The Folklore of Snow Leopard

It's one of those days where you can't really tell whether it's cloudy or sunny. Outside is a mish-mash of weather and emotions. Perfect for the paradoxical existence, this kind of day always touches upon the idea that the world is strange. Wild bliss and peaceful chaos. These are the kinds of days when snow leopard likes to come out. Probably because snow leopard is full of paradox and opposites.

There's a legend about that, actually. They say that there are only female snow leopards. This is because there are only male otters, and once a year the snow leopards come down from their mountains and the otters come up from their lakes, and they mate. The female (the snow leopard) carries the babies, and when the time comes for their birth she returns to the lakes, where the male cubs go off with their fathers and become otters, while the mother takes the females up into the mountains with her to be snow leopards.

Snow leopard legends and folklore are few and far between, giving an elusive and tantalizing quality to them, much like the cat itself. Although, even when I do manage to grab at a legend, it is so small a piece of information that still I am mostly left with that same evanescence. Which, I suppose, is a trademark of the snow leopard.

In the Pamir region of northern Pakistan, they say, the herders, that the pasture regions are a part of a spirit realm called mergich. In order to find good hunting and herding areas, one must respect the laws and customs of the spirits who govern this realm, the mergicham, who often take the shape of animals to communicate with humans. The most revered and powerful of these is the snow leopard, and it is believed that without the help of the snow leopard, no hunter can ever succeed.

I like that in all the snow leopard legends, the animal is respected. In fact, to those in the latter bit of folklore, the snow leopard is to be treated as equal to humans. The use of the snow leopard's land for sustenance and survival is equated with help from other humans in times of need.

There is another piece of folklore from the Upper Manang region of Nepal, where they say that the snow leopard is born to carry out sinful acts by killing other animals; it does, as Giles from Buffy says, 'What other people can't, what they shouldn't have to.' Like Loki, doing what he has to so that the necessary change can occur and the world can be made better.

In most places where the snow leopard has made its presence quietly known, it is considered to be something of a god, or at the very least an ancient mountain-spirit. There is, in Tibet, a story about a poet-saint called Milarepa, who lived an wicked, sinful existence, but one day had a sort of epiphany and decided that he was going to atone for all his sins by becoming enlightened in one lifetime. He succeeded, and when he did finally become enlightened, he became a snow leopard.

I love what snow leopard is -- mostly because it's what I am, and what I would like to be. The shadows of fear meshed with the pale glow of almost-dawn. The breath that keeps me going, the constant hunt. Dynamic and flawed existence, wild and beautiful.


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August 2, 2005