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Totems: Groundhog

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

I have come to teach you that there is a season for all things and all things rise and fall in their season. When it is time to bask in the sun, do not think of work; when you are working allow your whole self to be in accord with what you are doing. Rest fully when you can and allow yourself to relax into well-being.

I AM GROUNDHOG, master of the above and below. Did you know that all things exist in energetic potential, like a blueprint, before they begin to take on form and physically manifest? Build your energy field before taking action. Build your bodies with green food – best where you live. Overall it’s best to be where you are! Aum-Ho

When I visited Egypt, I was given permission to meditate alone in the subterranean chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza, 200 feet below the surface of the Earth. In those depths, was the deepest, most profoundly still meditation I have ever experienced. As my heart rate and breathing slowed, I went deeper and deeper. You would think it oppressive, yet the heaviness was that of down or fur. I was held in a crystalline, limestone womb, along with the ancient records fossils held, when the same desert was a watery berth. The realm of groundhog is ensconced in the same womb-like darkness, sound muffled in the "fur" of the Mother, who holds all throughout time.

Soon after completing a vision quest in upstate NY, I returned to the area. My quest had been a powerful experience. I was having trouble adjusting to ordinary life. In the late afternoon, I took a walk with my cousin. We walked through the woods, following a butterfly into a meadow burgeoning with life. Suddenly, I put my hand on her arm to signal her to stop. We had come upon an open field dotted with about 25 holes, where groundhog heads popped up and down like the steam whistles of a calliope on a riverboat. Contentedly munching on the lush vegetation, they were fully engrossed in their task until they noticed us. Groundhog loves to sunbathe while guarding the mound outside the burrow entrance. Down they plunged into their burrows, only to pop out again, from one of their spyholes, to see if we were still there. A groundhog’s curiosity is about equal to their need for caution. It’s no surprise that groundhog sightings followed my vision quest. One with groundhog totem is an excavator, bringing to light the truths of the ancients or else bringing new information to light after a period of intense growing – two to three years - the time it takes for a groundhog to reach maturity. Groundhog digs a deep burrow. Strong front claws help loosen soil, which is then shoved aside by the soles of their feet. They have four toes in the front and five in the back, both with strong nails for digging. 4+5=9. Nine is the end of a cycle, and the third completion. Nine brings the realization of potential to its highest consciousness. It is not uncommon for burrows to extend as much as fifty feet, having three or four exits and a plunge hole for quick entry. People with this totem are resilient and resourceful. Like groundhog, if one avenue to success does not prove viable, they will try another and another, until they achieve the goal or success they’ve worked for. The Buddha called this quality vimamsana (resourcefulness). It is one of the four factors of iddhipada (the way to have a successful and peaceful life). The other three are aspiration, concentrated effort, and visualizing one’s goal.

Groundhog medicine urges us to clear away destructive thought patterns and habits, so that we may be able to delve into the deepest mysteries of life and the Universe. Groundhog energy is about as deep as you can go without actually dying. When this fella is around look for your meditations to get deeper. I doubled my meditation practice when I began working with this totem. I sensed that I would be dealing with profound change (it was at the time of the vernal Equinox), the need for rest and renewal (I was laid low for weeks with a virus), issues around death (my dog, Thunder told me he would soon leave the earth plane), and mediumship (a beloved friend on the other side communicated with me).

It was at this time that I received an email containing Mellen-Thomas Benedict’s mesmerizing account of his Near Death Experience (NDE). In 1982, he died for an hour and a half. Benedict had the consciousness to ask questions of the Light. He asked to be shown beyond illusion, the truth of his life and the Universe. He tells us that we are actually in control of our life-after-death experience. He learned "we heal, save, and redeem ourselves… because we are designed to self-correct. Creation is God exploring God’s Self through every way imaginable" – in ever-expanding galaxies and consciousness, and through each of us. He saw that "everything is a creator…and all things are alive". His opinion of humans changed when he saw how beautiful our essence is. He experienced the Void as holding all potential; Light as energy, intelligence, and vibration. His message presages a shift in consciousness that will "change politics, money, energy." He encourages us not to be depressed, as everything we are going through is part of a much larger picture.

Groundhog, woodchuck, gopher, or whistlepig (more on that later) are all the same animal, varying only slightly in color and size. They are members of the squirrel family, and the marmot tribe (Marmota monax). The word woodchuck is a corruption of the Algonquian "wejack." "Gaufre" in French means honeycomb, referring to the network of tunnels four to seven feet underground. Summer dens are usually in the middle of a pasture or meadow. Winter burrows can be found in woody or brushy areas, the sleeping chamber below the frost level. The name whistlepig (see, I came back) is because most varieties let out a sharp chirp or shrill whistle to warn of danger. Groundhogs also bark, squeal and chatter. You will not find someone with this totem who is afraid to speak up for his or her beliefs, loud and clear if necessary.

Teeth are a prominent characteristic - sometimes the bane of the gardener’s existence. A favorite food is tomatoes. Instead of eating an entire tomato, our epicure would rather take one bite out of each luscious tomato and leave the rest. Gardeners: think wire fence, sunk deep around the garden, and/or planting some extra for groundhog outside of your garden fence. This is an ancient practice that served First Americans well, especially if you provide for them with an open heart. Aside from partaking of your garden, groundhog is a harmless and entertaining neighbor. A groundhog lived under the porch of a woman I took care of, who was somewhat immobile. She derived a great deal of pleasure watching her groundhog neighbor basking in the sun through her sliding glass doors.

In preparation for hibernation, groundhogs eat lots of succulent vegetation, with two long pairs of chisel-shaped incisors in each jaw. People of this totem’s energy could not possibly go as deeply as they do into the heart of things, without being incisive in their investigation. Be careful not to get worn down from your spiritual quests, as like all rodents, groundhogs have teeth that are always grinding. These folks also break down the big picture in order to put together pieces of the puzzle they are working on, or in order to teach others highly developed subject matter, usually about things eternal. Groundhog feeds on tough materials that are difficult to break down. Bacteria in the stomach breaks down cellulose. Highly developed intestines aid digestion. Hibernation is deep, comatose sleep. Bodily functions slow down enormously, accumulated fat nourishing groundhog throughout the long winter, and early spring. The heartbeat drops from its normal rate of eighty beats per minute to four or five; temperature drops to just above freezing; consumption of oxygen dramatically drops. Scientists are studying their ability to do these things. Buddhist monks, as well are also able to control aspects of their metabolism in deep meditation and trance states. When groundhog shows up, we receive lessons about soul-travel, being in the dreamtime, and controlling metabolism.

Punxsutawny Phil is brought out on his namesake day, February 2nd to look for his shadow and determine whether or not six more weeks of winter will prevail. Out of 108 times, Phil has seen his shadow 94 times. The origins of this story are connected to Candlemas Day, where people used candles for sacred purposes, or St. Brigid’s (Celtic goddess of wisdom, poetry, smithing and healing (Imbolc). Occurring at the exact midpoint between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, it was always connected to signs of spring. Many trusted that if a hibernator emerged, perhaps spring had arrived. One fact is certain. Groundhogs in the wild are usually snug in their sleeping chambers until March or April, when males emerge to battle one another, the victor seeking his female in order to mate. Tiny, blind, hairless cubs (kits, pups, chucklings) are born four weeks later. Rapid growth is part of this totem’s energy, and indeed the cubs sortie out of the burrows within a month. Groundhogs are not as social as prairie dogs. Their ranges tend not to overlap with others of the same sex. Groundhog has three large scent glands under the tail, which are used to aggressively protect and mark territories. In a human with this totem, such territoriality is often unappreciated. Parents with this medicine are unlikely to coddle their children. Instead they will encourage them to be independent and to go on their own early, seeking their own depth of experience. Sometimes, daughters are allowed to linger a bit longer than sons, yet eventually, they must strike out on their own.

Groundhogs make a good meal for foxes, weasels and minks. Because we’ve decimated forestland, and also the ranks of larger predators, such as coyote, lynx, raptors, bears, wolves and cougars, groundhogs are more abundant now than they were before settlers traversed America. When my daughter was growing up, each August, we would camp at Fire Island National Seashore at Watch Hill. Hating to leave, we’d usually take a late afternoon ferry back to the mainland, arriving about sunset at the ferry slip. On the return drive, we always delighted in the company of our stocky little friends, stuffing themselves (groundhogs graze at dawn and dusk). Highway medians always had something blooming and growing – prime real estate for groundhogs. In a time when more people live in artificial surroundings, fewer people catching glimpses of wildlife, seeing groundhogs grazing safely by the side of a road can remind us how uplifting living among wildlife can be.

Go to mellen-thomas.com for his complete NDE.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for 35 years. As an interfaith minister, advocate and steward for the natural world, Cie lives and works shamanically, offering healing for animals and humans. For healing in person or by phone, for you or your animal, a reading, spiritual training, to attend Cie’s Arts Salon, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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