Discussing animal totems, power animals, etc, in the post on my 3rd degree ceremony coming up, made me want to consider the concept some more. Having animals as totems or personal symbols or sources of personal power or identification is found in most shamanic cultures...the indigenous population of America before Europe moved in had totem animals as part of their culture, depending on tribe and custom. Fortunately or unfortunately, that is not something I feel a connection to, beyond a fascination in the comparative religion and anthropology sense. Far too many modern Americans, with pure European ancestry or a few possible drops of "Native American" ancestry attempt to claim the religious customs of this continent's original inhabitants and many of them attempt to profit by them financially. (on the other hand, the area I live in, Cherokee descent is fairly common...and frankly, it is not impossible for there to be a reincarnative connection either. My thought is only adopt the American Aboriginal ways if you can do so in good conscience...eh. Old rant here.)
My ancestry is Celtic...Scots, Irish, Briton, and possibly Norse. Mostly Scots. The ancient culture of the Celts, BC, spanned from the Rhine River in Germany to the tip of the British Isles and the current remnants of the Celtic world (so marked by the language) are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Britany. From this, my descendancy is pronouncedly Scots (Martin, and MacAlistair primarily - in this area, 1 in 3 is of Scottish descent.)
The Celts were polytheistic and shamanistic with many animal associations - Epona, the horse, the Salmon of Knowledge, etc. (I am so paring down and simplifying this - if I ever tackle the subject of the Celts full on it would be a series.) Which brings us to Foxes.
My animal - the fox - my totemic, power symbol, etc. Maybe familiar. How did I find the fox or how the fox found me...
First off, as a budding pagan many years ago, and learning to visualize circles, shielding, etc, the mental or astral image of a fox as a protector of my home kept cropping up. OK. I went with it. Then came a big pagan event several years later, when I attended a very confusing ritual designed to "help you find your totem animal". I say confusing because, folks, just never ever do a ritual visualization where you take your participants down deep into the earth....and then your next statement is "you look up at the stars in the night sky"! Talk about an astral train wreck! At any rate, despite that particular...ah...unfortunate concept, my trance survived and I looked around and "saw" in the vision my fox approach. And I remember the smells and sounds of the night becoming preternaturally clear for a moment, as though for a brief instant in time I experienced the world through the senses of a fox. Well. Cool!
Then here came the clincher...about 4-5 years ago, when I began considering the possibility of seeking an official degree in the Wiccan/pagan community, I was driving home and pondering. And about 1 mile from my house I looked over and a matter of feet from my car, very REAL and VERY THERE was a honest-to-Deity WHITE FOX standing there... calmly looking straight at me...in the broad light of afternoon. This is NOT an area of the world where on sees white foxes. I live in the deep American South, not the Arctic Circle. I suppose I could come up with a mundane accounting of that sighting - an escaped arctic fox or its descendant, or an albino of a regular fox breed - I see grey foxes all the time in this area. At night I might add - they are mostly nocturnal. Actually, it couldn't have been an arctic fox - the ears were the shape of a regular fox.
But lets be honest. If your fox is your familiar and you are contemplating a serious move in your life...and you see your familiar animal in an almost impossible scenario...well, you only have to hit me over the head with a brick once, hard! Lets go one step further - skipping a huge amount of "New Age Lore"of questionable authenticity (0h my aching head!) white is a color associated with the "druids", the bardic priests of the early Celts as described by contemporary (and sometimes conflicting) Roman accounts. Oh. My. A White Fox.
So what do we possibly know about the fox in Celtic lore and faery tales? They are associated with shape shifting, flexibility, cunning, subtlety, and diplomacy. The word "cunning" which we associate theses days with slyness in a negative sense comes from the word "kenning" in the Gaelic languages, meaning knowledge or to know in a positive sense. They had a sense of the trickster too. Foxes were also associated with Celtic burial rituals.
Finally, the (Irish) Gaelic for fox is Sionnach.
As for the possibility of other animal totems or familiars, particularly the otter or the beaver...I will continue to explore or see what comes in the future. The otter in particular rings a bit of a bell.
Why do we feel or sense or have these associations with animals? Familiars, friends, family members...perhaps because we are a part of this world, not separate from it. Not "lords and masters with destruction in our hands" but fellow creatures and sojourners who should remember we share this world together...animals all the same.