A Totem is a Clan Guardian, NOT a personal Spirit guide!!!!

I try my very best to teach people the important differences of a

Clan Guardian or Totem Animal and a personal Spirit Guide.

Here I will try to explain:

The Guardian of you family Clan is your Clan Totem:

If you are a person from a traditional =indigenous culture, in all likelihood you and all your family members have a Clan Guardian, a spiritual entity independent of your personal Guardians and Guides.

If your family is patrilineal all kids have dad’s Clan, mom however has a different Clan.


All the different Clans have a long history, certain rites, maybe ceremonies and also certain responsibilities towards the other Clans in the web of the tribal community. As a member of the Clan these responsibilities are your’s as well.

You can not marry a person from the same Clan as your own = dad’s Clan. In some tribes, you can not marry a person of your mother’s Clan either.

That taboo also goes for a person from a Clan that is of a different people but has the same Clan Totem = Animal or Plant Guardian.

For example: I am a member of the Wolf Clan of our Siberian tribe. BUT ALL members of all Wolf Clans everywhere are my family members and so I could not marry another member of the Wolf Clan of the Haudenosaunee or any other Wolf Clan anywhere on Mother Earth.

The Haudenosaunee Clan system is matrilineal but still!!!!

From my maternal Grandmother and her female ancestors I am an Usari = Bear Clan so I sit with the Bear Clan people of the Longhouse, because they are matrilineal.

Bear is their Totem = another word in Algonquin language for Clan Guardian.

BUT iffff then a none First Nation person comes and tells anyone of us about their Wolf – or Bear or Mouse Totem – or whatever they feel their “Totem” is or has appeared to them, we all get offended. It is NOT their Totem, unless they are Wolf -or Mouse Clan!

It is maybe their – or your personal Guide or Guardian Animal –

But for them – or you to use the word Totem is wrong and insensitive. For some people it is even quite insulting. People using the word totem indiscriminately are becoming “bad weather” right then and there!!!

http://www.houseofthespiritbear.com/mark_jacobson/mark_ANTHONY_jacobson_PRINTS.htm

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14 thoughts on “A Totem is a Clan Guardian, NOT a personal Spirit guide!!!!

    • Honestly; I do not know much about Scottish clans. If this is a part of your personal heritage, I would see it as an exiting journey for you, to find out more about it – and hopefully post your findings here, so we all can learn more! 🙂

  1. The word “clan” appears to be just as loaded as “totem” since both have multiple and rather imprecise meanings. I am English on both sides; we don’t have “clans” or “totems” in the sense described above (and never did, as far as I know, though some families that have lived in one place for hundreds of years, such as my mother’s people, may still have enough physical characteristics to claim genetic evidence of pre-Celtic tribal identity). The Scottish clans (at least nowadays) are associated primarily with last names. They often have their own tartan and other symbols, such as a coat of arms or traditional ornaments, and some of these are quite ancient. But they have their own rules and obligations and they don’t have the animal titles. So I suspect that it’s a case of the same word being used for two different kinds of blood-related groups.

    I am very glad not to belong to a clan of any kind. Just one more group where I don’t fit in.

    For personal spirit-helpers I prefer “animal guide” or “guardian” or “teacher” or “helper” or a similar word that describes the spiritual relationship with that animal, since they don’t all have the same purpose.

  2. Yes, Ironwing, I agree. There are too many misconceptions about these words. Indigenous languages have very specific words for things like Clan, family unit, Totem, or Guardian Spirit. then they get translated into English, where there are no equivalent words. Then all becomes Clan or totem…. Especially in the so called “New Age” movement and the flood of books it provides we often find these terms used freely and without regard to their true meaning.
    Thanks for your info about your English ancestry! 🙂

  3. Most of the Irish clan animal associations come from their incorporation into surnames from the Gaelic eg. Byrne – from the Gaelic – ó Broin – meaning – raven but most are not so clear. The Scottish clan/animal associations are less obvious but often visible through the heraldic devices. For example my Father’s family is from the Forrester Clan, originally out of Sterlingshire and the clan animal association is the Dog. The Clan can tentatively trace it’s heritage back to the 12th Century and possible druidic connections (hardly surprising with the name like Forrester!) but this is a patrilineal association so does not carry on with me.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this charged subject, it has given me food for thought this week and more fodder for the journal writing for the book you and I are studying this year.

  5. Well for what it’s worth, some American Jews jokingly call ourselves “members of the tribe” (M-O-T). There’s something to be said for the sense of belonging to a group–you can’t hang out with the whole world. xxxDebra

  6. Ironwing said: “I am very glad not to belong to a clan of any kind. Just one more group where I don’t fit in.”

    mooninfog said: “There’s something to be said for the sense of belonging to a group–you can’t hang out with the whole world.”

    These two quotes demonstrate the tension that comes with clans and other groups, especially heritage-based ones, for me.

    A part of me wants to belong to a group that is smaller than the massive one of “humans,” a group that is not tied to anything that might change sooner or later (such as identities tied to gender, sexual preferences, youth/musical subcultures – at least as I experienced them), something solid. And we can’t change our heritage, right?, just the way we deal with it. So that’s one of the main appeals for me in looking for a connection to my ancestors, both of blood/ethnicity/culture and of “spirit.”

    Another part of me, however, balks at the idea of being part of such a fixed group because of the “rules” that come with it (after all, if there was nothing that compelled me to honor/deal with a tradition or hereditary connection, the whole thing would be meaningless). Like Ironwing, I’ve experienced over and over again that I don’t fit into groups, at least not for long. I always end up feeling that limiting myself in very negative ways is the price I have to pay for belonging, and I’m not willing to do that for long.

    Some days, the first part is stronger, other days the second one is. I don’t think either of them will ever go away. In the end it’s probably just another contradiction to live with.

    I don’t (yet?) know much about my heritage, but it could be Germanic and/or Celtic (nearly all of my maternal grandfather’s ancestors lived in the same small German town/area near the French border for at least 200 years). I only know that both Celtic and Germanic tribes were a lot less monolithic than it sometimes seems. Nevertheless, they all wandered around in Europe, thy all lived in smaller tribal groups, and they all were subject to (more or less) forced Christianization. But that’s not much to build a non-Christian cultural-spiritual identity on.

    Okay, enough of my rambling thoughts! Interesting topic. Mi-Shell, that seems to inspire a lot of reflection about our ties – or lack thereof – to our own ancestral culture(s).

  7. How about the theft and misuse of the word “clan” from my heritage and culture? It’s a translation from the Scottish Gaelic Clann and means children or offspring but is often wrongly used to mean extended families without the ideas of kinship and descent that my own ancestors believed in in the Highland Clan System!

  8. That would make sense Iain, it would be very similar to how other family groups around the world identify themselves, going down a parental line but not extending out to cousins (who would have their own parental line).

  9. I’m of some sort of British ancestry, somewhere near the Scottish border (but which side?), with a hint of French-Normandy chucked in, but I have no idea exactly what/who my people were. It all seems unimportant, though, because even though I have fair skin and blue eyes and am unavoidably anglo saxon, none of it, except for the sacred monoliths, or standing stones, really touches my soul in any truly, yearningly, meaningful way.

    I wouldn’t dare claim any sort of Clan-ness, because I am 5th generation Australian so the blood is watered down so thin I can barely feel it flowing within me … This is a hopelessly New Age thing to say, and I loathe all that tripe myself, but Nature, and all the Creatures that stem from her, feel to be my ‘clan’, in as real a way as most two-leggeds might. So… that, along with the fact that another Peoples’ culture feels more real to me, right in the heart of me, than any faint glimmer of my own, distant, ‘culture’, leaves me in a quandry.

    I am grateful for Mi-Shell’s clarification on the Totem terminology, though… I understand I don’t have one of those, or at least not in living memory, but I have a beautiful, wise, Guardian Spirit (that is that she feels like), and a gentle Spirit guide, and in them I find my contentment. 🙂

  10. Eek… I revisited this thread after receiving Mi-Shell’s blog update just now, and re-read my own post as well as all others. I am not always as care-full as I should be, and I note that in my post I referred to ‘clan’ even after an earlier post by Iain, noting his frustration with people using what started out a specific concept/connection from Scottish Gaelic Clann, to become something less exact and irrelevant with common, inappropriate usage… My apologies, Iain… on re-reading I understand that my usage, even as ‘clan’, would have simply rubbed salt into the would. I need to find a term that relates to the connectedness of all beings that I feel, but which doesn’t cause offence. 🙂 Blessings to all.

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