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12 January 2013

a is for apes... in oracles

A while back I had an idea to create an oracle or tarot deck full of primates. This post is venture number one into that endeavor. It also conveniently features the letter A, thus fitting neatly into the Pagan Blog Project schedule. Win!

I'll start with apes.

But... there are some big differences between the different apes, you say?
Indeed. Don't worry, I'm all over it.

I'm debating whether or not to include humans when I actually make the cards. For now, I'm toying with that idea and trying to develop it a little more fully. Until then, let's discuss the ape family and some of its other members.

The scientific name of the family of apes is Hominidae, by the way. Little bit of trivia for ya. It includes all the "great apes" and humans, with orangutans in one subfamily and the rest of us - gorillas, chimps, and humans - in the other. Chimps and humans are even in the same tribe; the gorillas have their own tribe.

Did I say trivia? Well, it might be meaningful to this post after all. Let's see.

Oh, and in case you're wondering how I'm going to do cards for all 500+ species of primates, or how I'm going to group them without glossing over essential character differences in species, this post will be a great example of that. See, there aren't that many ape species, but some of them would be repetitious. Take gorillas and chimps, for example... well, hang on. Hold that thought.

Ok, so there are two recognized species of gorillas: eastern gorillas, which live in the lowlands of central Africa, and western gorillas, which live in the mountainous rainforests of central Africa. There are more similarities than differences in these species. They weren't even separated into two species until relatively recently. So, gorillas will be one card; the lessons each species has to teach is inclusive of both.

Chimps, on the other hand... there are two species of chimps, too, but these two species are vastly different in their behavior and ecologic solutions, thus they have very different lessons for us. Each species will have its own card.

Make sense? That's how I'm going to do this - one family/tribe/genus/species at a time.


Apes do have some common themes. Perhaps the group of them could almost be considered a sort of 'suit' - much like the suits of a playing card deck or a standard tarot - only there won't be enough apes to make a full suit. Regardless, the common themes of apes should be known and recognized in the deck I'm building.

So, without further ado, here they are: the themes you've been waiting for (or at least, the themes I've been waiting for)...

Apes are the thinkers of the primates; they use tools and seem capable of learning language (personally, I would argue that the great apes do, in fact, use language - maybe better than some humans I know - but that's a hotly debated topic). They have complicated social systems and emotions. They hunt, make war, practice altruism, heal each other, they experience joy and grief. They are the thinkers, and the feelers; great apes are the nearest of our kin. Though each species of ape has a different story to tell, a different lesson to teach, it's likely that the lesson will be related somehow to those truths. Their theme is social cognition: how do we think about our interactions? How do we act on our feelings? How do we process emotions and empathy?


Next time, I'll talk specifics: Bonobos.


  1. This is an interesting idea, particularly for me as a rusty old Anthropology major with a focus on Primatology, more specifically, primate behavioural ecology, social dynamics & sexual selection. I look forward to where you take this.

    Questions for you: 1) Will you be including the lesser apes in your cards & discussions? 2) Will you be including the prosimians in your deck, or only the monkeys, apes & humans? Just wondering since I have a special fondness for the prosimians, but I recognize that they have a very different manner of thinking than our closer relatives.

    It is always nice to stumble across bloggers with similar interests. ;)

    1. Yay! I love meeting fellow Primatology people! I'm finishing up a dual Anth/Psych BA, then going into Evolutionary Psych for grad school. If only I'd known this stuff was so fun the first time I went to college!

      I'm planning on taking some key species from each major group, so yes, lesser apes, prosimians, old & new world monkeys, greater & lesser apes, taursiars, etc, etc. It's not so much about focusing on their specific cognitive capacities as it is about what that species has to teach us, which could be communicated via a deck of cards.

      Hmm, in hindsight, I should have labeled this post "great apes" instead of just "apes"... or included lesser apes, which was my original intention... Oversight on my part.

      I'm not sure exactly how many cards I'll end up with. Haven't gotten that far yet, but probably between 50 and 80. I'd prefer not to get bigger than a tarot deck - those are hard enough to shuffle as it is.

      This all started with a post on vervets, late last year. I'm pretty sure it's tagged under "primates" if you're interested.

    2. i love the idea. i think a similar one crossed my mind once a long, long time ago. nowadays, however, i take my lessons from fungi, so i suppose my dream-if-i-wasn't-tending-to-children would be to create a fungal deck. tho, come to think of it, i might need to make more than one, there are so many! ;)

      vervets. yes. i will take a look. ;)