I will condense this into a mini-essay in the future, but here are my raw thoughts and experiences.
I live in a strange place.
My home is in a large town, and I’m only half an hour from a major city, yet I can walk for only five minutes and be out in the country. Sheep are the main farmed animal in my locality, and I wondered why so few people tried to build a meaningful totemic relationship with hir.
I went to hir one evening, and sie was grazing amongst some tightly woven young saplings with hir lambs. Foolishly, I approached hir head on and was rewarded by being charged to the ground, my guts ripped open by hir hooves.
This was not a great start, but I’m headstrong and not deterred easily.
As part of my volunteer work, I was out hiking in the moors to the south of my home area. Here, the sheep wander freely and live a semi-feral life. I made an attempt at inducing a light shapeshift into a sheep, with Sheep the totem mocking me. I was aware of how useless my human form was in that environment. My two legs and high centre of gravity were working against me, if stranded there was nothing that sustain my body, and I just could not withstand the weather, even on a mild day.
I am a pitiful wreck of a species, and Sheep knew it.
Things were not going well. How could I build a meaningful relationship with someone so skeptical of me, not as an individual but as a species?
And this is when I decided to have a “Sheep Week” – seven days of intensive artwork, shapeshifting and journeying as and with Sheep to see if I could salvage something.
I began by inviting Sheep to join me in an average day. Sie just did not understand why I did the things I did – mainly commuting and working. To be honest, sometimes I don’t understand why I do those things either. Our conversation lead to the understanding that my work *is* my community, my society, my flock. Not in a conventional Sheep way – where flocks are not for looking after each other, but for using numbers in the game of survival – but in my way. I can’t speak for my species, but as a social animal I do like to support others. Money to live is a secondary consideration (I’m always poor, and could easily work full-time if money would make me happy). I think I earned a little respect.
I found an interesting article on Applied Sheep Behaviour, which helped a lot with my shapeshifting work, and my interactions with Sheep. I could see the world as a sheep far more clearly. Their relationship with the environment relies far more on touch (with their lips), sight (they can see almost all the way behind them) and sound (pinpoint accuracy). Their reaction times shamed me.
My conversations with Sheep as a sheep opened up some of the reasons sie has no time for us humans.
I previously admired sheep for their hardiness and survivability, but what we forget is that sheep have to live like this due to neglect. They often are not provided with adequate shelter from the harsh weather – and here in Scotland it is pretty damn harsh as we can have the sun burning our flesh one minute, then the rain cutting through us and the wind carving us up the next. There is nothing romantic about their nomadic life.
Sheep was also angry about how we consider hir young children cute, yet give no time to hir older children. I have been guilty of this, I think most of have. We do have an attraction to young animals, and do tend to favour them over the adults.
I asked Sheep hir thoughts on being consumed. Cows are revered because they provide us with milk, food and clothing, but we forget that Sheep offer us these things too. Being eaten as part of a natural cycle of life and death did not seem to phase Sheep, but sie was furious about they way most of hir children are reared and slaughtered.
The most difficult lesson Sheep had for me was the most challenging for me to realise, and I’d like to thank Ravenari and Storm Seeker for their help with this. I had struggled through Sheep Week artistically – I had been pouring my heart and soul into producing pieces celebrating Sheep, but getting nothing in the way of feedback. I was feeling undervalued, and then feeling guilty for craving some attention.
A harsh lesson loomed. Humans are social animals, and require acceptance to fit in with our flock (whether that flock is friends, family, work colleagues or peers). We need to know we are valued, appreciated and welcome in our cliques. Even those us us (and by us I mean me) who kid ourselves on that we are fully independent, and that we can’t be bothered dealing with others, we need attention. Sometimes we seek it through destructive means -my self-harming is a cry for help- or through positive means -by wanting praise for my artwork- but we always seek it.
We’re only human, for better or for worse. And according to Sheep, it’s for the worse.
I think Sheep and I have some sort of relationship now. Sie may not like me, but I think I have earned a little of hir respect and I hope to build on that. I’d like to ask my fellow totemists to consider working with Sheep too, maybe if we have more ambassadors we can build a better relationship between us and show that we humans aren’t inherently bad.