Check out this video of the Carl Jung and John Constantine ritual performed by Ian Cat Vincent & co in Liverpool last year, in honour of the stage adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson‘s Cosmic Trigger.
A Field Guide to Otherkin, by Lupa
Immanion Press, 9781905713073, 310 pp. (incl. appendices, bibliography and index), 2007
A Field Guide to Otherkin is the first full length treatment of this subculture, and, as such, while it has an extensive bibliography, a significant amount of material is drawn from surveys submitted from Otherkin and Lupa’s own experience, as she identifies as Otherkin herself.
Otherkin are people who are physically human, yet believe some aspect of their being to be wolves, foxes, or even fae, dragons and other fantastic creatures. Where in totemism a connection has been forged with an external entity, Otherkin identify the “other” as a part of themselves. Continue reading
The Four Powers, by Nicholas Graham
Megalithica, an imprint of Immanion Press, 1905713045, 128 pp. (incl. appendices, glossary, annotated bibliography), 2006
The Four Powers was written as the book Graham wished he’d had to accompany him on his first forays into magick as a young adult. As such, following a forward by Lupa (an early magickal co-conspirator and author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone, also published with Immanion Press), a note to parents is included. It seems unlikely a parent would buy this book for their teen, flip through it and find this message addressed to hir, though it’s a nice gesture. Continue reading
Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, by Lupa
Immanion Press, 1905713010, 224 pp. (incl. appendices, bibliography and index), 2006
Cultural appropriation is rampant in totemic work, as Lupa acknowledges, but notes that “[i]n any field of study there will always be those who are neophobic and believe that anyone who deviates from specific patterns is not only disrespecting but also diluting the effectiveness and “truth” of said field”. She writes “totemism is something that is essentially universal” (pg 39), arguing that she has practiced totemism for years with no formal background or tradition, and, as she says, “can still boast a decent success rate” (pg 40). As Lupa comes from a neo-Pagan background, this book tends to focus on a neo-Pagan approach to the subject.
There are a number of sections that won’t appeal to everyone, for example, the sections on sacrifice and working with animal parts didn’t agree well with me, a vegetarian. Though some of the material may be controversial, Lupa strives to present it in a palatable fashion, and certainly those interested will likely find benefit from their inclusion, especially as these subjects are often skirted in neo-Paganism. Clearly, Fang and Fur Blood and Bone does not intend to be merely yet another book on animal magick.
One of the more personally appealing ritual ideas described in the book is the creation of an animal, essentially inspired servitors of made up of composite animal parts, with specific details of a creature Lupa created in the past. Lupa details another ritual she employed in order to obtain a familiar. We learn its name and feeding habits, but not how it came into her life, nor how she’s worked with it. While it’s a shame that practical applications are left vague, the section advocating responsible familiar care is certainly commendable. Lupa leaves moral decisions to the reader, though, naturally, she does offer suggestions on how certain situations should be approached.
Lupa also touches upon therianthropy, a state where a person believes s/he is an animal in spirit (at the very least), and shape-shifting. She notes differences between therion and non-therion shifting – a distinction not often made, but interesting to see, given the rise in popularity of ‘Otherkin’-identification over the past decade or so.
Appendices are referenced early and constantly throughout the text, which made me wonder whether or not the material really ought to have been tacked on at the end, or if the structure of the text could have used reworking to incorporate them earlier on.
Throughout the text, Lupa employs a relaxed, conversational tone, however with numerous typographical errors the rough edges show and details are not always fleshed out; it perhaps could have benefited from further editing.
This book provides a number of ideas not commonly found in the average book on animal magick or totemic work, and anyone interested in this area of magickal exploration would do well to pick it up.
Animal totemism is a hot topic among magical folk, in particular pagans and shamans. This, of course, has spawned a growing number of books about totems which vary in quality from excellent to appalling, as books are wont to do. Many of them attempt to be an improvement on Ted Andrews’ works, which spawned the “totem dictionary with some extra stuff” trend. In addition, there are numerous websites about totems, again of varying quality. It’s laughably easy to find the information you seek.
One of the biggest misapprehensions about the bulk of this material is that it is genuine traditional totemism “just like the Indians do it!” A lot of this has to do with the amount of cultural appropriation that first the New Agers, and then the pagans, indulged in in regards to various Native American cultures. From the time Columbus ran into an island off the North American coast purely by accident, til the increase in social awareness in the 1970’s, the indigenous people of the American continent were steadily demonized by those of a European origin. I had a friend who had no idea what his tribal background was, only that he was part Native. His grandfather, the person from whom that heritage came, was incredibly tight-lipped about it due to a lifetime of being ashamed of his genes. Wimmin’s Lib and Black Power in the 1970’s. While this raised some recognition of the heavy bigotry against indigenous people, it also had an unexpected side effect.
All of a sudden, it was COOL to be an Indian. I was born in 1978, but I’ve seen pictures of (Caucasian) hippies wearing moccasins, fringed buckskin jackets, beadwork, and so forth. This was paralleled in the fringe spiritual community as well. The “back to the Earth” movement that began to take hold led to whites wanting to be just like the Indians, supposedly noble savages who lived at one with Nature, spoke with the spirits all the time, and were morally superior to mainstream American culture because of it.
The 1980’s and 1990’s saw an increase in New Agery of all types—including pseudo-Native. While a few people from Native tribes came out with books (the quality of which is debated by other Natives) there were also whites who went so far as to pose as Native Americans, or who at least tried justifying themselves by claiming to have learned from Native teachers (many of whom were unverifiable in tribal records).
The sale of Native culture included totemism. It fell prey to the same homogenization of other cultural traits—people talked about “Native American totemism” as if it were a single conglomerate that held true from the Mayans to the Inuits. The appropriators picked and chose among the lore whatever they found useful and discarded the rest, ignoring the claims of tribal people that “Native belief systems are COMMUNAL, not focused on the individual’s faith like Christianity, and are TRIBE-SPECIFIC.”
In all fairness, most of the New Agers meant well. They weren’t trying to make money off the fad; they simply wanted to find a way to connect with Nature in a culture devoid of that connection. However, even today there are still people being exposed as frauds, and occasional accused of crimes such as rape.
But let’s de-tangentalize and head back to totemism, shall we?
The Roots of Neopagan Totemism
All this blending of ideas hit the neopagan community in a big way, particularly when Jamie Sams and David Carson published “Medicine Cards”, and then a few years later with Andrews’ first book, “Animal-Speak”. Some pagans, being generally more down-to-earth and sticklers for research than New Agers, took the idea and began cutting out the pseudo-Native elements. While the history of totemism, particularly in Native American cultures, was acknowledged, neopagan totemism began to take on a unique flavor.
Neopagan totemism draws primarily from two threads in traditional totemism. The first is the clan/family/etc. group identity totem. Found in cultures around the world, group totemism is a way to define one collection of people from the rest. Exogamy, the process by which cultures determine who may marry whom, thereby avoiding incest in smaller groups of people, is also a strong proponent of traditional totemism in many cultures. And the division between male and female may even be punctuated by sex-based totems. Claude Levi-Strauss, in his work “Totemism”, describes an Australian aboriginal culture that has sex-based totems. If the sexes are at war with eachother, so to speak, one group may kill an animal representative of the other group’s totem as a way to strike a blow to the morale and punctuate their displeasure with their rivals—a battle of the sexes indeed!
More commonly talked about is the personal guide, particularly within the context of certain Native tribes. Traditionally, and generally speaking, at puberty boys (and sometimes girls) would go to a remote area to receive a vision of their personal animal guides. This animal would then guide the person throughout their hir life. A shaman or other magic worker would have specialized guides to help hir navigate through the Otherworld (however it was conceptualized) and to aid in acts of magic, benign or malign.
So from the identity focus of group totemism, and the individual focus of the personal guide, we get the hybrid that is neopagan totemism. This isn’t surprising, given that American culture tends to be very individual-based. Few of us live in the same area as our extended family, and we rarely make strong bonds with more than a few people outside of our nuclear families—if even then. We don’t live in villages with all the people we’re related to, interacting with the same folks our entire life. So socially traditional group totemism doesn’t apply very well in our personal context. In addition, our obsession with identity makes us add the identity of group totemism to the intimate bond with the personal guide, given extra flavor with the lore of the guides of the shamans and magic-workers whom we may want to emulate.
Does this mean that neopagan totemism is illegitimate? Not at all. I have practiced it as my primary paradigm for a decade now and have had great success all the way. The key to neopagan totemism is custom-tailoring it. Since we don’t have any ancient traditions of our own that must be upheld, we can pretty much experiment with it as we go. The thing to remember, as with all magic, is is it works for you, use it. However, the lesson to be learned from cultural appropriation is to also recall where your information comes from and how you represent it to others. Reading “Animal-Speak” does not make one a genuine real live Indian—nor is there any need to make that claim. Neopagan totemism is developing into its own paradigm, and is uniquely created by us, the neopagan community. Instead of trying to be like the Natives, why not try being like ourselves?
- “Animal Wisdom” by Jessica Dawn Palmer – one of the best dictionaries out there
- “Totem Magic” by Yasmine Galenorn
- “The Personal Totem Pole” by Eligio Stephen Gallegos – totems + chakras = works surprisingly well! Not neopagan-written, but very relevant
- “Power Animals” by Steven Farmer
- “Animal Spirit” by Patricia Telesco and Rowan Hall
- “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic” by Lupa (yours truly) – if you liked this article, you’ll love the totemism chapter. I drew a lot of my information for this article from my research for it. Also, for paleopagan totemism, try these:
- “Totemism” by Claude Levi-Strauss
- “Animals and Ancestors: An Ethnography” and “The Power of Animals: An Ethnography” by Brian Morris
- “Animals of the Soul: Sacred Animals of the Oglala Sioux” by Joseph Epes Brown
Finally, I also highly recommend reading “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community” by Sarah M. Pike for the chapter on pagans and cultural appropriation.
Author of “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic”
The Green Wolf