Today’s Animal Totems
By Allen and Linda Anderson
How does the Native American cultural custom of carving animals on totem poles relate to modern-day people who view pets as members of their families?
In the article “Native American Totem Poles” on www.indians.org, the author explains that animals are one of the most frequently appearing carvings on totem poles. As people today try to decipher their meanings, though, they are baffled. The carvings depict the owner’s ancient history.
But what specifically was the artist trying to communicate? Did he carve an eagle because of his belief that eagles were his ancestors? Did he survive an attack by or have a mystical experience with an eagle? Perhaps an eagle was a messenger who brought a blessing into the artist’s life.
The author concludes by saying, “Unless each owner told someone the story of his native American totem pole, the meaning was not understood by others, and with time the meaning was totally lost.”
This line struck us with its wealth of practical wisdom. It describes why we believe it is so important to tell and preserve in writing the stories of profound experiences people have with animals. As we read the accounts that arrive in our post or email box each day, we are inspired by their animal totem-like quality. Each writer has had an encounter with an animal who has influenced the trajectory of his or her life in a meaningful way.
The story, “Pollyanna, the Angel Cat” by Debbie Boote was published in our Angel Animals Story of the Week on April 26, 2008. Debbie works for the British Geological Survey and is also a portrait and animal artist. Her story serves as a reminder of the healing powers animals possess when divine love guides them.
Debbie says she had asked her youngest son Chris what he wanted for his tenth birthday. He immediately responded that most of all, he would like to have for his pet a young, female calico cat. Debbie found her son’s perfect gift at a re-homing center. Pollyanna started purring the moment Debbie held her and didn’t stop even while enduring the necessary vaccinations and microchipping.
When Debbie brought Pollyanna home, the cat and her son bonded instantly. Soon they became inseparable best friends. What happened nearly two years later showed Debbie why Pollyanna had been the perfect gift for Chris. The following is their story.
Just before Chris’s twelfth birthday, my son became seriously ill. He contracted flu, followed quickly by glandular fever and shingles. The result of this battering left Chris with a weakened immune system. Soon afterwards he was diagnosed with M.E., or chronic fatigue syndrome.
For many months Chris was too weak to get out of bed and Polly became a permanent fixture, curled as close as possible to him. He frequently suffered with cold, aching limbs. One day Chris told me that Polly seemed to know where he was hurting most, because she would try to get as close as possible to that spot.
During this time Chris often felt very low and become rather weepy. Polly always seemed to sense his mood. She would gently touch his face or hand and purr loudly to try to cheer him up.
Early one morning I was in my bedroom getting dressed when Polly head-butted open the door. She started meowing very persistently and rubbing against my legs. Thinking she was just hungry I got up to follow her to the kitchen to feed her. Instead of heading downstairs, she led me straight to Chris’s room.
As a further complication Chris had also developed mild asthma. A recent cold had turned into a chest infection, which had seriously worsened overnight. Now, Chris was having great difficulty breathing. Polly was obviously concerned enough about his condition to fetch me to help him.
Chris is now nineteen and has made a ninety percent recovery from the M.E. He still gets tired very easily and is prone to infection. He studies art full-time at college and is making new friends. But Polly is still his best friend. Although she spends less time in his room these days, she still watches over him.
I am certain that someone heard my son’s request for a little calico cat and
sent Pollyanna as an angel cat to watch over Chris during his time of greatest
Animal Totems Transcend the Physical Realm
On a website called Legends of America, an article, Native American Totems and Their Meanings,” states that a person can have as many as nine animal guides. They vary, depending on what is needed at any given time. Yet one main guardian spirit remains with a person physically and spiritually.
Kathy Fahey’s story illustrates the spiritual transcendence a guardian animal can achieve, even after he has left this earthly realm. Kathy lives on her small ranch in South Florida with nine animals — two horses, four goats, two cats, and one dog. She works as a nurse in a critical care unit and volunteers for environmental preservation and disaster preparedness. Kathy wrote “Charlie Offers Comfort,” and it appeared in the Angel Animals Story of the Week on February 16, 2008.
Twenty years ago my family had a small, blind schnauzer named Charlie. He and I quickly bonded and although he was the family dog, we had a very special relationship. Charlie came to us as a puppy, blind. We didn’t know. He was so smart that he had memorized the room he was in when we chose him. Needless to say, Charlie used all of his other senses to the max.
Since I commuted to nursing school and worked, I had a different schedule everyday. I was never home at the same time. But everyday, 45 minutes before I arrived home, be it 2:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m., Charlie would leave my bed and sit at the front door. This is how my parents always knew that I was on my way home. My father was particularly proud of his blind dog. He called Charlie the smartest creature on four legs.
Charlie lived till the ripe age of fourteen. Years after his death my brother and some other friends were involved in a session with the famous medium George Anderson. At one point, George said, “Charlie is here.” Nobody knew a person named Charlie on the other side. Finally after struggling, my brother said, “We had a dog named Charlie.” George Anderson said, “Yes, he is here, sitting on Billy’s’ lap.” (Billy was the friend they were trying to reach.)
One night I was feeling ill. I took a decongestant, and it made me very irritable. I went out to feed my horses, goats, cats, and dog. Every single one of them made me crazy-angry. I started yelling, “Not one of you is listening to me!”
I came inside, knowing that I shouldn’t be tending to the animals when I was in a foul mood. I went back outside later, feeling guilty for yelling. I offered apple treats to all. Yet I still went to bed feeling guilty.
As I slept the next morning, I dreamed that Charlie was lying on my pillow next to me. He wore black, wrap-around sunglasses. As if to say, “Yes, it is me, the blind one.” In the dream I took the glasses off of Charlie, held him with joy, and expressed my love.
I told him how much I missed him and that I hadn’t spent enough time with him. I told him he needed a bath. I hugged and hugged him. Then thought, I have to tell Dad that Charlie came to me. That’s when I remembered my father is dead. But in the dream I saw Dad riding around on his scooter, in my room, as if he had brought Charlie to me.
I believe that Charlie knew I needed his support. He knew I needed to know that even though I’d been feeling guilty about being upset with my animals, I am not a bad person.
What are your animal totems? What do they symbolize for you? How will you carve
their significance into the story of your life?
Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of the Angel Animals Network and authors of a series of books published by New World Library about the spiritual connection between people and animals. “Saying Goodbye to Your Angel Animals: Finding Comfort after Losing a Pet” is their newest book. Subscribe to the free, online newsletter and enter the new 2008 Angel Horses with a Mission True Story Contest at www.angelanimals.net
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