shamanism and animal totems – a rant

This week, with a email group to which I belong, I was presented with an idea that really bothered me. The idea is that shamanism always has animal totems. I, personally, don’t agree. Why? Well, if you look at the actual shamans (tribal peoples of sub artic lands in Siberia, that is where the word “shaman” comes from) Yes, they do have animal spirits that they work with. They also have spirits of the dead, and Gods, and a whole multitude of spiritual entities, both benevolent and malevolent to deal with, pacify, respect and command. But somewhere, along the line, as this particular cultures practices were spread and discussed, everything became reduced down to animals. Everyone has animal spirit guides. You belong to an animal tribe. You need to speak with your inner animal. Personally, I have decided from study and a wee bit of personal experience, that is utter bullshit. But yet, great multitudes go off and “become shamans” (which, if you are familiar with shamanic lore, also doesn’t really happen, shamans are chosen by spiritual entities, and forced to become shamans, not the other way around, most of the time) and they also seem to walk away with animal guides. A great number of them seem to have animals guides like Eagle, or Bear, or Wolf. I can only think that those spirits must be EXHAUSTED beyond belief, always being contacted by these people, mostly strangers who seem to think they are buddies, asking for who knows what. But yet, all these people have them. I find it to be a thoroughly strange phenomenon. I also find it curious that it is always, ALWAYS must be “wild” animals. You think there would be a dog or cat, but no, it’s usually wolf, or maybe Lion or Tiger. Why? Is man’s best friend not good enough for you?

I, for one, don’t have animal guides. I have had people tell me they see animal spirits near me, but they aren’t guides, and I don’t belong to their tribes. I was trained in core shamanism (although it’s not a method that I work with, it just doesn’t resonate to me. I would rather get up and dance to the drum, then lay there. I just can’t open up that way, it seems). On the first core shamanic journey, we were told to go find out spirit guides, probably animals (which is what the instructor said) and while most people reported an animal of some kind ( I believe two had Eagle, of course) I sat there, with a thoroughly puzzled look on my face, because of what I saw. When the instructor asked me, What happened for me, I said I floated around in the dark, just kinda hanging there, and then I said “Hello, I am looking for a guide?” Part of the darkness cleared and came into focus and it was Sri Ganapate aka Lord Ganesh, holding a scroll in one hand and a large dip pen in the other (which turns out is a classic image of Ganesh, as he is the inventor of writing, the dip pen being his tusk that he broke off, because his first pen couldn’t withstand the speed and fervor of his writing). I felt really weird, but was told that it was perfectly fine, and actually a good sign. This continued for the whole month of Sunday training. When asked to go to a world besides the middle one, I went to the upper world, and ended up speaking with an angel looking being ( I don’t think it was an angel, it just looked like modern images of one, although with a sword in hand, and no, it wasn’t Michael). Once, to retrieve some power animal for another, I came back with chrysophase (a semi-precious stone) while the other guy had to force Badger to work with me (which was not a pleasant week following, and I think Badger left after that). So, maybe I am not an animal person. Which isn’t totally true, cause I love animals. But spiritually, no. No animals for me, at least not as guides. Lesser helpful spirits perhaps, but not guides.

Also, in perusing information about tribal spirit workers, animals also don’t seem to be the bread and butter of them either. Oh, sure, they might have an ally who is an animal, and maybe they can project their spiritual body and it will take on an animal shape, but that isn’t quite the same thing. I mean, if you needed to travel through some tough terrain, wouldn’t it be easier if you were in the form of an animal native to that terrain. I think so. It might also be beneficial to have a positive relationship with the main animal of your tribes diet. Keep the food coming along. But then, you could also have that relationship with plants as well, if your people grow food of some kind, or if a specific plant makes a good medicine for a common ailment. Yet, it seems while some modern people do consider plants as spiritual allies, it is not nearly as often as animals. Yet tribal spirit workers often do, and have more then just plants and animals.

So, why is there this difference between core shamanism, and culturally specific tribal spirit workers? Why do people in places that have never seen a Wolf, an Eagle or a Bear, get those as totems, when there is a multitude of native and local animals that could probably benefit them greater? Maybe, just maybe, they aren’t really communicating with the spirits of animals. Maybe, just maybe, they are speaking with sock puppets that look like animals in their heads. Which, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, they can become a better person if they straighten their head out first, but, does that really make them a “shaman” or spirit worker?

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