In my last article I discussed the role animal totems play in Native American culture and methods you may use to discover your totems. Among other topics, I examined the Medicine Wheel (earth-based astrology, Sun Bear Publications) and how it reveals each person’s two-animal totems. In summary, based on your birth date, each person has two totems: first is the directional totem (east, south, west and north) and second, a “moon” animal totem making your totem energies even more specific.
While it is interesting to know what our animal totems are, the real benefit and power comes from an understanding of what our totems represent energetically and how we may integrate those aspects into our daily lives. Today I will explore the animal totems of the four directions (the first of your two animal totems earth-based astrology signs) and the overall significance specifically of the four directions in Native American culture.
On the most fundamental level, the importance of the number “four” in Native American culture cannot be overstated. The stories of “how things came to be” in Navajo culture, for example, seem to be obsessed with the number four. These stories may include something like, “The Medicine Man circled the fire four times while casting corn meal to the four directions four times while praying four times….” While Navajos are among the most concerned with the number four, most tribes incorporate the significance of four in varying degrees. The pervasiveness of the number four is not limited to the cultures’ stories; they are a significant aspect of everyday life and may be incorporated into everything from ceremonies and rituals to village alignment and orientation.
The obsession with the number four is likely based in the ancestors’ desire to explain and integrate with the world in which they lived. Native peoples have an incredible connection with the earth. Unlike society today, our native ancestors did not so much seek to manipulate nature. Rather, they sought a greater connection with the natural world. In so doing, perhaps they actually had a better grasp of sustaining it. Rather than exploiting all that is, they would enhance and perpetuate it.
Each of the four directions has energies and characteristics specific to it. Each direction is aligned with a season, a point in the cycle of life, an animal totem (and its corresponding energies), a color, a mineral, an element (earth, air, fire, water), a plant and various other energies. Keep in mind while each of us has a specific directional totem, these totems and their corresponding energies are not limited to those born in the assigned months and all totems may be accessed by anyone. Still, each of the assigned totems is profoundly connected to us. Many ceremonies, rituals and stories begin in the east as shall we here.
The east is connected to those whose birthdays fall between March 21 and June 20 and is represented by the Golden Eagle. While it is impossible to say one totem is more significant than any other, the eagle is a profound totem to many tribes. As mentioned in my last article, each totem has a key word or phrase that summarizes the totem’s energy. The key words for Eagle are spirit, healing, messenger and creation. The eagle feather is the most sacred of all healing feathers and is perhaps the most powerful in feather magic. Eagle flies the highest of all birds and thus is closest to the Creator. In fact, Eagle is the messenger of Creator Spirit and is the prime connection between heaven and earth. The great height to which the eagle ascends allows him to “see the whole picture.” Eagle’s perspective is the antithesis of Mouse who views the world through close inspection as through a magnifying glass. The golden eagle is associated with the power of the sun and received its color as he soared through a hole in the sky to the home of the sun. Eagle is a totem of great responsibility and represents an obligation and opportunity to integrate your mind, body and spirit-self through spiritual practice. Simply by having a consciousness of this great power, you may begin to incorporate it into your existence. While there are many ways to accomplish this, one excellent means is to “become” your totem while meditating. Even if you don’t meditate, you can still achieve this connection through contemplation or reflection. Find a quiet place where you can quiet your mind. When your mind becomes still, begin to see through your totem’s eyes. As an eagle you will soar above the earth below. During your flight do not try to do or see anything specific. Rather, ALLOW yourself to see whatever is presented to you. As the messenger of the Creator, you may be very surprised what Eagle brings to you.
The south is the direction of those born June 21 to September 22 and is connected to Coyote. Many tribes have stories involving Coyote. Coyote is seen as the trickster. Sometimes Coyote is even represented as “the clown.” In some of the stories, Coyote’s trickery backfires and he ends up tricking himself. Yet, the stories can be misleading as Western eyes may interpret Coyote to be just a comedic buffoon bent on self-destruction. While it is true Coyote’s energy is one of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves, it is also the energy of being a catalyst for great change or evolution. The Navajo emergence story (how the Navajo people came to the earth’s surface) is one in which Coyote, through indirect action, served as the catalyst for the Dine’ (The “Navajo” People) moving from their original underworld home to their present place on the earth’s surface out of extreme necessity. Coyote has the joint energy of wisdom and folly. His energy is one of great magic which does not always work the way we intend for it to be but does work in a way that is meant to be. If you take any stock in the phrase, “everything happens for a reason, when it is supposed to and how it is supposed to” you may be expressing the energy of Coyote. Coyote teaches us not to take ourselves to seriously and that we can sometimes make things too complicated. He also teaches us that even if it seems our actions created a bad situation, the final end result may be positive if we envision and allow it to be so.
For those born September 23 to December 21 the totem is Grizzly Bear and considered the energy of the west. The key words for Bear are introspection, intuition and connecting with the inner self. As Bear enters the womb-cave of Mother Earth, she enters the Dream Lodge and walks in the Dreamtime. Medicine people have long called on Bear’s energy to access the subconscious/unconscious. When hibernating Bear emerges from her cave in the spring, it is as though she is born anew. Bear is a wonderful totem to reflect on during meditation. Bear energy is all powerful yet introspective. Bear teaches us to go within to find answers to questions of the 3-D, observable, temporal world as well as those of the ethereal plane. It is by quieting the mind and going within that we will truly KNOW.
To the north we find White Buffalo the directional totem for those born December 22 to March 20
. As with Eagle, White Buffalo is among the most sacred of the totems. The key words for Buffalo are abundance and prayer. The buffalo were a primary source of life for many tribes; clothing, food, shelter, weapons, tools and ceremonial implements all came from the grace of Buffalo. It is White Buffalo Calf Woman (Ptesin Ska Win) who saved the Lakota in times of famine with the gift of the sacred pipe (chanunpa). As the story goes, food had become scarce in the Lakota nation so two braves were sent to find game. They had become desperate as their search seemed in vain. Then a beautiful woman appeared on a hill. As they approached her, she said she had the key to their salvation but one of the braves only lusted for her and he was turned to stone. She reiterated her purpose to the other and together they returned to the village. She brought to people the sacred pipe and instructed them on how to manifest a new reality through right action and right prayer. Through the pipe (and the sacred pipe ceremony), she showed how all things are connected (mitakuye oyasin). These teachings explained how, when the right action is accompanied with right prayer (or thought/meditation/reflection), all things needed would become abundant. Once the people had been instructed how to integrate thought (prayer), action and the 3-D temporal world reality, she transformed into White Buffalo. As she disappeared over the same hill she was first seen on, abundant herds of buffalo began to appear on all horizons.
For me, learning and studying the pipe ceremony and its many facets and subtleties as well as the teachings of Buffalo has given me a glimpse of the power of manifesting in life. While each of the directional totems may be specific to ones birth date, we can access the teachings of all of them. Taken as a whole, the lessons bestowed by these four totems will provide guidance and power in your spiritual practice as you travel your spiritual journey.