Some More Thoughts on Totemism
Posting some old posts I made from my LiveJournal, which I thought would be appropriate for the focus of this blog–and which I should probably have originally posted here in the first place. Originally posted here.
Recently a friend (who wishes to remain anonymous at this time) wrote a long rant in their lj about totemism on the internet. I was going to copypaste the whole thing, but in lieu of that, I’ll mainly just try to write briefly on certain points he made regarding things, and lift some select quotes (with permission).
During the course of the entry he dubbed the word “poketotem”, something that elicited in me a rueful and knowing laugh. Gotta catch them all, right?
I guess what I’m saying is that I find the common online version of this to be complete and utter bullshit. People slamming through these humongous lists of “energies” long enough to come up with one or two pathetic catch phrases to describe them, like captions in a yearbook. That’s insulting to your ancestors, animist societies, and the animals themselves. They’re not fucking Pokemon.
I can definitely understand the frustration. As a practicing animist, I sometimes feel a profound disconnect from other animists. Mainly because I don’t take the Poketotem Approach. I can’t rapidly go through multiple animals at once, compiling “totem dictionaries” that shoehorn animals into limited, specific definitions. Granted, I love exploring animal symbolism. But that symbolism should be explored from experience and research (yes, that would include scientific research), and not from the fantastical minds of those who spend way too much time on the internet, or locked in their own fantasy worlds. It’s pathetic. And that’s one big reason why I can’t stand totem dictionaries, aside from the vast majority of them being very poorly referenced and researched, and highly flavored by the person writing them.
Most cultures agree that it takes a lifetime of dedication to assign yourself the sort of title most of you so readily jump on, and no, putting a “neo” at the start of it doesn’t make you look less of a jerk. So if you find yourself churning through the entire Encyclopedia Animilia , a day or a week per species, please consider that there just may be something wrong with your approach.
Neoshamanism is, I feel, a valid practice. How it is applied, however, can be open to some debate–and is. But there is a reason why I call myself a “shamanist” instead of outright “shaman”. Curiouser and curiouser are the cases of what I call “internet shamans” who will preach the importance of respect and whatnot, but as soon as they get a little taste of popularity, the “ist” in the “shaman” slowly begins to get dropped and when this happens, I strongly begin to consider what, if at all, they have contributed to their society, to their “tribe” beyond further opportunities for people to stroke their egoes.
Because doing this Poketotem bullshit is professing the exact opposite. It is quite blatantly saying that you, yes you, are advanced and important enough to know what is significant already. That they are there for our use spiritually as well as physically, for us to pick meanings from and apply them to our lives, or ask for ridiculous favours, regardless of the intricacy and depth we know, or should know, is actually there amongst the instincts and history of these other peoples (as you so often call them.).
Well, none of us know what is significant. Even back then, the early animists didn’t. That’s why they turned to things like “elders”, and things that dwelled “beyond”. That’s why we journey, why we seek what is beyond the periphery of our bodies and our societies. For wisdom, for knowledge. People assign meaning to things to shed light on the unknown, the mysterious. I can understand the frustration though. I’ve seen totems used far too often like mascots for concepts or ideas, or crutches for people’s own shortcomings and inner demons. If animism is the idea that everything is alive in some way, then life is far more complex than a paragraph, a set of definitions, a summary.
If you feel you need some sort of internet-paced community built up around you to start this pathway, then so be it. But when your spiritual revelations start reading more like the badly written horoscopes used as filler in the back pages of cheap newspapers than real insight, step back, take your time, and go on your journey. It’s okay if you don’t get everything right away, don’t feel bad about it. That’s just our too-fast-hurry-up culture talking. This is supposed to be an individual experience that will translate to you the meanings behind your own world and place in it, and it is a journey that takes a lifetime of dedication and introspective thought. Deep down, you know that, and it was either that or the want for some pathetic internet celebrity status that you chose this path in the first place.
And here…I can’t argue with anything here. I’ve seen it far too often on the internet already. This “too-fast-hurry-up” culture really does talk. One of instant gratification and hyper-individualism. Way back when, it was the group/society/tribe before the individual, now the roles are reversed, and how we deal and work with animistic pathways is affected as result. Does this make it wrong? Depends on the perspective. I am a very individualistic person, but I was also raised and put in situations in my life that caused a sacrifice of ego and self for the betterment of group or family. I have a taste of both sides, I think both sides have much to offer in a person’s perspective. I’m not going to fall into the danger of nostalgia and the “good old days”, but I guess that can have its merits, too. But this Fast Food Animism is not one I can relate to. I may not burn through totems as rapidly as some people, I may take a longer and considerably more painful route with my shamanistic practice, but that’s my choice. I’m not going to say that my path is better, because I really don’t know the answer to that. I just know what I don’t want to be a part of, what I feel is far too shallow for me to adapt or relate to.
This post wasn’t spawned by anything in particular other than my friend’s post (which, to the best of my knowledge, wasn’t spawned by anything in particular, either). It’s helped me crystallize some thoughts rolling around in my head lately.
Plus, an addendum to this post, originally posted here
It’s not that I don’t think totemism isn’t valid for those modern animists who aren’t a member of an indigenous or tribal society, as it where. Hardly (I’d be a hypocrite obviously). It’s just that I don’t always agree with how it is applied. Then again, how it is applied may vary from society to society, so you can’t pin it down to any one particular group of people. Even still–there are ways of going about this sort of thing that doesn’t have to be shallow, careless, half-assed, and ego-serving.
Or, to put it another way, when one invokes “cultural appropriation”. Strong words, and important ones, yes. But one must also remember that cultures, religions and related have been appropriating from each other since the dawn of time. This does not justify all forms of appropriation. When all you take out are the bits you find to be attractive to you and leave out the rest, you are not doing anyone or anything any sort of justice, and you certainly aren’t helping yourself by doing so either.
Or, let me try to explain this again. The TL;DR Version: just remember to do your freaking homework. Haha.