Totems act as a focal point for identity, clan pride and spiritual ideals.
Summer is Pride season around the world. LGBT communities everywhere are celebrating their social visibility, political progress and interpersonal support systems. People, queer and straight alike, are coming together in large groups to celebrate a shared ideal: Acceptance is for everyone.
We LGBT folk (and allies) form what I like to call Clan Love. This particular issue of Q-Notes has some special stories about pets. Domestic animals are often considered family members and so they’re part of Clan Love, too.
In finding a way to tie this column to the themes of Pride and pets and still address LGBT spirituality, it became clear that a relevant subject would be totems. What better image to unite all these “unrelated” topics at once? Totems are protective spirits, often embodied in the shapes of animals or in natural phenomena, which act as a focal point for identity, clan pride and spiritual ideals.
Totemic religions appear throughout history and around the world. The most widely recognizable totems in the U.S. today are Native American, but there are totem systems in Europe, Africa and the Pacific as well. Totems speak a language of their own, one that shows a reverence to the natural world and a sense of respect for the divine in all creatures, in all of Creation. Totems are not only symbols — they also embody ethics.
There are a variety of ways that practitioners are thought to connect with their totems. The simplest method is to simply talk to the totem, whether that be verbally (talking to a puma to commune with Puma) or by prayer. Wearing the skin of an animal or eating its flesh was a way of taking its attributes into oneself. Hallucinogenic substances were also used as a way of leaving the physical world and sending one’s spirit into the body of the totem in an effort to unite directly with the spirit’s wisdom.
Some totems protect an individual from personal weaknesses, while others speak to the person’s traits, talents or interests. Personal totems empower and inspire an individual and remind him/her to strive for excellence. Clan totems speak to the history and unity of a wider group. These spirits enrich an entire community.
For example, if you are of the Clan Wolf, then there are general expectations from your community to represent Wolf well in all you do, in order to bring pride upon your people. You personally may be guided by Rabbit, Raven or Fox but your responsibility to Wolf is never abandoned. This is a way of allowing for personal discovery while remaining connected to a tradition greater than the singular self.
LGBT people are gradually gaining broader acceptance within various religious communities; however, it seems that something precious has been lost in Clan Love. After Stonewall there was a powerful global sense of connection to other people in the Clan. Although we enjoy greater visibility and acceptance from without our community today, it seems that we do not enjoy greater bonding from within our own subculture.
Boiz go here, Bears go there, and Grrrlz/Lesbyterians are often nowhere in sight when gay men are present. Where are the bisexuals? Why is racism so rampant? The transgender people in our midst are treated with outright contempt by other queers! The LGB almost doesn’t tolerate association with the T. It’s not right, especially when gay men of color and drag queens started the Stonewall riots in the first place. Our diversity was once our strength; however, it seems more like a means of division now.
Clan Love is best represented by the Rainbow. Though not an animal, it is a natural phenomenon that speaks to our beauty and multiplicity. There are so many varieties of LGBT people. Whether your personal totem is Lynx, Coyote or Butterfly you are of Clan Love and Rainbow should remind you at all times that you have a moral responsibility to contribute to our culture and the world at large.
It is upsetting to hear so many queer people say that we have no “community,” especially when the people who say it are the ones doing the least to cultivate it. Stop bitching and start a revolution!
This is Clan Love’s spiritual challenge going forward: To continue healing and nurturing individuals while respecting Rainbow for its enormous capacity for inclusion. Rainbow stands high over the world, gently embracing it and everyone within it. Rainbow is most astonishing when all its colors shine distinctly but collectively.
Rainbow is also fleeting, and the space left behind after it disappears is less enchanting, less interesting. Spirituality gives us purpose. It guides us along our journey while we interact with the world and its inhabitants. Let Rainbow and your personal totem teach you to find your own way of making Clan Love proud.
Jack Kirven holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA and was nationally certified in personal fitness training through NASM for six years.
— Q-Notes’ “Health and Wellness” column rotates between physical fitness, spirituality, green living and medical wellness.