Silent Totems

Recently I was given a very old jaguar hide as a gift. I was rather stunned, as I had been told by the person who gave it to me that it was a “spotted cat hide”, but not specifying which sort. So when I opened the package and saw the distinctive rosettes, my heart skipped a beat.

See, Jaguar is what I call a Silent Totem. Silent totems are totems who are not necessarily active participants in my life. They don’t come to me in dreams, and I don’t call on them in rituals. But their influence is still there in the background, and the distance doesn’t always mean a weak “signal”, either. Sometimes a silent totem need not do anything but be present and observe in order to make a great impact.

Take Jaguar, for instance. Jaguar is connected to my shamanic practice, not as an active guide, but as one who represents the gravity of the work that I do. I am reminded that the foundational practices of shamanism were forged in much more dangerous times and settings, in places where being attacked and eaten by large wild animals was (and is) a real threat, where the shaman was the main line of defense against illnesses where there were no refined antibiotics and other high-tech medicines, where the life expectancy was much lower than it is for me. Jaguar is also the reminder that the spirit world is not a safe place to be, and that although I have good companions on my journeys, none of them are a complete proof against threats by malign beings.

And all it takes is a glimpse, in the back of my head where the wild things are, of black spots on yellow fur sliding through dappled underbrush–for just a moment–to make that reminder clear. There are other silent totems as well. Anna’s Hummingbird can be felt in periods of high energy, where I’m dashing from one task to the next as quickly as I can, drawing on my reserves to meet the demands at hand. Common Octopus carries the ephemeral nature of mortality, to not take for granted what is here before it’s gone, and to not underestimate something short-lived–in other words, to seize the day and make the most of it.

None of these or other silent totems normally come out of their places in the shadows of my mind, but they are there nonetheless. I will be interested to see whether Jaguar decides to come forth; there was a decided “spark” when I first touched the jaguar hide, and I felt an almost overwhelming energy for just a moment. If I do start more work with Jaguar, it promises to be intense.

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