Friday, January 11, 2008

Leave It to Beaver Medicine

Some of you may be familiar with power animals. In case you're not, I'll quote from Wikipedia:

Power animal is a broadly animistic and shamanic concept that has entered the English language from Anthropology, Ethnography and Sociology. As a tutelary entity or spirit, the ancient Anglo-Celtic Tradition also contained a comparable understanding, refer Fæcce. In the shamanic worldview, everything is alive and carries with it an inherent virtue, power and wisdom. Or stated differently, our power animal(s) represent our strengths, our qualities of character, our power.
Power animals are endemic to shamanic practice. They are the helping or ministering spirit or familiar which add to the power of an individual and are essential for success in any venture undertaken.

"... the helping or ministering spirit or familiar which add to the power of an individual and are essential for success in any venture undertaken."

Wow! Where do I sign to get one of those? I'll take a lion!

I learned a while back I've had a power animal all along. We all do. Mine's not a big strong bear or a fearless lion or a wise old owl that can rotate its head and see all, know all. It's not a wily coyote or a soaring eagle with laser-like vision.

No, my power animal is the beaver. A rodent represents my strength, my quality of character, my power.

Did the beaver come to me in a vision? Well, in a once-removed manner. What happened is I'd been to a workshop led by a Native American friend of mine. In the workshop we were supposed to enter a light trance and go back in time and talk to our illness or stress or problem. Have disease, will travel. Somehow I wound up in my first San Francisco apartment, but my illness didn't seem to be around. Then my friend said, "Well, maybe you'll dream something tonight."

Did I dream something? Not that I could recall the next morning. I did recall, however, waking up in the middle of the night. A rare occurrence. I am a very deep sleeper. I sleep through dogs barking--right there in the bedroom. I sleep through sirens and smoke alarms. Once I almost slept through a hotel fire. But I digress. I woke up in the middle of the night. And my husband was talking to me. He was speaking in that sweet, kind of private tone he reserves for me in tender moments. What he said was, "You are a beaver."

Unbridled sex talk, I couldn't help thinking.

But he continued. "You can build your house on the river and live right on the river." Then he was quiet. And I fell back to sleep.

Next morning over French roast I said, "Wow, that was something. You really think I can build my house and live on the river? Like a beaver?"


"Last night you said, 'You are a beaver. You can build your house on the river and live right on the river.' "

"I did not!"

"Yes, you did. You said I'm a beaver."

"You were dreaming, baby."

"No, I wasn't dreaming. Maybe you were. You were sleeptalking."

Then a few nights after that I woke up again. This time he was saying, "You're about to turn into a beaver and fly off on your magic carpet."

Again, I fell asleep immediately.

Still later, Bennie and I were taking a walk in the early morning. "I had this really weird dream," he said.


"You and I were in that old VW Golf."

"So it was more than 10 years ago. Right?"

"No, it was the present, but for some reason we were in the Golf. You and I were in the backseat. The kids were in the front. Flannery was driving. The car was stopped, and these beavers kept trying to get in the car. The kids and I had the windows down. We were fending them off."

"Why? Were they angry beavers? Were they armed with machetes? Were they baring their teeth?"

"Beavers always bare their teeth."


"But no, they didn't seem dangerous. We just didn't want those beavers in the car."

He had a point at that. Who would want beavers gnawing at their instrument panel?

I asked, "So what was I doing all this time?"

"You just sat there passively. You had this little smile even. It's a wonder you didn't fling your door open and start buckling one into the extra seatbelt."

This was getting weird. I googled "power animals" and "totem animals" and "animal medicine" and "beaver medicine." I learned that the beaver is in fact a noble creature to have on your side, buckled right into the seatbelt, ready to travel. Beavers have transformational powers and in the way that really counts. They work very hard. They build. And when thoughtless vandals destroy what they've built, they build it again. Probably most importantly, they work as a team. So doesn't it all fit now? The beaver used my longtime, loyal, unwitting husband as the instrument of communication.

Beaver medicine entered my life at a time when I was feeling rather frustrated. I'd just come off an illness lasting several years. I was spent. The beaver came to me and said, "You've suffered. You've been torn down. Build your house. Live on the river. Fly off on your magic carpet. Then come back to earth and make art about your journey. Your creations will sometimes be torn down. Your dreams will suffer. You will suffer. That's life. Build again. Right on the river. Don't hide in the trees for fear of having your creation destroyed, for fear of its not being solid enough. Use those trees to build. And NEVER forget the rest of the team. They're building right beside you."

I completed "Relics Adrift in Red" when all of this beaver stuff was going on. I didn't set out to paint a beaver, but for the life of me, the buyer of that painting said, "You know--I see a beaver in there--it's over to the left." Now I see it too.

Thank you for being there, Beaver.


Sparkling Red said...

I love how the spirit world gets its messages across. Sometimes so subtly, but when it wants your attention it knows how to get it!

I've had three totem animals at different times in my life:

Frog - when I spent a lot of time just waiting.

Bee - when I was working very hard.

Snail - as I discover the power of slowing down.

San said...

If you're trying to slow down, Red, why did you join the 365 Club? :-)

Seriously, thank you for a very interesting comment. Now I want to read about Frog, Bee, and Snail.


Lee said...

San, I love this story. It makes me want to know what my power animal is.

I think the painting goes very well with it. Yes, I can see the beaver. I can also see a red river, red being the color of blood which is also vibrant with life. The relics are blue for purity and gold for their preciousness and value in your life. Beautiful painting! You have such variety in you!


San said...

Lee, you see a red river! I am moved by your vision.

Yes, I do wonder what your power animal is. Maybe Hyram will speak to you in a dream. Or maybe the ducks and geese at the lake. Or maybe the message will come to you in someone's blog. Or even from the mouth of one of your students. Then there's chuch. How could I forget church? There's no telling what kind of message will come to you there.

Joy back, friend!

Ms. Creek said...

celebrate life will enjoy reading this, she has her totem animal. i've never ventured into that area.

San said...

Cool, Ms. Creek.

I can't wait to hear what Jolene's is!

Celebration of Life said...

Very interesting post today, San.

I found my totem animal or I should say it found me when my life was transforming from night to light and I wanted gray or I thought I wanted a gray life. Can you guess what my totem is? Yes, the zebra! I have a beautiful painting of the bust of a zebra hanging in my hall next to my bedroom door that Ms. Creek's father-in-law painted. Everytime I walk past it, it is a reminder that black and white does co-exist and when they do, gray areas disappear! Thank you for sharing your painting and totem story1

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Excellent post, San. I have three totem/power animals who have accompanied me on two soul retrievals. Someday I shall bog about those mystic journeys.

San said...

Nick, thank you. I'm glad you found the post meaningful.

And I look forward to reading about those mystic journeys of yours.

San said...

Jolene, your own story is beautiful.

Zebra. From what I know about you, that is just perfect! How wonderful that Zebra found you and your eyes were open to that truth.

The Moody Minstrel said...

It's amazing that you were given such a clear message. I envy people like that.

As for me, when I was first seriously introduced to the concept of power animals and started thinking very seriously about it, an animal started appearing in my dreams repeatedly. It was a snowy owl. It didn't matter what sort of dream it was; the white owl would always be there somewhere, either perched and watching or flying by. It also started coming gradually closer, making it more obvious that it was trying to communicate something. I decided that, obviously, my spirit guide was a snowy owl.

Then I had a very disturbing dream, an obviously very symbolic dream that was so vivid it was literally painful. (I occasionally have waves of dreams like that, and they have almost always turned out to be prophetic.) Anyway, in that dream I accidentally discovered that the snowy owl was not a spirit guide but a woman like a witch (maybe either an evil spirit or a dark part of my own subconscious mind) who had been trying to fool me the whole time. Her last words to me in that dream were, "Do you think that being aware of the truth will save you from it?" I slammed the door, and the snowy owl hasn't appeared in my dreams since.

Now I'm almost afraid to think about it. Which is stronger, the spirits or my own subconscious?

Celebration of Life said...

Good morning San! Yes, the zebra has brought me many insights into my world and has brought me a new perspective on life. When I was the Director of a Battered Woman's Shelter, I traveled to Russia for an international conference on Conflict Resolution with a good friend, Mikel who did a presentation about her work. Mikel is a Shaman (sp?) and helped me with a Soul Retrieval and revealed my totem to me. Someday, I will blog about my trip to Russia and my life experiences there. To say the least, that trip was a real eyeopener!

San said...

Moody, that is disturbing--the feeling that the spirits must do battle with your own subconsious to get your attention. I believe we all feel this conflict at times, but we don't articulate it in the clear manner you have.

I read that when we receive a message from spirit, even if it's not the message we might have hoped for, that it is delivered in a calm manner and we receive it in a calm manner. If the owl messenger was calming, then perhaps there was truth there after all.

Just my VERY superficial two cents. I find everything about this broad subject of the spirit world so fascinating. Thank you for sharing so candidly your personal experience.


San said...

Good morning, Jolene! Thanks again for providing another piece of your story. It is SO interesting.

Yes, you must blog about that eye-opening journey. I'll be there, reading every word of it.

Carol said...

A beautiful and powerful story. Thank you! I really see how your power animal can teach and support.

Your painting draws me in and I feel like I'm swimming in old and nurturing waters.

Kim said...

San, first of all...I love the painting and can understand why the buyer wanted this. But today it is your story about the beaverwhich really caught my attention. For me, it is amazing how you received such a clear message about your animal. While I have an animal which is very important to me, neither I nor anyone else feels it is truly representational of any part of me. I have always wanted to know my animal totem, but have never come across the right one. Your story is quite powerful.

Do you think artists have totems they use in their work on a regular basis? I mean totems in the sense of the defination you gave. You are always bringing up such interesting subjects.

self taught artist said...

i like this painting san...very indian and turquoise. jewels of wisdom.

Patty said...

San, what an interesting story. I, too, see the Beaver. The predominant color in the painting is red and to me represents a sunset. I can feel the warmth of the sun in the yellows. The blue relics are disconnected yet all blend together making a pleasing composition. I've never given much thought to what my power animal would be. Now, I'm beginning to wonder if it might be the Red Bird I see perched in the maple tree in my front yard every morning. On one particular morning, it flew over to my porch railing and sat there for a few minutes...looking at me. Perhaps the spirit world is trying to tell me something. I find it extremely fascinating.

San said...

Carol, thank you for reading the story. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

"...swimming in old and nurturing waters." Lovely words.

San said...

Kim, you pose an interesting question. I can't speak for others, but for me, when my art feels as though it's going well, it seems to be enmeshed with the rest of my life, so I suppose that includes the "spirit world," which includes totems.

I'm not so sure that the physical and the spiritual are as separate as we sometimes think.

San said...

Paula, it's great to see you here.

As ever, your kind comments on my art are much appreciated.


murat11 said...

Wonderful story about your totem, and of Beaver breathing herself into the painting. Some day, I'd be interested in knowing about the ubiquity of orange and blue in your paintings. They are totemic colors for Tina's and my relationship: very strong and resonant.

The first time I went searching for a totem, I was initially disappointed. Man of my enormous ego was looking for something to match the grandiosity. When the sparrow arrived, I was highly incensed. Almost as bad, I thought, as getting a chihuahua (rodents, in my book) as a totem. I came to a peace about Sparrow, though: in one tradition, they are known as the King of Birds, because of their ubiquity. Being such an anarchist, it actually came to make a great deal of sense. When I am at my best, I am deeply committed to the notion that we are all uncommon, noble, grand, genius. (We are all Rimbauds.) What better bird to embody that. I now love them in all their butlery little "weskits."

I believe Jamie Sams speaks of finding totems to your left and right, front and behind, etc. When I meditated with this notion, to my right was Blue Heron and to my left was Rattlesnake.

Thanks for the stories, San, and for yet another beautiful blue and orange painting.

San said...

Patty, thank you for looking closely at the painting. Your description is lyrical.

As is the telling of your Red Bird encounter. It does sound peaceful and fraught with significance.

Kim said...

San, I agree with you that physical and spritual are really all one...and that many of us do divide the two. I also understand how when your art is going well the rest of your life is as well and vice versa. I think my question is more of being able to identify bits and pieces of our life/our art which come up again and again as part of the spirit of what we do. Kind of like the color purple in my always seems to show up somewhere.

San said...

Paschal Murat, you do know how to turn a phrase: Beaver "breathed herself" into the painting.

As to your wondering about my blue and orange-- on her blog Kim has posed the question (in so many words), what's your favorite color and why? I told her I would blog about this some day soon. Now you're asking something similar. If Beaver speaks with Bennie's voice, asking the same question, I will do it immediately. :-)

Love your sparrow wisdom. Here's a quote, not about sparrows, not from Rimbaud, but you of all people will recognize the source and the truth:
"O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?"

Blue Heron to the right. Rattlesnake to the left. Very interesting.

Thank you, Paschal, for such thoughtful comments.

San said...


"bits and pieces of our life/our art which come up again and again as part of the spirit of what we do." Thank you for expanding the notion of "totem."

I believe I need to reflect on this further. I'll probably weave it into the future post about color.

Again, thanks for stimulating the flow of's very exciting!

david mcmahon said...

Good morning, San

(Sunday 9.30 am here in Oz) What a wonderful post. I think I've had more than one power animal working on my behalf.

Or should I say beavering away on my behalf.

How interesting that you should mention the buyer's comment.

One day, I HAVE TO get to your gallery. One day ....

Thanks for a wonderful post


San said...

Good afternoon, David. Here it's Saturday, heading towards 4 pm, although my comments always show up an hour early by the post clock. A mystery I've yet to unravel. Maybe Beaver has a clue.

Yes, I would imagine you've had some auspicious power animals in your corner.

I agree--you will have to get to northern New Mexico. Photo opportunities abound. And the stories!

As always, thanks for the visit and the kind words.

murat11 said...

Thanks for the Stevens, Cousin Beaver. Deep peace of the riverine forest to you.

Willoughby Sparrow

San said...

Back at ya, Willoughby!

HMBT said...

what a great post San! I love that you found your beaver totem thru dream talk, how cool is that?
I found mine while I was at a sweat lodge/retreat almost 20 years back now. I was recovering from incurable cancer at the time....and I kept seeing Great Blue Herons and Cranes. Neither were found normally where we were...then in the lodge and working trough some pretty serious pain, I started flying...and realized my birds where there to carry some of the load...of this life. They were there to shelter with large and heavy wings, feed me with strong an knowing eye and beak...and carry away the fear of my death on their backs.
It's been a special relationship with me and animals on the wing ever since.

Love the painting. Reminds me of finding real chunks of natrual terqouise along a wooded path while hiking in an uncharted wood. The red earth clay, damp and controling, holding onto it's beautiful blue stones and showing us just the tip of the magic powers of the earth herself. I can smell the dampness of the earth, feel the slight cold wind coming up from the river bank and the cries of the eagles as they soar through the low branches of the woods...casting shadows down upon us fools standing on a red muddy river bank totally drunk on what the earth is and does...high on beauty. Great work!

San said...

Heather, what you have to say here moves me, all of it--the fact that you recovered from something purportedly "incurable," that the winged ones came to feed and shelter you, to fly away with your fear and some of your other burdens. Very inspiring!

And of course I am dazzled by your description of my painting. "...just the tip of the magic powers of the earth herself." When I just quoted you, I first typed "heart" instead of "earth." That's the kind of dyslexia that works, huh? Both ways--that's exactly how I feel about painting. It does reveal that "tip" of the magic powers of the earth and heart.

Thank you, Heather.

Karina said...

Threads and dreams and power. Synchronicity at work. I really like this painting, San.

And thank you for your kind words.

San said...

Thank you, Karina. Your compliment means much to me.

As to my "kind words," believe me. The pleasure is mine.

jsd said...

I've no idea what my totem animal is or would be, but I think it's cool that you know what yours is.

Sky said...

how intriguing! i loved reading this. my power animals have been/are the elephant and giraffe; my husband's an eagle.

JafaBrit's Art said...

That was really cool. I want to know what my power animal is now.

I love the colours and the story about this painting.

San said...

JS, don't be surprised if you look over and see a gentle, kind giraffe. From what I know of you, you're unafraid to stick your neck out to live according to your heart and soul's calling. You are flexible and you reach high.

San said...

Sky, thanks for coming by again.

What exquisite animal helpers you and your husband have with you!

San said...

JafaBrit, now that your curiosity's up, maybe a power animal will appear!

I'm glad you enjoyed the story and thanks much for complimenting the painting.

jsd said...

wow, san, thank you...what you wrote is truly appreciated.

Casdok said...

A fasinating post, wonder what my power animal would be, i will give it some thought!

Merisi said...

David McMahon sent me over. I am sure glad he did, this is a riveting story! Thank you. :-)
(I had to smile when I read "over French toast" instead of roast. I think I need dinner or something. *g*)

S said...

HI San, nice to meet you.
Thanks for stopping by my blog.
I own a shop too, isn't it fun, but also a ton of work?
It's also a good diet, I have lost 45 pounds since I opened my store!

Lee said...

San, Congratulations on getting Post of the Day with this one! You deserve it!


whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Great story!

indicaspecies said...

I get to read fascinating posts on your blog, and this time it is about the interesting concept of power animals. You write so well. Thank you for sharing.

San, you creative and hardworking builder, I wish you empowerment.

San said...

Hi again, JS. Glad you appreciate the truth!

San said...

Hi Casdok. Thanks for stopping by again.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Let me know if you have any revelations regarding your power animal...

San said...

Merisi, thanks for the visit and the compliment.

Would you believe--I was reading my own post and I read "toast" too. And speaking of food, your profile pic is scrumptious.

San said...

S, thanks for the return visit.

45 pounds!!! That beats Atkins. You should write a diet book.

San said...

Lee, my well-wishing friend, hope your first day back was excellent!


San said...

W. Brainpan, glad you enjoyed it.

Thank you for stopping by.

San said...

Celine, I am so pleased that you enjoy my blog.

And those beautiful wishes are MUCH appreciated.

Philip said...

Love the picture - wonderful colours and shapes.

San said...

Thank you, Philip. I value your opinion.

Great artmaking in 2008...

Camplin said...

Hum, I wonder what my animal is? I always found it wonderful that someone can find a spirital connection with nature.

Meanie the baby dragon said...

Hi San! Iz uh dwagun uh totem foh dumwun? Me tawt dat mee wuz Mawmawz totem anuhmow butt me gezz nawt! hehehe

Anonymous said...

I woke up and found a Snow Bear in my front yard. - Oh... yeah, I remember now, I made it yesterday.

San said...

Todd, whatever your animal is, may it assist you mightily in your academic job search!

San said...

Meanie, I would bet that a dwagon is indeed a totem for someone. Maybe Chuck?

San said...

Hi Chewy. And a lovely snow bear it is! Like its maker.