It is common enough to say of someone that he has the heart of a lion or she has the cunning of a fox, but for societies all over the world, this is more than just a figure of speech. They believe that we all have kinship with certain animals who can endow us with their qualities.
Modern men and women can also draw upon the universal qualities of various creatures, using them as a ‘totem’ to help steer a path through life. For example, if you are seeking independence, you may sense affinity with the cat. You may find that if you are faced with a difficult dilemma and conflicting opinions, the elephant can offer wisdom and stability. The tiger can offer strength to endure difficulties and the knowledge that, given courage, the future can be changed for the better. Below is a brief overview of a handful of the more common totems, and the strengths they can offer if you call on them.
Bears: Protection and Sacrifice
Use the bear when you need to protect those you love or temporarily give up a pleasure for long-term gain.
Bear shrines and bear skulls and bones were buried with human remains by Neanderthal Man. In ancient Greece and Rome, bears were sacred to the moon goddesses Artemis and Diana. In the cult of Artemis, maidens in yellow robes imitated bears at the festival of Brauronia. The expression ‘licked into shape’ comes from the ancient belief that bears were born without form and were licked into shape by their mothers.
Traditionally bears are companions of dwarfs and guard their treasure, although sometimes, like in the story of Snow White and Rose Red, the bear can be an enchanted person.
Bees: Clear Communication
Use the bee when it is important to convey your views or feelings or overcome prejudice in others.
Bees, like birds, are traditionally messengers of the gods. If you have a bee hive, you should keep the bees informed of the family news. For example, if someone in the family gives birth, marries or dies, you are supposed to tell the local bees or they will stop making honey. It is said that if you listen outside a bee hive on Christmas Eve, you will hear the bees humming the twenty-third Psalm.
Fishermen believe that if a bee is flying in the same direction as their boat it will mean a good catch.
Cats are among the most magical of animals, although traditions vary widely as to whether they are fortunate or unfortunate omens. They were worshipped in ancient Egypt and were sacred to Bast, the cat-headed goddess and protector of pregnant women. In ancient Rome, the cat was the symbol of freedom and the Goddess of Liberty was depicted with a cat at her feet.
Black cats are said to be the familiar spirits of witches. This association may have come about because Freyja, the Norse fertility goddess, had a chariot pulled by black cats. When Christianity reached Scandinavia in the eleventh century, the female pagan deities were regarded as witches and the cats became their familiars. It was said that after seven years a cat became a witch.
Sailors like black cats and their wives keep them to ensure their husbands return home safely. It is said that if you keep a black cat, you’ll never lack for lovers. A restless cat often means a storm is coming.
Cows: Caring for Others
Use the cow for patience when family responsibilities seem too heavy or when you are concerned with the health of another person.
The cow is a sacred creature within Hinduism and milk is offered to the gods in Hindu temples to represent both the nourishing Earth Mother and the Lunar Goddess. Hathor, the ancient Egyptian Goddess of Women and Love was represented as a cow and later as a goddess with the head of a cow, her horns being the crescent moon. The link between the cow and the moon lies in the link between the moon and fertility. The moon has long been associated with the weather, growth and fruitfulness. In Scandinavian legend, Audumla the Cow sprang from the melting ice at the creation and licked a block of salt to create the first of the gods, Buri.
Dogs: Fidelity and Friendship
Use the dog when friends need your support or when your loyalties are divided.
Dogs have been ‘man’s best friend’ for thousands of years, certainly from about 7500BC in early Egypt. Hermes or Mercury, the messenger of the Green and Roman gods was accompanied by his faithful dog. One of the most famous dogs was Odysseus’ faithful hound, Argos, described in Homer’s Odyssey. Argos waited faithfully for Odysseus to return from the Trojan War and was the only one to recognize his heavily disguised master after many years’ absence, but the joy was too much for his old heart and he died.
Dogs are said to sense evil or death approaching and to howl a warning. This is an Ancient Greek belief but prevails throughout the world.
Elephants: Wisdom and Stability
Use the elephant when others are offering conflicting advice or trying to force you down a path that you feel is unwise.
It was once believed that the elephant had no joints in its legs and so had to sleep standing up. The ancient Roman scholar Pliny the Elder believed that the elephant had religious feelings and worshipped the ancient deities of the moon and stars. The Greek philosopher Aristotle echoed in Hinduism where the elephant-headed Ganesh is God of Wisdom and is always invoked at the beginning of any journey or before any important enterprise.
Horses: Swift Action
Use the horse when you must respond to a sudden challenge or crisis or need to make a swift decision.
The horse, which was first domesticated in about 1750BC, is a magical symbol of swiftness and power who can bear heroes and gods not only across the earth at incredibly speeds, but can also carry them through the skies, across the waves and even through the Underworld in safety. According to classical myth, Poseidon (Neptune to the Romans) first created the horse Arion by striking the earth with his trident. Its right feet were those of a man, it had a human voice and ran as fast as the wind. At first it was given to Adrastus, King of Argos, who led the Seven Heroes against Thebes. The horse eventually passed to Hercules. Pegasus, the winged horse of classical myth, was ridden by the hero Bellerophon who performed many hazardous task with its help, including slaying the Chimaera, a hideous monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and a dragon’s tail.
Lions: Courage and Nobility
Use the lion when principles are at stake or you are cornered by those who have no scruples.
In Western mythology, the lion is the King of the Beasts. He represents the power of the sun and was associated with the sun gods and later with kings. The lioness is a symbol of the moon goddesses and often pulled their chariots. Juno, wife of Jupiter, had a chariot drawn by lions. The lion was sacred to the Egyptians who decorated their doors with gaping lions’ mouths because the Nile, source of water and prosperity, began to rise when the sun was in Leo. A lion guarded the tunnel through which Ra the Sun God passed at night. In China, stone lions protected the courts of justice and were believed to come to life at night.
It was originally thought that lion cubs were born dead and that after three days the lion breathed life into them and the lioness howled over them to call down power into their limbs. Lions were said to sleep with their eyes open and, when moving, destroy their tracks with their tail.
Tigers: Strength and Permanence
Use the tiger when faced with a long-standing problem or when making a permanent commitment to maintain your resolve.
The tiger is the King of Beasts in Eastern mythology. In China, it is given the title of Lord of the Land Animals. Coloured tigers are used to represent the seasons and different directions. The White Tiger represents the Earth, the West, Autumn and the region of death because the West is the direction of the setting sun. The Blue Tiger is the East, Spring and Plant Life. The Red Tiger is the South, Summer and Fire. The Black Tiger is the North, Winter, and Water. The Yellow tiger in the centre is the Sun. In Japan, the tiger is believed to live for a thousand years. Malaysian legend tells that tigers contain the soul of sorcerers and therefore their name must be used with care for fear of attracting bad magic.