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 2 (after class discussion). Choose a totem animal and write a one-page paper about it. Include its physical analog and its spiritual powers according to one or more traditions. Note that different cultures may ascribe very different properties to the same animal; you may find this worthy of exploration.
Note: This paper was failed for not meeting the minimal requirements of the question.
Assignment submitted October 26, 2011
Writing Assignment: YaaD Class 3 – Totem Paper: Elephant
Physically, elephants are the largest land mammals. There are three living species of elephants: African Bush, African Forest, and Asian (Indian). While African and Indian elephants can, technically, interbreed, mixed-species calves born in captivity have been deformed and died young. Elephants are intelligent, with excellent memories, and are apparently self-aware enough to recognize themselves in mirrors. Their prehensile trunks are used for eating, drinking, breathing (while swimming), and social interactions. Their tusks, also known as ivory, are prized by humans. Their large ears help with cooling and may be used for threat display during mating season. They communicate by sound, including subsonics. Elephants have been used as working animals and war animals for centuries.
Female elephants are herd animals, and several cows will work together to raise one female's calf. Males tend to be more solitary but do sometimes form loose groups known as bachelor herds. Male dominance battles are typically more bluff than actual combat, although injuries can occur during mating seasons. Elephant mating is, to human eyes, affectionate: the elephants "nuzzle" each other, stroke each others' trunks, and put their trunks in each others' mouths. Same-sex mating, including mounting, is seen frequently, usually between an older male and one or two younger males; these relationships tend to be ongoing, unlike mating for procreation. Adult, healthy elephants have no predators other than humans, who kill them for their tusks and destroy their habitats.
Spiritually, elephants are revered by several cultures. The elephant was the totem of Shiva, one of whose offspring was the elephant-headed god Ganesh, remover of obstacles. The supreme god Indra rode a white elephant; Krishna (one of the incarnations of Shiva) could assume the form of an elephant, and Krishna's wife was called Radha ("She Elephant"). White elephants are still considered sacred. The term "white elephant" meaning something useless may derive from the supposed practice of the emperor's giving an actual white elephant to an annoying courtier (who could not refuse such an honor), so that the courtier would be forced to pay for the animal's food and lodging.
Buddhist tradition says that the Buddha took the form of a white elephant as one of his incarnations, and/or that a white elephant appeared to the Buddha's mother while she was pregnant, and/or that Ganesh impregnated the Buddha's mother, and this is why the Buddha was so gentle and so wise. The Chinese Buddhist god P'u Hsien is described as riding a white elephant.
The Greek/Roman god Dionysus/Bacchus was sometimes shown riding in a chariot pulled by elephants; they represented long life and immortality.
An elephant god "Lord of Hosts" and Virgin Mother Neith were worshipped in North Africa and Egypt; one source states that Jewish mercenaries in the fifth century BCE claimed that their god was the same as the elephant god. Later Jewish and Christian scholars, of course, considered it repugnant to suggest that YHVH might have had a female consort. In African fables, the elephant is wise, kind, noble, and sometimes overly sympathetic such that he is cheated by wicked characters.
Elephants are associated with gentleness, commitment, communication, inclusiveness, listening and understanding, as with nurturing and feminine energies, and with sexual prowess. One source suggests that just as elephants have limited peripheral vision, so those for whom elephant is a spirit animal tend to have a forward focus rather than seeing the whole picture.