I recently joined a LiveJournal community offering Pagan writing prompts. I'm looking forward to the suggestions offered--since I solicited suggestions here, I've been compiling a rather long list of possible writing topics to keep me inspired. (I still welcome suggestions, incidentally; comment on this entry if you have any.)
At any rate, the first prompt on the community had to do with animal totems in Pagan practice. It got me thinking back to the early days of my training, when "what's your spirit animal?" was a burning question and I noticed that an oddly large proportion of Pagans were magically paired with wolves, birds of prey, dolphins, and dragons.
Oh, and cats--let's not forget cats. At the first student Pagan group meeting I ever went to at UT there was a girl in the corner who claimed to be a "cat spirit" and spent the entire meeting licking her forearms.
I shit you not.
Whatever you may think of the idea of Otherkin or related states of being, you'll probably agree that's pretty damned silly, although not entirely unexpected in a college freshman who smelled so strongly of pot that walking within five feet of her made people crave Taco Bell.
When I first attempted a totem animal meditation, I hoped I would "get" a wolf or a raven or something else obviously Witchy. Unfortunately, then as now, I was terrible at guided meditations--I'm skilled in leading them but not in undertaking them. The meditation was a bust; in fact I think I fell asleep.
Truth be told, since then I've never been all that into the idea of totem animals, at least not the way a lot of Pagans seem to be; I don't seek out a particular archetypal creature for guidance or invoke any animal spirits when casting Circle. As I've said before I also don't deal much with my ancestors, either, while many other Wiccans do. My path is less shamanic than it is mystical, I suppose. (There being several basic flavors of Wicca--shamanic, ceremonial, and mystical, among others I can't think of at the moment. Hmm...I should write about that, too.)
This does not mean that animals aren't an important part of my practice--and I don't mean from the perspective of veganism or animal rights, although that is certainly a factor in how much I adore pigs and cows. What I have found is that although I personally don't have an animal, my gods do.
Anyone who has read The Circle Within knows about Spider. Spider, symbolically the keeper of written knowledge (who could forget Charlotte A. Cavatica, the greatest arachnid writer?), haunts the edges of my life when there's something specific that Deity wants me to write. As my Goddess is a Weaver with the unive rse as Her loom, the symbolism is doubly significant. I have Spider's image tattooed on my left shoulder blade, and I try to "live and let live" with her children in my house unless they're obviously poisonous. (Part of the reason I got the tattoo was to make up for all the spiders I'd squashed before I realized they were trying to tell me something. Pain and blood seemed to mollify her.) Now, when I'm about to be hit by the Writing Stick, the tattoo burns. In my opinion it's a much better system than me waking up in the middle of the night with an eight-legged emissary from the Goddess tap dancing on my forehead.
More recently I found myself in association with another creature typically considered creepy and dark--the Serpent. I blame Lilith; it's Her symbol, at least in the guise She has clothed Herself in to me. The snake is, in many cultures and mythological systems, an agent of transformation, born of both Earth and Fire. It's no coincidence that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was Eve's tempter--a woman seeking knowledge outside the rigid strictures of Judeo-Christian theology has been considered a dangerous thing for many centuries. Cultures that predated the Bible venerated the snake as a feminine symbol, so like many Pagan ideas it was absorbed into and vilified by the newer mythology. Old news to most Pagans, but still significant when you find yourself dreaming of snakes.
In my dealings with Lilith, a goddess described as Adam's first wife who was banished from Paradise (and subsequently demonized) because she would not submit to him--or alternately as a handmaiden of the goddess Inanna, depending on who you ask--She described herself as the Serpent, who offered the apple of sensual wisdom and sexuality to Eve. In Lilith's words, "I should have known she was not ready. Are you?"
Therefore, when She informed me and my co-priestess that we were to get tattoos in Her honor, it was pretty obvious to me that She wanted a snake. I do love snakes, actually; I would have one as a companion, except that they need specialized care and I'm a bit squeamish about their feeding. I don't think Cosmo would especially like it either. Someday, however, I may find myself sharing house with a ball python or similar.
When it comes to animals, there are plenty that are associated with the God: wolves, goats, all sorts of predators. As you might expect, this hippie cow-loving gal was not claimed by a god whose primary role is Hunter (although given His sense of humor I'm kind of surprised). Mine is a dancing god, and a god of the forest, and whenever it pleases Him to appear with an animal, it's a white-tailed deer.
I've had a fascination with deer since childhood. They're certainly plentiful, and in Austin at night sometimes you can see several hanging out in someone's front yard nibbling the shrubbery. A lot of people consider them a nuisance, but every time I see one my heart leaps. When I saw this picture I practically fainted with joy. They are graceful, quick animals that seem to dance as they run through the woods. Deer have been considered sacred animals for millennia, and god has been depicted with antlers all over the world; my favorite image of God Himself, the Froud card I've linked to here before, is antlered, not horned.
The prominent item on my altar to Himself is a statue of two deer that I found in Mexico years and years ago; I found it on the corner of a shelf of cartoonish resin animals at the mercado in Nuevo Laredo, and when I bought it, it had...googly plastic eyes. Yes. I pried them off immediately, of course, and since then it's been a fixture in my living room. Recently I acquired a fallen antler shed by a buck, and it too has become part of the altar. Actual God statues are hard to find unless you're into Pan, someone else Greco-Roman, or like giant penises; I am quite satisfied with His creatures taking the place of an anthropomorphic figure. He's something of a shapeshifter anyway.
That, then, is the extent of my involvement with the concept of totem animals. Next week I hope to have more to say about Himself, as a great many people expressed interest in hearing more about our relationship.