I was recently talking to a friend about animal totems and the spiritual messages and signs that nature provides.
That conversation became the inspiration for this blog. It was a thought provoking conversation between two spiritual people. We talked about how many cultures have been more open to seeing animals as messengers for source/spirit/god/supernatural energy. We discussed some of the ways that we have individually felt a tug of knowing that something was a “sign”. We even discussed some of the powerful and affirming animal totem experiences that have appeared in our own lives.
By the way – It is still sometimes hard for me to type out sentences like that last one. The spiritual world is new to me. I am a “scientific spiritualist”. It is science and archaeology that has convinced me that things such as energy healing, connection to a universal source of energy, heart energy, animal totems, power of intention and manifestation really are part of this beautiful connected universe. I found my spiritual connection in my mind first and then my heart. I am still finding my way but it has been a beautiful journey. As I am so joyful, connected and happy….I hope that this blog I am writing helps people that are searching for their own connection.
But back to that inspiring discussion around animal totems…Perhaps it will be useful to outline some very interesting and provoking history of totems or “signs” found within our ever evolving species. Some of the oldest totemic symbolism has been found within the Sanxingdui Culture in southern China. Chinese transliterates totem as tuteng (圖騰). Sanxingdui bronze masks and heads (radiocarbon dated circa 1200BCE) appear to have been mounted on wooden poles. Some scholars have suggested that totemic culture spread from ancient Asian populations to the rest of the world. Others conclude that totemism arose separately in numerous cultures; totemic cultures in North America are estimated to have been more than 10,000 years old. Continents appear to have uniformly found their way to honoring animals. North and South American Native Indian tribes, Himalayan/Tibetan, European, Middle Eastern and African cultures have left artifacts that honor animal energies. We find that honor of animal energy archaeologically in coats of arms, totem beads, totem poles and other unmistakable monolithic carvings and drawings.
If totemism arose separately in numerous cultures, which it appears to have….why? Was there a connection between animal and man that was deeper in a simpler time? Was there a time that we understood a bit more connection and energy within the universe? When we placed ourselves above the natural world and animals became mere domesticated or wild beasts…did we lose something?
The modern new age take on totems is also fascinating. Spiritanimal.info breaks down various archetypal energy meanings of animals. Quoted from the website introduction “Following the footsteps of many traditions from all around the world, and based on modern principles of psychology and intuitive work, its goal is to present information in a format that is easy to read for anyone curious about the world of spirit or power animals. At the same time, it also intends to convey the deeper, mystical, and spiritual meanings associated with the animals and our relationship to them as spirit guides and totems. In many traditions, our relationship with the spirit of animals is a reminder that all life is sacred. From the dawn of times, humankind had a relationship with animals, not just in the physical realms, but also in the spiritual ones.”
Should we continue to assume that all of these cultures (modern new age or ancient) are mistaken in paying attention to archetypal energies within nature? These many various cultures identified, validated and associated certain animals with certain energies which became influences which became part of their way of flowing through life. Were the ancient cultures ignorant? Is the modern new age culture mistaken? Are we, as the new cultural majority, ignorant of something that was lost? How does a totem pole provide a clue to something of value in this winter day in February, 2014?
Some personal examples that I hope will be helpful –
Let’s start with the crow – messenger of transformation, death, rebirth and sometimes even trickery. You perhaps watched the movie “The Crow”. The clever crow is one of the better known totem energies thanks to popular culture. It only takes a few google clicks to find fairly remarkable everyday occurrences of crows gathering outside the windows of the dying. Why? Crows are the smartest of the bird kingdom but why would they possibly have such a frequent gathering around souls passing? Why do we feel intrigue or some deeper meaning by this black feathered bird in particular? Why do crows appear at times of transformation?
How did crows signify something relevant in my own life?
In the worst days of a dysfunctional relationship from my past – the crows appeared. I knew that my choice to be in this relationship was a poor one. I knew that I was struggling to live in my truth as long as I stayed in that relationship. I often spent hours a day wondering how I had allowed myself to be with someone that was so incapable. I felt stuck. I knew I should go but I didn’t want to acknowledge that the relationship had been so harmful and utterly foolish. Crows started to appear outside the bedroom window at night. First a single crow appeared on a branch on a rainy evening. This crow was joined by another crow and then more crows as the weeks went on. Eventually 8 to 10 crows were staring in the windows some evenings. They would perch on the branches of the tree looking into the windows. Some nights it would become so eerie that I would close the curtains. If I looked out the window they remained in their perches looking in as though they could see something even through the curtains. As weeks went on the crows became more openly present and difficult to ignore. Crows would land on fences near the park that I walked through. They would caw loudly and drop sticks as I walked through a local college campus. They would perch across the condo courtyard and caw loudly as I sat on the deck drinking a glass of wine pretending all was well. The crows would even hop along a power line on a busy intersection toward the last days of this “death and rebirth” that needed to occur. More interestingly as I left the relationship and moved into healing the crows disappeared. They followed me to my new home but then as my healing began in earnest they just simply stopped appearing in my everyday life.
Then came the dead birds on sidewalks. I have lived in downtown Chicago for over 11 years now. I rarely saw dead birds. I had encountered a mere one or two dead birds in a ten year span. Last spring, as I faced leaving my business career behind and embracing a spiritual career…dead birds began to occasionally appear along the busy city street that I would walk along each day. In the first occurrence the bird appeared to have just died. Its feathers were so beautiful. It looked as though it had stopped breathing moments before I almost stepped on it. I looked around to see if there were any open windows. It looked like a bird that had been a pet. I wondered if it fell or flew out of one of the surrounding lofts. It seemed like such a waste of life. I have to admit that I felt a tug of something personal when I looked down at that first dead bird. A second dead bird (similar in appearance to the first) showed up a few day’s later. It caught my attention in that it was so odd. When the third dead bird showed up the very next day…. I turned to trusty google.
As I sat down in front of my computer I truthfully assumed that the Chicagoland area had perhaps been contaminated with some pollutant that was harming the birdlife. Surely there was some news coverage? No such contamination was found online however a very interesting “animal sign” blog with thousands of blog comments did surface. The blog outlined that finding dead birds was often accompanied by leaving an old outdated way of life behind and the need to embrace a new way of living. There were more than a few posts about finding dead birds. There were thousands of posts on this site…all posts from people that were instinctively realizing that finding a dead bird represented something more than finding a dead bird. The comments uniformly echoed some time of life change. I could understand the personal symbolism in the type of bird that I found dead and where I found the birds. The birds continued to show up periodically every few weeks all summer long. Always these wasted lives were lying somewhere on a sidewalk and always along the street I walked and lived on. Inevitably the appeared as my thoughts churned around making a spiritual career change…always as I was coming and going in a bit of a lost way.
As I made my way into my new career the birds simply stopped being found on my daily path. I am in a spiritual career now. You probably know that from the type of subjects I discuss in these blogs if you are reading this at this moment. No more crows, dead birds on my path or spiders (an altogether fascinating tale that is completely personal) however I do see other things at times that catch my attention. It is something that I pay more attention to now. I am not suggesting people walk around finding meaning in every little bit of the animal and insect kingdom. But when something unusual occurs with an animal totem energy and it catches my attention I now recognize the tug of “a sign”.
That “tug” of knowing….it is what I think our ancestors recognized. I think they recognized many energies that we no longer understand. Perhaps the knowledge is something that we should seek rather than assuming that the cultures that honored animal energies, totems, signs and meanings were ignorant. Isn’t it possible that something was lost along the way as our modern culture detached itself from the natural world and rushed into the industrialized world? Isn’t it possible that there was a time that we understood energy in a completely different way? Perhaps man’s journey isn’t just to the frontier of industry and progress. Perhaps our journey should include a quest for some of the natural knowledge we discarded along our way to today. Perhaps we should reconsider what those ancient cultures tried to teach us?
“You are part of everything! You are part of the fire, you are part of the water, you are part of the green, you are part of the stars, and you are related to everything. You are related to the stones, to the trees, to the fish, to the creepy-crawlers, to the ones that fly, to the ones that walk on all fours, and to the ones that walk on two legs. Everything is sacred and, therefore, you are sacred too. That’s what we mean when we say, Mitakuye oyasin.” Wallace Black Elk, Sicangu Lakota Spiritual Elder
Further explanation of spirit animal totems –
The simple light that comes from the complicated darkness begins with the awareness that everything is connected.