Power animals: The dog as totem

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By Tracie Korol

There was a time when humanity recognized itself as a part of nature. Dreaming and waking were inseparable realities; the natural and supernatural merged. People used images of nature to express this unity. Shamans, priests and priestesses were keepers of this sacred knowledge, tied to the rhythms and forces of invisible worlds. To them, every species and every aspect of its environment had the power to remind them of what to manifest in their own lives. Though these rituals and behaviors may seem primitive and silly to our rational modern minds, they may be no less powerful today. Each animal archetype has its own qualities and characteristics that are reflected through its behaviors and activities.

Native beliefs further explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Though people may identify with different animal guides throughout their lifetimes, it is this one totem animal that acts as the main guardian spirit.

One way to understand dog power, in particular, is to look at how dogs were viewed in other cultures. Most Native American tribes had dogs as protection and as alarm systems. The Greeks symbolized the dog as Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades — again, a protector. In India, the dog was a symbol of all caste systems, and to the early Christians, the dog was a watchful guardian (as in the sheepdog) and was an allegory for the priest (guardian of his flock).

Dogs are an integral part of my life.  When in company of others, the dog/s of the assembly usually find their way to my side, without coaxing. I have been accused of rubbing meat on my knees (I don’t, usually), that I must have been an alpha dog in a former life (perhaps), or that my totem is that of the dog (it isn’t, it’s the turtle). But because dogs are so important and present in my life, I incorporate dog power into my personal philosophy. Count yourself lucky if the dog is your personal totem.

The energies and lessons of the dog totem are naturally those that we find in the characteristics of earthly dogs. Study your own dog, for instance. No doubt the characteristics of your dog include faithfulness, loyalty, care and attention to friends, comfort and fierce protection. Your dog is excited to see you when you return from work, he will pull himself out of a sound sleep to accompany you to the bathroom and he will ward off intruders even if it is only a squirrel.

People who naturally tend to carry dog medicine throughout their lives tend to be selfless individuals who often enjoy doing work that involves public service such as counseling, medical care or philanthropic work. Besides faithfulness and other compassionate characteristics, the energy of the dog totem also includes a playful, spontaneous and gregarious nature. Your dog is so ready to explore the outside you have taking to spelling W-A-L-K in his presence. He’ll bring his stuffed bunny to share with you when you’ve had a bad day. He doesn’t hold a grudge even though you yelled at him for dumping the wastebasket, again. He’s more in tune than you might think.

If the dog has come into your life as a totem, you might ask yourself some questions:

• Do I need to work on being a more loving or forgiving person?

• Do I need to play a little more?

• Would I like to be a more social person or foster stronger friendships?

• Would I like to strengthen certain qualities within myself such as forgiveness, tolerance, courage or compassion?

• Do I need to be more protective of my territory?

Whether we admit it or not, the natural world is a community of plants, animals and humans. And dogs. We don’t have to believe all of the symbology and mythology of Nature, but by examining it (and our dogs), we can get in touch with a primal part of our existence. To learn from the animals, we must first be able to see them in a new way.