Totems pronounced « Do-tems » is a Cree word that means « relations. » In ancient times totems were important to survival. They not only spoke about the people and how their human behaviors or abilities were similar to the animals in their environment but they also spoke of their Spirit Protectors and even magical and cultural status. The totems poles were built to speak of the community. Who was chief, warrior, healer etc…. When someone died a totem pole was sculpted to show that even after death we were connected and to leave a living archive for the people who stayed behind.
The whole topic of totems was serious business in so much that it spoke of political, economical and social relations. Certain totems were seen or understood as more meaningful or more powerful than others. If you lived out west for example the Raven was seen as an important totem. Chiefs and strategic warriors were often Ravens. Up north the Bear was seen as an important omen showing the birth of a healer, which was an important role in a community during times where survival was difficult. Buffalo for the plains people was a totem that spoke of peace and was often a totem for prophets or Holy People. Snakes, Spiders, Lizards were totems that were often associated with people who could dabble in magic. People understood people according to their totems. So for a very long time – totems were instrumental in inter-relationships.
How do you come to be a good judge of character? What do you use today to be able to understand better the people you connect to?
Definitely, it was also serious business at the magic or shamanic level. There are many stories about people who were able to travel to the dream space of others in the form of their totems and bring harm to the dreamer. In Mexico for example there are stories of people who were stung by Dream Time snakes and died. People have talked about being attacked by cougars or lions in their dreams and have woken up with the scratches or bite marks. Totems are not only symbols or what some call archetypes in Shamanism but powerful connections to the animals, which allow some people to be more than the human that they are…
TOTEMS as a word is defined as RELATIONS but when you begin to understand what relations means – you begin to see how totems can help anyone reach beyond the self and into the collective. It’s a powerful reality and experience. Relations means kinship. It’s not only about seeing behaviors of the mouse in yourself but about having a flesh and bone (blood ) connection with the animal. Soon you can smell and act like the mouse and get yourself out of any tight spot. Eventually, mice will recognize you as one of them and you’ll be able to will them to your intentions. I’m sure many of you have heard of people who can speak to their totems and can hear them as well.
Totems is serious business because it demands a profound understanding of the animals and their environment. Those who work best with totems are those who experience them in the wild. It helps to read books and watch documentaries on the animals that you like but to be able to speak of them as TOTEM – you have to encounter them out in nature and get a good grasp of who they are and how they survive. Only then, will you be able to connect beyond behavior and attitude; and truly see yourself as one of them.
Thank you to Pixie for the question on totems as serious business. I hope I’ve answered your question.
P.S. Deer is about choices whereas the Wapiti (Caribou) is about "not having a choice."