We Are Bat Kin

Bats refuse to be exploited.

Amy Torok
Apr 4, 2024
12 min read
Photo by Igam Ogam on Unsplash

Welcome to the spring season of the Missing Witches podcast, our Kinship Season, which is dedicated to getting familiar with our familiars. This is where we take time to learn from our more than human kin. In the fall we’ll do a season dedicated to people stories again - our classic Missing Witches stories - and throughout the summer we’ll have Witches Found Interviews and episodes of the Rx. Our list of people, songs, and other media to learn about craft, magic, resistance, and re-enchantment is long. But in the spring we need to balance out against people-logic by digging into soil, learning about the plants and animals and rocks and winds and waters that are us too, as we wind our wild ways through the holobiont that we all are here on Earth. These episodes were originally conceived of as tongue-in-cheek anti-capitalist motivational meditations, and we hope you’ll take these offerings in that original sense: seed bombs hurled on the pristine dying lawns of Mondays. Blessed Fucking Be. 

For my half of this season of Kinship Meditations, I'm focusing on the animals I've met in my own backyard. Because while the exotic can be compelling, sometimes, you just have to get to know your neighbours. xoAmy

I am a creature of the night.  The bible says I’m unclean.  I’ve been painted as evil because I’m special in ways that people could not understand.  I fly in the dark, defying the laws of what men know. Mysterious, villainous, enigmatic, suspicious, monstrous, and full of secrets.

Misunderstood, yet integral to the workings of our world.

I am a witch and I am bat kin.

A group of bats is sometimes called a cauldron, so let’s gather in or around a cauldron and look for what we have in common, what we Witches can learn from bats.

Yes, we have been associated for centuries because of our dark mysteries, and we’ll see why and how, but first I want to put something of the bat into your blood:

Bats refuse to be exploited.

We are bat kin, and we refuse to be exploited.

In “Cooperation: How Vampire Bats Build Reciprocal Relationships” Gilbert Roberts writes:

“...helping others can be costly and leaves helpers open to being exploited by those who fail to return the favour. So, how can such reciprocal relationships get off the ground? A new study by Gerald Carter, Rachel Page and colleagues [...] reveals that vampire bats selectively build up grooming relationships before sharing more costly blood meals.”

See, some bats have such a fierce metabolism that if they go without food or water for only 24 hours, they can die.  Maintaining your own food or energy supply is very important to bats, but it also means that sometimes, other bats are gonna need help if we want our cauldron, or our species to survive.  So bats share.  But they have rules.  Bats build their relationships slowly, testing the reciprocity of other bats with mutual cleaning and toilettage before even considering sharing their food.  

Roberts writes, “Perhaps the most famous example of reciprocity in animals comes from the work of Gerald Wilkinson on vampire bats. Vampire bats are colonially roosting bats found in Central and South America which specialize in feeding on the blood of other animals. This can be risky, and a bat that has failed to feed is susceptible to starvation. Roost mates that have fed will sometimes regurgitate blood meals to those in need.”  

Vampire bats will approach the needy, rather than expecting the already depleted bat to come to them and ask for help.

But if these bats take and never give, the other bats stop helping them.

Side note: If you need to convince a capitalist, this argument in favour of bats and bat  preservation won’t work, so remind them that bats, providing natural pest control, save USAmerican farmers more than 3 billion dollars a year.  

As some of us may desperately need to hear today, bat relationships seem to be based more on relational reciprocity than on genetic familial ties.  Bats make chosen families, built on mutual support.

This is the lesson I need from my bat kin.

I grew up in a household where expectations were high and support was low.  And I went into my life thinking I had to keep giving blood, love, energy and kindness, even if it was never returned.

I’m learning to be Bat kin.  Learning how to step back from relationships that drain me.

There’s another story about bats I want to add to this cauldron, -  in an attempted weaponization of our bat kin, the military tested a method of strapping tiny bombs to live bats - the idea being that the bats would roost in enemy rooftops and eventually detonate, causing fires and explosions across targeted communities.  The project was abandoned when the bats, refusing to follow instructions upon release, returned instead to the military base, destroying much of the facility.

Bats refuse to be exploited.

We are bat kin, and we can refuse to be exploited.

Maybe this is the scariest thing about our bat kin.  Maybe this is what power-mongers truly need to fear: Co-operative communities of chosen families who feed each other, and refuse to be exploited. 

And maybe there’s a metaphor in there around echolocation too… many bats assess their surroundings by making ultrasonic sounds and listening for the echoes that return to them in order to plan their next move.  Be bat kin and put yourself out there, see what echoes back - is it trying to help you fly?  If not, disregard it.  Don’t let bad echoes run you down.  Don’t let distorted echoes take you off your path.

We had bats in the belfry in the house I grew up in.  I remember my mother and sister screaming and wildly swinging tennis racquets, but I was never afraid of bats until my step-dad trapped one in a wastepaper basket, and chased me around, laughing and brandishing the basket bat in my face until he backed me into a corner and I cried.  I was bat kin, and we were both scared.  Both struggling.  Both trapped.  

Much like witches, bats have been tortured in the name of discovery, forced to endure physical pain and mutilation to reveal their supposedly demonic secrets. Lazzaro Spallanzani was an Italian Catholic priest and biologist who was nearly driven to madness in his attempt to solve the mystery of bats’ ability to fly in the dark.  In 1793 he began his three-year study, subjecting hundreds of bats to painful mutilations, removing their eyes and burning their ears among other tortures, to determine, by process of elimination, what disability might render the bat flightless.  These experiments failed to reach any conclusions.  It wasn’t until he passed his research onto a Swiss colleague who packed the bats’ ears with starch instead of gluing them closed, that humans began to rudimentarily understand the process of echolocation - that bats might somehow see what they hear.

James Simmons, a professor of biology at Brown University, studies bats from a place of kinship instead, teases out their abilities through friendly and familial observation, and not surprisingly, has had better results than the bat witch hunters like Spallanzani.  In the documentary Secrets and Mysteries of Bats, James introduces us to his bat friend Melanie, lovingly scooping her out of her enclosure, and describes her as chasing insects for a living.  Melanie flies out of James’s hand and roosts in the corner.  That’s okay, says James, “she can stay there while we do our interview.”  And we get a sense that James’s desire to study bats comes from a sense of deep love, awe and admiration.

He says, “Lots of people are afraid of bats that come out at night -  people think bats are evil, they can find their way in the dark. Well that’s obviously a mystical process right there. They surely can’t be natural if they can find their way around in the dark.”

And I think Dr Simmons has hit the nail on the head for both bats and witches - despite us existing in nature for thousands or in the case of bats millions of years, if we have skills or traits that frustrate science, we are unnatural.  Mysticism is an abomination.

Witches were blamed for a smallpox outbreak that led, in part, to the Salem witch trials. And our bat kin were the first to be blamed for the spread of Covid-19. Quote:

Did bats cause the COVID-19 pandemic?”

“No, “the pandemic was caused by people. Human activities that alter the environment can increase the risk of disease spillovers from wildlife to people (a zoonotic spillover is the transmission of a pathogen from an animal to a human). The science writer, David Quammen, who has published two books on wildlife and diseases, [...]argues that we specifically made this pandemic (or epidemic as it was then) by engaging in unsustainable ecological destruction and the dangerous and devastating trafficking and illegal trade of wildlife for human consumption.”

Once again, we find humanity looking outside of itself to lay blame for the consequences of our own actions.

Looking at ultra close-ups of faces of some bats I thought, “wow they really do look like demons.”  Then I laughed at myself when it occurred to me that more likely, since bats have existed for about 50 million years, demons were drawn to look like bats.  Bats don’t look like demons.  Imaginary demons look like bats.  And even though science has come to understand their mysterious night flying ability, the bat is still relegated to the realm of fear - lumped together in gothy halloween spookery with graveyards and spiders and ghosts…and witches.

See how the world can trick us?  Train our brains to associate one thing with another until we don’t even realize or remember where the connection came from… Misunderstand, stereotype, categorize, pigeon-hole, repeat.

Leviticus 11:19 says of bats, “they are unclean to you”.  

Quote:As different-level.com points out, “In the early Middle ages the Devil, like any other fallen angel, was frequently presented with feathery wings, but after the 12th century, the wings turned into leathery bat-like wings. These leathery wings were popularised by the 14th century Dante Alighieri’s poem Inferno, which had a huge influence on future Satanic representations

In 1332 Lady Jacaume of Bayonne in France was accused of being a witch and burned alive in public.  The damning evidence against her was that crowds of bats were seen around her house and garden.  This association was all it took.

Because they are mammals who fly, like birds in disguise, with fur instead of feathers, the bat can represent duality or hidden identity.  Bruce Wayne chose his Batman persona because the bat instills fear.  He chose the bat because he knew it would make people afraid.

But I’m trying to not be afraid of my bat kin so, as has become my custom, I turn to the nature poetry of Mary Oliver for her loving perspective.


“In the blue air the bats float touching no leaf. science has shown how they capture their prey moths, mosquitoes -in the middle of flight in the fold of a wing, and how they hang by the millions, socially, in caves. But in the night still comes the unexplained figure slipping in and out of bedrooms, in and out the soft throats of women. for science is only the golden boat on the dark river of blood, where women dream such fur on the cheeks, such teeth behind the kiss.”

I sent a private message, asking fellow Mary Oliver stan, my covenmate Erin for their analysis of the poem.  Erin wrote:

“This poem has me thinking of the lesbian vampire trope. It’s hard for those holding white cishet patriarchal worldviews to make sense of sapphic love, by which I mean the feminine in romantic and sexual relationship with the feminine. There are also plenty of reasons to fear it, if you view a woman’s romantic and sexual love as a commodity that you are owed.So a lot of tropes and stereotypes are projected on sapphic love, and one of those is this idea that a woman in active romantic and sexual pursuit of the feminine is a vampiric predator. In the first half of the poem we have bats as friendly pals, eating pests and gathering socially. Humans are social animals too, so we see connection and solidarity there. Look, we’re just like you! Don’t be afraid of us, we only look scary, we’re actually beneficial to the ecosystem and mostly harmless. But there is another place to contend with: the place where the trope meets the truth. Sapphic love is powerful, and it’s fucking sexy. When you’ve already had to step outside of the normative boundaries regarding your sexuality, it can be less daunting to explore the depths of desire, pleasure, and the taboo. There *is* a dark river of feminine desire, and it is mysterious and tantalizing enough to steal away your wife and turn her into a vampire, a lesbian, a witch.”

Erin’s sexy take on Mary Oliver’s poem fits something else we know about bats; the reciprocity of bat relationships goes further than grooming and feeding - short-nosed fruit bats also engage in both fellatio and cunnilingus, making them one of the only non-primate species that we know of to do so.  Bats with penises and bats with vaginas perform oral sex on each other as a way of prolonging copulation.  And it works - bat sex that involves oral stimulation tends to last twice as long as bat sex that is merely penetrative.

Take note.  

I am bat kin and I’m fucking sexy, playful and reciprocal, terrifying puritan pearl-clutchers and religious zealots with my libidinous downtown freedom.

Indeed, bat symbolism can suggest that a hero is ready to transform and move forward

We are bat kin, ready to transform and move forward as the heroes in our own stories or someone else’s.

In a bout of gloriously witchy synchronicity, while I was working on this meditation, another coven mate, Hannah, posted in our Circle space, a painting of a bat she had created, so I had to ask why she chose to paint this particular creature.

Hannah's Bat painting

She told me her graduate thesis was about bat mortality at wind turbines. And said: “I love them for a lot of reasons- they pollinate some of my favorite fruits (mangoes and bananas), they're the only mammal that can truly fly and not just glide, and their babies hang onto them which is just adorable.”  

On the subject of adorableness, some bats are the size of hummingbirds, others have faces that look almost exactly like the most adorable creature in all existence - my miniature poodle Bijoux.

And it’s amazing to me that for Hannah and for us, studying our non-human kin, getting to know them, can remove our fears, pointing out that which is helpful, heroic, encouraging of growth, and even adorable.  Can we do this with people too?

Georges-Louis Leclerc aka Count Buffon, was a French naturalist in the 1700s who wrote of bats “their uncertain and clumsy flight is obvious proof of imperfection” and he saw bats as monsters.  But Dr Simmons reminds us that Buffon’s perception of bats as clumsy was due to his inability to truly see their grace. He said “they fly around in what looks like an erratic almost incompetent way - you don’t get to see the precision of the bats flight and behaviour with the naked eye at night. That’s a crucial thing that Buffon was unable to notice.” 

I am a witch, and bat kin, and those who paint me as imperfect, a monster, simply cannot see my grace.

In China, bats symbolize happiness. In Brazil, Ewaki was a goddess of dreams, sometimes represented as a bat.  In Samoan mythology, bats saved the life of a princess who had befriended them.  For some contemporary thinkers, because the bat is both bird and mouse, but neither bird nor mouse, they become symbolic of androgyny.  Both duality and wholeness. 

Remember, we Witches are bat kin - taboo, unnatural, communal, queer, horny, erratic, non-binary - what may be viewed by others as our ‘obvious proof of imperfection’, might in fact be our superpower.  What makes us different might make us scary, but it’s also what makes us so very special. There are around 1400 different types of bats, and millions of kinds of witches, each making its own unique contribution to ecology and to mystery. We are bat kin, and those who fear us are missing out on something spectacular.  

Hannah told me a bit more about her study and in doing so, gave me some more advice from our bat kin.  She said, bats “typically don't fly if wind speeds are higher in order to save their energy.”  So witches, my bat kin witches, if the wind speed is too high today, don’t fly.  Save your strength, save your energy.  

Witches, let us be bat kin, let us fly at night, let us be mysterious and sexy, not demons, but angels of the darkness, bringing grace to every movement, even if that grace goes unnoticed or is misunderstood.  Let us transform into heroes of happiness.  Let us hear the ultrasonic and see the invisible.  We are bat kin: Mystical, perplexing, adorable and ancient.

I am a creature of the night.  The bible says I’m unclean.  I’ve been painted as evil because I’m special in ways that people could not understand.  Mysterious, villainous, enigmatic, suspicious, monstrous, and full of secrets.

Integral to the workings of this world.

I see us from my window, flying shadows in the dusk amid the trees.  

I am a witch and I am bat kin, coven and cauldron.

We are bat kin.

Amy (she/they) is the co-founder of Missing Witches and co-author of Missing Witches: Reclaiming True Histories of Feminist Magic and New Moon Magic: 13 Anti-Capitalist Tools for Resistance and Re-Enchantment.

Amy supports the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal and Black Witch University.

Bat sound recordings provided by:

Bat Swarm SFX by Abacagi -- https://freesound.org/s/483397/

Bats 1.wav by iainmccurdy -- https://freesound.org/s/498406/

G12-35-Bats Chirping.wav by craigsmith -- https://freesound.org/s/437967

bats.wav by maxthrower -- https://freesound.org/s/170023/

Underneath Tree Full of Bats 1 min.wav by dannydandanshababaloo

Hundreds of bats screaming and coming out of their nest by felix.blume -- https://freesound.org/s/245768/

Tree Full of Bats.wav by dannydandanshababaloo -- https://freesound.org/s/593151/

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