Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn my mind was filled with thoughts of animals and totem symbolism as I watched the recent televised presidential debates between incumbent, Barack Obama, and challenger, Mitt Romney. Totem imagery is profoundly important to Native Americans where I live in the Southwest. Animals are believed endowed with specific, defining strengths and powers so that totem connection to an animal not only organizes and distinguishes clans in a tribe, it also defines the character and strengths of those within that clan. In the spirituality of Native Americans, animals are not only a sacred part of the circle of life, they are sources of personal power, wisdom, inspiration and magic.
Watching the thrust and parry of the rhetorical debates my mind was on the relevance of two ‘totem’ animals in my life: the crow and the Scottish Terrier. Thoughtful readers will not miss the irony of “Jim Crow” linked to the 44th President of the United States. That was a 19th century term of prejudice and derision coined to slander blacks and in our time a slur on ethnic hegemony. But that term not only wronged blacks; it also was an ignorant, wrongful abuse of the crow. Prejudice historically wronged both.
On an anniversary celebration trip to Jemez Springs, NM., some years ago, I brought home a magnificent carved figure of a crow embedded in a large volcanic rock. He now perches atop the waterfall at my Koi Pond in the sequestered shelter of the east patio, prominently visible from my GSM office window. He’s a visual reminder of a totem animal important to ways of life far older than white settlers in America.
Far from the ignorance reflected in “Jim Crow” great mysticism and mythology surround the crow in cultures more ancient and more in tune with the cycles of life than our own. His jet blackness is believed the color of creation, the womb out of which the new is born, just as black night gives birth to a new day. To Native Americans, the crow’s cycle of power is all day, all year, and the fact that he is diurnal or a daytime bird, means to them he is a reminder that magic and creation are potentials very much alive during the day … every day. The crow is associated with watchfulness and great intelligence and his wide-ranging vocalics are part of his power to discern danger and to warn others. Those connected to the powers of the crow discern how the winds are going to blow into their life and how to adjust their own life flights. To them the cawing out of the crow reminds that magic and creation are calling out to us every day.
Such perceived strengths and associations are worlds away from “Jim Crow” … but precisely what every American could wish as ’strengths’ and ‘powers’ and ‘magic’ to be embodied in every President of the United States. In these days of uncertain winds of global economic change and terrorism we can use all the wisdom in the Oval Office we can get.
In my own way as one devoted to understanding and lifting up the spirit and ethos of the Scottish Terrier, I could wish for President Obama and the winner of the upcoming November election, the totem strengths of not only the Crow, but also those of the Scottish Terrier breed. My hope for our president is unshakable independence within our world of powerful special interests, strength of character as a true ‘diehard’ for what is just and right, passion without limits to pursue his goals, fierce protectiveness of all of us as his people, and loyalty to his oath, to his conscience, and most of all to what is just and right.
Some view animals as mere raw materials. Some don’t notice them at all. Others co-opt ‘crows’ and ‘curs’ as ammunition for prejudice. I see them as gifts of god … as teachers … as sources of strength and power to re-enchant empty lives.
Every good wish to the President present and future. May the White House know the strengths and powers and the magic of the crow and the Scottish Terrier in double-measure!
Joseph Harvill, publisher of Great Scots Magazine