Lawrence, Elizabeth Atwood | Hunting the WrenHunting the Wren

Hunting the Wren

Transformation of Bird to Symbol

Lawrence, Elizabeth Atwood

Cloth Edition, $30.00s
Cloth ISBN: 0-87049-960-2
Status: Out of Print
Publication Date:

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"Lawrence offers us a superb case study of the ways humans use very particular characteristics of some animals to 'think about' deep human concerns, including the nature of the sacred. She weaves together into a coherent, analytical portrait a dazzling array of cultural narratives about the wren—including natural-history texts, first-hand accounts of the hunts and parades, the iconography of Victorian Christmas cards, the lyrics and music of folk songs, poetry, and Shakespeare."—Jay Mechling, University of California, Davis

A unique interdisciplinary study, this book examines the British and European tradition of the wren hunt, in which a bird ordinarily revered and protected for most of the year was killed around the time of the annual solstice. In focusing on this ancient ritual, Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence draws on her training in cultural anthropology and biology to cast a fresh light on the complexities of human-animal relationships.

Following an introductory chapter on animal symbolism, Lawrence proceeds in subsequent chapters to describe the wren both as a biological entity and as the subject of numerous tales and legends, to delineate the details of the wren hunt ceremony and the various meanings ascribed to it, and, finally, to relate the ceremony to important contemporary issues in human-animal interactions and current attitudes toward the living environment. Whereas most other studies tend to concentrate solely on human perceptions of animals and fail to include the animal's role in the relationship, Lawrence's approach shows how the participation of both animal and human determines the symbolic status of the animal—which in turn influences the treatment of that animal within a particular society.

At a time when human destructiveness toward nature has reached tragic proportions, Lawrence contends, it is critical that we understand the processes by which certain cultural beliefs, in combination with observations about the natural history of a particular animal, result in emotional and mental responses that may ultimately determine the fate of that species. The author argues persuasively that the wren hunt—with its ancient roots, associated beliefs, and complex meanings in the preindustrialized world—still has much to teach us.

The Author: Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, a veterinarian as well as an anthropologist, is professor of environmental studies at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. The recipient of numerous awards for her work on human-animal relationships, she is also the author of Rodeo: An Anthropologist Looks at the Wild and the Tame, Hoofbeats and Society: Studies of Human-Horse Interactions, and His Very Silence Speaks: Comanche—The Horse Who Survived Custer's Last Stand.

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