Totem is a word that comes from the Ojibwe language and it means relation or kinship. It’s clear that at some point in time our ancestors were so closely related to their environment that they experienced deep connections with animals, trees, seasons, and even natural elements. Totem like many other words within the Aboriginal language reaches beyond definition to experience in order to be understood and yet, one thing is for sure we can never fully and completely recapture its full meaning in modern existence because today doesn’t offer yesterday’s totemic world. Now, I find that lots of our totemic connections are romantic and poetic mostly because we don’t spent that much time in our natural habitat. Plus, we’ve influenced our natural environment so much so that many of the plants, animals, and birds especially can no longer be considered wild. They now depend on us to survive.
This past summer we gave a workshop in Kingston, Ontario. On our way back home we stopped by one of the Great Lakes and enjoyed a picnic by the water. In less than a few minutes we were literally harassed by a flock of seagulls. While a few individuals took it upon themselves to scare the birds away, others were somewhat upset with this behaviour and preferred to feed the gulls instead. Soon it became a heated debate on what was right or wrong when it came to treatment of these birds. One thing that we all agreed on in the end was that we should never feed birds or wild animals because once we feed them they stop feeding themselves and rely solely on humans. Unfortunately once we start meddling we decrease their survival potential. Plus, French fries are not exactly nutritious for humans so they are certainly not healthy for gulls either. I pointed out to everyone that even though there was no deep emotional connection between the seagulls and members of our group that day, the way we expect when speaking of totems, the birds still managed to touch us in a very particular way. They left us with a lesson that most probably will influence each and everyone of us until the rest of our lives.
“Be careful of expectations,” I often warn, “because that is the first mishap in failed relationships. The idea is to stay open to what the kinship is meant to deliver rather than to what you’d like to receive.”
When teaching the Medicine Wheel I notice that people always enjoy learning about totems. It’s pleasant, a journey into beauty and appreciation as well as loads of fun; but it can also be serious, sad and distressing. Isn’t that the mystery and greatness of kinship? It reveals the depth of social, intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual bonds. Twelve years ago, I met up with this couple who was having marital issues. They had consulted therapists but nothing seemed to work. They knew they loved each other deeply and that’s why they couldn’t quite figure out why their relationship wasn’t working. I remember us sitting together around the Medicine Wheel talking about totems. The man marvelled over the greatness of the Hawk: Its sight, its flight, and its might. The woman instead, identified herself to a fluffy, snowy Hare. She loved its speed, its ingenuity, its fertility and most of all its inner vulnerability and innocence. Both had no trouble seeing each other as animals agreeing on the attributes and personality traits. When came time for me to point out the obvious that the Hawk most likely fed daily on the Hare, they both stared at me in dismay realizing how impossible it would be to continue such a relationship. In less than a few months they were divorced. In less than a year, they were remarried and I learnt that they stayed close friends until this day! Totems explained the inexplicable love they had for each other as well as the reason why they couldn’t possibly work together!
In old times when children were born it was said that totemic guardians were given to infants to watch over them. At birth, synchronic events would occur to reveal these guardians to the parents, elders or Medicine People. Dreams before the birth of a new born would also guide the parents towards the totems. Before my daughter was born, I dreamt of bears all the time. My son often called his sister: “My Little Bear.” He said he often dreamt of her as a teddy bear. When she was born, KT was a bit shubby and did looked like a little bear cub. Until she was three years old there many synchronicities that repeated that she was indeed kin to Bear. Today, she has her own dreams and experiences to affirm that indeed she’s got a strong connection to Bear but it’s pretty amazing to see how an animal can come to choose a human being from birth and remain by her or his side all through life. The experience of totem is one that is profoundly personal.
There are many other stories about totem.
I plan to return with a few more tales in the months to come.
For now – I just wanted to leave you with an entry that would get you started on your own journey with your personal totems.
With the help of the Medicine Wheel, we journey we 5 totems.
One in each direction. Plus, one in the center.
1. The Eastern Totem is OUR FACE: Our personality. This totem represents the way we reveal ourselves to others.
2. The Southern Totem is OUR MEDICINE: Our power. This totems represents the tools we use to meet challenges in our life. How to we solve problems?
3. The Western Totem is OUR TEACHER and INNER INITIATE: Our duality and whole being. This totem represents the way we learn and the way we teach. The way we quest and the way we stop and sit in strength.
4. The Northern Totem is OUR COUNCIL OF DESTINY: Our path and purpose. This totem tells us what we are and what we are meant to do in our life.
5. The Center Totem is OUR SOUL: The story we dream of in order to learn and grow.
Once you’ve placed your totems around your Wheel – you should be able to see a projected image of yourself. Together all these totems should give YOU an idea of who you are; where you are going; how you are going to get there; and why you need to get there.
I look forward to hearing from you. Please don’t hesitate to share your story with me.