Emma-Jayne Saanen

Category: totem

[Totem Animal] Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Last night, I decided to do a gentle bit of pathworking. I eased myself into it by visualising and “feeling” the act of getting dressed and going out. As I felt myself coming away from my physical body a bit (which was lying down in bed), I decided to go outside into my garden.

Across the road, on the grass, there was a large Herring Gull stomping on the damp ground, drawing worms to the surface. I approached hir, and sie charged at me screaming to stay back. Sie was angry because loads of her children had been killed by us this year – my local council have been clearing eggs from their nesting sites again, including my own roof!

I was feeling intimidated, but remembered my last encounter with Herring Gull, and shifted my shape a little so my wings were visible, and began shouting back. It wasn’t my fault. Sie doesn’t like being tarred as a thug and a vandal, and neither do I. There was a pause, and I asked if sie would allow me to learn from hir. Resentfully, sie agreed.

I think my first lesson here was about aggression. Herring Gulls are a very confrontational species, and their social hierachy is based on brute strength with an attitude to match. If I am going to get anywhere on this journey, I need to be far more forceful.

I invited Herring Gull into my garden, and the two of us sat at the top of the steps and chatted. I cannot remember the exact details, but sie expressed hir lack of understanding of us humans. Sie didn’t understand why we touched, spoke softly and were quiet in our interactions. I told hir I didn’t understand how they couldn’t use touch to build bonds, had to scream everything and acted like brutes.

To be fair, quite a few people around here use misplaced aggression!

I asked if sie would allow me to shift into a Herring Gull form, and sie agreed. I find bird-forms tricky – having wings instead of arms is a real challenge, and having my sight altered makes me want to vomit so I had to focus hard to keep my vision human.

My first stop was just to the end of my road, where there is a takeaway regularly visited by gulls. I flew down, feeling the breezes beneath my vast wings and rested on the roof of the building, overlooking the front of the shop. There were two carrion crows fighting over a bag of chips dropped in the street. I found it odd that I couldn’t “smell” them – I love the smell/taste of chips – but I went for them anyway, food is food.

Wings spread, I screamed and shouted and chased those bastard crows away. Bloody crows could eat elsewhere. Eating was horrible – throwing my head back and chugging. No taste and no teeth, I take both for granted. Not long after, Herring Gull flew down beside me, and chased me from the bag. This was hir spot, and I could eat when I got home.

Territory, and rights to resources, are important to Herring Gull. They aren’t co-operative, and need to be selfish in ways that I find difficult to comprehend in my cushy life. I’m grateful that I live in a place where I don’t have to fight tooth and nail just to eat.

Herring Gull told me to go exploring. So I flew West, towards the town centre.

Crossing the river, I spied a young Gull stranded on a boat between the two banks. I flew down and spoke with the kid.

He told me that he had been nesting of the roof of the high rise by the river, and decided today was the day he’s fly. Using the currents, he clumsily flew down, and made it to the safety of the boat. But now he wasn’t sure what to do. He was scared, but realised that he couldn’t stay in his nest much longer, the time had come to move on. His wings would take him where he wanted to go when the time was right.

Seizing opportunity and taking chances are important qualities in Herring Gull, a reflection/extension of their dominating and aggressive personalities.

From here, I don’t remember much more. I flew across town, and stopped on the rooftops to watch the Gulls go about their business.

I do remember returning home, and thanking Herring Gull for the chance to learn. I asked if I could speak with hir again, and reluctantly sie said yes.

Then I fell asleep!

[Totem Animal] Feral Pigeon

The Feral Pigeon is often overlooked as a totem, yet sie carries a lot of powerful energy that is relevant to those of us who share hir urban environment.

The Feral Pigeon originally came from domesticated Rock Dove, but they escaped domesticity and became wild once more. Pigeon is symbolic of the feral spirit that lies dormant with in us, and we can tap into that spirit if need be. We came from the wild, yet now are cut off from it by modern life. Take the opportunity to be yourself!

Adaptability and survivability are embodied in Pigeon. The Rock Dove’s natural habitats are cliff faces, the Pigeon uses our man-made buildings as an analogue. Our sprawling cities are ripe for the picking. And no matter how many culls and other anti-pigeon strategies we throw at these birds, the Pigeon carries on. Pigeon is an integral part of our urban lands, whether we like it or not.

Pigeon as an optimistic entity. In spite of what the world throws at hir, sie cheerfully goes on about hir business. Pigeon holds no animosity against the world – sie is still symbolising tolerance, love and compassion. Pigeons will accept outsiders into their flock for protection, and they pair up for life.

Pigeon is historically associated with the home and with pathfinding. Sie has incredible eyesight and, combined with hir awesome navigational abilities and visual memory, Pigeon can always find hir way home. Perhaps if you are feeling lost in an aspect of your life, you may consider approaching Pigeon.

No urban animal is vilified quite as much as Pigeon. Ordinarily compassionate people will ignorantly declare that pigeons are “disease-ridden vermin”. This isn’t true. The risk of catching a disease from a bird is so small, it isn’t worth considering. The myth is manufactured by the pest control industry to keep them in business. This teaches us that we should believe everything we hear, and should practice compassion even in cases where we naturally don’t.

Pigeon is a gentle underdog, looking for a place to call home.

Feral Pigeon @ Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_pigeon
Do birds spread diseases? – http://www.picasuk.com/do_birds_spread_diseases.html

[Totem Animal] Brown Bear

In June, I had decided to take a break from active spiritual work. But as I am a proverbial open house, it wasn’t long before I was being tapped on the shoulder by a totem.

It was Brown Bear. I was determined to make the most of my break, but I told him I would work with him come July.

My interactions with Bear were different from my interactions with other totems. The main difference was that I couldn’t “journey” to visit him. Instead, I had to go to a place in the real world to speak with him.

My first visit to him was a challenge.

Here is my related entry from LiveJournal:

I was stopped twice on my path to the Cliffs.

The first time, an enormous Herring Gull blocked my path. Screaming, and with his wings spread he charged at me. After getting a massive fright and being startled backwards, I gathered my thoughts and decided to ask him what the problem was. He continued screaming – apparently I hadn’t been giving him the time he deserved (I have been trying to work with Gull for a few months now, but I just can’t get a feel for him) and that I was ignoring him.

I’ll be damned if I am going to stand for that. So using my cunning (lol), I decided to fight fire with fire. I focused on Pigeon and the gift of wings she gave me, I felt them grow from my shoulder blades, spread out to their full size … and I charged right back at Gull, screaming at him, telling him that if he wants to work with me, he needs to stop being an arrogant asshat and let me in. Why should I do all the work for little reward? Building a relationship takes two.

Saying nothing, Gull backed off and let me pass.

Nearing the Cliffs, I became aware of eyes staring at me from all around, and at the end of the path there was a mass of rabbits, acting as one and representing Rabbit. I asked him to let me pass and he said no. I wasn’t allowed to make Bear welcome here, Rabbit’s children have it easy here, and no more predators are allowed to threaten his children.

I told him that it wasn’t my choice to make, but Bear’s children would not be returning here anytime soon although Bear does want his presence felt on the land once more. I asked Rabbit to accompany me, and he could speak with Bear himself. Rabbit did not like that one bit, I could tell, but he couldn’t really back out of it, could he?

So myself, and a carpet of rabbits made our way to meet Bear.

Confused, Bear asked me what was going on. The rabbits shifted uncomfortably as I explained that Rabbit didn’t want him here. Raging, Bear charged the rabbits and told Rabbit that he was making a home here, and when his children arrive, he’d better watch out! They ran, and Rabbit was shaken.

I used to be scared of Rabbit, but not anymore. He’s just a bully, and relies on numbers to intimidate.

I asked Bear why he chose an aggressive tactic over a peaceful one. He replied simply “Because I have a reputation to maintain”. Why would anybody want that kind of reputation? Bears, from my research, seem to be quite peaceful animals who mind their own business on their search for food and shelter. They do seem to like their solitude. Perhaps this show of aggression is to create a barrier so people won’t bother him? I think this is something I do.

I talked to Bear about some of the Celtic mythology I picked up about bears – mostly that they are protectors, and help with journeys to the Otherworld. He laughed and said that isn’t quite true, but when I learn to shapeshift as him, I can tap into that energy to secure myself, to feel a bit more confident and to shield my energy a bit so I don’t get so drained.

I had a lot to think about here.

My second experience with Bear focused on his source of Power. In my practice, I feel that each totem has a body part that is representative of their strengths.

For Maned Wolf, she has a really powerful third eye.

For Feral Pigeon, hir wings grant her strength.

For Saanen Goat, the power lies in his horns.

And for Brown Bear, his power stems from his paws and claws.

I asked Bear about this, and he took me on a walk through the woods. His paws carried him where he needed to go, they allowed him to access food sources (tearing bark, shifting logs, digging roots and intimidating other predators away from their kills) and they allowed him to defend himself and his children (he told me about the insane strength a female bear can draw upon to defend her cubs).

When I try to shapeshift as Bear, it is the paws I feel first and the strongest. They are a source of security for me.

From here, things started to get quite bad for me. Since my “journeying” break, I had been unable to go and visit the Otherworlds and due to a series of real-life issues, I was exposed to very dark and horrible experiences whilst being isolated from the people I usually ask for help.

I was totally alone, and had to spend a good few weeks fighting some of my inner demons. I’m sorry for not going into details, but I’d rather not discuss any of it on a public forum.

Bear is a harsh teacher. I asked him how he handles being alone in dealing with life, and his answer was “I am a bear”.

Such a simple answer, with so much in it. Being solitary is second nature to him. Do I need to learn to be more like Bear? Or do I need to accept that I am a social animal, and learn to feel connected all the time? Personally, I am drawn to the former. I can’t be connected all the time. The world is too noisy, I’d go insane. I need to willingly disconnect, and also handle when someone else makes the choice to disconnect me.

From here, I am learning to be more like Bear. To be comfortable with myself and who I am. I have started working with different aspects of my personality, which has developed into an internal eco-system. All of these aspects grow from my core being. I’m breaking myself down to see what I am made of, and to see my strengths and weaknesses. It’s challenging work, and like my “journeying” I am learning as I go along. But I have a bit more respect and love for myself.

I feel that Bear’s lessons are an extension of Sheep’s lessons. I have never been so aware of my dependency on other people. It’s not a bad thing, humans are social animals after all. But I need to realise that I too am a strong person, and I do have the resources I need to look after myself. I just have to find them.

Bear has been a very hands-off teacher, and I found this really upsetting at first. I have a low opinion of myself, and see myself as weak and useless a lot of the time. But not anymore. I’m flawed, and broken, but I am all the person I need to be. And I thank Bear for helping me to realise that.

Bear Week started on the 1st July, yet it is still ongoing. I am still trying to get my head around all of this, and hope to write a clearer summary soon.

[Totem Animal] European Rabbit

2 - european rabbitRabbits are quite commonly discussed as totem animals, but my perspective differs drastically from the cute, lovable and fuzzy reputation that they have.

The European Rabbit is nature’s foot soldier – they can go into any environment, lay down some basic preparations and take over vast areas of land. Rabbit as a totem has no fear, and is an indestructible force.

We just have to look at Rabbit’s children to see this. As individuals, each rabbit is vulnerable to predation, disease, drought and famine. But as a collective entity, the species continues – pushing further and further into new territory. They can take the losses in their stride as individuals are quickly replaced due to Rabbit’s ability to reproduce so very quickly.

On my first journey to meet Rabbit, I was torn apart and consumed by hir children. I existed in all of them, and could see the strength they had in their vast numbers. Rabbit is unstoppable, and a creature to be treated with respect.

Rabbit teaches us that the needs of the many can outweigh the needs of the few. We as individuals sometimes need to give up our own needs and desires, to make progress as a group. There is strength in numbers, if each individual is on the same wavelength. Most of us dislike giving up our individuality, but sometimes to succeed we need to make a sacrifice.

Of course, there is a danger in following the crowd. Always make sure that the collective goal will be of benefit to the majority.

Rabbit is a great survivor – various population control methods barely make a dent in their numbers. The world throws everything at them, and is seemingly against them, yet they are still here. This is a valuable energy that can be drawn upon at times when you feel threatened – you can survive too.

As featured on MagickaSpace

[Totem Animal] Domestic Sheep

sheepweek3200I 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.

[Totem Animal] Domestic Goat

1 - GoatThe Domestic Goat doesn’t have a glowing reputation – sie is often perceived as decadent, devious and distrustful. In my experience, these are just misinterpretations of hir true nature.

Rather than being a greedy and lusty being, Goat is in touch with the real world, and knows how to enjoy hir lot in life. Those of us who are of a spiritual persuasion often lose touch with the physical world, and neglect the sacredness of the world around them. Goat can teach us how to embrace the physical and to celebrate it as part of the divine.

Goats are often seen as destructive. While it is true that they can decimate an area of vegetation, Goats are actually very particular about what they will and won’t eat. We sometimes don’t consider the food we put into our bodies, but Goat can show us that eating can be a pleasurable experience – not just something we have to do.

Unlike most herbivores, Goat is rarely perceived as gentle and delicate, like Deer and Antelope (although we know that this is far from the truth!) A major source of Goat’s power lies in hir tough skull and horns. These help to define social roles in the herd and offer a powerful weapon when dealing with predators. Goat is headstrong, and this is not always a bad thing!

But it is not all serious business! Goat is a joyful, playful, curious being who loves to investigate and learn. They will frolic with their herd-mates and explore the world around them. Hard work pays off, but Goat can show us that without time to enjoy what we have earned the effort is worthless – take time to embrace your successes!

The Domestic Goat is a spectacular yet under-appreciated totem. Goat is a joyful, powerful and friendly ally and can share with us a passion for the good things in life.

20th April 2009

As featured on MagickaSpace

[Totem Animal] Maned Wolf

5 - maned wolfI thought I’d start this blog with my essay on my experiences with Maned Wolf.


Maned Wolf has been in my life for many years. As I mistakenly believed that she was a therioside, I have only recently begun working with Maned wolf energy in a totemistic sense. Please remember, this is my experience of Maned Wolf energy. Your mileage may vary.


Misunderstanding, misdirection, clarity, revelation, to see the world as it really is, fire energy, creativity, song, dance, expressive activity, being yourself, accepting others, respecting yourself, knowing when outside support is needed, making the most of what you have, unexpected results and benefits


  • Maned wolf teaches the importance of protecting – through glamour and shielding

The first thing Maned Wolf brought to my attention was the concept of misunderstanding and misdirection. Not only are Maned Wolves described inaccurately as “foxes on stilts”, but the people who live near them mistakenly consider them to be unlucky. Even in my direct experience with Maned Wolf, I incorrectly believed that they were a therioside!

Misdirection is a useful skill. Through leading others to believe one thing about you, you can protect another part of yourself. It’s about tapping into glamour and using shields to guard the vulnerable and precious parts of yourself .

  • Maned wolf teaches the importance of understanding, through meditations and patience

From misunderstanding we can reach understanding with the application of time and patience. Maned Wolf, if they so wish, can guide you to see things as they really are, with the application of meditation and thought. The particular Maned Wolf aspect who has chosen to work with me has a very active third eye chakra – which (for me) somehow allows me the space and time I need to step back from any situation and view it more objectively.

  • Maned wolf teaches energetic and fiery creativity, and the importance of self-expression

The Maned Wolf who communicates with me is a fiery spirit. When she allows me to see into her mind, I always see flashes of her dancing and singing to the rhythm of flames. Maned Wolf is an expressive beast, a vibrant, energetic life form. She is passionate and focused.

  • Maned wolf teaches the importance of loving and respecting yourself as an equal to others

In the real world, the Maned Wolf forms a pairing with their mate, but the two lead very separate lives. This speaks to me of the importance of being comfortable with who you are and enjoying your own company. You need to take care of yourself, and do what is right for you. Your mind, body and soul all need looking after – it is very easy to love and respect others, but not so easy to love and respect yourself!

  • Maned wolf teaches the importance of support from those close to you

While being able to function as an individual is useful, you need to remember that there are people out there to support you. We are never really alone and we must learn to share our burdens at some points in our lives. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.

  • Maned wolf teaches the importance of making the most of what you have

The Maned Wolf, while classed as a carnivore, makes up a huge bulk of it’s diet from plant matter. This isn’t unusual, but it highlights the importance of being flexible and of being willing to use what comes to hand. This diet has the added bonus of creating a productive symbiotic relationship with both the seeds of the plants it eats and with the insects who use their dung as a fertiliser. Beautiful things can germinate from the seeds of necessity, we just can’t see it at times.

September 2008

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