Heh–I’m feeling just a little silly. Sleep dep’ll do that to me now and then.
Just as a side note, while it is my amazing and great intention to post here every single day at least once, if it doesn’t happen, it’s not because I don’t love you 😉 Mainly it’s going to be due to either A) too much stuff happening (e.g., work, taking a vacation from teh intarwebz) or B) not enough stuff happening (e.g., can’t think of anything to write about, ebb in spiritual/magical activity for a few days).
Now, to the post itself.
I’m nowhere near being the biggest fan of omens. I like Occam’s razor; it’s a good tool to have on hand when dissecting spiritual experiences. To put it very briefly, it states that the simplest answer is the most likely. Therefore I tend to look askance at the idea that because you see a crow outside your house every morning, that must mean that Crow is your totem. (Have you asked your neighbor where all that bird food is going?)
So when confronted with sightings of animals, I tend to look less at the esoteric meanings of said critters, and more at where their closest habitat might be, whether they’re known to be territorial, etc. A common example I like to use to illustrate this point is the hawk. Raptors in general have gained in numbers, especially in the past couple of decades, thanks to the ban on DDT. For those who aren’t aware, DDT was a pesticide in use until it was banned in the early 1970s. DDT would wash into the waterways where fish would absorb it. Certain species of raptor, including some hawks, which ate fish would absorb the DDT, which then caused thinning of egg shells, leading to fewer successful hatches. Hawks are territorial as well, and are somewhat adaptable to urban areas (or at least the suburbs, though I once saw a hawk down a pigeon near the baseball stadium in downtown Pittsburgh). So if you start seeing hawks regularly, chances are good you have a mated pair whose territory includes your home.
Ironically enough, it was a hawk that sparked this post. Since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen very few hawks–only one in Seattle, and until recently, none in Portland. I’ve actually seen more bald eagles than hawks. However, yesterday as I was walking from work to the train station, I saw what looked like a juvenile Northern harrier (marsh hawk) fly right overhead. Now, this isn’t surprising–though I work in a suburb of Portland, it still has a lot of greenspace, including some wetlands, perfect for more adaptable species. I’ve seen muskrats in the grass right next to the sidewalk, less than a yard away from me, and there’s a blue heron in the marsh near my building. So a hawk isn’t surprising.
However, the reason it made me take notice was that in my elemental totem ritual this past weekend, one thing that Hawk, my East/Air totem, specifically mentioned the fact that I hadn’t seen very many physical hawks here, compared to the Midwest, where I saw redtails all the time. It was a nice reminder that Hawk was still here, even though of all the directional totems, he’s the one I’ve worked with least on a magical level.
However, more importantly than that, it was a reminder of something from that ritual. I was told to spend some time this month (every day, preferably) observing the interplay of the elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in my life in different environments. Now, while I mean well, I can be a procrastinator, and I also have a spotty memory–which means I don’t always do what I’m told, not because I’m being willfully argumentative, but because I either forget it or don’t get around to it. So the vivid vision of the first hawk I’ve seen in Portland was a good mnemonic for this.
Ordinarily, I would have just seen the hawk as a hawk, and considered it a cool thing. However, because of the temporal proximity to the ritual and the nature of Hawk’s conversation, and the fact that the sighting triggered a specific response (hello, Pavlov!) I considered it to be an extraordinary experience. Do I think that hawk materialized only to remind me of Hawk-like things? Nope. However, I do like the idea of synchronicity, and this was a vivid example.
It reminded me, reflecting on it at the bus stop this morning, of something I read in Lon Milo DuQuette’s The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford*. DuQuette, speaking through the fictional (though no less entertaining and educational) Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford, makes the point that everything in the world is a message to him from G-d. Now, there are several ways this could be interpreted. One way is the “Everything is an OMEN!!!!” (in an omen-ous voice, no less!) method, in which anything even remotely out of one’s usual routine is seen as important (and often negative). Then, of course, there’s the option of just ignoring everything (but where’s the use in that? You need to pick up the phone at some point.)
I tend to see things as variable in importance. Looking at the beauty of Nature, that’s the Divine saying “Hey, look at me–I’m gorgeous! And balanced! And you’re a part of this, too, remember!” And being with my mate is “Love is a wonderful thing, and it bestows blessings (even if there are occasional curses)”. These are important, but relatively everyday. Occasionally there’s something more specific, a “Wake up and pay attention!” kind of thing. And that’s how I saw the hawk yesterday–not as something that was manifested solely for my benefit, but as part of the interwoven complexity that is the Divine.
This doesn’t mean I never get premonitions, of course. I’ve had those times when my intuition went *ping*, and I knew something big was in the offing. But I don’t generally get them through as indirect a means as seeing a hawk fly by–usually the experience is anything but ambiguous, and there’s no doubt in my mind.
And sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy watching a hawk wing its way across the marsh–that’s magic in its own right, as far as I’m concerned.
*Hell yes! I’m a Chicken Qabalist!
I don’t know much about totemism, so I have been enjoying reading your posts. I do have one general questions about some of your recent posts.
If I’m reading correctly, it seems like you are specifically disconnecting totems from animals native to this land (you seem to disfavore the idea of looking around you for a totem and suggested that a totem could be an animal from far away).
In the kind of magic I practice, there is an emphasis on connection with the Earth and often connecting with the spirits of the land in which you live. I guess what I’m saying that if I eat food grown in the midwest, my family (on both sides) has lived here for generations, I’ve lived here my whole life, I would imagine that the animal spirits of this place would be my totem, rather than, I don’t know, a kola bear or something.
I guess my question really is asking if totemism isn’t connected to land on which we live, how do these totem relationships start?
Hi, Ash 🙂
I’m working both from a geographic and a cultural perspective. Yes, I live in North America, but I am aware of animals around the world. Just as many pagans work with deities from various global pantheons, so do I work with totems from all over the place–it really depends on who wants/needs to work with me at a given time, and/or vice versa. I’ll get energetic “pings” from totems from various locations, and that’s generally how “first contact” is made.
So while I do connect with the place I live, I also work to connect on a more global scale, since I am in a culture that is (relatively) globally aware (though plenty of Americans, myself included, could certainly pay more attention to world news and events!). And it is a personal alignment for me; some people find it better to stay local as far as magical/spiritual work goes. This just happens to be the way I connect with Spirit/The Universe/etc.