Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Totem Infestation

Friend IM'd me:

Her: I have mice
Me: you got cats, dontcha?
Her: not like that, I'm dreaming about them and about being one
doesn't that suck
Me: you'd rather have real ones?

Her: I've been meditating asking for a totem animal guide
Me: . . . . ?
Her: who has a mouse totem?
Me: what's wrong with mice?
Her: they're stupid my bf's totem is wolf
Me: so you think he'll try to eat you now?
Her: mice are pests you call someone to exterminate
they spread diseases
Me: so do people - I seem to recall you complaining about that very thing from the guy you were dating before
this one
Her: you are so
messed up


Poor mice. Perfectly good, useful animal, gets no respect. Neither do a lot of other critters that may show up as totems, spirit guides, what-have-you. Everybody wants wolves, raptors, corvids, big cats, bears, stuff from the cervidae family, dolphins, etc. Supposedly the bigger you are, the more noble you are. Some of the less statuesque yet interesting mammals and birds get decent enough receptions. Snakes, spiders, frogs, and turtles get cool points, but a good chunk of the time the rest of the Crawly Kingdom gets blown off. And domesticated livestock is right out - in fact, the closer you get to the bottom layer of the food chain, the less palatable the creatures are as teachers.

Guys, that's about as lame as putting a spoiler on a station wagon. Without the bottom row, nothing else could make it. The entire world's ecosystem runs off the prey animal niche, and really, what's predator one day may be prey the next. Think of it as the foundation level that everything else rests on, not the losers at the lowest end. And they fill their part perfectly. Rodents, insects, worms, gastropods, minnows, brine shrimp; for the most part, the smaller you get, the more abundantly you reproduce. Mosquitoes and flies, as annoying as they are, are the main means of staying alive for some species. Where would baleen whales be without plankton? The late Ted Andrews is one of my favorite "experts" for addressing this, and for including several critter people in his collections of totem information that haven't always been given a place with the popular ones.

And livestock - why do people have such disrespect for animals that are "food"? We owe them the most. We've altered their development for thousands of years for our benefit, they've kept us alive, worked for us, and given some of us a way of making a living in order to provide other necessities.

That's not to say that the Big Boys like bears, hawks, wolves, etc. aren't worthwhile. They're prevalent in the lore of various cultures for good reasons; they all have their own unique substance and energy. Some of the ways their qualities might manifest may have shifted from the time of neolithic people, but their continued applicability is testament to their value, and they're possibly one of our best links to our farthest-removed ancestors.

I blame popular perceptions of power and definitions of pride. The model of always being top dog, always being the winner, and translating "pride" as meaning "never letting anybody get the better of you" makes anything that gets used by someone else something low and less respect worthy.

Bleah. the only thing lesser about providing for someone else is if the gift isn't appreciated appropriately, and that should make us look down on the person who fails to acknowledge it's worth, not the one who's been denied their due. The idea that the only type of power is the brute force bulldoze-over-everything type is mindlessly selfish.

One of my all time favorite books is Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin; it's fiction; best described (if I recall, in her own words) as "an archaeology of the future", with a liberal helping of Pagany/Aboriginal-ish inspired sprinkles. Among many other things, it's an example of a culture where winning may be losing, and vice versa. This passage from the chapter "The Cats Here Don't Care" pretty much sums it up:

To be single-minded is to be unmindful. Mindfulness is keeping many different things in mind and observing their relations and proportions.

To conquer is to be careless. Carefulness is holding oneself and one's acts in appropriate relation and proportion to the many other beings and intentions.

To take is to be joyless. Joyfulness is accepting the given, which cannot be earned by mindfulness nor deserved by carefulness.

So, the next time you eat a burger, or have to swat a biting bug, or feed your pet snake, maybe take a shot at giving them their props. Maybe Cow, Mosquito, or Mouse will show up and tell you what they know, that you won't hear anywhere else.


  1. An animal guide of mine for a while was Rabbit. Rabbit helped me to see where I had been prey in my life, and to FEEL it!

    1. (waves) Hey Chick! Dunno why I didn't get an alert for this comment. Rabbit is cool because he's all over the place. I gotta like anyone who's domesticated and wild, Prey/foundation animal and Trickster/Sacred Clown, all at the same time ;0)

  2. I'm half native american , and my totem animal is a wren!! These are truly great!!