On Totems/Spirit Animals//

What are Totems and Spirit Animals?

The terms ‘Totem’ and ‘Spirit Animal’ refer specifically to those beliefs and traditional practices held by various Indigenous, Native and First Nation cultures. Some people are born into their totem, some are chosen, some go through a rigorous time of cleansing, facing obstacles, fasting, and vision seeking to earn their ‘spirit animal’. The animal chooses the native in this instance. These totems are seen as not the spirit of an individual animal, but instead the collective or ‘head’ spirit of that species. It is not an ‘animal’ representation of the person’s own personality, like some new age white girl hippie zodiac shit might say it is. A native’s totem or spirit animal is a collective soul of a species of animal that has chosen that native person specifically in order to teach them lessons and offer their guidance for the rest of the person’s life.

Do you have one?

I do. I am Mvskoke Creek and Western Cherokee. I earned my spirit animal after a period of 5 years, starting when I was about 17. The obstacles and trials I faced nearly killed me, on multiple occasions. It was not until I was about 19 that I realized what was going on and when I was 20, my animal appeared to me and chose me. I have been learning diligently from them and their people ever since. I am constantly grateful and appreciative that they chose me.

Okay, so, how can I get a Spirit Animal?

You can’t. Unless you are a member of an Indigenous tribe that practices a tradition of Totems or Spirit Animals, you cannot have one. The process of receiving or being chosen by one varies from tribe to tribe, and native to native, and it is a very personal and private matter.

But, other cultures have Spirit Animals???

Actually, no. No other cultures have totems/spirit animals in the exact same sense as Indigenous peoples do. However, many other cultures do have traditions that refer to ‘clan animals’ and ‘animal guides’ (such as the Nordic Fylgja, which is a guardian spirit that takes the form of an animal that best represents their human’s personality.) but these are more closely related to the idea of a witch’s familiar.  A person can relate to an animal, connect with a specific spirit of an individual animal and learn from that animal. An animal can represent a family’s lineage and their characteristics throughout the bloodline’s history. That does not make it your totem or spirit animal. These phrases, ‘spirit animal’ and ‘totem’, are tied directly to the colonizer’s ideas of  those practices in Indigenous religions. Because of centuries of having our cultures ripped from us and beaten out of us, we have lost our original terms for many rituals and important spiritual aspects of our cultures. So we are reclaiming the English words used for them, much like the terms ‘two spirit’ and ‘smudging’.

So, why exactly is it so bad if someone says they have a Spirit Animal?

It’s usage in modern new age culture is a mockery and insult of its original form. It’s just another piece of our culture that was violently taken from us. We weren’t allowed to speak our own languages, or practice our own religions, under penalty of torture, for hundreds of years (Yes. Hundreds. Colonization began nearly 500 years ago and we are STILL being persecuted. See the NODAPL and Standing Rock situation going on right now for example). While white children jokingly say, ‘omg Johnny depp is totally my spirit animal!’, we are still struggling to reclaim the pieces of our culture that were stolen and held from us at gunpoint. Totems and spirit animals are an important part of many tribe’s religious beliefs, and are seen as a right of passage for many. I, for one, never considered myself an adult until after my animal chose me. I had to EARN their guidance. It’s not something you can just take an online quiz for, or joke about. Bottom line is, if you aren’t native, you cannot have a spirit or totem animal. You can have individual spirits of animals that you befriend and learn from, sure. But not spirit animals or totems. They are part of native cultures and native religions. Not native? Then it’s not something you can have.

Please do not send me any hate over this post. I am neurodivergent and very prone to panic attacks. I will not hesitate to block and delete anything that may threaten my mental health. Thank you so much for reading. Mvto!

On Dreamcatchers//

What is a Dream Catcher?
The dreamcatcher comes from the Ojibwe and Chippewa people. Traditionally, it is made from bent wood, sinew and one or two feathers. The sinew is weaved to mimic a spider’s web. In many native religions, including my own, Grandmother Spider played a huge role in the placement of the sun in the sky. Dreamcatchers were traditionally hung over children’s beds to trap their nightmares.

During the 60s and 70s, the making of dreamcatchers became popular with other Native tribes, such as the Pueblo, Navajo, Lakota and Cherokee peoples. But as far as I’ve seen, the Ojibwe are the only traditional creators before the ‘pan-indian’ movement. This movement during the 70’s involved the sharing of many cultural aspects across many tribes such as dreamcatchers, fancy dancing, powwows, certain cleansing rituals, beadwork styles, Etc. This was not appropriation, but appreciation. Our tribes adopted certain things and shared certain things from one another to unite us in all of our relative struggles. We had all suffered at the hands of the invaders. The pan-Indian movement was a way of uniting us and making peace.

Dreamcatchers are a very popular gift among native peoples. They symbolize peace, the unity of all Natives and are often considered sweet gifts given out of love. It is a very important cultural icon for us.

Nowadays you’ll often find them with beads, colored leather, and multiple feathers hanging from the frame. Every Native Reservation produces and sells dreamcatchers, it seems. You can buy them at almost every powwow. There are even some online stores run by enrolled Natives that make and sell dream catchers. While traditionally hung above a bed frame, now they can be found as home decor and even on rear view mirror of cars. Some Natives view the dreamcatcher as the Christian equivalent of cheap plastic crosses sold at malls.  Sadly, outside of certified Native-made stores and powwows, dreamcatchers are often made and mass produced by underpaid workers who are not Native in Asian sweatshops. These are cheap imitations and are insulting to our history and beliefs, as well as harmful to our economies as many Native artists rely on the income received from selling dream catchers to feed their families.

I do not recommend non-Natives owning a dreamcatcher, due to the religious and ceremonial ties to Native history that they carry. Much like frybread and spirit animals/totems, they have become a universal Native entity and symbol, carrying the spirit of Union and Peace amongst our people. If you are not Native, regularly cleansing a dreamcatcher can be difficult, as the process for doing this is a sacred closed tradition that varies from tribe to tribe. If you absolutely MUST have this piece of our culture, you can buy Native, or receive it from a Native as a gift. It will have no Medicine and will not work if you buy that cheap mass produced reproduction you see in gift shops. And you will be committing cultural appropriation and a deep disrespect towards Native cultures in the process.  If you are interested in selling and making dream catchers yourself, that is illegal under the American Indian Arts and Crafts Law of 1990 and is also deeply disrespectful and hurtful to us. Instead, I would recommend making a Witch’s Ladder, which serves a similar purpose and is not tied to any one single culture and religion.

I am an enrolled member of the Mvskoke Creek Nation. Thank you for reading! Mvto!

Please note that I do not speak for all Indigenous people. Do not send me hate over this post, as I am neurodivergent and extremely prone to panic attacks. I will not hesitate to delete and block anything that may threaten my mental health.

On Smudging//

//What is Smudging?//

Smudging is a traditional religious ceremony practiced by a majority of First Nations, Native American and Indigenous peoples. Smudging is done to prepare a space or a person for a spiritual ritual or ceremony, or the arrival of spiritual leaders and elders into a sacred space. The burning of herbs is often accompanied by chanting, singing, fervent prayer and sometimes musical instruments. The particular herbs and techniques will vary from tribe to tribe and clan to clan, which is why the method is often past down from family members and tribal elders.
//How can I Smudge?//

Unless you are Native and have been taught by family/clan/tribe members, you cannot smudge. Native religions and cultures are closed to outsiders/non-natives.
//But other cultures smudging!!!??//

Actually, they use smoke cleansing. Smoke cleansing is the burning of purifying herbs to cleanse an area. It is a very basic procedure. The term for it is ‘Cense’. If you are Celtic, it is ‘Saining’. This process is completely different and unlike Smudging. Many cultures all over the world smoke cleanse, and have their own techniques and specific herbs they prefer. However, Smudging is a term that refers specifically to a religious ritual practiced in nearly all Indigenous tribal cultures. Because of centuries of having our cultures ripped from us and beaten out of us, we have lost our original terms for many of our religious rituals and important spiritual aspects of our cultures. So we are reclaiming the English words used for them, much like the terms ‘two spirit’ and ‘spirit animals’.
(I had originally posted a section here about the specific beliefs of my tribe, but I decided to take it down as this post usually gets a lot of discourse and I do not want my tribe’s beliefs exposed to negativity.)

I do not speak for all Indigenous peoples. I am Mvskoke Creek and Western Cherokee. I am what my people consider a Kerrv, a medicine person who has learned their practice through various sources and with experience. Please do not send me hate about this post. I am neurodivergent and prone to panic attacks. I will not hesitate to delete and block anything that could threaten my mental health. Thank you for reading. Mvto!

Indigenous Art is Medicine