Combining the Three Models
As you’ve been reading through the past few chapters, you may have found more than one model that you really resonate with. While I’ve presented these models as freestanding systems, you’re welcome to blend them as you see fit. Keep in mind that all three were drawn from my single integrated personal totemic path, and so they all were originally blended together. What you create may not look like my own path, but as long as it works for you, that’s okay.
Each of the models has its own “home.” By this I mean that the Archetypal model is firmly embedded within your own psyche. At the other end of the spectrum is the Bioregional model, which has its roots in the physical world around us. The Correspondences model falls somewhere in the middle; it’s our internal psyche making meaning with elements of the external world. As you’re combining parts of these models, keep in mind where they fall along this internal/external continuum, and what your personal preferences are. If you’re more cerebral in your approach and “living in your head,” you may find yourself relying more on the Archetypal model, and interpreting the Bioregional model as being a projection of your biases and preferences onto your environment. On the other hand, if you tend to see spirits, totems, and other beings as external and living independently of you and your belief, you may love the habitat that the Bioregional model offers for you to interact with them, and see the archetypes as the signatures these beings leave within us when we work with them. Either approach is fine.
Even if you base your work on a model that you’re more comfortable with, you may find that over time your own focus shifts as you start introducing elements of others. If you’re a very earthy, practical person, the Archetypal model could help you to be more introspective, exploring parts of yourself you hadn’t really thought about before. For a more cerebral person, the Bioregional model could get you out of your head, and out into the world more. And if you tend to have your head in the clouds quite a bit, the Correspondences model might aid you in putting a more intuitive
approach into concrete symbols and words that are easier to communicate to others.
Continuing on, here are a few suggested ways you could combine two or even all three of the models I’ve described.
Bioregional + Correspondences:
Creating a Local System of Correspondences
I spent some time in the chapter on Correspondences talking about finding fungus and plant totems to represent the four (or more) directions. You can take this concept a lot further by creating a system of correspondences for your bioregion.
The directions are the easiest place to start with this. Look at the most prominent features of your bioregion from where you are. Here in Portland, the Columbia River is just north of me and then Mt. St. Helens and its surrounding forests, while Mt. Hood and the Cascades are in the east, with deserts beyond. Cityscapes along the I-5 corridor make up a large portion of what’s south of me, and to the west is farmland, and further, more mountains by the Pacific Ocean. If I wanted to greet the totems of the directions, I might seek out those of the plants and fungi that live in these various places. So I might say at the beginning of the ritual:
I greet you, Duckweed and Elodea of the Columbia, and Western Hemlock and Black Morel whose children grow along the slopes of St. Helens. I ask you to bring the energy of the North to this sacred place.
I greet you, Bear Grass that grows in the Cascades, and Ponderosa Pine, the keeper of the desert. I ask you to add the energy of the East to my working here.
I greet you, Red Clover and Oyster Mushroom, growing in yards and little open lots throughout
the land, and Poison Oak that guards even the urban banks of the Willamette River. I ask you
to lend me the energy of the South for my magic.
I greet you, Salmonberry and Raspberry, wild
and cultivated, and Sugar Kelp in the Pacific’s
salty waters. I ask you to send the energy
of the West to this place that I hold.
Beyond the directions, you may find that individual places have totems you associate with them. And then those places and totems may grow further layers of meaning. In the Columbia River Gorge there is a particular spot along a trail that is always my starting point for spiritual journeys. The guardian of that place is Douglas Fir, and so I ask that totem for safe passage whenever I start a journey. Because of this, I also associate both the place and the totem with spiritual practices, grounding, and refuge. This means that I sometimes ask Douglas Fir for help with times when I feel the need for safety, even if I’m nowhere near the place where I first made that association. I can then connect Douglas Fir with other things I associate with protection, like the color red, the animal totem Gray Wolf, and the stone Tigers eye.
See how that works? From one single location, a whole host of connections can be made. You may find that certain places already carry such associations, such as those established by the indigenous inhabitants. It’s up to you as to whether you want to adopt these or not; I tend to err on the side of personal meaning, but your mileage may vary.
Bioregional + Archetypal:
Sacred Places, Rites of Passage
I love hiking. It is one of my very favorite things in the whole world. And some of my favorite hikes go up mountains. Not gigantic, snow-covered peaks like Mt. Hood, but smaller ones like Dog Mountain in Washington, low enough that there’s definitely no need for oxygen equipment, but high enough to be a challenging day hike. Others take me into strange new territory, like the first time I explored the deserts east of the Cascades.
For me, a new discovery is very often a rite of passage. Usually there’s a challenge involved—a sort of terrain I hadn’t expected or in one case, getting lost by myself on a mountain in winter with inadequate equipment and having to use orientation skills to get myself back safely before nightfall. Even if I didn’t plan these as sacred rites, they were profound enough that they stayed with me.
And I can see how these increased my self-knowledge, as well as my ability to adapt to new, sometimes dangerous, situations. The archetypal parts of myself that grew in those instances—the Explorer, the Eternal Student, and others—shifted and changed to accommodate these experiences. And they allied themselves with some of the fungus and plant totems that I met on these expeditions, particularly those that helped me through to the end. Sometimes these totems would show up again in later rites of passage, even those that had nothing to do with hiking or outdoor activities in general.
Of course, not all rites of passage are unplanned. Many of them are deliberately created to effect a particular change in our lives. We often choose special places in which to hold them. And these places become even more deeply embedded in our psyches because of the personal power they cradled.
Lorraine recently emerged from a very difficult time in her life. After a painful divorce, she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. It took two years of radiation therapy and other treatment to clear it from her system, and her prognosis is good. While she was beginning to rebound from the last round of treatments, waiting to see if it was gone for good, she discovered a little park near her new home. She soon found herself visiting it almost every day, regardless of the weather, and it came to symbolize the renewal of her life as she grew stronger. Two years after her final treatment, Lorraine decides she wants to symbolically step into the next phase of her life, leaving the troubles of the past few years behind. So she designs a special walk through the park with her friends and family, walking from one end to the other, and stopping at predetermined places to talk about the battles she had fought, and how she had won. When she gets to the end, she symbolically steps over a line of sticks she had put across the path, and then asks everyone to do the same. That night, as she reflects on the ritual, she decides to name the park “Rebirth” in her mind, as a constant reminder of her strength, resilience and the part of her that fought and won.
Archetypal + Correspondences:
Mapping the Totemic Mind
The Inner Garden is just one possible way to map your mind using totems. If you’ve already associated fungus and plant totems with another set of correspondences, such as the tarot or colors, you can also apply those to your understanding of yourself.
Look at the various totems and the symbols they represent. Observe what part of you resonates with each of them. You may feel closer to some than to others, but try and find at least a little bit of yourself that “matches” with each. Then try working with each of the symbol/totem combinations to get to know yourself better.
Carl is familiar with the symbolism of the elder futhark of runes, but prefers to integrate them into his own path rather than adopting Norse religion and culture as a whole. He’d like to draw on what they represent, but feels that he resonates better with more directly natural symbols. So he
meditates with each of the runes, seeing what parts of himself respond the most to them. For example, Ansuz speaks clearly to his role as an artist, a creator of images and metaphors in a variety of media. But he also associates roses with that part of himself as well, particularly because they’ve featured prominently in many artists’ and writers’ creations over time and have gained their own level of romance. So when he wants to inspire himself to greater creativity, he brings roses into his workspace, or incorporates them into his work. But behind the roses, he knows the energy of Ansuz also adds itself to the mix, helping him to tap into his talents and motivations as an artist even more deeply.
Combining All Three Models
The above are examples of combining two models together. You can, of course, combine all three. There’s no single set of correct proportions, either. You might find that you like to primarily work with one of the models, with the other two as garnish of sorts. Or you may end up with fairly equal portions of each in your path. It may even vary depending what you’re trying to accomplish at the time.
Harriet has always lived in the city, but she loves the urban wildlife that makes its home amid all the human creations. She thinks cities and their nature are underrated, and wants to increase awareness of the flora, fungi, and fauna that live in yards, parks, even cracks in sidewalks. She spends a lot of time walking outside, noticing what she sees, from little mushrooms in a patch of grass to a line of ants walking up a wall. She begins to see herself as an archetypal Guardian of this urban wilderness, and spends time writing to local officials about protecting parks and open lots from unnecessary development, and volunteering with local habitat restoration and preservation efforts. One evening, she’s meditating under her favorite ginkgo tree, when she imagines the totem of this ancient plant speaking to her through the wood and the leaves. Through their long conversation, she is inspired to begin writing stories about the often overlooked plants and fungi of her area. She shares these stories with others, drawing on ancient and modern meanings for them, and demonstrating how they symbolize various parts of the vitality of the city amid the concrete and asphalt.
Gladys is a ritual magician, and has spent many years studying and incorporating various tables of correspondences into her practices. She loves creating elaborate rites to honor various beings or create certain changes in the world, connecting colors to herbs to alphabets to spirits of all sorts into one big blend of creativity—with a purpose. She’s been exploring plant and fungus totemism as of late, and she finds that she feels especially close to them, especially as she is an avid gardener in her spare time. She’s always enjoyed the old herbals that give certain plants special meanings, but as she finds out more, she discovers that she sees more of herself in her garden than she’d previously realized. For example, she’s always planted peonies because they reminded her of her mother’s gardens when she was a child. And every year’s crop of tomatoes reminds her of when she bought her first home and created her own first vegetable garden, all by herself. The old log where she grows shiitake mushrooms hearkens back to her late girlfriend, who taught her a bit of mycology. In fact, she can walk through her physical garden and see the story of her own life in it, even though it wasn’t planned that way. Over time, she begins to bring more of her rituals into the garden, and starts to teach others how to do the same with theirs, planting all sorts of personally sacred plants and fungi.
Eclecticism Au Naturel:
Introducing Fungus and Plant Totems into Existing Spiritual/Magical Paths
Back when I was discussing the Correspondences model, I discussed how to integrate plant and fungus totemism into an existing set of correspondences. I’d like to expand that some from just the correspondences into entire spiritual and magical paths.
Some of you may be wondering, “Why in the world do you want to shoehorn fungus and plant totems into a perfectly good religion/magical path/meditation regimen/etc.?” Chances are that if you’re interested in this section and you already have a spiritual or magical practice that you’re pretty attached to, you’re also probably not so attached to its details that you can’t do a little adding and editing here and there. Perhaps you’re an eclectic Neopagan, or a chaos magician, or just someone who considers themselves to be a student of the spiritual world in general. Or maybe you follow a pretty cohesive path or religion, but you’re open to personalizing it some. Any way you slice it, you’re welcome to make use of the following ideas to bring plant and fungus totems into your personal path more fully.
First, think about why you want to work with these totems. Is your path already fairly nature-based and you want to expand it some? Or do you feel a distinct lack of connection to earthy, growing things, and want to add that organic element? Maybe you’re relatively new, and you’ve been collecting some neat ideas and practices that work for you from a variety of sources, but the stuff in this book really resonated with you and you want to blend it all together somehow. Or maybe you were minding your own business in some entirely unrelated path, and a fungus or plant totem metaphorically knocked at your door, and you want to answer appropriately. Really think about the role you’d like this totemism to have in your practice and why.
Think too about how well your current practice might or might not mesh with what’s in this book. Some paths are easy to add to and modify; both the parameters of the beliefs and practices, and the people who follow them, don’t particularly mind some personalization. Other spiritual and religious paths are more resistant to this sort of open-source neo-totemism. If you’re trying to reconstruct the worship of an ancient deity and are trying to be as historically accurate as possible, adding in “totemism” might be stretching it just a bit. If that deity has plants associated with it as a symbol, that might be a foot in the door, but if you’re trying to keep your practices as close to the original as you can, you may just want to keep your totemism as a separate path.
In a similar vein, if you’re working within a group or tradition that’s trying to maintain some consistency in its tenets and rituals and the like, other members may not appreciate you flinging lichens and fruiting bodies around the ceremonial area at random (or whatever else you feel inspired to do in the name of the totems). Groups that already have an existing totemic or similar system, particularly if it’s been around a while, might prefer that you leave this book at home and not blur the boundaries between how they do things and how I do them. In these cases, respect the existing boundaries and find some new support for the vine of your growing totemic practice to wind around or create a new practice entirely.
Candace is an eclectic Wiccan. Rather than sticking to an established tradition like Gardnerian or Alexandrian, she is inspired by newer, solitary-focused derivatives. She also draws on a variety of practices and belief systems, from herbalism to scrying with water. All of these fit into her nature-based path centered on the Goddess and God and the eight sabbats. When she first learns about fungus and plant totemism, she decides it may be a good way to have a deeper connection to the physical beings she works with in her herbal practices. So at the summer solstice she invites the plant totem Basil to join her and help her learn more about it and its children. She spends more time working with basil in her herbalism, and listening to what the totem tells her as she works with the physical leaves. Basil also asks her for certain offerings in exchange for these leaves. When Lammas arrives, she opens the ritual by thanking Basil for its time and assuring it that it is welcome in her home at any time. She proceeds to extend an invitation to the next totem, the mushroom Maitake.
Just keep in mind that you are not restricted to being only a Wiccan or only a neoshaman. People change and evolve over time, up to and including spiritual predilections. If you need to keep one particular path that you follow relatively strict, you can do that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t spend time creating another, separate path to devote some time to as well.
Andrea practices Celtic reconstructionism, a path that seeks to recreate the spiritual and cultural practices of various Celtic communities before Christianity. She’s especially fond of ogam, the series of symbols that were used for divination and other practices. Each of these symbols is associated with a particular tree, and she’d like to explore those connections more deeply. She’s familiar with totemism, but she knows that, especially in its Neopagan manifestation, it’s not particularly historically accurate. However, she decides to explore these connections anyway; she simply makes sure not to call these new practices and discoveries “reconstructionism.” While the totemism helps her to understand the trees associated with the ogam more, her totemic work takes that understanding much further than ogam traditions do, and she finds herself creating practices that are entirely separate from her reconstructionist path. She gives time and effort to both in their own turn, and over time both become important and flourishing parts of her life.
Fungus, and Animal Totems
No, this isn’t about weird genetic experiments. It’s a reminder that the totems of various living beings share spiritual ecosystems with each other, just as their physical counterparts do. We’re more used to interacting with animals, and so more people work with animal totems than plant or fungus totems. In fact, if you’re having trouble getting into a non-animal mindset, you may try asking animal totems for help in introducing you to their flora and fungi neighbors.
Let’s say you have a few animal totems with whom you’ve worked and are familiar. You might ask them what fungi and plant totems are most important to them. To an herbivore totem, it might be the totems of those plants and fungi that its physical children rely on the most for food, bedding, shelter, and the like. For carnivores, it may be those that offer it camouflage when hunting, or a home to live in. The totems of omnivores are especially good to work with, though, because they both eat plants and fungi, and they eat animals that may be reliant on different ones. The most important thing, of course, is to work with one or more animal totems you’re comfortable with and that will be willing to help you in this exploration.
One way to do this is to use a guided meditation to go and visit the animal totem, and then ask it to make introductions as it sees fit. However, I’ve also had totems turn me into one of their own species in the meditation, and had me explore the land and find out what fungi and plants stood out to me the most in that nonhuman headspace. Other times the connection has been as simple as observing animals in their natural habitats and seeing what plants and fungi they needed the most.
After you’ve made these connections, then what? The various totems can help you to get to know each other better. For example, if your primary animal totem is Atta Sexdens (one of several leafcutter ant species), and you want to understand this enigmatic being more, in addition to talking to the totem directly you may also ask to speak with the totems of the plants its children harvest, and of the fungi they grow underground. This will help you get a better sense of the
relationships that Atta Sexdens and its children have with the world, and how those bonds formed, as well as what they can all show you about being in this place.
This relationship works the other way too. If you’ve worked mainly with fungus and plant totems and you’d like to expand your work into animal totemism as well, you can ask the fungi and plants what animals are more reliant on them, and vice versa (remember: animals pollinate, spread seeds, and otherwise benefit their neighbors!).
Felipe recently did a meditation to find an animal totem. Instead of a well-known one like Gray Wolf or Elk, he instead got Cochineal, the totem of a tiny red insect. Most of what he found about cochineals were that they were historically used to make red dye, but he wants to know more about the insects themselves. He discovered in his research that they rely most on a specific species of cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica. So he does a meditation to visit both the insect and cactus totems; in speaking with them, he is taught that humans have learned to manipulate the natural world in their favor even in ways he hadn’t even known about. Sure, he knew people farmed goats and pigs and the like, but the reliance of the cochineal insects on their host cacti has led to them being farmed around the world. It makes him wonder just how much use and exploitation of lesser-known species is happening without most people being aware of it, and what impact that could have on these beings and their environments. Felipe resolves to do more research, and while the cochineals and cacti are in no danger of dying out, he wants to find ways to help protect the most vulnerable of these animals, plants, and places before they are pushed to extinction due to human demand.
Again, consider this chapter to be full of suggestions and possible starting points. You may find some work, or none at all. You might come up with your own. The totems may even have some ideas for you. And you’re welcome to stop using anything that you find wasn’t as good a fit as you thought; the totems may also decide they don’t like something, and request that you no longer incorporate it when working with them. No matter what, be open and flexible, observant and aware, and most of all, allow yourself time and patience as you explore and work out the details.
Speaking of details, the next chapter includes a veritable cornucopia of practices and concepts that while not strictly totemic, may be woven in with your totemism as you see fit.