When a Native American internet friend introduced me to the idea of totem animals several years back it was more like reaching home via an unexpected new route than venturing into alien territory. I've always felt a strong connection to animals. As a kid I wanted to grow up and be a vet. The only ghost I can actually remember seeing was an animal. I trust animals. The whole idea that spirit animals might walk with us as teachers and guides seemed perfectly feasible to me. If I can have a guardian angel, according to my school Bible study classes, why not a guardian spirit-animal?
Since that internet friend sent me my first link to animal totems I must have wandered on through a dozen more websites related to the topic. I can't say everything fits my belief system, but it has a natural wisdom that appeals to that die-hard nine year old Pantheist within me. Some places talk about Life totems, journey totems, Power animals and dozens of other variations. Personally I don't think it matters much. Labels and symbols are man-made inventions. If we can use old ones created by our ancestors then why can't we create our own? It is a new Millennium, after all!
I have no idea if Crow officially is my "life totem" or "journey totem". All I know is that when I asked for a sign as to where next to put my feet... Jesus gave me a crow. It made perfect sense at the time. It still does. I can see myself in a crow. Smart, but a bit clumsy, whacky, but sometimes wise. Crow is the bird which some cultures say 'walks between worlds.' Crow is the bird in our back garden who slipped off the fence and got his head caught between the picket fence posts. Yep, I'm a crow! ;-)
As for elephant.. long before crow entered my life there was elephant, or elephants. When I was little I had several toy elephants. Up until recently I hadn't realised how many. A knitted one, a velvet one, a brooch one and loads of plastic ones. I drew elephants, made a collage of them out of felt, and in art college I painted my very first oil painting of the ultimate elephant-symbol - Ganesh.
Our class had gone on a religion themed field trip through churches, synagogues and the brand new temple the local Indian community had just finished building. From the outside it was a square glass-walled building supporting a fresh new pine wood dome. Inside it was a glowing frosted glass meringue filled with marigolds. There, surrounded by other gods I never noticed, "he" sat watching me... Ganesh. Carved in India from the finest marble, now he sat in Africa dressed in silk and flowers. He stared down at me with dark and beautiful eyes; It was love at first sight. This amazing god with the head of an elephant. I couldn't wait to capture him in a painting. I wanted to show how I saw in him the way everything connected. Nature, animals, God and people.
The emotions were splendid... the painting wasn't. :-( Ganesh ended up a very frightening neon pink. The only thing I got right were the eyes. Those lovely deep wise god-in-elephant eyes.
Over the next twenty years I can't remember thinking much about elephants. Now and then I'd stop to admire a statue or painting of Ganesh at the shops in the Indian section of town, but that was all. Then one day (five years and one week ago) I stepped onto an airplane on the most important journey of my entire life. I was very excited and also very nervous. Not because I was taking the first long-distance flight of my life, but because I was also taking the biggest leap of faith of my entire life. I was on my way to visit the man I was to marry. A man I had never met before.
As I went to sit down I saw that there was a magazine on my seat, it had been left behind by another traveller. I picked it up and it fell open at an article on photography and Art. Below each photo there was a famous quote and on the page the magazine had opened at was a full page photo of a statue of Ganesh. Below the photo was this quote...
"A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step."
..and I knew I would be fine.
After that I started reading more seriously about Ganesh. I still only know a tiny fragment of all there is to know about this wonderfully embracing Indian god. I wouldn't even dare to presume to write about him. All I can do is write how that wise elephant-eyed god brought me one step closer to my love.
A few years later (married and moved to the other side of the world) I dreamt that God came down to earth as a real elephant, unlike Ganesh with his elephant head. In my dream I was told that to look at this elephant-god would bring about instant death. Everyone fell to the floor, or closed their eyes, when he entered the room, but I tripped and fell. Even in dreams I have the grace of a crow! He put out his trunk to catch me and I looked up... into God-as-an-elephant eyes. I did not die, instead he stared into me and I felt such peace.
I met an elephant in another dream a few months after that. This time I asked, "are you an Indian elephant or an African elephant?"
The elephant looked at me with those deep brown sad clown eyes and said, "All elephants are family. We are One."
For the believer God IS and for the atheist God Isn't.
For some God is an old man with a beard or an earth mother with a swollen belly.
...for me God lies in elephant eyes.