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Totems: Seal

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


What do you long for – heart and soul? A home? A place to anchor? Someone or somewhere, which gives that sense of place and belonging? Not possession, you understand, for freedom is paramount. Each place and being has a vibration, and these vibrations are recorded in stone and earth. They draw beings of primordial intelligence. Even in the water and the air, there are flows and currents, which lead one inexorably to certain places. I AM SEAL. I have two sides - two faces. From one side, and from my voice, which sounds eerily human at times, you can sense my longing and strong desire to return home each year to have my pups, to mate, and then be alone. On the other side is my playfulness. I enjoy each perfect moment. I am so pure-hearted. You must think me wonderful. I am most curious about you. I look at you with round, trusting eyes. Be worthy of my trust. Steward us, as your great masters have exhorted you. Aho!

Two poignant aspects of being human are the longing we feel, and our ambivalence. We long to know who we are, but are afraid to know. We say we want to be loved, but hide. We want to be appreciated and cherished, but refuse to cherish ourselves. We long to understand our purpose and place in the Great Mystery. We long for the world to be right and balanced, to communicate with the natural world, and have satisfying communion with our fellow humans, but we don’t want to give up anything.

Many long to know God and end suffering. Longing can bring us into a state of purity. Our hearts open - sometimes breaking open - spurring us toward union. Your deepest longing is different from what you would like to acquire or accomplish, for all worldly pleasures end in sorrow. True longing is always an affair of the heart and it always brings us into a deeper capacity for love. Look at those beautiful, soulful seal eyes and you will know true innocence and depth. Do you long for a true love, magical and mysterious; a helpmeet for mutual support and encouragement? Be that you would attract. Then release cynicism, and ask seal for soulful love.

While working with and being immersed in seal energy, I had a healing dream of a black-lashed man with beautiful eyes, who kissed me so deeply and amorously, that it changed my body chemistry. It was a Selchie. Selchies or Selkies are Grey seals that take on human form. In the British Isles, especially the Orkneys, Shetland Islands, and Hebrides, tales of Selchies abound. Many selchie stories tell of seal women who mate with human men, but the men hide their skins so they cannot return to the sea. They live as others, devotedly raising children and working for their families, but never lose their longing to return home to the sea. Eventually, that longing always wins out, no matter the sacrifice. Sometimes it is a man or child who are Selchies. This was so in The Great Selchie of the Sule Skerry, a traditional ballad made contemporary by Joan Baez and Judy Collins in the sixties. "I am a man upon the land. I am a seal upon the sea." In The Secret of Roan Inish, the great filmmaker John Sayles tells a story of the seals of Roan Inish (Irish for Seal Island) who return a child to an island family. The Selchie woman in the story is the link between many generations of humans and seals. The mournful sounds of seal song - so human – make it easy to envision the seal people coming onto shore in silvery cloaks to conceive children who might live in both worlds.

Seals are often sweet and trusting. Mothers recognize pups through scent and sound (calls). Seal eyes are often wet with tears, especially if their babies are killed or eaten by predators. Man is the worst of these, clubbing pure white harp seals for their fur. Cruelty and greed are too high a price to pay for wearable beauty. The umbrella question is what will happen as human populations grow, and as seals are seen as competition for the fish industry. How will more oil spills, pesticides and chemicals affect seals and the overall health of the world’s oceans? The ancient Inuit had a holistic approach. They used every bit of the animals they killed to survive: meat for the stew pot; membranes for underclothing; sinew for thread; bones for needles, utensils, spears and kayak frames; skins for tents, clothes and beds, and blubber for lamps. The hunter risked death.

In ancient Greece, Phocus was the Seal king. Seals are from the family Phocidae; order Carnivora; Suborder Pinnipedia. Of this suborder, there are eared seals such as Sea Lions and Furred seals (Otariidae), Walruses, and earless or true seals (Phocidae) such as: Harbor seals, Harp, Grey, Ringed, Hooded and Elephant. Although they are mammals needing to breathe air, they can stay submerged over an hour, as all their body functions slow down. To mate or raise young, they perch on ice floes, rocky offshore islands, or sandbars, depending on their migration routes. Otherwise they prefer to live in the water. Some seals have been known to dive 4000’ and stay submerged up to 2 hours. Elephant seals spend 10 months in the water.

Seals are as clumsy on land as they are graceful and adroit in the water. In the water, they roll, dive deep, dodge, twist and somersault. They can tread water with half their bodies above the surface. Every movement is joy, just for the way it feels. I want some of that! After infancy, seals develop a thick layer of blubber, which insulates them from cold water. Dense fur and oil from skin glands keeps cold water from reaching their skins.

After maturity, seals migrate each year, to haul out on traditional breeding beaches or ice floes to molt or mate. Elephant seals and Northern Fur seals have harems. One beachmaster bull may protect upwards of 100 cows. In some populations, the cow is territorial, so the bull is pretty much monogamous. Seals mate after giving birth, and toward the end of nursing, which can last from one to six weeks. Bearded seals are the exception. Delayed implantation ensures that the next pup is born almost exactly 12 months after the last one. Mother seals don’t nurse their pups too long. Northern Fur seals nurse for about a week. Harp seals nurse longer, but then take off for a week, come back and nurse, then split for another week. Within a month they too are gone, and those babies must jump in or die. During their time on land, pups, as well as adults are vulnerable to polar bears and man. In the water, seal predators are sharks, killer whales and man. By the 1890’s only one small colony of Elephant seals remained on an island in Baja. At one time Harp seals may have numbered 10 million! Off the coast of Newfoundland alone, 180,000 pups have been clubbed in one year. After public outcry, in 2004 50,000 were taken, plus a similar amount from north of Russia, and 7,000 from Jan Mayen, east of Greenland. Seal populations are also exploited for their blubber. In cases where man’s nets or traps have been fouled, fishermen have annihilated harbor seals and others, though they feed mostly on non-commercial fish.

Harry Goodridge and Lew Dietz write of the accomplishments of a Maine Harbor seal called Andre. Andre was never captive. He happily divided his time between Harry and his family and Penobscot Bay. Whether in the house, the car, or taking over the doghouse, Andre enjoyed himself all the time. Each spring for some years, he traveled from Marblehead, home to Rockport and Harry. Newspapers and radio hosts would alert people to call Harry upon seeing or interacting with a "friendly" seal. Some years Andre would return to Rockport in record time. Others, he would rest or stop to play. Therein lies a valuable teaching for us. In the age of technology and incessant work, where does one find time to dream and allow creativity to pool? On a beautiful autumn day recently, on a bucolic mountain while picking up food from my CSA farm share, where people gather for vegetables, flowers and to pick herbs, I heard two women friends talk about getting together for a "play date". At first it seemed they would get together soon, but it quickly became apparent that scheduling conflicts on one side or the other prevented them from success. Finally they gave up until January, 4 months away!

Do you make the time to hear your innermost desires and follow them? Do you commune regularly with nature, observing her life cycles? One sunny afternoon in September, ant queens make their nuptial flight. Clouds and clouds of winged ants propel into the air at one time. Wherever they land they begin a new colony. Most people brush them impatiently aside, feeling them to be a nuisance, without ever realizing the miracle taking place before their eyes, during this one day a year. Humans work to live. Seal looks at us with soulful eyes asking why we don’t play to live. What pressures do you live with? Living in a world ruled by time is challenging. The only antidote I’ve ever found for that is meditation, which lassoes time and space. The focus that develops through the practice of meditation cuts through time. We know and act concisely, with clarity. Like its cousin the otter, seal has much to teach us about the way of playfulness as the way to get things done. Perhaps ‘just in time" is the perfect time.

What would happen if we allowed ourselves to do what our hearts long for? Does the very thought tend to topple your world? One goes back into childhood for the beginnings of patterns about work and play. Would we be "good" if we allowed ourselves our heart’s desire? I have a friend whose sister became a singer and entertainer later in life. After some years, she developed cancer. Seal was one of her totems. She had seal’s creativity and inventiveness. When she could no longer be an entertainer, she turned to painting by the sea. In return for healing work, she made me two paintings that I treasure.

The flip side of the seal coin is intelligence - so great in some cases, it is almost prescient. Andre could find a diver instantaneously anywhere in the water. As we long for the faith, innocence and directness we knew as children, we would do well to remember that primordial intelligence remains dormant within every adult. Call upon the energy of seal to help you dive deep to re-invoke an exuberant approach to life! Give yourself permission to delight, investigate, cavort and gambol through all your experiences as seals do. Like seal, relinquish your sad stories, and memories of unpleasant things. You are more precious in this present moment than any misery. Give yourself the right to happiness now – just as you are.

Cie does individual healing sessions for people and animals and trains people in Shamanic practice, Joyous Empowerment, and Earth Stewardship. For healing or training call Cie at 413-625-0385 or email cie@crocker.com. To get Cie's Book of Totem articles send $20 + $2 s/h along with your name, address and email address to P.O. Box 295, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370


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