rock over the hole again and set my sleeping bag up on the long bench in front of the fireplace. The fire was roaring from the big birch logs I had put on.

As I lay on the bench wrapped in my sleeping bag I stared, mesmerized, into the fire, I began to detect an imposing presence in the corner of the cabin. In the firelight the dancing shadows on the wall seemed to materialize into a large, not-quite humanoid shape. A silhouette of an enormous porcupine the size of a Sasquatch appeared on the wall.

Awestruck, I stared at the figure. I heard a voice inside my head. It spoke with sternness and authority:

“I am the Great Porcupine. You have you disturbed our gathering.”

I answered in my mind and said “I am sorry. I just needed a place to stay for the night.”

The Great Porcupine continued, “You neither know us nor understand us. We live a very elevated existence high in the trees, above all the other creatures of the forest, and breathe pure, rarefied air. We eat the bark of the trees, occasionally killing them at their crowns and, in this way, we allow light into the forest floor. Many living things depend on this service we provide. Without gaps in the forest, there would be far fewer living things here. It would be like a wasteland of pine trees.”

He spoke to me primarily with images that appeared in my minds eye, with a grave delivery that left me with the impression of being scolded by a stern grandfather. I asked him about fishers (a large, aboreal member of the weasel family) that eat porcupines, and he communicated to me that there were treaties worked out between the porcupines and the fishers and the trees; that the martins ate only what they needed, and kept the numbers of the porcupines down to ensure the health of the trees.

I became very emotional. I felt like a door was being opened up to me to a world I didn’t know. I thought I knew all there was to know about porcupines and other animals from reading field guides, but there seemed to be mysterious qualities to these animals that could not be summed up in the pages of a book. There seemed to be dimensions of them that extended beyond what I experienced with my five senses.

I felt very humbled. I apologized again to the Great Porcupine and asked if there was anything I could do to make amends for interrupting their gathering. Should I pack up and leave? He said that I was free to stay the night, but that in the morning when I leave, I should remove the stone from the door and leave an offering on the floor of salty food. (I learned later that porcupines love salt.)

After a while, I no longer sensed the presence of the Great Porcupine; the shadows on the wall once again seemed to match the objects in the cabin. I drifted off to a peaceful sleep. I arose early in the morning, poured my canteen on the fire to ensure it was out and quickly packed up my things. I arranged a small pile of potato chips and mixed nuts on the floor of the cabin. Afterwards, I briskly and quietly walked up the trail back to my car and drove home.

I felt a little shaken up by the experience; not terrified, just more or less in awe. I tried to do some research on the internet about porcupines and shamanism. Most of the links that came up on Google searches were pretty campy and seemed superficial. I didn’t feel that any of the descriptions really captured my experience. I put the experience aside until a few years later, when I was struck my a passage in a book I read about a Biologist who worked with some Mayan people in Belize to set up the world’s first jaguar preserve.

In the book, a Mayan man told the author that in order to work with Jaguar, he needed to find “the Great Jaguar” who was pure white and much larger than all the other jaguars of the forest, whom he protected.

The biologist never encountered the Great Jaguar, but this seemed to be a similar principle – a shamanistic way of looking at things that paralleled my encounter with the Great Porcupine. Perhaps each species of animal has a great representative superintending over the species as a whole.

Since this experience, I have been struck by the fact that when I get just a little ways out in the woods I am actually entering a different world where anything is possible.

23 Comments on "The Great Porcupine"

  1. I pretty much grew up playing in the woods, every day of my life. It’s a magickal setting to explore with one’s senses and imagination. As a youth I remember feeling as though there was a malevolent presence in the forest at night. During the day I felt as though the creatures that came from within were and still are a blessing honoring those who are there to witness.

    • lazy_friend | Jan 2, 2013 at 12:58 am |

      From what I read, males are naturally weary of what lies beyond the campfire, for in ancient days we had to take turns watching over the family group.

      • Calypso_1 | Jan 2, 2013 at 1:39 am |

        Weariness of what lies beyond the campfire is as good an explanation as any for the domestic entrapment of men.

        • lazy_friend | Jan 2, 2013 at 4:25 am |

          We are talking about night time. During the day we hunt . But whatever makes sense to you.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm |

            that semantic play
            in such brief missive would fail
            to yield a note upon your
            perceptual windage leaves
            certain doubt in mind –
            fullness of tang or gant
            Game Sign about weald
            & weather to which you find
            what sense or whether tis
            made or given –
            For that is in deed the transit
            of trappings from the hunted
            to the hunter

          • lazy_friend | Jan 2, 2013 at 9:27 pm |

            voce nao sabe o que faz, so sabe o que diz.

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 2, 2013 at 9:45 pm |

            I know that обе эти вещи мои рыбой.

          • lazy_friend | Jan 2, 2013 at 10:01 pm |

            my mom told me to stay away from poets

          • Calypso_1 | Jan 3, 2013 at 12:05 am |

            never did much listen to mum. the call of the night beasties was too close at hand.


      • Ted Heistman | Jan 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm |

        Yeah I heard about that. I actually lost my fear of the dark while illegally camping in a tent in the woods and not wanting to give my location away by flashlight. I became adept at navigating through the woods in the dark, even with no moonlight or starlight. But before that I was definitely weary of walking alone in the woods at night.

  2. kowalityjesus | Dec 31, 2012 at 5:00 pm |

    LOL, that is great. Truth is so delightfully stranger than fiction. : )

    • Ted Heistman | Jan 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm |

      Interesting link. Thanks. I dream about fish a lot and that article had some good insights. Incidentally, though, I don’t think of the Porcupine thing as a dream though, but more like a visitation.

      • teachpeace | Jan 1, 2013 at 8:27 pm |

        Agreed. It was a profound experience.

        I was hoping the link could expand understanding toward our fellow earthly inhabitants and our relationships with animals on a deeper level.
        I’ve enjoyed Avia Venefica’s websites & explore her reservoir of knowledge, also her gifted “insights”.

        Be it Oriental, Inuit, Native American /Central & South American , Celtic etc. Cultural lore
        regarding animals attributes /power have always tickled my fancy, attracted my interest.

  3. lazy_friend | Jan 2, 2013 at 12:42 am |

    Everything seems to have esoteric properties to it, like magnetic fields given off by electronics . A 5 hour drive is not very friendly to the environment in my opinion but what do I know :). Sometimes when we are constantly thinking about a loss, the mind seems to create illusions to entertain us and create relief at least for a few moments or it shows things behind the veil to spark our interest in the big picture again. Some people need to be shocked, with others, its more gentle, usually for those with more experience in mysticism. Yesterday I experienced a few synchronicities but I happened to be in suburbia. This was a great read and a lot more interesting. Mysticism seems to be amplified in nature settings or along ley lines, places with strong EMF, mystery spots, even certain rocks can hold information from long ago one can tap if the left logical hemisphere is not so dominant at the time, maybe from exhaustion, a traumatic event or meditation to calm that sucker down . So the 5 hour drive is worth it, if that’s what you are into. Just reading material like this gets me into a mystical frame of mind and the material world seems to melt away. The esoteric properties of plants can also be awe inspiring. An experience like that would spook me out tho, I much rather deal with formless forces, that I feel are just extensions of me, emanating from the right hemisphere of the brain. I have many aquarium fish and their behaviors and interactions with each other and me sometimes mirror the people in my life, kinda freaky, but so is life. Aquarium husbandry is one big hyper sigil/spell to me, like a voodoo doll. Most of the time my thinking is scientific, but all it takes is one tiny synchronicity to get me into the magickal frame of mind, and that’s better than movie night. If I had an experience like yours, I would rapidly look for a tool of divination to try to get a grasp on what it was about. I like meditating in nature or more precisely right at the boundary points between the civilized world and the nature reserves, as not to disturb the pristine wilderness, but that’s just me. I guess in my perspective, the boundary symbolizes the veil between the material rendering and the mystical/spiritual world its projected from. I watched a documentary on parallel universes today, even hard science hints at phenomena like this, albeit in a dry fashion. Have you tried spiritual drifting for divination? Drive or walk through a cross roads imagining a gate being opened in front of you as you drive. Ask a question on something you like more esoteric/hidden/occult information on. Then drive around and I am sure your answers will come in some very surprising ways. When you are satisfied, drive through another cross roads imagining the gates closing after you drive through them. The cross roads are just for symbolic purposes, like a sigil or ritual to trigger dormant occult faculties that lie in the subconscious bringing them forth to aid you in your quest. I found this out by reading Generation Hex an editorial by Disinfo. Probably the best piece of writing i’ve had the honor of reading yet.

    • Ted Heistman | Jan 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm |

      So you do a type of scrying with aquarium fish? That’s sounds fascinating! Could you tell me more about it? I used to keep several hundred gallons worth of aquariums filled mostly with cichlids.

      • lazy_friend | Jan 2, 2013 at 10:04 pm |

        Ill reply soon, let me just recover from the gym. its hard work looking good.

      • lazy_friend | Jan 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm |

        So here is how it happens. Its not so much that I make the phenomena happen, it just happens and ive noticed it. I have lots of guppies which i am now breeding, guppies are really happy go lucky social fish, and in my area we have a lot of club life people, like the jersey shore cast but not so vulgar, they just seem to love house music, looking good and cars. I am a friend and acquainted with many of them, just because of the shear saturation of these people in my area and because I dont really like to choose people. So naturally I see all the guppies I have as familiars to these types of friends. One day I decided that I wanted to start breeding them and placed all the females and males together, guppies breed easily but its hard to create a good strain as you got to cull or kill all the ones with genetics traits that are not what you are looking for, i use them as feeder fish to my oscars. All of a sudden all of the “Guido” couples started getting pregnant as soon as the guppies started breeding. People that never talked about having kids, reported being pregnant.
        I also have neon tetras, they school together, like church people but they also fight to figure out the pecking order, lol. We have a big catholic community here in town and I am friends with them too, even tho I dont like church or religion, I have no choice but to make contact with them as they are everywhere, live and let live. So the tetras were in a tank that was too small for them, I didnt know territory would be a problem with schooling fish but it seems that if they are at ease, they space out and need their own space. They started killing each other frequently in these pecking order battles. Coincidentally while this was happening in my tank I started hearing cases of people from the church getting hurt, one lost his finger in an accident with a snow blower, another got hit on the back by a pitch from one of those automatic pitching machines, a few who are really good soccer players lost bad in a tournament with a few injuries out of no where, not caused by defensive players. I moved the tetras to a new bigger tank with lots of hiding space and now they are peaceful, I have not heard of any more random freak injuries and the fish have established their pecking order and are now peaceful. It seems like some events connected to certain dominant stereotypical groups prominent in my area parallel what is happening in my aquariums. Ever since we entered the age of aquarius, I have become fascinated by aquariums, its an addictive hobby, the fish symbolism fits too with the previous world age of pisces. One more thing, I had a betta that had a stomach bloat due to a food blockage from being fed low quality food, I got it from my cousin, it was her fish. My uncle, her father, was also severely over weight with no signs of wanting to lose weight. I kept the fish for a bit, but he would only eat the low grade food and disregard the proper diet my other fish eat. It was suffering since the food blockage was affecting its swim bladder, so it could not swim down and around the tank. So I decided to end its suffering with a proper flush :(. Two weeks later my uncle decides to see a dietitian, so he could get on a controlled diet and lose weight. Now he lost like 200 pounds, has gained some back, but is no where near what he was before. I dont know why this happens, maybe because I am into magick and the occult, mysticism in general, but I cant help making the associations between events. true story bro

  4. Oginikwe | May 7, 2014 at 8:48 am |

    When I was an herbalist/ethnobotanist “in training,” we were taught to always honor families of the plants we were gathering. The same held true for the animals. The spiritual belief is that none of us really mind giving up our lives for a good cause and that demands honoring the life that is being taken. Also in that belief system, there is not a hierarchy of being: we are all on the same level and each enhances the lives of the others.

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