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Tribal Empowerment

Tribal Empowerment

In Black Elk Speaks (1932), John G. Neihardt told of accompanying Black Elk, the aged holy man of the Oglala Sioux, to Harney Peak, the same place where the spirits had taken Black Elk in a vision when he was young. Neihardt wrote that as those who stood by watched, thin clouds began to gather out of a clear sky. A scant chill rain began to fall, and there was low, rumbling thunder without lightning. With tears running down his cheeks, Black Elk chanted that the Great Spirit, the Six Powers of the World, heard his prayer to preserve his people. According to Neihardt, Black Elk stood for a few minutes in silence, his face uplifted, weeping in the rain, and then the sky was once again cloudless.

While those witnesses who observe such apparent control over the weather by a tribal shaman consider it magic, the practitioners themselves regard such abilities as empowerment. The tribal medicine men and women use forces that have been here for all time for the benefit or needs of their people. In their view, magic is not magic if one understands it. Their medicine power enables them to will something into existence because they have need of it.

When evolving humankind existed in a less technological state in tribes around the world, there was a conscious or unconscious awareness that humans were a part of nature, part of one whole. And conversely, the whole was part of humankind. Because of this oneness, humans understood that they were a part of the power of creation and of all the creatures that walked, swam, or took flight.

To be a recipient of tribal empowerment, the practitioner, the shaman, or the priest must live their commitment every moment of every day. They must believe in the unity and the cooperation of all forms of life. When they are forced to take the life of an animal in order to survive, they kill only after uttering a prayer, beseeching the group spirit of that animal to understand that such an act was necessary in the turning of the great wheel of life.

When those tribal initiates who seek empowerment have displayed the proper attitude of receptivity, they must go alone into the wilderness to fast, to receive their spirit guide, and to receive a secret name and a sacred song. Perhaps the guide will also grant special powers of healing or prophecy to the supplicants.

The recipient of tribal empowerment is able to obtain personal contact with the invisible world of spirits and to pierce the sensory world of illusion which veils the great mystery. Often this gift is heightened by the intoning of the personal mantra, the personal song, the holy syllables that attune him or her with the eternal sound, the cosmic vibration of all creation.

A crucial element in tribal empowerment is the ability to rise above linear time. Most people have accepted the conventional concept of time as existing in some sort of sequential stream flowing along in one dimension. In solitary, mystical experience, those recipients of tribal empowerment are able to enter a reality of time that is not clock-measured or clock-controlled and that places their psyches in a dimension beyond linear time and space.

The ethnologist Ivar Lissner believed that in the sophistication of the modern world, people must not forsake the heritage of spirituality that has been bequeathed to humankind over hundreds of thousands of years. Humans must never allow the materialist or the pure technologist to dictate the fate of humanity. In his view, surveying the contributions made over the centuries by those nontechnological societies and their tribal empowerments, humankind must be guided by "great, universal minds which are closer to the secrets of the transcendental and throw more into the scales than mere weight of technological progress."


Delving Deeper

Gill, Sam D., and Irene F. Sullivan. Dictionary of Native American Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Gregor, Arthur S. Amulets, Talismans, and Fetishes. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Harner, Michael.The Way of the Shaman. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

Lissner, Ivar. Man, God and Magic. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1961.

Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks. New York: William Morrow, 1932. Reprint, New York: Pocket Books, 1972.


Crystal Skulls

Crystal skulls are fashioned from large pieces of crystal, usually from the mineral quartz. They are often life-sized and bear the same distinguishing characteristics as a human skull with eye sockets, a nasal cavity, and a rounded cranium. The most exquisite crystal skulls have finely crafted jaws with removable mandibles.

In addition to claims of paranormal activity, controversy concerning crystal skulls centers on their origins. More than a dozen of them were claimed to have been discovered in Mexico and Central America and are dated by

their founders or those who currently possess them as being hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old. Common methods for dating artifacts can neither confirm nor refute claims about when these crystal skulls were crafted, but, generally speaking, skulls sculpted with metal tools cannot be more than a few centuries old if they originated in Mexico and Central America.


Some crystal skulls are attributed to the Mayan culture that thrived in southern Mexico and Central America during the first millennium c.e. However, as established through studies of recurring symbols, artifacts, or references in hieroglyphics, there is no known cultural tradition among the Mayans that relate to crystal skulls or any kind of skull worship or fascination. There is some evidence of skulls being symbolically important in Aztec culture, which flourished earlier and further north than Mayan civilization, yet there are far fewer claims among crystal skull enthusiasts that connect the objects to Aztec culture. Radio-carbon testing is not applicable to crystal, because the method works only on previously animate objects.

Crystal skulls are credited by believers for having the ability to awaken human consciousness to a higher level of being. Some people assert that they experience a psychic connection when viewing a crystal skull, and commonly declare that they were infused with positive energy. Skulls of quartz crystal, like other quartz objects, are believed by mystic crystal enthusiasts to have the ability to record events, thoughts, and emotions that occur in their presence.

Some believers in mystical qualities of crystals credit ancient peoples with having crafted crystal skulls. According to them, ancients used the skulls to predict the future, to control the weather, as healing devices, as oracles to receive cosmic wisdom, as receivers of universal knowledge, and as a tool meant for future use to gain divine knowledge.

There is a crystal skull on display at the London Museum of Mankind, and the Paris Crystal Skull is on display at the Trocadero Museum. Both skulls can be traced back to Mexico, where records show they were purchased in the 1890s. The London Museum acquired its skull through Tiffanys of New York in 1898. Tests conducted in 1995 revealed scratches from steel tools, perhaps a jeweler's wheel, confirming the skull must be of modern origin. The date of the skull was moved from ancient Aztec times to the more recent period after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1520. Night workers at the museum reportedly refused to work near the skull unless it was covered, citing vibrations, colors appearing in the skull, or a simple association of skulls and death.

The Amethyst Crystal Skull and the Mayan Crystal Skull were found in Guatemala in the early 1900s. The latter skull received its name because it was found at the site of Mayan ruins. "Maya" is kept by a psychic who uses the skull to assist her in readings.

Two skulls exhibit particularly exquisite craftsmanship. The Rose Quartz Crystal Skull, found along the Guatemala-Honduras border, includes removable mandibles, as does the Mitchell-Hedges skull, the most famous and notorious of crystal skulls. Named after its founders and keepers, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges (18821959) and his daughter Anna (1910 ), it is considered the finest example of a crystal skull. Fashioned from clear quartz, the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull is realistic in size (the cranium approximates that of an average female adult), and its jaws were formed from the same piece of crystal as the skull. The jaws fit neatly into sockets and maintain a perfect balance with the skull.

The two biggest mysteries of the Mitchell-Hedges skull concern the craftsmanship used to make it and the story surrounding its discovery. The skull is believed to have been formed from a large block of crystal that was carved into a rough shape of a skull and then smoothed into its final shape with water and a solution of silicon-crystal sand or, perhaps, through some unknown technology. There are no scratches on the Mitchell-Hedges skull that would indicate the work of metal tools. Shafts within the skull are said to channel light from the base of the skull to the eye sockets in a manner similar to modern optic technology, and the sockets have concave forms that reflect light to the upper cranium. Internal prisms and light tunnels are believed to be the reason why objects are magnified and brightened when held beneath the skull.

Like other crystal skulls, the Mitchell-Hedges skull reportedly changes color, sometimes clouding up white, and other times growing from a small patch of black to intensely black. Many of those who have viewed it report strange visions when looking in, and some have detected a faint hum or a scent. Like other mystical crystal objects, the Mitchell-Hedges version has been reputed to have oracular and healing powers, to be able to accumulate natural magnetism, and to amplify and transmit energy. Its keeper and early publicist, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges, also claimed it had the power to kill, citing several of his enemies who died before he did.

Mitchell-Hedges was an explorer and gambler who wrote books about his searches for remnants of lost tribes and the lost continent of Atlantis (Lands of Wonder and Fear, 1931) as well as his encounters with sea monsters (Battles with Giant Fish, 1923, and Battles with Monsters of the Sea, 1937). In 1927, Mitchell-Hedges and his daughter Anna were clearing debris atop a temple in the ancient Mayan city of Lubaantum (modern-day Belize) when Anna discovered what became known as the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull on her seventeenth birthday. Weeks later, near the same site, she found the jaw of the skull.

Mitchell-Hedges did not publicize the skull until 1943, when he began referring to it as the Skull of Doom and claimed it was 3,600 years old. Curiously, he barely mentioned the skull in his autobiography, Danger, My Ally (1954). After he died in 1959, daughter Anna became the keeper of the skull.

It is now generally accepted that Anna Mitchell-Hedges did not discover the fabled crystal skull in the ruins of a Mayan city in 1927, but Mitchell-Hedges bought the artifact at an auction at Sothebys in London in 1943. Such claims have been verified by records at the British Museum, which had bid against Mitchell-Hedges for ownership of the object.

In 1970, the Mitchell-Hedges skull was examined by art conservator and restorer Frank Dorland. He claimed to have seen a spirit after studying the skull late at night in his home. According to Dorland, tests conducted at Hewlitt-Packard laboratories in Santa Clara, California, vouched for its craftsmanship including an absence of scars that would indicate metal tool work, and evidence that it was cut against the crystal axis. The validity of the tests has been questioned, as has the whole story of how the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull was found and how far back it dates.

Jo Ann and Carl Parks became owners of the famous Texas Crystal Skull, whom they affectionately call Max, in 1980 when a Tibetan healer bestowed the artifact on them in payment of a debt. Admittedly unaware at first of the significance of this object, Carl and Jo Ann, residents of Houston, placed the skull in a closet for the next seven years. Not until they came into contact with F. R. "Nick" Nocerino of Pinole, California, one of the world's foremost authorities of crystal skulls and director of the Society of Crystal Skulls, did they learn what an important artifact it was. Nocerino had been searching for that skull since the 1940s. He knew of its existence, but its actual location had sent him on a quest that had led him around the world.

Of the 13 crystal skulls known to researchers that are the actual true size of a human head, Max is the largest, weighing 18 pounds compared to the others, which weigh nine to 11 pounds. Max was found in a Mayan tomb at a site in Guatemala, and it has been estimated that Max came from a 50-to-60-pound piece of crystal that was more than a half a million years old. Other than Max and the crystal skull owned by Anna Mitchell-Hedges of Canada, all the others, each differing somewhat in size and detail, are held in museums or private collections.

People claim that being in Max's proximity provokes images and visions within them.

They believe to see scenes from the past history of Earth, and frequently they perceive UFO-related scenes and messages. "Whether you believe any of that or not, if you simply look at the artifact on a scientific and archaeological level, you cannot help being over-whelmed and awed at the skilled worksmanship that was involved in creating him," Jo Ann Parks has commented.

The British Crystal Skull on display at the London Museum of Mankind is considered to be a nineteenth-century artifact. Scientists, at least, are convinced that all evidence weighs toward recent origins of all crystal skulls. Until convincing evidence that a known civilization venerated such an object, or that crystal skulls are remnants of a vanished civilization, belief in special qualities of the skulls are in the minds of beholders of mysticism.


Delving Deeper

Bryant, Alice. The Message of the Crystal Skull: From Atlantis to the New Age. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1989.

Garvin, Richard M. The Crystal Skull: The Story of the Mystery, Myth and Magic of the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull. New York: Doubleday, 1973.

Gienger, Michael. Crystal Power, Crystal Healing: The Complete Handbook. New York: Sterling Publications, 1998.

Sullivan, Kevin. The Crystal Handbook. New York: New American Library, 1996.


Fetishes

Fetishes (from the Portuguese word feitio, meaning artificial, or false) are distinguished from amulets and talismans by supposedly being endowed with human thoughts or feelings, or infused with a spirit. Drawings of animals on cave walls by prehistoric people were believed to infuse humans with the qualities of strength, speed, or other attributes associated with that animal. Today, fetishes carved of wood or stone by Native Americans of the Southwest have the same purpose. Fetishes carved in the likeness of an animal are given as gifts, with the recipient supposedly gaining some of the qualities of that animal. Fetishes from the Zuni tribe are particularly sought after in modern times, sustaining a tribal tradition stretching back in time for centuries.

Fetishes are important in the vodoun religion, originating in western Africa as small pouches or chests, or items worn as amulets, and evolving into doll fetishes that were believed to possess the spirit of the person on whom the doll was modeled. That mystical practice of vodoun practitioners was misrepresented and generally overdramatized as a horror element of voodoo in popular culture, in movies, television shows, and fiction.


Egyptians had dolls called shawabtis that were occasionally buried with the dead for their use in the afterlife. A central African tribe called the Bakongo had a fetish called Nkosi. Unlike an amulet, which works automatically to bring luck or ward off misfortune, the Nkosi was believed to work only through an elaborate ceremony, where its power to identify the party guilty of a crime was coaxed and sometimes forced into action. That is the nature of fetishes, and what distinguishes them from amulets and talismans. Fetishes have personalities that must be appealed to in some way in order for them to work; amulets, invested with power based on the material and inscriptions, are supposed to work automatically; and talismans work automatically if they were crafted following a specific, ritualistic practice.


Delving Deeper

Bracken, Thomas. Good Luck Symbols and Talismans: People, Places, and Customs. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997.

Budge, E. A. Wallis. Amulets and Talismans. New York: Collier Books, 1970.

Mintz, Ruth Finer. Auguries, Charms, Amulets. Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publishers, 1983.

Nelson, Felicitas H. Talismans & Amulets of the World. New York: Sterling Publishers, 2000.


Megaliths

Around Carnac, in the Brittany region of France, stand more than 4,000 stones dating back 6,000 years. Some of them stand individually, some are aligned in rows, and some mark the sites of chambered graves beneath nearby mounds. Intricate burial chambers in Ireland, like many of the 12,000 ancient chambered burial sites beneath mounds in northern Europe, have arrangements of stone or markings that correspond with lunar and solar cycles. All of those ancient structures and arrangements of large stones are examples of a megalith (from the Greek "megas" meaning large, and "litho" meaning stone), a term used most specifically in reference to stone structures erected for ceremonial, astronomical, and religious purposes, and as monuments. Megalith building (placing large stones in a specific site) dates back to at least 5000 b.c.e. Many of the most famous megaliths were erected between then and 1500 b.c.e. The communities that erected them eventually faded into the recesses of history, but the megaliths they left behind continue to tantalize the imagination.

Adding to the mystery of these ancient structures is the supposition that they were erected by people not credited with possessing the knowledge and technology needed to move massive stones. Even if large labor forces were available, most megalithic structures demanded keen architectural and mathematical skills for planning and erection. Additionally, many ancient megaliths seem to have had sophisticated uses as solar and lunar calendars and as astronomical observatories. In fact, the discipline of archaeoastronomy (the study of astronomy among ancient societies) has become a burgeoning field of study during the past few decades, with ancient megaliths often serving as the focus of the discipline.

As ancient megaliths are studied, a greater appreciation for the skills and knowledge of prehistoric civilizations comes forth. Missing pieces of the puzzle of human development remain, however, fueling more speculation and theories. Perhaps survivors from vanished civilizations passed knowledge on to inhabitants of distant lands. As the old myths sometimes suggest, the megalith builders themselves may have known magic secrets of levitation and of transforming and reassembling solid materials. UFO enthusiasts argue that visitors from outer space may have directed the erecting of megaliths, particularly since so many megalithic sites were devised with the intention of viewing and charting the skies above.

Ancient megaliths are generally divided into five categories:

  1. alignments, stones placed in rows and other non-circular shapes;
  2. burial chambers, underground chambers usually covered by a mound of some kind;
  3. monoliths (from the Greek; "mono" means single, "litho" is stone), single standing stones, also called menhirs;
  4. monument memorials to gods or community leaders; and
  5. stone circles.

The greatest concentration of aligned megaliths is in the Carnac area of Brittany, France, where megaliths are aligned in rows in three different fields. Le Menec has two stone circles at either end of 12 rows of megaliths. The tallest stones stand 13 feet in height, and the stones dwindle in size moving from west to east, totaling 1,099 megaliths. Kermario has 10 rows and 1,029 megaliths. One tall menhir, in which five serpents are engraved, serves to signal a nearby tumulus, an earthen mound that covers a chambered grave. The third field, Kerlescan, has 13 rows of aligned megaliths that form the shape of a barrel.


The megaliths of Carnac first underwent radio-carbon dating techniques in 1959. At that time it was expected the results would show the megaliths were erected during the first or second century b.c.e., for it was generally believed that the megalith builders had come from the eastern Mediterranean region from Egypt, or Mycea (a civilization that preceded ancient Greece). The radiocarbon test, however, pushed the megalith builders back as far as 4650 b.c.e. All previous theories about the origins of the Brittany megaliths were undermined. The structures originated with pre-Roman and pre-Celtic civilizations, and they were older than similar structures in the eastern Mediterranean region from which the engineering expertise to erect the megaliths was previously believed to have originated.

The question of how the megaliths were positioned at sites where they stand is baffling. Modern-day tests conducted on moving the megaliths from quarries to nearby sites showed that it was possible for the primitive societies to move and erect the megaliths using rope or simply pushing the stones. Such effort, however, would have required coordinating the labor of hundreds of workers. One test during the 1970s showed that 200 people could move a 30-ton stone two to three miles in a few days by rolling the stone over logs.

Some monoliths (single blocks or large pieces of stone) are formed naturally and gain mythical importance based on their sublime appearance. In the Australian desert stands the world's largest monolith, Uluru (also called Ayers Rock), which reaches about a thousand feet high. Uluru is venerated by aborigines (native people of the area), who believe the ground beneath it is hollow and is a source of energy called Tjukurpa Dreamtime. According to their belief, all life as it is today is part of one vast unchanging network of relationships that can be traced to the spirit ancestors of the Dreamtime. The great spirits walked along the earth and literally sang material objects into existence.

The Uluru monolith extends downward more than three miles beneath the surface. Approximately 500 million years ago it was part of the ocean floor at the center of present-day Australia. Depending on the time of day and the atmospheric conditions, Uluru can dramatically change color, from a deep blue to glowing red. The area draws a variety of visitors, from those seeking to tap mystical energy, to tourists bussed in and out for a couple hours' worth of viewing time.

Among natural monoliths with mysterious qualities are "healing stones," usually a large stone with a hole through it. The Men-an-Tol in Cornwall, England, is one of several examples of a stone reputed to have healing properties. According to legend, people can be cured of back and leg pains by passing through the hole in the stone.


Delving Deeper

Burl, Aubrey. Megalithic Brittany: A Guide to over 350 Ancient Sites and Monuments. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.

Daniel, Glyn Edmund. Megaliths in History. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Lancaster Brown, Peter. Megaliths, Myths, and Men: An Introduction to Astroarchaeology. New York: Dover, 2000.

Michell, John F. Megalithomania: Artists, Antiquarians, and Archaeologists at the Old Stone Mountains. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982.

Mohen, Jean-Pierre. The World of Megaliths. New York: Facts on File, 1990.


Runes

Although the various markings on objects of stone and wood known as runes are commonly referred to as an ancient alphabet of the Northern European Germanic and Scandinavian people, they do not really constitute a language as such. The runes are essentially symbols with particular meanings that were used to convey brief magical inscriptions and were often used in rites of divination. The word "rune" means "secret," especially as it might apply to a hidden wisdom, and the various symbols were inscribed on a wide variety of objects to give them power. The runes were used to send secret messages, to cast spells, to divine the future, and to communicate with the spirit world.

Some scholars say that some of the symbols used in the mystical runic markings may have originated as far back as Paleolithic times and been combined in historic times with certain characters from an old Etruscan alphabet. Certain traditions attribute the runes to the Volsungr, an ancestral tribe of heroic and semi-divine beings that settled in Northern Europe just prior to the Ice Age. According to some of the legends of the Volsungr, the godlike beings gave the magical symbols as a gift that might assist lesser humans in their struggles to survive in the harsh environment of Ice Age Europe. In the Old Norse religion, it was Odin, the father of the gods, who, seeking higher wisdom, hung upside down from the World Tree for nine days before he received the rune symbols as the answer to his quest.

When the runic symbols were placed on small rocks or blocks of wood, the Old Norse cast them to predict the success of a hunting or fishing expedition, when to plant crops, or what course their children might follow throughout their lives. In the eleventh century when Christianity began to replace the old Viking religion and Latin became the written language of the educated, the runes were not replaced, but gained an even stronger reputation for containing magical powers. While the priests of the new religion frowned upon any supernatural connotations attributed to the runes, the symbols remained as integral designs in folk art, jewelry, and wearing apparel. In recent years, the casting and reading of runesthe "Viking Oracle"has again become a popular tool of divination.

Delving Deeper

Blum, Ralph. The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Pagan Scandinavia. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967.

Gordon, Stuart. The Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends. London: Headline Publishing, 1994.

Karcher, Stephen. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Divination. Rockport, Mass.: Element Books, 1997.

Sawyer, Brigit. The Viking-Age Rune Stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.


Talismans

The word "talisman" comes from the Arabic and means "to make magical marks." An amulet can be a found object, a common item, or one bought in a store. A talisman, on the other hand, is inscribed with pictures, words, letters, or mystical signs and is crafted for a specific function. When properly designed, talismans are believed to bring love, treasures, and health, and can allow one to communicate with the dead. Talismans must be crafted following a specific ritual based on the intended use, and the recipient's astrological sign, religion, or other qualities are often taken into consideration.

Talismans are intended to remain mysterious. While amulets often feature recognized symbols to bring protection or luck, talismans have inscriptions meant to be secret or specific only to the individuals wearing them. Talismans must be crafted at a proper time and in a proper way to be effective; injury is believed to result from carelessness in the making or wearing of talismans.

Talismans are often used by members of secret societies. Kabbalists, for example, combined a complicated system of knowledge that utilized elements of numerology and astrology to create magic squares that protect against sorcery. Magic squares feature letters that spell out the name of God or numbers arranged in rows and columns that produce an equal sum when added in various sequences.

The magic triangle, another talisman, is based on the belief that systematic reductions of an inscription, line by line, create power that can ward off evil spirits and heal maladies. The mystical word "Abracadabra," for example, was used in medieval Europe as a chant to reduce fever. Each time the word was spoken in the chant, a letter was dropped. As the chant reduced, the fever was dispelled. Such talismans were especially popular during the Great Plague that swept through London during the mid-1660s.

A talisman of vodun, called gris-gris, is a small cloth bag filled with items from herbs to cloth to animal parts, created in a ritualistic practice and intended to bring money, love, or good health to the wearer.

Delving Deeper

Bach, Marcus. Inside Voodoo. New York: Signet, 1968.

Bracken, Thomas. Good Luck Symbols and Talismans: People, Places, and Customs. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997.

Gregor, Arthur S. Amulets, Talismans, and Fetishes. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Mintz, Ruth Finer. Auguries, Charms, Amulets. Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publishers, 1983.

Nelson, Felicitas H. Talismans & Amulets of the World. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2000.


Totems

Among the shamanic teachings of the traditional Native Americans, the totem represents the physical form of one's spirit helper, his or her guardian or guide. The totem entity may in some ways be comparable to the concept of a guardian angel or spirit guide that presents itself on the physical plane in the form of an animal.

Traditional Native Americans believed that the great mystery prepared the land as a place where all things that swam, walked, crawled, and flew were to mingle in harmony. Gifts were bestowed upon each creature, with abilities to learn lessons from one another. The native people accepted their kinship with all of nature and believed that each entity performed its specific talents according to its abilities. Therefore, it was advantageous for all humans to learn the identity of their totem and to receive its lessons in order to make their lives more complete.

In the shamanistic tradition, all creatures are called relatives and are considered brothers, sisters, parents, and so forth. All nonhuman entities are regarded as "people," and everyone has an important role to perform in the larger system of life.

It was the totem animal that guided shamans through the portal that led to the other world, to the mysterious transcendent reality beyond the material world, the dimension that lay beyond time and space. For all the members of the tribes, their own totem animal gave them their spiritual power and provided them with their own instrument of passage into the spirit world. Their totem animal would guide them in the purification of their spirit, helping them to achieve self-discipline through fasting, prayer, and the emptying of their hearts of all earthly desires. Although many in the Judeo-Christian tradition prefer to emphasize the charge that humans shall have dominion over all animals, it might be mindful to also take serious notice of Job 12:78: "Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or to speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you."

Although totems are most often associated with Native Americans, many cultures have at some time in their past used animal totems. Local sport teams use names such as the Tigers, Lions, Bears, Cardinals, and Falcons. Various religions and sects use expressions like the Lamb of God, the Dove of the Holy Spirit, and the Lion of Judah. People through history have even had such surnames as Bear, Beaver, Wolf, Crane, Crow, Drake, Finch, Fish, Fox, Hawk, Robin, Pike, Lamb, Partridge, and Salmon.

For many centuries, humans have allowed animals to be both surrogates and teachers. The ethnologist Ivar Lissner has pondered the provocative mystery of why those anonymous Franco-Cantabrian cave artists of more than 20,000 years ago never left mankind any clearly defined self-portraits that would show the exact physical appearance of human ancestors. Aside from a few Venus-type mother-goddess statuettes, people are left with a rather bizarre collection of ghostly creatures with the heads of animals and birds, strange half-human, and half-animal entities.

Lissner suggested that the Stone-Age artists really were portraying themselves, "but in the guise of intermediary beings who were stronger than common men and able to penetrate more deeply into the mysteries of fate, that unfathomable interrelationship between animals, men, and gods." The ancient cave painters may have been saying that "the road to supernatural powers is easier to follow in animal shape and that spirits can only be reached with an animal's assistance."

For countless centuries, those people who trust their totems have relied upon the assistance of their personal animal totem to lead them to higher spiritual awareness.


Delving Deeper

Gill, Sam D., and Irene F. Sullivan. Dictionary of Native American Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Gregor, Arthur S. Amulets, Talismans, and Fetishes. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

Lissner, Ivar. Man, God and Magic. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1961.

Steiger, Brad. Totems: The Transformative Power of Your Personal Animal Totem. San Francisco: HarperSanFranciso, 1997.

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