Do you think of our bushy tailed friends as industrious or mischievous? I think I can both sides lurking in our DM Collection friend. He's in full nut-gathering mode, but wait - is that a twinkle in his eye?
Packing away nuts ready of the cold annual winter's famine - squirrels are certainly well-prepared and responsible. Yet in folklore across the world, squirrels are also seen as cheeky and mischievous.
In Old Norse myth the squirrel Ratatoskr uses timeless tactics like 'did you hear what he said about your mother?' to provoke conflict between the creatures living in the great tree. Native American legends also show the squirrel as a mischievous prankster. These cultures also hold the belief that the squirrel was once a huge beast, bigger than great bears, but seeing how aggressive the giant squirrel was the Creator shrunk him down to his current size. This frustration could well be what leads him to his tricks.
Centuries later Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin is also an impertinent fellow. Whilst the other squirrels are meekly grateful to the Owl for allowing them to collect nuts from his trees, little Nutkin taunts him with irritating riddles. Eventually, the small squirrel goes too far and the Owl threatens to skin him alive. He is spared but from then on is much less keen on riddles.
But there is the other side of a squirrel's nature. The squirrel industriously spends his time storing food for the winter, showing a foresight and commitment that is surely a great moral for any story. The squirrel is also used to show the benefits of kindness to others in fable. In adaptations of the Ant and the Grasshopper, a band of squirrels save the reckless grasshopper in the depths of winter, after he has been refused help by the hardworking ant. The grasshopper then plays his fiddle for them and they all enjoy a winter's party.
There is also a fable telling of a group of three red squirrels who find their cheeky grey cousin has stored most of the nuts before they can get them. He refuses to share with them and they suffer a precarious winter existence. Next year the tables are turned, as the three reds get to the nuts first.
So which side of the squirrel's character appeals to you? Either one there's always a tail to tell.
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It seems that wherever man has been, and a cat of some sort, you’ll find tales of people shapeshifting into felines. In fact the only places on earth where it’s safe from the werecat are Australia and Antartica; two continents which don't have a native cat - I hear they have their hands full with werekangeroo’s and werepenguine’s as it is!