Animal Totems

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People often ask me - what's your favorite animal? Or which bird do you like best? The question is legitimate question but I want to answer like the parent of four children - which one do you love the best? "Equally! They're all God's creatures."

But I do have favorites. The Native Americans and many other aboriginal cultures around the world practice what we call animism. Animals and other natural objects are imbued with spirits that they connect to in a deep and spiritual way. They became their "totems". This is a word from the Algonquin Indian language, meaning "sibling kin, group or family, therefore his family mark".

So these natural objects, usually animals, are considered part of the family. Some North American native traditions believe that each person has nine different animals that help them through life, not just one. New Age practitioners have appropriated this Native practice and you can visit numerous websites that help you discover your totem animal and what it means.

I must confess a deep and abiding bond with the black-backed jackal of Africa. I could watch these remarkable canids go about their business all day long. I feel a kindred connection with them, which is a little embarrassing.

They have so many admirable qualities that I like to think I have as well. They are faithful, monogamous and excellent parents. Trim, fit and very good-looking, their pelage - silver, black, brown fur - is always neatly in place and looking sharp. They are clever, opportunistic and brave. I have watched them scavenge kills right from the jaws of lions; frustrating those cats with their chutzpah. But my favorite thing about them is just watching them move. They travel with such certainty and a bounding, self-assured gait across the landscape.


Am I projecting? Totally. But if I had a family coat-of-arms. the jackal would play a prominent role in it.

This is Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.