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11 November 2012 @ 04:15 pm
YaaD Work: Class 3: Totems  
This is one of the reflection papers I wrote as part of my Year and a Day (YaaD) of study with Fieldhaven Coven.

The question is drawn from the Greenhaven Tradition; the YaaD course is not published on the Greenhaven Tradition website, but is made available on a person-to-person basis. Material that is not so closely held is available at http://greenhaventradition.weebly.com/


Class 3, Paper 1 (after reading, before discussion): If you don’t already know your spirit guide(s), explore the notion now. Does this kind of relationship interest you, or not? What animals, plants, stones, or other things do you feel most attracted to? Which do you admire? What would you like to gain from a totem? What would you offer in exchange? Be ready to discuss your findings in class.

Assignment submitted October 24, 2011

Writing Assignment: YaaD Class 3 – Totem Reflection

Not only do I not have a spirit guide, I never even considered it, and still feel very uncomfortable about the whole idea. However, I will make a reasonable attempt (while visiting and so with supervision) to make some kind of connection, based on the traits my friends say they see in me.

I was rather hoping that squirrel would come up, because that's the one animal I feel some connection to: I am fascinated by the thieving little tree-rats, I am consistently amused by their antics, I have the same tendency to hoard so many things that I can't keep track of them all, I've been told by at least one person that my brain is like a squirrel on a wheel (that phenomenon has been described by another friend as, "Before you can do anything, you have to do something else first"), and for years I've been using a visualization of a squirrel as a sleep aid. Yes, really; it involves slowing down the wheel, picking up the squirrel, and gently petting it and talking to it until it calms down and curls up to sleep. By that time, my own thoughts are calm and I can sleep.

But squirrel didn't come up even once, so oh well.

You said animals, plants, stones, or other things: I have no attraction to plants; they're pretty, but I have the opposite of a green thumb and I've never bothered learning much about them. Same with stones; they're pretty, but I'm basically pig-ignorant about them. Books, on the other hand, books I'm deeply attracted to, but I don't guess Book could be a totem. Oh, and gadgets of all types; I can spend ages in cooking supply stores looking at all the nifty shiny things, or Brookstone, or even As Seen on TV stores. Gadget probably isn't a valid totem either, though.

I have no idea what I would gain from a totem / guiding spirit / what will you. From conversations with you, I gather that part of the deal is that the animal spirit can, if it so chooses, serve as a teacher, in particular as a trainer for traits that the human wishes to develop. Based on my poll, Elephant came up most often, both for traits my friends say I currently have and for traits they say I might want to cultivate; Dragon came up once for an existing trait and several times for desirable ones; and Wolf was evenly split between the two categories. I guess that would be one useful thing; that metaphysical mentoring.

What I would offer in exchange would, I suppose, depend on what spirit I connected with and what it said it wanted. For Elephant or Wolf, I might could contribute to wildlife sanctuaries and well designed zoos; I don’t know what Dragon would want, but I suspect it would have no problems whatsoever getting its point across. For any of them, I could commission and display or wear (as appropriate) art based on them.
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Johnjohnpalmer on November 13th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
Spirit guides can act as a teacher if you can journey or meditate with them - they may speak to you or otherwise converse with you directly. They can also provide a starting point. It's like drawing a tarot card to solve you problem - it's not that you'll draw the perfect card, but that the card might get you past "blank page syndrome" and start you thinking - and then you can keep going.

So, "how would Elephant handle this?" or "what does Wolf want?"

It can also help just to be a kind of a good/safe/comfortable space you create. Like your use of a squirrel image when going to sleep, in fact. If you have a guide/totem, then you can make that part of your mental-state setting.

Spiritually, if a spirit animal has sought you out, many (probably most) folks feel there's a reason for it, and it might be because you are kin to it (Snake was more kin to me than I realized - or was comfortable with!), or because you need it. You can seek what you need, or what you might develop, from the traditional traits of the animal - you might not realize what those traits were, but sometimes we just kind of intuit them, due to cultural heritage.
Janet Miles, CAP-OMjanetmiles on November 13th, 2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
I got the impression that it was very rare for a spirit guide / totem / critter to seek out the person, that nearly always the person needed to make significant effort to attract and retain the what-have-you. If your experience was different, would you be open to talking about that a bit?
Johnjohnpalmer on November 15th, 2012 09:29 pm (UTC)
Sure. Keep in mind that my training is from the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, which has a bit of a poor reputation in some parts of the pagan world, but I've also worked with non-FSS folks who had the same experience, if not the same teaching.

The idea is that everyone has a power animal (which doesn't need to be an animal, but often is). This animal is a guide and protector. You may not know who or what it is, but that doesn't matter for a lot of people. It does matter to some - if the relationship is severed, reconnecting can help heal or fill an emptiness.

The guide can change (does it change form, or is it a different spirit? Who knows? I like to think it's a different spirit - kind of an example of how no relationship is unchanging, but new ones form), but there's always something.

So, when you journey for a power animal, there's one that wants to meet you, and wants to share your journey with you. The foundation teaches you to watch for an animal to appear three times - this is what says it's a connection, and not just a random spirit that showed up. This animal will always have a gift for you (though it might simply be awareness of something that you already have).

At this point, the connection is made - but what happens next is up to you. What you do determines how the relationship grows and progresses. One could walk away from the relationship, and it will fade. Or, one can feed it by learning about the animal, helping care for the animal (in the spirit world or in the real one), and other methods that bring the animal closer to you.

This is different from some traditions and there are many shamanic traditions where a connection with a power animal is not easy. The Foundation *is* a bit of "shamanism for the masses" so it's only teaching about casual connections, and here, it's the student who must pursue deeper connections, and *that* might be where things get tricky.
Maggiesillymagpie on November 14th, 2012 02:16 am (UTC)
Crow was not a totem animal I had chosen. I always considered Crow and Raven too powerful and figured I would probably wind up having a domestic cat as a totem, since I liked their company and they would usually come to me.

Then I had a dream where I met Crow, who told me he was my totem and explained (I don't remember the exact wording) that he was part of my soul and I was part of his, in a sense. I gave him bread crumbs because he was hungry, and he explained he didn't really need a lot of food per se, just more or less the symbolic nature of it or occasional food. Then I dreamed that his left eye had been injured and needed to be healed (psychic side?). I had a very strong sense of connection and talked the dream over with one of my pagan friends who knew about totems.