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Totems: Octopus, Part 2

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


So, where would a nice, upwardly mobile octopus live? Its lair would be a cave or crevice on the sea floor. If you have this Medicine, be careful that you don’t become too isolated; too much of a hermit. Octopuses are real homebodies, only coming out to pursue prey or repel an enemy. An octopus is a predator. Think twice before getting on the wrong side of someone with this totem. An Octopus’s prey has a “not so wonderful” experience. Tentacles push the hapless victim into its mouth, where it is injected with venom and eaten by its strong jaws and beak. After the tearing beak bites the food into pieces - the radula, a kind of tongue - pulls the pieces inside the mouth. The radula is covered with many rows of sharp teeth to grind food into tiny bits. Some favorite kinds of prey are crabs, prawns, shrimp, worms or other molluscs. Some octopuses eat smaller ones of their own kind.

An octopus’s predators are large fish and birds, dolphins, whales, sharks, humans and other octopuses. To protect itself, a frightened octopus will puff up its body to look bigger. Some will break off an arm if a predator attacks. That arm crawls about (!) and even flashes different, bright colors to attract the predator’s attention. The octopus escapes while the predator is eating the arm; it then grows another arm. Pretty handy, eh? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Octopus’s regeneration medicine is very powerful to have. No matter what life deals those with this totem, they seem to be able to spring back to life and purposefulness after a period of ranting, grieving or avoiding. Can you let go of old, entrenched habits, addictions, and relationships that do not serve you? Will you trust that you will attract something or someone better for you when you start vibrating to more positive options? 

Camouflage is a French word meaning ‘to disguise’. Octopuses are masters of camouflage and those with this Medicine, or those in a time of its influence are also good at camouflage. This can take many forms, and they all boil down to being a shapeshifter. Octopus Medicine can be used for blending in, imitating or mimicking, attracting a mate, or protecting one’s young. Why might you want to blend in? There may be instances in your life when you want to be part of a group; have a sense of belonging. Teenagers often want to fit in with peers as school is the great equalizer. New mothers might want the support of other women who have young children. Mens clubs or watching ‘the game’ with one’s buddies or a sporting event may offer a sense of kinship. Activists who advocate for the environment may gather strength and encouragement from others’ comments or actions. You may be learning from a mentor in your chosen field, and imitate them until you find your own sea legs. Attracting a mate in the 21st century involves a complex process of getting to know someone. In the beginning, one searches for one of like mind. It is very common to try to find similarities instead of differences. Even after marriage, one always learns new things about one’s mate, choosing whether or not to grow and change with each other.

For evasion, octopuses mimic or seem to merge with their environment. Their skin changes color according to their emotions, and environment – a pretty good strategy for evading or scaring away predators. Coloration can change in a few seconds, by the expansion or contraction of small bags of pigment in the skin. In his book, The Animal Dialogues, Uncommon Encounters in the Wild, the author Craig Childs tells of a researcher off the coast of Hawaii who recorded one octopus changing its coloration and patterns nearly a thousand times in seven hours as it passed through different light, encountered its own kind, and also other species. It even took on the ripple pattern of the sea floor beneath it.

Other forms of evasion and protection are: colorful displays, or coloring that looks like large eyespots like butterflies have, or warding off predators, especially birds, by pointing their funnel at them and squirting them with water. Then there’s always burying oneself under the sand, or hiding in their den and piling rocks or shells at the entrance afterward. That the habitat of octopus is in the depths of the ocean bodes well for those with this power animal to explore the watery depths of their emotions, especially where one has erected strong defenses against getting hurt, or has become sarcastic and cynical. It’s important for this person to investigate any core beliefs from childhood that have snapped their heart’s doors shut.

For scaring away a predator, an octopus can eject ink to startle or confuse said predator. When they are pursued or feel threatened, they squirt copious amounts of dark ink into the water from specialized cells called chromatophores. Its name in Latin, Sepia is the color of this ink. From behind the screen of ink, the octopus then makes its escape. It’s vital for those with this totem not to hide in their own illusions. Octopus skin can also turn lighter or darker, make different colored patterns, or even turn yellow, brown, black, red, orange or blue. You could say these are the original blue-bloods! They have copper-based rather than iron-based blood, which makes their blood blue. Okay, so one heart per octopus is apparently not enough; they have three, and they all function: two to move blood to the gills, while the third pumps blood for the rest of the body. Again, it’s imperative that octopus folks live by their heart’s guidance in order to be balanced and happy. This totem will bring profound progress in all heart-based activities like forgiveness, giving and receiving love, grieving, and letting go when something no longer serves.

North America has several kinds of octopus. The Atlantic octopus (Octopus vulgaris) with an arm span of three feet can be found as far north as New England; several species frequent southern waters. The species that occurs in the Pacific, which is the largest octopus species in the world occurs all the way from Alaska to Mexico. This Giant Pacific octopus has an arm span of up to sixteen feet. A smaller Pacific dwelling one, the Red octopus grows to about twenty inches. There’s one fascinating octopus that does have a shell, though it is not attached to it permanently.

Although most octopuses live at the bottom of the sea, one of the most beautiful, unusual octopus species called the Argonaut (a.k.a. paper nautilus) swims on top of the ocean in a gorgeous dimpled or striated shell. That is, the female of the species does. The male never grows longer than a half-inch, has no shell and unfortunately that breaking-off thing during mating happens to him. The female is like 600 times his weight. Anyway, since the female is an open-ocean swimmer, instead of laying her eggs on the rocks in crevices or caves, she carries them with her in the shell she has so carefully built with two of her eight tentacles. (I’ll tell you how she does that in just a minute.) The female Argonaut lays her eggs in these shells, which float on the surface of the sea. Those shell-like egg cases sometimes wash up on beaches, and sometimes the female Argonaut is in the shell. If you’ve ever read Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea you may remember his description: “Six of their eight tentacles were long, thin, and floated on the water, while the other two were rounded into palms and spread to the wind like light sails.” Those rounded arms secrete calcite, which creates the translucent shell that our Argonaut can pop in and out of.

Which brings us to the all-important topic of buoyancy. How do they maintain it? Some octopuses solve the problem with a gas-filled sac called a swim bladder, but the Argonaut instead periodically comes to the surface and gulps air into its shell. Now, in case you had any doubts as to just how smart an octopus can be, this might change your mind. The female then seals off the captured gas with those arms, and dives to a depth where the compressed gas buoyancy counteracts her body weight. She then becomes neutrally buoyant. If she’s carrying eggs in her shell, she is able to adjust as the shell gets heavier and heavier, as the size of the eggs increases. Looking at the Argonaut from an evolutionary point of view of 500 million years, we see that though her ancestors long ago evolved away from being tied to living full-time in a shell, the present day Argonaut has developed an entirely new use for a shell, and a new way of constructing it. From a Medicine point of view, we are always evolving consciousness to new, creative, and powerful pinnacles. Source Energy is always expansive and creative in all creatures and beings.


For over 40 years, Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been bringing forward the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through her writing, healing work, and teaching. She has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 40 years. For 16 years, she has been a contributing writer to Wisdom Magazine. For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to give her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" in your area, or to purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: .

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