According to Dictionary.com a totem is 1. a. An animal, plant, or natural object serving among certain tribal or traditional peoples as the emblem of a clan or family and sometimes revered as its founder, ancestor, or guardian. b. A representation of such an object. c. A social group having a common affiliation to such an object.
Native American and indigenous cultures have totems as symbols of their culture and as a reminder of their heritage. Totems are akin to the seal of a country, or a coat of arms/family crest. In a totem pole, the various animals carved in wood represent the clan, but not the entire nation.
Because totems represent groups such as tribes, nations, religions, families, and organizations, totems are associated with the first chakra. When we are born, we enter into a family, group, or tribe. We quickly learn that our needs are met by members of the tribe or family, and for most people, this engenders a sense of community and group cohesion. As the individual gets older, however, he or she may rebel against their family or religion.
For those who feel a sense of connection to their family and heritage, a family coat of arms is a meaningful symbol. The colors are often symbolic, as are the animals depicted on the seal.
Religions often have totemic symbols, as well. For example, Christianity is often represented with a fish. It has been theorized that Jesus was a Pisces, and that Christianity's dominance was during the Piscean Age--beginning approximately 100 B.C. and ending (depending on who you ask), in 1981, 2060, or 2100 A.D. The acronym ICHTHUS is the Greek word for fish, but also represents I=Jesus (Iesous), Ch=Christ, Th=Theou (God's), U=Uios (Son), S=Soter (Savior). Jesus was known as the "Fisher of Men", and early Christians used the sign of the fish to identify one another in times of persecution--primarily after the ascension of Christ. The emblematic fish often crops up in ecclesiastical art, and there are even stories of homeless wanderers using chalk fish symbols to mark houses which could be counted on for charity or food--hallmarks of the life of Jesus.
Another symbol for Christianity is the lamb, with Jesus being known as the "Lamb of God". Even the four evangelists have their own totems or symbols: St. Matthew is represented by a man, St. Mark is represented by a lion, St. Luke is represented by an ox, and St. John is symbolized by the eagle.
Contemporary society also has its group totems, with many of the symbols being animals. For example, there is the Loyal Order of Moose, the Lions Club, and the World Wildlife Fund (a panda bear). Often, groups choose totems that represent a trait that they wish to be associated with, or feel symbolizes their purpose. An example of this would be the Great Seal of the United States. In 1776, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention believed an emblem and national coat of arms would be evidence of an independent nation and a free people with high aspirations and grand hopes for the future. After 6 years, on June 20, 1782, the American seal was finalized and approved. The seal reflects the beliefs and values that the Founding Fathers wanted to pass on to their descendents. While the seal itself is replete with symbolism (the repeating pattern of the number 13, the colors red, white, and blue, the arrows and olive branch, etc.), the most recognizable is that of the American bald eagle, which is the national bird.
First chakra symbols and totems often stir up feelings of sentimentality, pride, enthusiasm, and even fanaticism. Fanaticism is most often seen in realms where there are fans--namely, sports teams! With football teams such as the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, and Jacksonville Jaguars, it's evident that these animal totems are meant to represent the spirit and performance of a particular team. Not all teams choose wild "brute force" totems, however. There are the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.
Some teams choose names based on very specific cultural references. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a reference to the once-thriving steel industry, and the strength and endurance of steelworkers. From Charities and the Commons, "The Pittsburgh Survey," January 2nd, 1909: "To know these men you must see them at work; you must stand beside the open-hearth helper as he taps fifty tons of molten steel from his furnace, you must feel the heat of the Bessemer converters as you watch the vesselmen and the steel pourer, and above the crash and roar of the blooming mills you must talk with rollers and hookers, while five- and ten-ton steel ingots plunge madly back and forth between the rolls. You must see the men working in hoop mills and guide mills, where the heat is intense and the work laborious; you must see them amid ladles of molten steel, among piles of red hot bars, or bending over the straightening presses at the rail mills."
When a favorite team scores a soccer goal, a touchdown, or a homerun, the crowd goes wild. This enthusiasm is the stirring of the first chakra--as is the emotional response to hearing one's national anthem. Family crests, national emblems, totem poles, and team mascots are all examples of first chakra social symbols which promote tribal unity and group cohesion. Unfortunately, some totems have been used to stir up hatred and violence. The swastika was used as a totem in ancient civilizations including the Mesopotamians, Hindu, Native Americans and Scandinavians. The swastika, a Sanskrit word meaning well being or good luck, was originally used in Hindu sacred scriptures. However, Hitler took this symbol, reversed it, and used it to inspire loyalty from his followers, allegiance to the Aryan race, and hatred against groups that were non-Aryan--including Jews and Gypsies. This same symbol instilled much fear, especially among persecuted groups.
So while social, ethnic, and religious totems can be positive symbols that promote the feeling of oneness, unity, and shared experiences and goals, those same totems can be used out of fear and hatred--and to exclude or persecute those "outside" the tribe or group.
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