Friday, January 20, 2012

Musings Monday: Shifting Bear (And Why I Distrust Totem Dictionaries)

Below is a stream-of-thought writing I did when I brought my small Bear statue home from goodwill. I could feel him "pulling" my spirit from across the room the entire night, and finally I let him pull me into himself. Often I work with primal spirits whose best teaching is done from the inside of their skull. I'm a very visual person, and I learn in a decidedly non-verbal way, so most of my Spirit adventures revolve around literally becoming Animal.

His name, he told me, is Tutkalut.



I feel power, rippling through every muscle, I feel it in every nerve. My human muscles twitch as if I’m running, inside this great spirit.

I feel a joy, a joy at having so much power, so much pent up energy, the ability to spring and cut and bring down something twice my size at a moment’s notice. I feel what a predator must feel, knowing it can cause harm but also knowing restraint from harm. I feel a pure joy at running in the newfallen snow, the mountains at my back and the wind in my fur. I feel the frozen river on my back, but it gives me no quarter.

I feel the loping gait of the bear, running beneath me, inside me, we are the same being, melding and de-melding all in the same moment. I feel my claws grabbing the earth, throwing it up behind me. I feel my shoulder muscles, tensed and released. I feel, more than smell, the entire world around me. I know the trees, I know the sky, I know every bird that flies overhead. This is my land. I know it with every fiber of my, the bear’s, our being.


I have shifted Wolf (my 'Totem') before, but while canines seem to WANT to know everything---Bear seems to just know. Wolf is too cerebral, Bear is physical.

I often have problems with the 'New Agey Totem Books' (you know the ones, such as Animal Speak) that describe an animal in an easy to digest way that supposedly applies to all totems and guides of that sort. In many cases I find it utter, delicious bullshit. I post this Shift experience to show you how different my experience of Bear is to the 'normal expectation'. Animal Speak will attempt to describe Bear energy as all about hibernation, or looking within.

If I had to describe my Bear energy in one word, it would be Power. It wasn't the sort of Power that makes one want to express it. It was the sort of solid, muscular, very physical power that gives one the self assurance that one is undoubtedly King on this landscape. It wasn't pride. Not nearly. It was just this sense of intrinsic knowing that nothing could challenge you, and though you took no pride in that, you realized it would be no contest and you had the ability to remove any and all blockages in your way.

I work with Deer in a deep way as well. If you peruse a Totem dictionary you may get some nice shiny easy-to-digest BS about gentleness and quietness. Have you SEEN deer? Have you seen two males fighting in the mating season? Gentle my ass. I work with Deer to learn the cycle of predator and prey, life and death, and how to easier transverse the boundaries between the two. Deer is one of the prey animals that has an excellent and peaceful relationship with death and its boundaries. But gentle? Deer is as much a gentle teacher as a wolverine.

I take issue with anything that claims to blanket-label Spirit-types as one thing or another thing. My Wolf totem is as much about loyalty and community as a rock. No. Teaching, yes. I can see that. But there is so much more than the pretty surface description of the animal. Totem dictionaries seem to do, for me, what a bad writer can do for a main character in a book. Give a flat, lackluster summary/description and the character seems 2D. The character seems unbelievable, like it can't exist in a realistic fashion, and so we find it hard to connect with that character. The same thing happens in many 'new agey totemic' descriptions. No wonder so many have trouble connecting to Primal energies--look at how they are being described.

I implore you to look beyond surface definitions and really ask your Totem/Guide WHY it takes an animal shape. Does it do so to relate to you better? Does it do so to demonstrate what you're lacking? Really ask it what it has to teach you. And don't expect it to be what you read in a book, either. Really open your mind. Don't take my word for this, either. I want you to really dig deep and think about what your specific guide/totem is doing in your life and why they are what they are.

And hey--sometimes your Guides don't take animal form. Some people just can't work with animals in that way. And you know what? That's fine. I don't usually have human teachers since I can't understand them, either. Don't expect to have 16 'totems/guides' because a book told you so. You can have 0 guides or 13 guides, and a book sure don't know that until you find out yourself. Totems are not collectible trading cards. They are living, breathing beings who have important shit to teach you, they're just waiting for you to stop reading totem dictionaries.

-Love the Spirits


  1. I LOVE YOUR DELICIOUS ABILITIES TO SQUELCH DELICIOUS BULLSHIT. And stomp out the over-use of blanket descriptions on any being, any totem, or any aspect of practices. It always bugged me that a lot of totem descriptions forget to mention that totem being themselves has their own personality or life to them.

    We treat them like a poster on a wall that you would describe by talking about the colors or the medium used, rather than acknowledging that they live in their own quantum, with their own dimensional qualities, personality, and purpose.

  2. Lol I so don't like those books eirher ! I mean can't people see and know the animal and its spirit by seeing and experiencing the animal themselves ? I think people want to make animals human and they are not they just are who they are just as we are who we are . I am of the bear and eagle clan and the wolf is my lone spirit ! I was terrified of bear . which is absolutely crazy because I mean Ilive in bear territory but my fear became so bad I did not pick or wild craft for several yrs . then I learned the why and often the clan or totem as some call them often we have a fear of anf often even fight with that animal . the bear is protector , often people in position of protecting community , family are of the bear clan . people can stray too and use it in a no0t good way such as gangs or bullying too I think new agey type books forget to list that every single thing that exists also has a negative side as well . crows are highly intelligent for example but they also can go on talking and talking and not listen very well at times .
    Kristin have you read about the spirit bear , the white black bears , I mean the for real stuff online there is so really beautiful write ups on them .I bet you'd really connect well with that bear maybe that is the bear you found ;-)
    I always encounter the black bear but one time I was praying on a young fellow a friend of our ds who'd fallen into crack & meth .his family would not see or own the abuse in his family etc.
    I kept getting images of a white bear in my head then a friend told me about the spirit bear from a doc. I think on the nature of things . so I looked the bear up . this boy has white blond hair and I just know this is his totem probably clan . so I pray for this fellow to heal for this bear to go and walk with him .
    This is really a great post ☺

  3. +1 for any post with the phrase "utter, delicious bullshit". An excellent read!

  4. Yeah, I have several books on Totem and Spirit Animal meanings from different cultures, each one varies from culture to culture. I didn't even finish "Animal Speak" because I didn't see many of Ted's interpretations. Now if he said, these are the meanings from so-and-so tribe, then I'd be more open to reading it, such as "Spirits of the Earth" by Bobby Lake-Thom--he makes it clear that these are the meanings from his people, and acknowledges that they'll be different in other tribes.

    It's great, if you really don't know, but I always stress to people to figure it out on their own. What Bumblebee, Cardinal, and others means to me is completely different than what I've read. I go by their nature, behavior, and any other clues/emotions they may give me. Great post. ~)O(~