Reindeer: totem of endurance
I have long had a fascination for reindeer; my favourite Christmas present last year was a rather wonderful book called The Real Rudolf(a Natural History of the Reindeer) by Tilly Smith. This is a book for true enthusiasts like me and highly recommended if you wish you seek more information about this amazing deer. Mankind has had an association with the reindeer(also called caribou) since the Upper Palaeolithic era but the date for domestication is hazy. It certainly goes back many thousands of years and continues to this day. In recent history Swedish furniture giant Ikea was pressurised into removing reindeer meat products from their Swedish food shops, citing public outcry at eating Rudolf! I did rather enjoy their reindeer salami and am at a loss to understand the problem.
Reindeer are some of the most appealing deer, and have the most incredibly soft and warm coats. Indeed, externally, the only part of a reindeer not to be covered with fur is their eyeballs. There is another feature that is unique to reindeer and that is the antlers; females and young grow antlers just as the males do. The purpose of the antlers is that of giving everyone literally a fighting chance of getting sufficient food to survive. Bulls(males) shed theirs first, allowing other reindeer to compete for food. The last to lose their antlers are the pregnant cows(females). So the chances are that Rudolf and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s sledge are not only likely to be all ladies but all mothers-to-be!
The connection of reindeer to shamanic wisdom is ancient; carvings and cave drawings go back many thousands of years. Indeed, reindeer are known to eat the hallucinogenic fly agaric fungus,
and their urine, still full of the properties of the fungus has been drunk by shaman to induce trances. Reputedly, this sort of trance has a flying element to it, linking again to the story of flying reindeer. Drums made from the skin of reindeer have been considered highly powerful tools in working with the Otherworld for the purposes of magic and healing in this one.
Animal Spirits suggest various attributes for allying with a reindeer totem:
- Connection to home over long distances
- Power of wandering
- Protection while travelling
- Social skills
- Retention of ones power in group situations
- Ability to go long periods in the dark
On a personal note, I own a drum made with reindeer skin, as well as a reindeer skin that is one of the most warming and comforting items I have ever known.
While the song Rudolf the Red-Nosed reindeer has only been with us since 1939, the association of reindeer with this time of year is probably far more ancient and I can think of no better ally for getting through this dark, cold time than a creature who is so admirably suited to surviving the harshest of harsh conditions.
I am aware I need to meditate more.
I am also aware that sometimes the classic meditation style simply doesn’t work for me and it often doesn’t work for a lot of people. My husband and I (now don’t that sound grand and almost royal!) used to teach meditation and I also used to hold meditation groups in our home, but mine were a bit different…and I was very careful who I asked along.
What people often complain about is the mind wandering, while trying to meditate, or unwanted thoughts popping in or even simply falling asleep. I’m not going to go into the ways round these issues, as it would take too long, so I’m just going to introduce my way of getting my head straight enough to get into a deep meditation when my “bee in a bottle” is going ballistic.
Simple, really. I have a collection of frame drums(there’s a pic of some of them in my archive here, I think) and I start out with a steady rhythm, and focus on keeping the beat steady. Then I vary the rhythm. In the end I have a beat that matches my heart rate, and that’s when some peace comes.
It’s one of the oldest methods of brain entrainment in the world and it has beneficial effects I can’t even begin to explain here. Sound therapists use drum beats to help heal.
The only snag is the fact that you can’t do it at three in the morning (unless you live alone and have NO neighbours) and you can’t do it at work or on the train. But you can buy some excellent drum recordings to put on an mp3 player; I have several now on mine and that can really help on a stress filled day or an overseas trip.
If anyone is interested, please let me know and I can put a list of some of the CDs I use, plus suppliers of decent drums.
Just don’t tell the neighbours I told you to do it!
The picture above is from an exhibition at the British Museum late last year. The drum is that of a sixteenth century Sami shaman, and is made of a birch bowl carved from one piece with a reindeer hide stretched over it. The paintings on it are thought to be a record of some of the journeys into the Otherworld made by the shaman.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end when I walked into the exhibition. This drum had been sung to life and it was still singing in the glass case.
This picture is of one of my drums; it’s made of Alaskan birch, carved into a bowl out of one piece of wood and the skin is elk hide. Inside there are feathers, seeds, herbs and stones that rattle when you move the drum. It’s a mini replica of the Grandmother Drum, the immense cedar drum made for the Grandmother Drum project in Alaska(this drum is seven feet in diameter and sounds awesome) and is about fifteen inches across.
I first started using a drum to meditate with about 12 years ago and I would highly recommend it. Even if you don’t journey in the classic sense, the beat of a drum is very therapeutic. It calms you when you’re upset; it energises you when you’re low.
The drum is said to be the shaman’s horse, taking him/her to the Otherworld.
Where will mine take me today?