Don’t let the title of this blog post fool you. I’m not waving my rowan-wood wand, turning folks into toads (yet, lol).
Rather, this post is about the tricky business of assigning animal totems to folks wanting to know.
Not a day passes when someone doesn’t send in an email with a question like: “Avia, can you tell me what my animal totem is?”
On the one hand, I’m thrilled with these inquiries. It suggests a desire to re-connect to animal kin. It’s a sign that folks are becoming more attuned to the wild and wonderful realms of the Mother [Nature] – and that is uber-awesome.
On the other hand, I’m often distressed by the lack of personal investment in re-connecting with our animal brothers and sisters. Connections to our animal kin is a deeply personal act.
What’s even more irking is the idea that a virtual stranger can arbitrarily assign a totem to another person. To explain, I’ve been known to listen in on certain radio show discussions about totems and neo-shamanism. I’m not naming names, but I’m suspect when these totem-experts get callers on their show with the inevitable question: “Can you tell me my animal totem?” and I’m floored when the totem-practitioner pops off a critter to the caller – essentially assigning a totem to him or her in the span of two seconds.
How can that cosmic connection be gleaned from a distant second party? It feels like “slot-machine logic” – an answer spit out at random. I could be wrong. These totem experts could be mightily connected to their spiritual council, and so they are fed this totem information to present to the caller. Still, I have doubts.
On my most connected days, in which unification with my own Spirit Council is super-tight, I am fed information in terms of “seeing” woodland creatures or other critters scampering around my client’s energy. These visions give me a good idea about the inquirer’s totem affiliations. Nevertheless, in the midst of these visions come strong admonishments from the Council. Admonishments like: “These are the animal energies communing with the human – but he/she must establish the connection.”
Historically, shamans could succinctly identify totems to the members of their tribe/village. There’s a reason for that. Shamans, elders, seers, and wise-women of a tribe typically hold their positions in the group over long spans of time. They live, learn, love together in a tight-knit community, intrinsically linked to the clan members. They often oversee the birthing of new members, and are participants of that member’s life from day one. This gives them special knowing, they see the patterns between a tribal-member’s aura, energy, personality that link to the like-energy of their totem. Simply put, tribal shamans have had a long-standing connection with their people, and are therefore in a better position to identify the individual totems of their tribesmen and women.
So what if we don’t live in a native setting in which an Elder knows us and can help us retrieve our animal totem identities?
The onus is on us. We must be the ones to invest the time to re-connect with our animal guides and guardians.
Asking others to identify our totems isn’t a bad thing, but I’d be leery of pat answers from virtual strangers. Those who ask me what their totems are often get frustrated with my round-about answers. I offer information that my Council feeds me, but not without belting out a few paragraphs about the importance of personal meditation, research and investigation into the matter.
Let’s face it. Most of us wouldn’t ask a stranger “Who is my life-partner?” and then marry the first person named Joe or Suzie just because we’ve been given a pat answer to this question.
In my opinion, re-partnering with our animal totems is no less serious. Our animal totems are profound partnerships – indeed, a marriage. They deserve our time and attention to get to know them. We deserve the investment to familiarize ourselves with our connection to them. So, be wary of the “poof! you’re a toad” syndrome. Pat answers to complex questions like these are to be approached with caution.
In one capacity or another, I’ve been dipping into animal consciousness and interpreting symbolic messages they contribute to the greater/global consciousness.
An email I got from a reader of my main website (whats-your-sign), asked a great question:
Hi Avia, I love your work and reading your animal insights have really helped me on my life’s journey. A few years ago I was having a terrible spell of bad circumstances. The Owl kept visiting me, and I was convinced it was a bad omen. Do you remember me emailing you about this several years back? You responded with a link to an article you wrote about symbolic Owl meanings, and it helped. It also made me explore more of your animal interpretations, and I noticed something. All your interpretations are positive. It seems there is nothing but good news coming from our birds, fish and mammals from your perspective. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism, but even your ideals about Snakes and Spiders (critters who aren’t my favorites, lol) are positive and uplifting. Can you tell me why is it all good news? Don’t animal messages sometimes include negativity, or at least a warning of bad things to come? Thanks for your work.
Beth makes a good point.
I look at animal consciousness as an extension of the Unified consciousness (call it the God, the Goddess, Christ consciousness – by any name, it’s that omnipresent, pervasive, supportive intelligence unifying all energy). I mention on many occasions that the creatures of our planet are (mostly) clarified energy – they don’t have the weirdies of mentality like humans often exhibit. Because our creatures are clarified, they’re a pure channel for Unified consciousness.
So, when I dive in for data about animal messages, animal meanings, etc., it just makes sense the information retrieved will be a bright reflection of the Unified field – supportive, buoying, brilliant. In short, the Natural Realm lives closer to, and indeed, is one with God. Naturally, their communications will reflect that relationship.
I don’t talk about it often, but twice a day, every day, I devote to meditation. It’s been that way for years, and I cannot express how revolutionary that single choice to meditate has been.
A portion of my meditations is spent in devotion to the well-being of all my peeps. That’s a lotta peeps, considering all life is kin to me, and vice versa.
But in the conventional sense, I’m kin to a lot of folk. Whether friends, family or internet peeps, my prayer list for my kindred is super-long.
Sometimes, while sitting in meditative council, proffering sincere whispers of well-being on behalf of those I love, my mind interjects.
It happens to the best of us. We’re moving in blissy waves of meta states one moment, and the next, our crest breaks into a mental analysis of the experience. A perturbing dialogue breaks in, barking stuff like: “Wow, this is trippy! What’s all this mean? What are those curly q thingies, and when was the last time you ate?”
One such interruption came knocking at my meditative doors while in prayer, and said: “Life sure is hard, ain’t it Avia?”
At the time, It seemed a valid observation (despite the weird accent).
No matter how many assurances we have that life is supposed to be navigated by butterflies and wrapped with rainbows (and it truly is for some of us, some of the time), life still seems hard sometimes to many of us (present company included).
However, I’d like to think most of us can agree, life is supposed to be good. Or, at the very least, life has the potential to be good. Further, I’d bet a fair piece a lot of us can point a finger as to why our life isn’t good.
So if we know this stuff, why does life still seem so hard sometimes? And what can we do to make it less hard?
I know what helps me….I always revert back to a piece of advice Kim Gould of Love Your Design gave me. She said, “Avia, allow yourself to be tamed by the gentle and the small.” Taking that advice has been tantamount to enlightenment.
Here’s why – the breakdown:
Allowing oneself to be tamed by the gentle and the small forces simplicity.
Simplicity births a sense of comfort.
Comfort is married to gratitude.
Gratitude is kin to love.
Love is all we need. (the Beatles can’t be wrong :)
That’s why I love living a totemic life; a symbolic life. There’s magic in the simple, magic in the small things. Becoming more focused on the smallest of miracles in our midst flips the concept of ‘hard life’ on its head.
Grateful attention to witnessing your kid’s first taste of ice cream, bird song at twilight, a fuzzy friend in a loving frenzy to see you return home, a perfect cappuccino, good soap – whatever – the little blessings that pop into the seconds of all our lives – these little gems of joy accumulate to deflate the hot air talk about life being hard.
At least, it works for me. There are countless opportunities for me to allow myself to be tamed by the gentle and the small; doing so keeps me in a cycle of gratitude. Perhaps it will for you too.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mike Bastine, a Native American Algonquin, who has been speaking about the necessity of re-connecting to Nature as a means to reform consciousness. It was an utter delight to spend time with Mr. Bastine, and equally uplifting to share common views with him. He’s got revolutionary insights anchored in ancient wisdom. Perhaps his words in this interview will contribute to your own conscious-reform for the better. Or, perhaps these views might maintain your own re-connection to the Mother (Nature). Enjoy!
The landscape cracks open like an egg in my view. The bright orange yolk of sun hangs, suspended in the albumen of a clear liquid sky. I’m driving along a curvy route to a quiet rural town to meet with Algonquin visionary and educator, Mike Bastine.
On the drive, the scenery unfolds like a Monet; billions of auburn-amber leaves splatter like dots on the rolling hills of Autumnal glory. It’s a two hour drive, stuffed with Natural beauty. The soft ride offers ample opportunity for me to ponder the upcoming meeting with Mr. Bastine.
Although diligent about suppressing any kind of pre-conclusions about this interview, electric expectation still amplifies my anticipation. I am meeting a Native master of tenets that have ignited my own elevated understanding; tenets essential to the broader soul-growth of so many people over human history.
My time with Mike Bastine, however, produces no glamour. No spiritual huff-n-puff. No fluffy clouds filled with insubstantial vapors about spirituality. Rather, Bastine proves to be a Plymouth rock of foundational wisdom. He radiates reverence for simplicity. He is rooted in the value of rekindling the heart of humanity; encouraging attunement with the energies of Nature, love and respect. No fancy juju; just bare-boned wisdom, exposing a soulful, nurturing marrow.
My car pulls into his driveway. Beyond the weathered, wood-clad exterior of his home, rests acres of maples waving goodbye to their own falling leaves. Rows of cornfields maze the back yard, their husks brown and crinkly, jutting up to the glassy sky.
My ears perk, hearing a yawning creak from the front screen door as I gather up my notebook, camera, and recording device from the car. It’s Mike Bastine walking out to greet me.
Mike’s Native blood etches clear evidence of his Algonquin heritage in his appearance. His skin is naturally tawny, obviously unaided by the sun’s tanning effect, especially as winter begins her progressive swallowing of solar rays. His hair is long, pulled back in a pony tail. It shines in onyx iridescence and reminds me of silky crow feathers.
He welcomes me with a smile; a smile that equals the cheer reflected inside his home. I struggle to pull off my boots before entering. “Oh no, you don’t have to do that.” Mike says, chuckling, as I almost topple over. “Keep those on. Stay warm. Snow and mud aren’t sticking to the bottoms of our feet just yet.” We both break the initial conversational ice by agreeing how mild this year’s autumn has been.
Mike and I sit at his kitchen table. Pens and pencils stand at attention in a clean white cup, anxious to be put to use. Books and papers are neatly stacked on the table too. Mike thoughtfully pulls out a few of the many articles written about him for me to read. He pauses for a moment and pulls out a few books for me to look at too.
Pam, Mike’s wife, offers me a hot cup of green tea and a cinnamon pecan danish. I’ve just met these people, but it feels I’ve been a welcomed visitor in this kitchen for an eternity. Time is irrelevant. Indeed, the energy of their home is timeless, comforting and tremendously safe. I am calm, I am at home in their presence.
The black pot-belly stove churns out its warmth as Mike begins to do what he does best: Weave his spoken words into exquisite tapestries. Native wisdom is his loom, and Mike threads rich value into each sentence spoken. His voice is a smooth, lulling tenor and his words are framed in the rhythmic compassion that steadily beats within his heart.
For decades, Mike Bastine has travelled the US and Canada speaking about the wisdom of his Native ancestors, illustrating how Native ways are a catalyst for healing, renewal and reconnection to a higher way of living life.
“I’ve been bringing up a few terms in my workshops lately.” Mike begins, his soft brown eyes sparkling. “Terms we all learned in early schooling. I ask people how they feel about the phrase ‘Divide and Conquer’ and most people tell me it’s kind of a standard of life today.”
Mike explains that the modern Western civilized mind has been trained to weed out ‘weakness’ and conquer life by working hard at maintaining status quo. “Mainstream thought mostly adheres to popularly accepted, spoon-fed education and doctrine.” He says in his sing-song dialect. As Mike talks, my understanding lulls into compliance with his argument with this commonly accepted phrase.
“Today, most people’s perception of strength and weakness is skewed. There’s more strength in the gentle than there is in the bold. Gentleness accumulating over time – that’s where the power resides.” Mike taps his calloused-covered fingertip on the Xerox copy he gave me of Chief Seattle’s speech. “That’s part of what Seattle is saying in this address.”
Mike closes his eyes, and I wonder what scenes are playing beneath his eyelids. “The idea of ‘conquer’ is equally misleading.” He says, “What is there to conquer? If we each lived aligned to our True Nature, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation!” He pushes back a bit from the kitchen table after finishing this thought, as if sitting objectively – seeing a broad view of the human condition from his wicker-backed chair.
“The idea of ‘divide’ is just an illusion. Nature shows us different. Nature shows us progress only comes with inclusion, acceptance, absorption. Nature shows us surrender. That’s what evolutional progress is about.” Mike lets out a lightly exasperated chuckle, with a slightly discernable shaking of his head.
” I ask these same people in my workshops how they feel about another common phrase we’ve all been taught: ‘In God we Trust.’ I get the same kind of mental agreement. But I have to question this. How can we believe in ‘Divide and Conquer‘ and ‘In God we Trust’ at the same time?” Mike’s passion about these points of contention is clear, but his core demeanor does not waiver. He remains solidly anchored in a place of peaceful contemplation as he speaks to me.
The Algonquin Elder continues his thought-stream about Western culture’s unconscious acceptance of these two statements. “How can we be divided and yet trust in one God? This mentality is where the breakdown of disconnect to Nature stems.” Mike says softly, sad kindness lacing his voice. To him, unity is a far more viable solution to living a life of true freedom.
Mike leans forward on the kitchen table to drive his point home: “Prior generations had Elders to teach us about relationships. Primarily the marriage between humans and this planet. But now those teachings have fallen by the wayside. This causes separation. We have become distanced from the higher wisdom of Nature, love and goodness.” Mike further contends this disconnection has lead to an inflammation of humanity’s highest conflict: The conflict between the heart and the ego.
“We must think independently. We can’t think what we’ve been educated to think, because it’s not what this life is about. We must observe what’s going on today and rejoin the ranks of our Elders who looked to Nature for assistance with answers.”
Mike Bastine gently illustrates how many of today’s youth are no longer educated by their Elders who have been steeped in the nurturing, honorable ways of the Great Spirit and the ways of Nature. Today, our youth are educated by capitalist systems whose primary impetus for functioning is money and conformity. It’s a disturbing observation. Mike points out a fundamentally flawed educational system that produces fact-filled sheep, designed to follow (and not overthrow) the powers that be, namely, the government. More unsettling, is the valid observation of mass-media’s role in raising our youth.
“If we look at the bigger picture of what’s happening around the world, and we see the events – how they connect. How they unfold. How they evolve. We can start to see that disconnection is the source of great upheaval.” Mike’s hands are upturned; his arms slightly raised in a supplicating gesture as he utters these words. He speaks like a man who sees problems and feels frustration because he knows how simple the solutions are.
The furrow in Mike’s brow smoothes back into its customary serenity as he expands his revelations: “This disjointed gap….the inability to connect human thought and behavior with the deeper functions of Nature….this is the sole flaw that prohibits the flow of peace.” This flaw, Mike explains, is aggravated by the lack of unity and acceptance being taught by our modern elders, who are our politicians, educators, doctors, etc.
“I wish there were little manuals written about how to be a good human. How to make choices that honor and respect our world and all that lives in it.” I nod my head and smile, thinking about how Mike’s ‘How to be a Good Human’ manuals might not be the most ideal replacement for wise Elders in our modern-day global tribes. But, I silently agree these manuals would be a good start at defining simple steps for reconnecting to the Golden Truths inherent in every human heart.
“When enlightenment dovetails and becomes manifested into the outward happiness of being, do you think something like the definition of ‘a metaphor’ is essential to sustaining that education? No! It doesn’t take rocket science to gain a higher education. This is about human interaction conducted with respect.” Mike makes this statement with conviction backed by the wisdom of his lineage. His faith in the cathartic, healing practice of unifying with the foundational energy of Nature, humility and honor is unshakable.
As Mike Bastine carefully crafts his words and purposefully narrates his perceptions, I recognize him as a visionary educator. Why? Because he can see into the human heart and there he greets only the heart’s inherent potential for goodness in spite of the presence of malignant understanding. It takes a visionary to see the spiritual gifts hiding behind ugly curtains of the ego.
I get the sense that Mike is not entirely aware of his ability to overlook the presence of fear feeding the human heart. His unsinkable faith in each human’s inherent goodness overrides the presence of fear and pain glaring back at him when he speaks about ‘consciousness-reform.’ In every word and movement, it’s apparent Mike knows the path to higher societal evolution is born from virtue and devotion to the grounding cornerstones of Nature.
Mike continues his mission to reveal the true values indwelling every heart, and how each heart is hard-wired to reconnect with all life in loving ways. His unwavering belief in human potential makes him both a visionary, and an exemplary educator in the realm of thoughtful unification with elements of life that truly matter.
The warm bubble of the Bastine’s hospitality cannot be popped as I drive back to the pointy edges of city life. The yolky sun is pressed behind me now, enhancing a sense of warmth and nourishment. Driving back the way I came, my mind turns with the soft curves of the road as I think about our discussion.
My intent for this piece was to capture the essence of Native American wisdom; writing about how the ways of Native Elders provide healing to the human heart – – healing wisdom that prepares each of us for future global shifts we are all destined to experience in the process of living life on this Earth today.
But really, after listening to Mr. Bastine, my lofty intent dissolved into particles of more substantial import. As the hills of the countryside roll behind me, I think of Mike’s parting thoughts:
“The value of simplicity. The value of independent thought. The value of re-connecting to Nature and its wisdom. These are small, incremental choices of honor we can all choose to make. These are the functional building blocks for re-connecting to life’s vitality.”
Ultimately, Mike Bastine helped me understand that it is not so much the intellectual or spiritual path we choose, but how we utilize our faith and educational choices – that is the true catalyst for global unification and peace. Essentially, every moment is an opportunity to ‘Unify and Conquer’ rather than divide and perish.
I got the low-down on silly bands from my niece, who gave me this one – a Dragon, who happens to be my predominant animal totem.
Now, I’m not big on extraneous consumerism. I prefer to keep my personal adornments and purchases as pure and simple as possible. However, I can see some pretty practical uses for silly bands in relation to our animal totems.
Life is replete with distractions. There’s so much going on in our modern lives. Busy-busy, push-pull, tag-your-it.
If your days are potentially crammed with complexity like mine are, then perhaps you’ll agree it’s good (indeed, even necessary) to keep reminders close by. Reminders that ground us, and redirect our consciousness back to the pure vitals of life like: Compassion, Dynamism, Expansiveness, Balance, and such.
I have tattoos that serve as permanent reminders of these things and more. Photographs plaster my office-studio walls serving the same purpose.
Imagine my surprise and delight when this tiny silicon silly band fulfilled the same function.
Every time my eyes catch sight of this little guy, I return to my core – a place in which my Dragon’s crave for me to stay rooted. Why? Because being rooted in the realms of our animal totems manifests superior benefit for them, ourselves and our society.
Just thoughts…an idea for triggering awareness back to your ideal, totemic core.
That said, a special thanks to my niece for this wicked-keen gift! ;)