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Totems: Skunk

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

Must everything be so black and white, so dramatique, so contrasting? Though I am gentle in my ways, I move confidently, knowing no one will bother me. And yet, I have the most striking appearance, and weapon. I am happiest ambling in the forest, around streams, through glades, deciding what pleases me next. I AM SKUNK, and I carry powerful medicine. My reputation precedes me; in most cases eliminating the need for battle. I desire to live in peace, to honor the life around me. I bow down, as I hope you will, to each and every creature; to every gift that has come from Mother-God: the sky and clouds, the trees and soil, the rocks, sun, moon and stars. Even the most humble things. I know that all has Spirit within it, including you and me. Do you know this? You will be happy and peaceful if you honor that Spirit in each and every thing? Ah-oui!

One day, my medicine sister Jewell called with a plea for help. While driving on icy roads, she had seen what she took as a dead skunk on the snow-covered earth. The next day she was walking along the same road. She saw the small, shivering shape of a young skunk in front of her, across from where she had seen it the day before. It looked up with a sweet pleading look as if to say, "please help me". "Cie", she called on the telephone, "I have an injured skunk. I want to bring it to the vet, but I don’t know if I can do it alone." I was over there in record time. We got a box and blankets, together lifting the young skunk in. As we drove down to the Buddhist veterinarian who helps wildlife, we sang and prayed for the skunk’s healing and that it would not lift its tail. We named her Leverett, for the road she was found on. The story ended happily. After a few weeks of medical care, she was given over to a rehabber, and subsequently released to the wild.

Mephitis-Mephitis is the Latin name for striped skunks. It literally means "bad smell" – squared! Skunks only live in the Americas: north, central, and south. How interesting that such a bad-smelling mammal can have such a good opinion of itself! That is one reason the principal energy of this totem teaches us self-confidence and respect for ourselves. (However, even skunks avoid their own squirt.) Self-assurance relaxes the body. Deep relaxation is the key to health. Self-respect draws a similar reflection to us. Others show us how we are treating ourselves. Self-respect gives us a safe harbor in all storms; comfort in times of grief. It keeps the body sweet and alkaline; it keeps us young and produces happiness. Being our own best friend holds us up in times of betrayal. My mother always said she was her own best friend. She believed it was the secret to serenity. This means being present in the body for oneself every time – whether feeling confident or afraid, in or out of control, loved or unloved by others. Whether you deem yourself a success or failure, flood yourself with appreciation and understanding. If we really want to be efficient, this is what will help us find the courage to change. However, change is not easy. Compassion for ourselves is often in short supply. Perhaps you had a parent for whom nothing you did was good enough. Recognize that it is their voice inside your self-criticism. So much of what we feel about ourselves has to do with perceptions and these can change.

Though the last thing a human wants is to be utterly alone with him or herself, the benefit is self-knowledge. Meditation is essential. It clears illusion, attachment, craving and avoiding. It paves the way for self-awareness, which leads to self-acceptance. We live in a world where relevance rushes by at breakneck speed. What do we have that is permanently rooted in the eternal except the relationship within? It is what orders everything else. Amma, the hugging saint, once told a group of students, "if you don’t have faith in you, then there is not much to gain even if you believe in God. Faith in God is to strengthen your faith in you; faith in your own Self. This is called self-confidence… if that is not there you cannot succeed in life, whatever your field may be. Self-confidence is mental balance, courage, and control over your own mind to confront the problems of life." Amma tells us the problem with the world is that we "feed our heads and make our hearts starve. Our heads grow and our hearts dry up." Reason should be used to support our heart, faith, compassion and ideals. If we want our children to have self-acceptance, we must be their example. Example is the truest teacher.

Think about whom you attract and repel. Eagle Star Blanket, a healer and teacher from Colorado says skunks are sensual, like cats without attitude. A pet skunk will wrap itself around the back of your neck, rub against you, and want to cuddle. Spiritually, skunk is a directional to the path of devotion, i.e. merging passionately with the divine. Physically, musk-based odors release pheromones, and therefore stimulate sexually. With skunk medicine, you are either a loner or very social. Certainly you are boldly attractive. Skunks have beautiful, striking coloration. In nature, this brilliance (as opposed to camouflage) is always a warning to predators and the unsuspecting, that consequences will be dire should any be foolish enough to ignore the message. Since energy is tangible, we emit this vibration. Others can sense it is unwise to show us lack of respect. Think twice before displeasing a person with this totem. They are slow to anger, but when they do, you may wonder if what you did was worth the end (sic!) result.

When a skunk is threatened it goes through a series of warnings: an arched back, then hissing or snuffling, perhaps teeth clicking, a raised tail and stamping feet. It’s probably too late, if the unheeded striped skunk turns its body in a "C" shape to see who the foolish adversary might be, or the spotted skunk does a headstand. Skunks can point their musk spray accurately from a nozzle at the base of the tail that can be angled to aim from 6 to 16 feet. According to the severity of the threat, skunk will shoot a fine mist spray up to a concentrated stream, multiple times. The yellowish sulphur compounds, butyl-mercaptan are still slightly volatile even a mile away. Our considerate friend would prefer we turn away at once, since it cannot replace the musk for 48 hours, and is defenseless in that time period. Better to let this gentle creature mosey about lifting logs and searching for insects, grubs, snails, worms, mice, moles, snakes, crayfish, frogs, lizards, berries, roots, nuts or garbage. You get the idea – they’re omnivorous - opportunistic eaters, which actually helps man control insects, mice and rats. Is your strongest energy time at night? Skunks are nocturnal and so is their primary predator, the great horned owl with its poor sense of smell. Unless a coyote, large feline or fisher is really hungry, they will clear a wide berth for skunk.

Don’t even think about taking skunk medicine lightly! This is an extremely strong totem. During the time I’ve worked with skunk, intense experiences stemming from enhanced self-respect have occurred: a) I gave up a lucrative work situation that was draining me. Skunk helps us to set boundaries with people who want you to do their work for them. b) I made someone be accountable for unnecessarily keeping me waiting. c) I asked for help from someone for whom I had been doing a lot of healing. d) made someone be accountable for being rude. e) Brought things up with a friend that needed clearing. Everyone in contact with me also got bombarded with skunk medicine.

Skunks have poor vision. They walk slowly, tend not to hide, and are not vicious fighters. When hunting food, they are likely to stalk and spring with their forepaws. There is another aspect of skunk medicine not usually talked about. Skunks seem to be impervious to bee stings; also poisonous caterpillars, snakes and scorpions. This provides a vaccine-type ability to be impervious to many of the stings and barbs of life. In fact, those with skunk as their totem are usually even-tempered and somewhat blasé; they face life’s ups and downs with equanimity. They are ambivalent about company, preferring to be alone much of the time, yet gathering in groups for comfort, warmth and protection; for wintering or nursing young. Human mothers with this totem are very protective of their children, as are mother skunks. Once a year, usually around May, about 4-6 kittens are born hairless and blind. Males do not help raise the kittens. Sometimes they try to attack or kill them. This is when the female gets aggressive. At 3 weeks kittens can squirt. At 2 months they follow mom single-file to hunt. Do you find yourself peeking into hollow logs or among rock piles when out in the woods? Beware! These are the above ground dens of skunks in summer. In northern winters, underground burrows can be shared with possums, gophers, badgers and others who go into torpor (reduced metabolism). Severe weather can make strange bedfellows, although they use separate chambers. Sometimes they share a den with rabbits, normally part of their diet. How strange is that?

What would make us feel worthy of our own partisanship? Respecting ourselves comes from union with Spirit. We draw on that alignment. To the casual observer, there is a fine line between self-respect and self-importance. That difference however is always clear to the person for whom self-respect has been hard-won. Eagle illustrates with the image of a see-saw, where self-respect is the balance point between the extremes of self-importance and self-punishment.

You may not have realized your goals and dreams. Love yourself anyway. You may wish to have been a better friend, mate or parent. Accept yourself anyway. You may have done things in your life, for which you are ashamed. Forget regrets. Make amends. Forgive yourself now. Wipe the slate clean and begin making choices that lead to self-respect. It’s time to stop reaching for approval and recognition. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I loved a man who respected himself. He didn’t criticize himself, yet did the work to grow, deepen self-knowledge, and expand his consciousness. Because he was this way with himself, he did no harm, and was supportive to others. Self-respect allows us to be so, for there is nothing to defend. It was the first time anyone had ever accepted me unconditionally. It helped me to accept myself, accept failure as my teacher, and move past my own belief systems. Some of this I learned after he died. Why wait to learn these things? It’s all so precious. You are precious! Be the first to know it.

Cie does individual healing sessions for people and animals and trains people in Shamanic practice, Joyous Empowerment, and Shamanic Stewardship. For healing or training, call Cie at 413-625-0385 or email cie@ciesimurro.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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