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, frogs etc.


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 too.

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.

Legendary Seawolf


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