Janet Miles, CAP-OM (janetmiles) wrote,
Janet Miles, CAP-OM

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 2a (makeup for failed paper). This paper was accepted.

Assignment submitted November 9, 2011

Writing Assignment: YaaD Class 3 – Totems – Makeup Paper

Overview of Totems

Although the word "totem" is originally specific to Shamanism, many cultures have had some practice of working with animal allies / animal spirits / familiars, and the word totem has come into common usage to mean any of those things. [Franklin, WYS] These animal familiars or totems exist in the spirit world, as symbols for (or manifestations of or representations of) the qualities or attributes of the species as a whole, rather than of an individual animal. [Franklin] Because they are spiritual rather than physical, totems may include extinct species such as woolly mammoths or even mythical creatures such as dragons. [Franklin]

There are multiple types and aspects of totem animals / familiars, including:
  • Journey animal, which comes to the practitioner for a period of time to guide him or her on a specific path. [SNW]
  • Message animal, which comes to the practitioner briefly to bring a specific message or piece of information – or, occasionally, to cause a delay so as to avoid a problem or be available for some person or event. [SNW]
  • Nagual, a guardian spirit. [Franklin]
  • Shadow animal, which can confer great power but will require the practitioner to pass some kind of test or ordeal to achieve it; an animal spirit that appears frightening or threatening may in fact be a shadow totem. [SNW]
  • Tonal, the animal of the inner soul; the tonal’s attributes determine or parallel those of the practitioner. [Franklin] This may be the same as the life-long animal totem. [SNW]
  • Totem, which implies a blood relationship, generally between an entire clan and an animal. [Franklin, JSG]

An animal ally may assist a practitioner in many different ways, depending on the type of totem it is and on the practitioner's needs. It may:
  • “Shape our lives, guide our choices, offer messages … of pure intent.” [WYS]
  • Affirm one’s spiritual goals. [WYS]
  • Allow shapeshifting [Franklin, VW, JSG]
    • By creating a thought form of the animal in the Otherworld [Franklin]
    • By merging with the totem animal in the Otherworld while retaining human intelligence [VW, Franklin)
    • By “borrowing” an actual living animal’s perceptions; this may be dangerous to the animal and may therefore be considered dubiously ethical [Franklin]
    • By manipulating one’s aura to force a physical transformation into the animal; this is something only the most powerful and skilled of practitioners can accomplish [Franklin]

  • Bring comfort, moral support, or even healing to the person. [Franklin]
  • Guide the practitioner in acts she or he may not be able to do alone. [Franklin]
  • Guide the practitioner through the Otherworld. [Franklin]
  • Inspire the practitioner to face his or her deepest fears, learn the lessons behind those fears, and integrate those lessons into life. [SNW]
  • Model traits that the individual wishes to or needs to emulate or learn; “provide benchmarks of appropriate behavior.” [WYS]
  • Provide additional strength and power for a practitioner's work. [Franklin]

It is generally necessary to make a deliberate, conscious effort to meet or acquire a familiar or animal ally, although occasionally an ally will present itself unlooked for; this is more likely to happen in a time of crisis such as serious illness. [Franklin] However, it is also possible that one may have an ally or totem without realizing it or acknowledging it, and simply need to recognize the existence of the totem. [SNW, VW] In general, the animal spirit chooses the practitioner, rather than the practitioner choosing the ally. [WYS, JSG, SNW] While a practitioner may have one particular ally who remains close for a long time, other allies may come and go to assist with specific problems or concerns. [JSG]

If a potential ally or totem has not made itself known, and the practitioner chooses to seek one out, it may be possible to do so in the physical world, such as by self-assessment and observation; research and the study of animal characteristics and other natural history; intentional observation of the physical world and any animals that appear; dream analysis; journaling; and genealogy. [WYS, SNW, VW] If these methods are not sufficient to discern or make contact with an animal spirit, it may be necessary to journey into the spirit world to do so. [Franklin, WYS]

Different cultures and traditions have embraced different means to enter the Otherworld, including herbs, chanting, dance, body control such as fasting or sleep deprivation, trance or meditation, and ritual. [Franklin] A ritual to attract a familiar might be as simple as writing the name of the desired animal, offering honor to it (such as by burning incense or providing a gift), calling to the essence of that animal, and asking if it will offer assistance. [VW] It could also be as complex as traveling to a sacred or other appropriate location, fasting, burning specific herbs and other components, chanting, and negotiating terms and conditions. [Brust]

Trance work (also called meditation or pathworking) can be an alternative to a ritual. [Franklin, WYS] Again, it can be as simple as meditating regularly on the idea, “This moment, my animal totem connects with me.” [WYS] It can also be as complex as a multi-page guided meditation involving walking through a forest, entering a clearing, meeting with the Lord of the Animals (Cernunnos or Pan), and allowing him to designate a familiar. [Franklin, MY]

For some individuals, the process of connecting with an animal ally and working through any issues surrounding that may be unpleasant, even an ordeal, as with many kinds of Shamanic initiations. However, doing so may lead to greater abilities and access to greater powers. [Franklin]

Very few people would deliberately choose to undergo these types of experiences. They reach into the darkest corners of the mind and pull out the monsters into full view. Yet this is exactly what the would-be shaman, witch or magician chooses to do, to know himself or herself fully, to deal with the demons of the mind, to be refined by suffering and initially traumatic and testing contact with the Otherworld before they can even begin to obtain their powers and practice their art. This cannot be avoided, when you begin to practice magic you are putting yourself before powerful forces and all your flaws and defects will be found out. [Franklin, p. 27]

Once the connection has been made to a particular animal ally, it can be reached at any time by entering a trance state – although the practitioner may have to go looking for the familiar. [Franklin] It is appropriate to welcome and appreciate the familiar before asking any specific questions. [Franklin] The wise practitioner will maintain an ongoing relationship with the familiar, remembering to consult with it regularly, offering invitations to participate in ritual, or even leaving physical treats suitable to the particular animal. [Franklin]

Squirrel as Totem
The squirrel is associated with the Norse god Thor – for whom the squirrel Ratatosk serves as a messenger – and the Celtic goddess Maeve, with the element of Fire, and with the festival of Ostara. [Franklin] Physically, squirrels are small (about 9 inches to 12 inches long, and weighing a pound or less), with a lifespan of about six to nine years. They are primarily vegetarian although they do eat insects. [Franklin]

As a familiar, the squirrel teaches prudence, through its habit of storing nuts for the winter; how to acquire and use personal power; and concentration and focus, as it carries messages up and down the world-tree. [Franklin] The appearance of a squirrel ally can be a message to take life less seriously and have more fun; conversely, it can indicate a need to look to one’s own provisions both short-term and long-term or “to be mindful of the metaphorical seeds we plant in our own lives as we will surely reap the consequences.” [WYS] Squirrel may also be an indicator of change, whether positive or negative. [JSG] Qualities of a squirrel totem may include energy, play, balance (in not over-preparing), resourcefulness, effective communication with others, and vitality. [WYS] As noted above, these may be qualities the practitioner already has or qualities that he or she needs to develop.

Wolf as Totem
The wolf is associated with a wide range of gods and heroes, including Romulus and Remus, Ares, Cernunnos, Brighid, Loki, and Odin. Wolf is associated with the element of Earth, and with the quarter of the year from Samhain to Imbolc. [Franklin]

Many cultures, including Druids, ancient Egyptians, and Native Americans, regard wolves as exceptionally wise. [Franklin] Wolves are often taken as companions by heroes, including St. Francis of Assisi, Odin, and St. Brigit. [Franklin] Wolves are reputed to have nurtured kings and leaders, such Romulus and Remus, King Cormac of Ireland, and Genghis Khan. [Franklin, WYS] Because wolves are ferocious hunters and killers, many Saxon and Danish kings took wolf names to show their own ferocity, and at least two Scottish clans (MacLennan and MacMillan) are associated with wolves. [Franklin] Wolves are associated with both solar (Apollo) and lunar (Ceridwen) deities. [Franklin] Werewolves, or shape-shifted man-wolves, occur in both Greek and Celtic histories. [Franklin]

As a totem, wolves can teach self-reliance and looking inward rather than outward for answers, development of instincts and psychic abilities, and personal responsibility. [Franklin] Wolf allies may also help the practitioner learn to read Nature signs, evade danger, and still fight when necessary. [JSG] Despite their ferocious reputation, wolves are intelligent, social, loyal animals, with excellent communication skills; a person with a wolf totem is likely to be very expressive, eloquent, and creative. [WYS] Attributes of a wolf totem may include intelligence, cunning, friendliness, generosity, and compassion, as well as instinct, steadfastness, and managing change well. [WYS, VW]


Brust: Jhereg, Steven Brust

Franklin: Familiars: Animal Powers of Britain, Anna Franklin

JSG: http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Celtic/animalallies.html, referencing Oak, Ash & Thorn by DJ Conway

MY: http://www.mysticfamiliar.com/library/meditation/sp_animal_totem_med.htm

SNW: http://www.spiritualnetwork.net/totems/ and linked pages

WYS: http://www.whats-your-sign.com/animal-totems.html and linked pages

VW: http://angelbreath.homestead.com/files/vwatindex.htm and linked pages

Tags: pagan

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