The other night, January 26th, was the Full Moon known as the Wolf Moon. This has special significance for me because the wolf is my totem animal. I learned this one cool October evening in 1990 when I attended my first Lakota Sweat Lodge in a teepee on a horse farm in South Florida. This is essentially a Native American prayer meeting and I had been drawn to the profound Lakota spiritual teachings for some time. We entered the lodge on all fours to honor our four-legged cousins and circled clockwise, forming an outer and an inner circle until all were inside. It was completely dark, and the man sitting next to me whispered nervously that he was scared as it was his first time. For myself, I felt completely at peace, like I had come home and had done this a thousand times before.
The ceremony leader, Barrett Eaglebear, a Lakota Sundancer, began the ceremony. It was so dark in the lodge I could not see my hand in front of my face. Suddenly, however, a wolf was staring at me, not six inches from my face. I was surprised but quickly told myself it must be my imagination, that is, until Barrett spoke up and said, “Oh, there’s a wolf spirit in the lodge.” So much for imagination. At that moment, the She-Wolf entered my body, and I began a silent howl as I raised my head to the full moon that I knew was outside. I felt my face and limbs lengthen and change. The howl continued until I had no air left in my lungs, but it continued until I thought my lungs would collapse. Simultaneously, I felt myself running through a snowy forest with six or seven other wolves. I had never felt such ease of movement and strength. I felt every sinew and every muscle as I ran effortlessly. I could see, smell, and hear beyond anything human. I could hear a pine needle fall a hundred yards away and smell the changes in the wind. There was such a sense of love for my wolf brothers and sisters as we ran together. There was no sense of time, just the present, for there was no worry about tomorrow or yesterday. They only had four priorities: hunting and eating, caring for their cubs and life mate, sleeping, and mating.
Suddenly, I was back in my body, breathing in the hot, moist air, each breath renewing and healing. The She-Wolf left, but I knew why she had come. For years I had been killing myself as a workaholic. Twice in five years I had entered the hospital with a severe kidney infection that went to sepsis. It took weeks each time to fully recover. My priorities were all out of whack, and I certainly was not taking good care of myself. As a single Dad, it also meant I was not always giving my best to my kids. The wolf spirit initiated a healing process that took years to complete but began that night. Afterward, I told Barrett about it, and she said visions were rare in the lodge but always powerful. She noted that the wolf is known as the guide. When the planet was young and just created, the grandmothers and grandfathers sent the wolf down to learn all the trails. I realized the wolf was probably my totem animal, as in my work, I often act as a guide, but I also need guidance as I learn the trails of life. Not so long before, I had a past life memory of being a Cheyenne Medicine Man named Gray Wolf (Épó'o hó'nehe). A Lakota Chief told me my name in Lakota is Tsungmanitou Hota, Gray wolf.
I share this story because our Native American brothers and sisters (and all indigenous peoples) believe that animals and plants, even the elements (earth, air, fire, and water) carry a soul consciousness or are part of Great Spirit. The Polynesian Islanders called this mana. Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains hold similar beliefs. Consequently, if the Creator-Creatress-Great Mother-Mother Earth is part of all creation, then they can also be powerful guides, hence totem animals. It only makes sense that each of us will have a totem animal. In addition to the wolf, the dragonfly carries great significance for me and is a symbol of transformation. It is even the logo for our spiritual counseling practice, Inner Life Transformations.
As an example of how powerful our totem animals can be in our healing process, let me share the story of Lillian from my book A Fresh Cup of Counseling (Page 249). The case study was named “Clumsy Girl and the Panther.” Lillian, age nineteen, was a college music major. She suffered from depression and considerable low self-esteem. She had highly critical parents, so she was convinced she was never good enough at anything she tried. Lillian was overweight and felt no one would find her attractive. Lillian was also a bit of a bull in a china shop. She was constantly running into things or knocking things over and was not connected to her body at all. Her family nicknamed her “Clumsy.” We weren’t making much progress until the session where I conducted a totem animal guided meditation. She had never tried anything like that before, so she was shocked when she plainly saw a black panther approach her. The panther said she would help Lillian since she personified grace, speed, loyalty (panthers mate for life), parenting (panthers fiercely protect their cubs), and cleverness. From that session on, the panther activated a transformation in Lillian’s confidence and behavior. At my urging, she enrolled in a dance class and discovered she had an aptitude for it. In fact, she was so good that the dance studio asked her to join their street dance ensemble. With this, there was a noticeable improvement in her gracefulness and confidence in general. One day, she angrily demanded that her family stop calling her Clumsy, and a bit surprised at her newfound assertiveness, they complied. Lillian lost some weight, but that no longer concerned her, and she began dating a young man at her school. She no longer felt depressed and felt that the panther was always walking by her side.
What is your totem animal and the lessons you need to learn?
Rev. Dr. Tom Norris