For the recounting of totem stories in full, purchase
Altitude's Totem Poles.
What are the "rules" behind Pacific
Northwest totem stories?
Once upon a time, not long ago, a number of "special
magical" individuals secretly lived among ordinary animal and human populations.
These "special" animals or people could transform into other creatures.
For example, a "special" Bear could transform into a human wearing a bearskin
coat and then, poof. He or she could transform back into a bear again. .
These animals could also transform
into other forms including humans.
The special creatures with these "magical"
powers lived in three kingdoms: the Sky Realm, the Earth
Realm and the Underwater World. Many could travel between
two or even three of the these planes. Other were trapped in a single plane.
When people weren't watching, these special Bears,
Whales, Eagles, Hawks, Beavers, Frogs and so on preferred to live in human
form. In this way, they lived exactly as Native people did at contact. They
fell in love, got married, took care of their children, fished for salmon, made longboats
and held dance ceremonies. They even made their own totem poles, had wars among themselves
and behaved... just like humans do!
Each group of mystical Animals had special
peculiarities. For example: Wolves were great drummers; Beavers hated humans;
Frogs were great friends with certain Underwater People; Whales hated Thunderbirds,
Salmon People wouldn't eat salmon etc.
But ..... when people were spying on them, they immediately took on their regular
animal form and appear as we usually see them-- ordinary bears, whales, eagles, beavers,
Girl transforming into Deer
|A person could pass into and out of these magical worlds
without noticing But strange things happened. For example, humans who dived into
the water and were captured by underwater Animals such as the Whale People could
breathe as normal.
Any human who was captured by any group of these special animals, at first thought
they were in the presence of regular, but strange-looking, humans living in a village.
As time passed, the captured person began to suspect that they were in the hands
of some sort of magical creatures. But, quickly they also began to lose their own
memories of being human, their own families and homes.
If they married one of these Creatures, they had children that looked
like humans to them, but not to the Animals that held them captive. Their children
grew to adulthood in record time... often reaching 9 or 10 years old in only a few
months. They also had the power to appear as human or Animal and to live with either
Wolf transforming into a Shaman
So if you wanted to rescue your
brother, a sister or a spouse who had been captured by some of these magical Animals,
you and your rescuers had to work fast before the person forgot who they were.
When the rescued person returned to their village,
they were treated as a culture hero. They brought back gifts that were magical and
received permission (from the magical creatures they had lived with) to use certain
symbols forevermore. These symbols were then carved onto totem poles.
Three Kingdoms: Sky, Earth and Underwater
Here are a whole lot of stories in one nutshell.
Stories begin with whole villages of Salmon or Whale
People who live happily in underwater cities; powerful beings who live deep within
whirlpools in the ocean, smelt copper, and periodically change into Frogs; wild creatures
who steal children, try to eat them, are caught, burned and transformed into Mosquitos;
giant Thunderbirds who swoop down from the sky and snatch up giant Whales to eat
for dinner; Wolves who, at night, change into bony, yet attractive Ghost People,
and Wolves who grow tired of hunting in packs on the land and change into hunting
packs of Killer Whales; Frogs who are powerful enough to have underwater friends
who can start volcanic eruptions.
For a full telling of all these stories, purchase
Altitude's Totem Poles.