One of the common themes I see in books on animal totemism and similar practices is an emphasis on what we can get out of working with these beings. The language used can at times be pretty anthropocentric: “Harness the power of the totems to change your life!” sums it up well enough. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your health, wealth, and wisdom with the help of totemic allies. After all, that’s one of the strengths of spirituality—if it makes you a better person, you’re using it right.
What few of these books discuss is how to give back to the totems. The best relationships of any sort are reciprocal, balanced in give and take. It’s not out of grudging obligation, either: everyone involved wants what’s best for everyone else. And in this case, I advocate for cultivating the kind of totemic relationship in which you want to do kind things for your totems.
How do you do that? I’d like to share a few suggestions.
- Cultivate a sense of gratitude: When we go into any sort of a relationship with an attitude of “Me, me, me!” it’s harder for us to look beyond our own needs. We take what we’re given for granted, and then if it goes away we feel slighted. Take a moment each day to think about all the beings who have given of themselves to help you, whether that’s feeding you, or teaching you, or helping you heal.
- See nature, both physical and spiritual, as an interconnected system: Through gratitude, you’ll begin to see how we are all part of greater ecosystems, human and otherwise. When we are aware of something, we learn to be more careful of it. And when we care for something, we want to know more about it. So it becomes a positive feedback loop in which gratitude and curiosity lift each other ever upward.
- Learn about the animal behind the totem and what challenges it faces: In learning about systems as a whole, we also learn about their parts. Study the animals that your totems watch over. Find out what threatens them, whether it’s disease, over-hunting, pollution, or other dangers. Habitat loss is the number one cause of species endangerment and extinction, and unfortunately our demand for land for agriculture, industry, and even suburbs all contribute to the destruction of wild land, so it’s also important to look at what affects each species’ home.
- Take action to give back: The single best offering you can give a totem is to care for its physical counterparts. That can be everything from reducing the amount of resources you consume and the pollutants you produce (like carbon in the air and plastic in, well, everything), to donating money and/or time to local organizations that help the environment. Even picking up trash in your neighborhood is a worthwhile effort.
Our thanks to Lupa for her guest post! For more from Lupa, read her article, “Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up: Exploring the Totemic Ecosystem.”