Hello, and welcome to the debut Totem Project blog post!
I began the Totem Project two years ago with my first painting of the series, the Ram. I didn't fully understand where this journey would take me then, being hidden as it was in the swirling mists of the unconscious. I only knew the Ram was asking me to breathe life into him. And so my first Totem was born.
Not long after that first painting came to life I discovered I was pregnant. It was a very uncertain time and my footing was anything but sure. I was between jobs, nurturing a family member through addiction recovery and into health, and just gaining ground with my husband's small business. I felt completely cast adrift on a sea of uncertainty. I was full of fear and doubt, and out of the fog of confusion came the Ram. Strong, determined and with a stubborn refusal to do anything but persevere.
And persevere I would, landing a full-time job supportive of my pregnancy, seeing my family member recover and successfully build a new life, and growing a prosperous small business with my husband. Ram stepped in when I needed him most. Fiery, determined, and with surefooted confidence we fixed our vision on the top of the mountain and arrived there!
It would be some time before I painted my next Totem, the Hare. And that time would come after the loss of my son, 8 months into my pregnancy. If I had been cast adrift on a sea of uncertainty before, I was now in a place of complete annihilation. Everything I knew about who I was had shattered and fell at my feet. I was broken into a million pieces, each day trying to pick them up off the floor and piece them together into something that might resemble myself. But I couldn't get anything to fit. My whole world, my whole sense of being had been completely decimated. I had to find my way back.
It's interesting that the Hare presented himself to me at this time. The surface level energy of the Hare speaks to fear and I was certainly full of that when he came to me. But something in me, perhaps the residual energy of the Ram, was not willing to give in to it. And so I dug deeper and revisited a story from my youth that made a lifelong impression upon me. Watership Down, by Richard Adams. It's a story of survival, life, and death complete with its own creation myth and God. There's a beautiful quote at the beginning of the story by Frith, God of the Hares.
"All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed."
When I look at my painting of the Hare I see a wounded animal. "All the world will be your enemy..." That's definitely where I was coming from when I painted him. But there's a power in the wounded animal and a willingness to do whatever it takes for survival. "Be cunning and full of tricks..." And THAT was what I needed. Fortunately, I knew exactly where I needed to go and interestingly, it was backwards.
When I was younger, in my 20s, I'd fallen deeply in love with all things occult. Now before I go a sentence further let's all just get on the same page about what that is. Or more importantly, what it isn't. What it isn't is some kind of hooded robe wearing, meet under the cover of darkness, human sacrificing devil cult. What it is—and this is a tiny little sentence attempting to embody an enormous subject—is a philosophical and psychological exploration of all that is hidden. Particularly, in the dark, shadowy places of our unconscious. If you choose to follow me on this journey I'll go deeper into this as it's impossible to sum up in a paragraph... but please know this: one does not need to identify as an occultist (or anything for that matter) to profit from the wisdom offered through Totem medicine. A devotee of Jesus is just as welcome to it as a devotee of Odin. This is divine wisdom that transcends any one spiritual teaching and yet, permeates them all.
Now that we have that out of the way I'll get on with the story.
In my younger days I never shied away from defining myself as a witch and went about creating all the magical possibilities I could with unbridled enthusiasm. I dove headlong into Wicca and witchcraft, joining rituals, building altars, casting spells... I was imbued with a delicious youthful confidence and damn if I did not get shit done! Magical shit! I set my sights on the things I wanted and I got them. Every single time. And often in the face of incredible adversity. I was powerful and strong and I had complete faith in all of my magical workings. It was an amazing time in my life and I look back on it with fondness and adoration of my fearless spirit.
I'm not sure how or why, but there was a slow and quiet moving away from all things magical as I got older. I can barely call it conscious. There was just a sort of "growing up" that pushed it aside. Though I never forgot what it had done for me. The strength and confidence. The power. I remember often telling people "should I ever find myself in a place of weakness with nowhere to turn, I will return wholeheartedly to the occult." I said that often, whenever someone teased me about being a kooky Wiccan or joked with me about my Pagan nerd years. I'd laugh along with the jokes but I never dismissed the core magical teachings. Those could never be discarded. You can't discard the truth. Try as we may.
And suddenly here I was, so many years later, completely void of any magical practice, the mother of a dead child in a place of profound and all-consuming weakness with nowhere to turn.
So what did I do? I did exactly what I always said I would. I found the closest occult bookstore I could and went in to stock up on whatever spoke to me in that moment. And I found the Medicine Cards deck by Jamie Sams and David Carson. And the journey that began with the Ram, Aries, first sign of the zodiac, symbolic of fiery new beginnings, took root.
27 Totems later, countless hours immersed in the myths and medicine of indigenous people, classical mythology, hermetic magic, Jungian psychology, alchemy, the healing powers of the natural world, and an ongoing journey of delicious witchy self-discovery, I have arrived here at my magical coming out party.
The healing wisdom and power discovered on this path is more felt than described and while I offer the energy and medicine for each Totem as they are given life, the biggest gains are intuitive. The more one meditates on any given Totem, the deeper and more personal the message becomes. We exist within them and they exist within us. With this medicine I hope to guide myself and others to a healing reconnection with the truth of our nature and our oneness with all of the natural world.
Welcome to the magic party.