Updated: Jul 22, 2021
What is a totem animal?
The concept of a "totem animal", as far as I am aware, is from Native American tradition. The belief was/is that certain animals when they appear in our lives are messengers, bringing us information and guidance.
Deer can bring messages about surrender and being gentle; bear can be a messenger of snuggling in for a long rest period (aka hibernation); hummingbird brings messages of joy and taking time to play and porcupine might be a messenger bringing a warning about keeping your guard up.
The idea is that when you see an animal in the wild, particularly out of conteext - in an unusual setting - that animal may have a message for you.
If you have a specific animal as YOUR totem, that means your life mission is impacted by the spirit of that animal. You have a deep, metaphysical connection to the principles governed by that animal. For example an individual who is extremely strong, with intense endurance might have a Buffalo totem animal.
Now, before I embark any further on this discussion, I'd like to address the gorilla/elephant (pick a large, obvious animal) in the room: the concept of totem animals comes from Native American/Indigenous American culture. It kind of follows that this idea may not really belong in all paths of Witchcraft, but as we know it has been adopted by many Earth-Based religeons.
Ted Andrews (Animal Speaks) wildly popular books and cards along with countless others after him, have anchored the idea of the totem animal in popular culture and brought the idea of animal messengers into our conciousness. Animal Speaks was one of the earlier books I picked up back in the 80's/90's when I was broadening my reading on different areas of metaphysics.
I don't know if it is appropriate, and I certainly don't wish to offend anyone of engage in cultural appropriation, but...well, read on.
What does it mean to find your totem animal?
I was never drawn to the idea of totem animals. I love animals, have always had a bunch around, always had pets, and have been a vegetarian for many, many years because I don't like the idea of harming animals for food or clothing. But I never thought of one more than another as connected to me.
My understanding is that when you have a totem, they sort of find you. They may appear in your dreams, or appear in your life in strange places, and they insert themselves until they are hard to ignore. They are insisting on being heard.
Here is where it gets curiouser...
Can a bug be a totem?
There are many ideas about which animals are acceptable as totems. And I am not sure whether Native Americans ever beleived that spiders or other insects could be totems...although in Ted Andrew's book, he does mention them. And, for me there is a connection to one bug in particular...
A life long fear of spiders begins
When I was an infant, sleeping in a basinette on our screen porch, at about 3 months of age, a large, black spider got through the mesh and bit me in the face. I aparently screamed and my mother came to find this huge beastie on my face and squashed it, whisking me off to the doctors immediately. I was none the worse for wear after antibiotics, but the spider didn't make it out.
I had no memory of the incident on a concious level, but some of my earliest memories involve a true terror of spiders. Nightmares about them, fear when I saw them - even tiny ones. It was actually something of a phobia.
I was afraid to kill them. I used to get my Dad to kill them for me when I was a kid. I found out many years later that he was actually afraid of them too! He never said a word, just came and squished them so I could get on with my life.
When a phobia becomes a messenger...
So now we have me in my thirties, still super scared of spiders, although now I would manage to throw a large book on them since I now lived alone. Until the summer of 2001.
We all see spiders in the summer. They are around more in the warm weather, and there is more plentiful food then. So, more spiders. The summer of 2001 however, was different. When I say there were a lot of spiders that summer, what I mean is there were legions of them.
Spiders blanketing the hall outside my apartment with webs dripping from the ceiling (seriously it was like a horror movie)
Spiders dropping (repeatedly) onto my computer keyboard at work (in an sealed office building) - JUST MINE (this became a great source of humor for my co-workers as I shreiked each and every time)
Spiders in my bathroom
Spiders in my kitchen, dropping from the ceiling and crawling out of cabinets...
Spiders in my car in the morning
This culminated with a brown recluse spider biting me while I slept one night, causing a bad infection that required $250 antibiotics. I was having nightmares about them, I was a nervous wreck.
Then, a teacher (in my herbalism aprenticeship) friend recommended that I read the Ted Andrews passage on Spider as totem, so I did.
Spiders are weavers. There are multiple human equivalents, but my side business at that time was doing hair wraps and wire wrapping jewelry. A soft little bell sounded deep in my head.
I was also considering a new job that would involve me writing for a living. Yup - spiders (according to Andrews) are the totem for writers. Writing is after all, weaving a story. And then I remembered something odd: many years earlier, I was told by an astrologer that I would find my life path when I began to write.
So I began to write. I accepted the new job, and I also bgan to journal and write a lot on my own time too. And the spiders began to go back where they came from.
I continued to work, I became less phobic, but still pretty scared of spiders, and over time my hair wrap business ended and I wrote less...
Enter 2020, the year we all can't wait to be over. It's been a rough year, no doubt. I still have the same job, although I work mostly on reports rather than writing now. And although I had created a blog, I had stopped writing posts a few months back. Blame it on the blues from quarantine, of a lack of inspiration, but I just couldn't think of anything to say. Cue the creepy crawly music.
This summer, my 8-legged friends have been back. The beauty above is outside my barn door. And there is a HUGE black fellow in residence behind my back door feasting on any little creepies who make it past the screen.
Spiders in the bathroom, spiders in the library, spiders in the kitchen. Cobweb spiders on like EVERY SINGLE CURTAIN in my entire house.
My husband, who isn't at all afraid of spiders has actually asked me "are you DOING something"? I asked what he meant, and he sort of gestured to my altar. I told him "no", but it made me wonder.
So I decided I should really get back to my blog and write. And what could be more fitting than to write about the messengers who refuse to let me give up on writing?
I have moved the blog to Etsy's Pattern now, and hope folks will comment and engage in conversation. If there is a topic you'd like me to write on, let me know! I might even find some guest writers to post here in time.
Signing off for now...