Spirituality: The Whale totem

Animal totems represent the virtues and special characteristics of an animal. They are not pets and people use them as an aid to get in touch with nature, help create inner harmony and wisdom and to help the evolution of their spiritual being. By getting touch with the qualities of an animal a deeper affinity and understanding of the animal is created both with the animal and with nature, leading to greater harmony with the universe.

Right whales – Public Domain

A totem is a symbol, picture, sculpture or other object that reminds us of the animal spirit it represents. Animal totems do appear in other traditions around the world as well as in North America. People experience animal totems differently because there are many stages of personal and spiritual development and everyone has different needs and tasks to accomplish in this world.

Whales as an animal totem

Whales are sea creatures that have been on the planet for millions of years. They are perfectly adapted to their marine environment living in harmony with the sea and the natural order. They move through their environment with grace and power. Some species of whales are known to communicate with each other over great distance.
The Whale Totem symbolizes harmony and ‘Oneness’ with nature, the power and mystique of the sea, ancient wisdom, communication and communion.

Precious gifts of nature

Whales have been the inspiration for many stories, paintings, songs, legends, works of literature and film. They are present in all the oceans of the world and are known by many people and societies many of which have created traditions and rituals around them. In the past many human societies hunted them and depended on them for their survival. Some species of whale were hunted to the brink of extinction.
The Whale Totem reminds us that the gifts of nature are precious and not to be taken for granted. The Whale Totem also symbolizes inspiration and creativity. It reminds us that humans also have natural gifts that can actually enhance the natural world if only we choose to use them wisely. The keyword being ‘choose’ for we do have choice on this which also means we have responsibility for the consequences.

Nurturing children

The female whale if very protective towards its young and often they will join together with other females to form groups that encircle the young. This allows the mother to hunt for food while the calf is protected by other females.
The Whale Totem symbolizes nurturing and protection of young and reminds us of our responsibilities to children.

Harmony

There are many different species of whales and many of these are very different from each other. Some are hard to tell apart even by experts. The color, size and characteristics of whales vary greatly and for the most part they all seem to get along tolerably well.

The Whale Totem symbolizes living in harmony with each other. It reminds us that there are also different races of humans, with different characteristics, and we come in different shapes and colors and that each of us have a right to be here and our need to live in harmony with each other.

For everything there is a season

Many whales are great travelers who move with grace, strength and endurance through the ocean relying solely on their own powers and resources taking only what they need along the way to survive. Some species of whale such as the Baleen have to migrate to find food for their survival in different seasons. No one understands how they know it is time to move on or how they find their way to their new feeding grounds which can be thousands of miles apart.
The Whale Totem symbolizes grace, strength and endurance in moving through their environment and reminds us to tread lightly on the planet taking only what we need to get by. It also symbolizes trust in intuition and knowing when to move on, telling us that for everything there is a season and a time for every purpose. It teaches us to trust the natural order.

Qualities of the Whale

There are many wonderful virtues and qualities that whales possess that would help a person evolve spiritually and in wisdom. A person who can see these virtues and qualities and tries to emulate them, even if only partially successful, will experience greater harmony and ‘Oneness’ with nature and the universe. They will grow in wisdom and intuition and in doing so learn how to take only what they need from the world. They will become someone who nurtures and accepts and fulfils their responsibilities to the young, offering them protection to grow spiritually and in doing so will experience the flowering of their own soul.

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Spirituality: The Cougar totem

Animal totems are symbols that represent an animal and an animal spirit.  They help remind us of the special qualities and attributes an animal possesses that help it live in harmony with the natural world.

Opening doors

In some cultures, particularly those of North America, there is a belief that an animal spirit will find a person when they are ready to evolve spiritually, or when they have a task that must be accomplished.  In other cultures it is believed that doors to spiritual development can be opened by studying an animal’s behavior and special attributes. In both cases there is the need to bring these special attributes and qualities into practice in our own lives to further spiritual development.  This does not mean literally taking up hunting, burrowing or other animal activities.  It means looking at how they live in their environment and how they harmonize with nature – living as ‘One’ with nature.

Animal totems

Many human cultures around the world use animal totems and ideas and practices vary from region to region.  A totem can be a sculpture or carving, or any type of pictorial representation such as a drawing or painting, or an object that can meaningfully represent an animal and spirit. Totems are tangible, visual reminders of the qualities of the animal and the animal spirit which we cannot touch or see, but we which are trying to get in union with.  The belief is that by getting in touch with the qualities we grow and evolve in knowledge and spiritually.   Even making a determined attempt to do this will bring significant rewards helping us to know ourselves better.  An animal that can help us with this is the cougar.

Know who we are

The cougar has many different names given them by humans, including puma catamount, mountain lion, panther, screamer, and many more.   None of them matter to this animal as it is a beast that knows who it is.  It knows its own name. The Cougar totem reminds us that in this life we are on a constant voyage of self discovery and that as life progresses we discover more of ourselves.  In doing so come to know ourselves and we come to know who we are.  Other people will think of us as they will but it is what we think of ourselves that matters.

Know our own power

Being a solitary animal the cougar must know its own power and trust in its instincts to survive.   It is a powerful and stealthy hunter often stalking its prey with great stealth and deliberation, or lying in wait for the right moment to pounce.  In the chase it can reach great speed but tires quickly. The Cougar totem teaches us that we must learn to know our own power and learn to trust our instincts.  If we can do this we can choose suitable goals that are attainable and satisfying.   When we know this we know what goals are within our power to attain and we can focus on them stalking them with deliberation. The Cougar totem reminds of the power of focus, determination and patience for there are times when we must actively seek out our dreams and other times when we must be prepared to lie in wait and seize the moment.

Climbing to higher levels

Learning these things is not always easy and it is often by trial and error that the skills and knowledge are attained.  Humans are not naturally solitary like the cougar and we may feel alone in our trials.

Cougar – Public Domain

The Cougar totem reminds us that through trial and error and our own effort we can evolve our own spirituality and abilities to higher levels.   Although we may live in human society receiving help from others it is up to us alone how we use our qualities and talents.  It is our responsibility alone to find the path to our own spiritual growth.

Gentleness and strength

The Cougar preys on deer and actively seeks them out. Deer are associated with gentleness.   From the deer the cougar gets nourishment and from the nourishment it gets gentleness and strength. When rearing cubs the mothers ferociously protect their cubs in their determination to nurture them to independence.  We are reminded that the powerful need to learn, determination,  and the patience to nurture as sometimes it takes great strength to be gentle which is not the same as weakness.    There are times when gentleness is more powerful than force and the Cougar totem teaches when to know this and when to use it.

Learn to know ourselves

Although we are all destined to evolve spiritually there are many people who fight against this in themselves and resent others from doing so.  They feel threatened because what is happening they do not understand.  They will mock and sabotage and deliberately hurt others who they see growing spiritually.   But the cougar has determination, patience and focus which give it power.  Though it is a solitary creature and its path is a lonely one the cougar naturally knows and trusts itself overcoming opposition and obstacles and instinctively finds the way.

British Folklore: Legends of the Black Dog

The British Isles are rich in history and tradition and there are many strange and wonderful legends gathered from folklore whose origins are lost in the mists of time.  From these mists there have emerged many folk tales of spectral animals with strange and terrible powers that are said to haunt the forests, hills and remote byways of this ancient land.  Perhaps one of the most terrifying of these is the legend of the Black Dog.

Black Dog – Author: Liza Phoenix – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Sightings of phantom Black Dogs have been recorded from many parts of Britain for many centuries, with encounters in England seeming to be the most prevalent.  Most of the English counties report incidents and sighting of these mysterious beasts which are known by many names, depending on location. In East Anglia the beast is often known as Black Shuck where it has haunted the countryside even before the arrival of the Vikings.  In Scotland there is the Cu Sith and in Tring, Hertfordshire, the Lean Dog and in other parts of England there is the Church, or Kirk, Grim and many other names.

The Black Dog of Bungay

One of the most frightening incidents ever reported took place in the quiet market town of Bungay, in Suffolk.  On the Sunday morning of the 4th of August, 1577, during the Morning Service at St. Mary’s Church a terrible and violent storm broke out. The sky darkened, thunder crashed and rain fell heavily from the skies.  Lightning flashed wildly as the storm broke upon the church.  Inside the congregation knelt to pray.

Suddenly to the horror of the congregation from out of a flash of lightning there appeared in the church a huge and monstrous Black Dog.  Howling wildly as the lightning flashed and thunder pealed, the beast ran amok attacking the terrified parishioners and causing havoc.

Two people at their prayers were killed and a third man was badly burned from being mauled by the beast, but did survived the ordeal.  There was great damage inflicted upon the church, as the tower was struck by lightning and the clock destroyed, before the Black Dog finally ran wildly from the church to the relief of the petrified congregation.

Around twelve miles away in the Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh, at a about the same time the Black Dog, or another beast like it, appeared and also attacked the frightened congregation at prayers killing three people.  There are scorched scratch marks on the church door that can still be seen to this day.

Title page of the account of Rev. Abraham Fleming’s account of the appearance of the ghostly black dog “Black Shuck” at the church of Bungay, Suffolk in 1577: “A straunge, and terrible wunder wrought very late in the parish church of Bongay: a town of no great distance from the citie of Norwich, namely the fourth of this August, in ye yeere of our Lord 1577.” – Author Abraham Fleming – Public Domain

The Lean Dog of Tring in Hertfordshire

In the Hertfordshire town of Tring a phantom with red, glowing, eyes and known as the Lean Dog is said to haunt the site where a gallows once stood.   In 1751 an old woman was accused of witchcraft by locals and drowned.   A local chimney sweep was accused of taking part in her murder and was hanged from the gallows.  In the 19th century two men who encountered the Lean Dog reported it as being gaunt, haggard and unkempt.

A local schoolmaster who encountered it reported it to being about the size of a Newfoundland dog with a shaggy coat and tail and long ears.  There are also reports that state that with its first appearances it materialize as, or from, a fiery torch.

The Cu Sith

In Scottish and Irish legend the Cu Sìth, which means ‘fairy dog,’ was said to have a dark-green, shaggy coat and to be about the size of a large calf.  Its eyes were large and had a fiery glow and its tail was curled and sometimes braided.

In Celtic tradition phantom dogs are usually black though sometimes they are white but have red ears.  The Irish Cu Sith is describe as being a huge black hound. Green is associated with ‘fairies’ in Celtic lore and it is named the ‘fairy dog’ and seems to be in league with them.

The Cu Sith was feared as a harbinger of death.  In much the same way the Grim Reaper appears at death to lead the soul to the afterlife, so the Cu Sith takes the soul to the underworld.

The hound is said to have hunted silently for its victim but would sometimes rend the air with three blood-curdling yowls that carried for a great distance. When this was heard men would lock up their women to prevent the Cu Sith from stealing them and taking them to the fairy world where they would be made to give up their milk to the children of the fairies.

The Church, or Kirk, Grim

The Vikings brought many of their customs and traditions to England from Scandinavia and may well have influenced the legends of the Black Dog.  The Church Grim was also known as Kirk Grim and in Finnish, ‘Kirkonväki’ and in Swedish, ‘Kyrkogrim.’  Both appear in English and Scandinavian folklore as sentinel spirits whose task was to protect a church and its grounds.  They could appear as small, dark, grotesquely formed people, or as a Black Dog.

In many parts of Europe, including Britain, early Christians are believed to have sacrificed animals when a new church was built.   A black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the land which would then become the guardian spirit keeping the church and grounds safe from the devil.  It was often regarded as a herald of doom bringing death to anyone who encountered it.

Hound of the Baskervilles – Image Author: w:Sidney Paget – Public Domain Image

The Black Dog of Galley Hill, Luton

In ancient times Galley Hill was home to a hill fort and barrow.  Later in 16th-and 17th century it became a place of execution and a gallows was erected.

Galley Hill is a highly visible landmark where witches and criminals were executed there and their bodies covered in tar to preserve them.  They were then left to hang on the gallows which stood high on the hill as a warning to others before being eventually buried.

It is reported that one night the hill was hit by a ferocious storm.   The gallows were struck by lightning setting it and the ground around it on fire.  In the flames a Black Dog was said to have been seen howling and capering wildly.  People believe that the beast comes for the souls of criminals and witches driving them through the Gates of Hell for Satan.

Benevolent Black Dogs

Sightings and encounters with Black Dogs are still reported though they seem less horrific than those of the past and in some cases even benevolent with the beast acting as a guardian or guide ensuring travellers arrive at their destination safely.  Sometimes they have been reported by drivers who have seen them in their headlights in the road at night only to vanish when the vehicle is about to make contact.  There are also reports from many other parts of the world about similar ghostly encounters which suggest that the Black Dog is not just a British phenomenon.

                                                                                                                    © 24/04/2014 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

 Copyright 24/04/2014 zteve t evans

Mythical Beasts: The Salamander

Salamanders have long held a significant place in the folklore and mythology of many different countries around the world.  Fantastic powers and attributes have been bestowed upon them giving them a place in mythology, alchemy, heraldry and popular culture that is perhaps surprising, for what in reality is a rather small,  humble creature.

The real salamander is a very different creature to the one of legend so how did it come to be given attributes that makes it a popular emblem on the Coat of Arms for Royalty, nobility, insurers, local authorities and many other organisations?

Emblem of salamander that lives in fire – Image Author unknown – Public Domain image due to its age.

The Real Salamander

Salamanders can be found in many parts of the world and there are known to be around five hundred species.  They are found in Europe, Asia, some parts of Africa, and North and South America.   The largest are found in China and Japan and can grow to five feet long though most are much smaller. Salamanders are not reptiles and although they look like lizards they are not related to them and neither are they related to mammals or birds.  They are amphibians and their nearest relatives are frogs and toads.

Fire And The Mythical Salamander

Aristotle, (384 BC – 322 BC), and Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79) associate them with fire and it is with fire that most of the fantastic powers are connected.  People thought that salamanders were born or created from fire.

Most of the popular myths are believed to originate from the European species, the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), which hibernates in hollow, decaying logs of wood during the winter months.   With wood being the main fuel in ancient times this may explain their sudden appearance amid flames when a fire is lit or replenished with a salamander inside.    Woken abruptly from hibernation, or sleep, the natural reaction would be to make a quick escape giving the mistaken appearance that they were born, or generated from fire and flame.

Pliny the Elder believed the salamander to have such a cold body that it could extinguish any fire.  There was also a belief that the skin and other parts and extracts of the salamander gave protection against fire.

Early travellers to China claimed they had had been shown clothing reputedly woven from salamander hair that had been deliberately placed in a fire and came out unscathed.  Today many people think that they were shown clothing made from asbestos fibres. In fact though its skin is different from reptiles, salamanders are no more fire proof than any other creature.

A salamander unharmed in the fire – Author Numerisation par Koninklijke Bibliotheek – Public Domain Image

The Poisonous Salamander Of  Myth

The salamander was also reputed to be so toxic that if it entwined itself around a fruit tree then the fruits become poisonous to all who would eat them. The saliva was thought to cause the hair of a person to fall from the body if it made contact with human skin.

If a salamander got into a well then the well water would be poisoned and undrinkable. Many species of salamanders do secrete a toxic substance from their bodies when threatened but the toxicity of the substance was greatly exaggerated.

The Mystical Salamander Of Alchemy

In 16th century alchemy Paracelsus (1493 -1541) is generally credited with the first mentioning of the concept of elementals.   These were Air (Sylph), Earth (Gnome), Fire (Salamander) and Water (Undine).  His association of fire to the salamander also helped to perpetuate and exaggerate the myths about the creature.   Elementals were creatures, or spirits, in harmony with, or made from the elements of earth, air, fire and water.

The Salamander In Heraldry

Salamanders were used as symbols in heraldry representing mastery of passion passing through its fires unblemished.  They represent the virtues of courage, loyalty, chastity, virginity, impartiality.  They are symbolic of Jesus, who baptised with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, and the devotion of Christians who keep the faith.

A salamander was the icon that King Francis I of France chose for his own sign and the motto,  ‘Nutrisco et exstinguo (I nourish and I extinguish).  The good fire – the passion and belief in Jesus is nourished –  the bad fire, temptation and evil are overcome.

The salamander appears on the Coat of Arms of many Royal and noble families in Europe and also that of many towns, local authorities and institutions.  Their exaggerated fire protective attributes encouraged many insurance companies and organisations of the past and present to include a salamander as an emblem on their Coat of Arms.

The Salamander In Popular Culture

Today the salamander myth is perpetuated in popular culture.  Allusions to its legendary powers can be found in books such as ‘War with the Salamanders (or War with the Newts)’, by Karel Capek, ‘The Silver Chair,’ by C.S Lewis, the Harry Potter series of stories by J.K. Rowling and ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury.

They also have roles in many video and computer games today which often make greater exaggeration and distortion of the legends, making the mythical salamander into a very different creature to the real salamander today.

© November 9, 2010 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

A version of this was first published on Helium.com November 9, 2010 by zteve t evans titled Origins of the mythical salamander- © November 9, 2010 zteve t evans

File:Salamander in fire.jpg From Wikimedia Commons – Author: Unknown – In Public Domain due to its age.

File:A salamander unharmed in the fire.jpg From Wikimedia Commons – Author: Numerisation par Koninklijke Bibliotheek – Public Domain because its copyright has expired.

Salamander, from Wikipedia

Monstropedia, Salamander

Sacred Texts, The Salamander