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Totems: Pelican

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


From my perspective, the world is beautiful. The sky is alive with particles of light. The waters teem with sensitivity. The land provides refuge between the waters, and the sun gives life. The air, water, earth and fire are the essences of every other creation. I AM PELICAN. I am made from these and so are you. This is sufficient basis for cooperation, for do we not have the same desire to live in peace? We look different, but are both perfectly designed to fulfill our purpose for being alive. The real question is whether or not your perspective respects our differences. If so, how you live will reflect respect and reverence. Every decision will cultivate sustainable life for all now, and also for your children's children.

Even before I tuned into it's amazing medicine, I knew I'd be writing about pelican soon. While I was in California in December, I had the opportunity to feed minnows to a beautiful, young pelican on the Oceanside pier. As always, it was thrilling to be that close to one so wild, despite the smell of fish on my fingers all day. If you spot a pelican, it's probably an American White, for the Brown pelican is a seabird, not usually coastal, and rarely flies inland. In California, five pelicans flew low above me. White pelicans often fly in a V-formation like a squadron of airplanes, while browns fly single-file over water. To watch and feel them overhead, each with 9' wingspans is quite a display of power and effortless grace. Pelican energy helps us do things more effortlessly and maintain our equanimity when the winds of change shift. There's an old adage that says many hands make light work. It seems that applies to wings as well. Pelicans employ gliding flight; flying in formation economizes the effort. Air spills upward around the wingtip reducing the difference in air pressure between the underside and the upper. This is known as induced drag. By flying just above and behind another pelican, an individual can make use of the lift provided by this upward current. You may have done the same by riding in the draft behind a trailer-truck on the highway. From time to time, the lead pelican alternates its place in formation to benefit from this. As you may imagine, a pelican flying overhead casts a big shadow. For this reason, Natural Intelligence made White pelicans with white undersides. Fish cannot easily see white against the sky; hence they may get close before being spotted by prey.

In North America, pelicans can be found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as inland lakes and rivers. They are among the largest of all flying birds. Ungainly on land because they have the unique distinction of being the only bird with four webbed toes, in the air and water no one can deny pelican's magnificence, grace and power. If you are facing difficulties, pelican totem will show you how to rise above them. They carry both water (emotions; Spirit) and earth (physical, foundation) energy.

Pelicans are part of the ancient order Pelecaniformes. They go back 60-40 million years to the Eocene period. Ancient guano deposits in Peru show how pelicans shifted from place to place as shorelines and climate shifted, and earthquakes heaved landmasses. They haven't changed much in all this time. Their most obvious characteristic is their long, straight bill, hooked at the tip, with a large extensible pouch suspended beneath the lower mandible. Contrary to popular myth, fish are not stored in the pouch. It is used as a scoop or net. It holds three gallons of water. When prey is caught, water drains or is squeezed out as the pouch contracts. Brown pelicans will fly straight down to let the water out. Since water is the element that carries emotion, this aspect of pelican's medicine – the letting go of the water in the pouch - reminds me of a saying I have posted above my kitchen sink: Let feelings flow; then let them go. It epitomizes how healthy it is to let ourselves feel all our emotions, yet not hold onto them. Babies are master teachers of this. Even "good" feelings cannot be captured and made to stay. In fact, the attempt to do so usually causes them to evaporate. I experienced this recently when I got to spend two days with a beloved cousin, helping him take care of his great-nephew. All the sweet, close feelings that we shared throughout our childhood and young adult years washed over us again. Time flew by. I returned home filled with enjoyment, stories and affection, but also the poignancy of wishing it didn't have to end. I let myself feel that fully, then became present for my life again.

If pelican is your totem or you are experiencing its energy, you are probably known for being sociable and gracious to others. Pelicans do not compete with each other for food or nesting territory. Both White and Brown pelicans are gregarious. They breed and nest in colonies and fish cooperatively. One characteristic of these times that will only increase as an essential quality of life is cooperation. There is an unselfish quality to this totem. Pelican people know how to love deeply and unconditionally. It's also important to balance giving by caring for oneself. It's all in the balance.

I have been experiencing the cooperative aspect of pelican energy while writing about them. In late February my wrist broke after falling on ice hidden by powder. Independence became interdependence. I deeply appreciated the example of animals getting what they need, in some cases without hand-like extremities. In pelicans, bills act like hands and tools, even as a food basket! Think of it: they use their bills to eat, communicate, groom, build homes, care for young, kill prey and defend themselves. I figured out what one can and can't do with one hand. I learned I could open jars by leaning them against the counter and using my hip to hold them in place. Slicing and washing dishes was awkward but do-able. On the other hand (sorry for the pun), I had to ask others for rides and for help with things twisted tight, and opening storm windows. I even had to arrange for someone to wash my hair for a few weeks. This interdependence with others is a precursor of the kind of cooperation in community that will increase in the future. As earth changes like the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and the floods in Pakistan and Australia continue as the Mother rightfully rebalances herself, we must all pull together caring about each other in the reality of Oneness. Do you work well in conjunction with others? White pelicans hunt and feed cooperatively while afloat together. In synchronized swimming, they herd schools of small fish into a cove or surround the school in a tight net. All will dip their beaks into the water at the same time as they advance. They even sunbathe in synchrony. It is not unusual to see a flock all facing the sun, heads back, bills tilted toward the sky.

Full-grown pelicans weigh about fifteen pounds. One of the most unique things about pelicans is that they cannot sink. Air sacs beneath the skin add buoyancy. Are you able to rise up after defeat? Find inner serenity when things get difficult? Pelican medicine can help. The Brown pelican's dive for fish is a spectacular, twisting plunge headfirst of up to thirty feet, at 40 m.p.h. into a shoal of fish, catching one in the ensuing confusion. After being scooped up in the pouch, the fish is then tossed upward to be swallowed headfirst - if a Laughing gull doesn't snatch the catch while it's being tossed into the air. The dive may look painful but the air sacs absorb much of the impact.

The American White readies for mating by its face turning red and growing a big knob on its bill. They nest near water on a large mound. She usually lays two eggs. Both tend the nest and feed their young regurgitated food. This symbolizes that one should teach young people (especially our own children) by example, and only what we have digested and know ourselves. The adult can fly as much as 100 miles a day to find enough food to feed the two chicks. It takes 150 pounds of fish to raise one chick. At birth, the chicks are quite featherless and must be protected from the sun. The nape and crown of the adults turn grey and white while caring for the chicks as Nature's way of protecting them all with camouflage.

In addition to earth changes and global warming, many species suffer from pollution, pesticides, habitat destruction and rising water levels. Even if a species survives in small areas doesn't mean they are successfully conserved. Come autumn, pelicans up north are heading further south until it's time to breed again. Pelicans migrate either long or short distances and need to be able to touch down for food without running into oil slicks, plastics, and pesticide runoff. Like eagles and ospreys, pelicans have been adversely affected by pesticides in their food (fish and crustaceans), affecting overall health and immune systems. Pelicans are particularly susceptible to oil pollution from spills like the terrible Gulf oil disaster, which affected all the Gulf states. Their deaths are tragic, as they are often long and slow.

Pelicans have an uncanny ability to sense change. They can tell when a storm is coming or the tides are turning, even when seemingly asleep. As change on the planet accelerates, many of us are experiencing the same sensitivities as pelican. We may feel abnormally tired until our bodies adjust to the higher frequencies. We may feel an urgency toward change, at the same time fearing it; a great desire to be positioned where we need to be and doing what is most purposeful for us. Be awake, so you can sense when change is happening, when change is needed, and how to cope.

Before 1960, white pelicans were commonly shot by fishermen and government agencies because they were perceived to be competitors for fish. The truth is they catch mostly non-game species, so since that time, they have received some protection. DDT almost wiped out the Brown pelican by so weakening their eggshells, they couldn't withstand the parent's weight. DDT was banned in 1972. Pelican's strengths: making a comeback, recovering from losses and persevering through difficulties are perhaps the talismans of our times. Currently, we must ask why adult pelicans would abandon their eggs or newly hatched chicks; or question the mass mortality of chicks due to West Nile and other viruses. What imbalances in the environment are behind these mysteries? When we realize that not all pelicans mate every year, and even then the number of eggs is small, we see that humans are the real danger to this species. It's time to be aware that what happens to them eventually happens to us at the top of the food chain!

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for over 35 years. Her work is to bring forward and disseminate the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through writing, teaching, and healing, facilitating the mystical reunion of humans with Source and Nature, in all directions, in equal balance, allied with the Elements, acknowledging the divine within all.

For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to bring her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" to your area, 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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