Who is Wolf?

The stock definition of totemism that I give, as I experience it, is “a totem is an archetypal being that embodies all of the traits of a given species”. But what does that entail?

Let’s look at Grey Wolf, my primary totem (and probably the most popular one in neopagan totemism).

Wolf is made of the ever-evolving river-flow of genetic code of Canis lupus, which includes a number of subspecies with individual genotypical and phenotypical traits.

Wolf is all of the variety of behaviors, both instinctual and learned, that are exhibited by any and all members of that species throughout its history.

Wolf is the niche that wolves have sculpted into the complex ecosystems they are integral to, reflective of the mutual refinement between environment and inhabitor.

Wolf includes the relationships that wolves have to other species, the dance of death with prey, the standoff with other predators over a kill.

Wolf embodies the relationship that we humans as a species and as individuals have to wolves in the wild and captivity.

Wolf is all the stories we have told, from Lupa the mother of Rome, to the Big Bad Wolf menacing little girls in red and barnyard critters, to personal interpretations of authors of totem animal dictionaries, and the archetypal weavings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Wolf is every piece of art depicting hir children, from cave paintings to natural history illustrations to the fanciful creations (and criticisms) of wolfaboos over on DeviantArt.

Every time a person forges a connection with Wolf, Wolf changes. This is why it is important when working with Wolf (or any other totem) to make a personal relationship, rather than just going to whatever totem dictionary is handy and assuming that’s the answer.

Because Wolf is bigger than that. There’s so much there that narrowing Wolf down to a few paragraphs in an ephemeral paperback is futile. And the only person who can navigate through that collective of information and ideas on your behalf, is you.

It’s Spring. There is food.

I am very nearly through with my degree work in graduate school, currently in the middle of my internship. Come September, I ought to be done and out on my own. This is a rather shaky proposition in some ways. The job market here in Portland is particularly bad, and since I am stubborn and refuse to leave this place that I love so dearly, I’m not about to go chasing jobs elsewhere. However, I’m happier when I’m self-directed anyway, and so the prospect of being completely self-employed, while financially risky, is at least more appealing on an emotional level. It’s quite within my grasp, too. The Green Wolf isn’t enough in and of itself to cover all my bills, but it’s a decent part-time job at this point.

I’m guessing you aren’t here to read about the mundane details of my life. And yet, these things are exceptionally important. While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is far from a perfect model of how all humans prioritize needs ranging from food to self-actualization (you can find self-actualization among the hungry, and self-blindness among the well-fed), it’s a good reminder that we human animals are embedded in multiple levels of being.

The physical gets a bad rap in spirituality a good bit of the time. In fact, “spirituality” implies “spirit, which is antithetical to flesh”. Okay, yes, that’s a rather simplistic definition. There are plenty of spiritual practices that involve the body in a very conscious manner. However, all too often within neopaganism in general, and even in neoshamanism in specific (though this is less common than in some other neopagan paths) the body is seen as a vehicle to transcendence. Being in the body is not seen as a transcendent experience in and of itself.

And I feel that’s a great shame, because the very act of living is an amazing thing in and of itself. Let’s take eating as an example. Many of us, especially in high-paced Western societies, have a tendency to rush through food. I mean, really–it’s called fast food for a reason! The center of the grocery store is full of prepackaged, processed, quick-to-prepare meals for the entire day. Now, admittedly, I partake of these a good deal, especially in the busiest part of my week when I have both classes and internship obligations to attend to. Sometimes it’s tough to find the motivation to make a meal from scratch.

And yet, the experience of making the food from scratch is, in and of itself, an act of self-care for me. I discovered a few years ago that I enjoyed cooking in part because it is its own alchemy. The proportions of seasonings and other ingredients have everything to do with the end result. And everyone likes good food better than mediocre or even bad food (though what falls under each category is wholly subjective, with the exception of spoilage/etc.).

Even if you don’t make your own food from scratch, and even if the food isn’t the greatest, you can still gain a good deal out of the very experience of eating. There is a concept known as Mindful Eating. This is the art of slowing down the process of eating, being more aware and immersed in that experience, and allowing food to BE the experience. It also makes us aware of the values and habits we attach to food. In this day and age, when so many of us are facing numerous health problems associated with unhealthy relationships to food and the body (I can point to a chronic case of acid reflux, for example), awareness of how these relationships manifest, as they are manifesting, is crucial to improving them.

And eating mindfully is spiritual. It creates a lot of the same states that many people seek in their spirituality. There is a transcendence of the ordinary, and an altered state of consciousness. There is great connection to something greater than the self–in this case, food can be the gateway to connection to not only the Land that grew it, but all the other living organisms that touched it along the way, human and otherwise.

But eating mindfully also grounds us in that most important microcosm–our body. It is the physical vehicle in which we can interact with this world we live in; the physical brain is the seat of the mind that we use to navigate nonphysical realities. Being present includes being embedded in the body. (Or as they say, “Be HERE now”.)

So much of our health overall depends on the health of our bodies. I know that my emotions and psychological health can be adversely affected by a lack of sleep or by low blood sugar or otherwise just feeling off physically. Since these things are indispensable to the process of experiencing, comprehending and processing spiritual activities, then it behooves me to take care of my body as best as I can. And since food is my body’s fuel, then I’d better be aware of what I’m putting into myself!

A lot of where my spirituality has gone as I’ve been largely “underground” for most of a year has been in approaching spirituality in the everyday. And I am amazed at what I find. There is no alchemy more important to a human being than the processes by which the body takes in air, water and food and uses the molecules to keep itself going. (Those with, say, food allergies are required even more than others to be aware of the delicate balance of introducing molecules to their systems.)

We don’t need to look to arcane processes to be able to find magic. We overlook the everyday, and yet we do this to our own detriment. Not that there’s no value to the more esoteric things, but really, if what you’re seeking is magic, then realize that it exists everywhere, and yes, is often the very same things that are explained in scientific terms–without the need for further elaboration.