Sky Dancer Clan   9 comments

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?


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A Word on Spirit Animals

Spirit animals are an important part of Wyandot culture (my mother’s culture). Our tribal clan system is designated by animals. The Wyandot tribe was anciently divided into 12 clans, which each had a local government, consisting of a clan council presided over by a clan chief (sachem). The names the clans called themselves were:

Big Turtle, Little Turtle, Mud Turtle, Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Deer, Porcupine, Striped Turtle, Highland Turtle, Snake, and Hawk.

The order was important for the line of travel and for tribal encampments. On the march the warriors of the Big Turtle Clan marched in front, those of the Little Turtle Clan marched next to them, and so on down to the last clan, except the Wolf Clan, which had command of the march and might be where its presence was most necessary. The tribal encampment was formed “on the shell of the Big Turtle.”. This means that the tents were arranged in a circular form as though surrounding the shell of the Big Turtle. The Big Turtle Clan was placed where the right fore-leg of the turtle was supposed to be and the other clans were arranged around in their proper order, except the Wolf Clan, which could be in the center of the enclosure on the turtle’s back, or in front of it where the turtle’s head was supposed to be, depending on what the Wolf clan decided. In ancient times all Wyandot villages were built in this order, and in the tribal council the clans took this order in seating themselves, with the sachem either in the center or in the front of the door of the council chamber.

Most of the clans are extinct now and a lot of Wyandot who claim to be members of an extant clan are really more Caucasian and a mix of Wyandot clans, but the animals they were named after were meant to be the totem of that clan – your spirit guide, to use modern terms. Supposedly, the spirit behind the totem animals gave Wyandots power and comfort. I seriously looked into this as a teenager and college student, before deciding that as a born-again Christian, I could not partake in it. My only spiritual guide is Jesus Christ and I make nothing equal to or greater than Him. I don’t need to. He is more than sufficient.

What others do is not my concern. That’s just a personal decision on my part, and explains why I’m not going to select a spirit animal for this exercise.

Mascots and Avatars However …

But there’s another way of looking at it. The animals were not spiritual guides, but symbols for the tribe – avatars, if you will. After all, my high school had a mascot. The malemute is a husky dog that is very popular here in Alaska. There’s nothing spiritual about it. And, for years I have used the avatar of the aurora borealis on my social media sites.


It’s a long complicated story involving a nickname given to me by a college professor – the Aurorawatcher. I’ve shared it before. You can find it here.

I wouldn’t claim an animal as my mascot just because — well, it is just too close to the totems of my tribe and that kneeling at another altar thing, but I do claim the aurora as an avatar. Why?


It’s beautiful and majestic and ethereal. It changes. You could watch the aurora every night for decades and never see two that are alike. And, they are mysterious. There’s a lot that’s known about the sky dance today, but there is a great deal that isn’t known. And, above all, if you haven’t experienced the aurora for yourself, I can only give you a taste of what it is like to stand out in the cold and stare up at the sky. It’s changing, whipping across the black velvet sky, sending out long tendrils, sometimes moving fast and sometimes barely moving … pulsing colors and flickering white and … and they can last all night or fade after a few moments.

It reminds me a lot of Christian faith, which is another thing you must experience to understand. I can only give you a taste of it if you haven’t experienced it for yourself. That’s not a failure of the faith, but a testament to it not being made up. It easy to explain that which is manmade and so much harder to explain that which is transcendent of human minds.

The aurora’s dance is also somewhat like how I write my books. I’m a discovery writer. I experience the stories as I write them. I rarely know where they’re headed before I get there. It’s only on rewrite that I can (somewhat) herd the story. I know the high points of a series, but I can’t tell you when my creative mind might fling out a pulsing arm of color that will surprise me as much as it surprises my readers. The dance of the northern lights has the same unpredictable, genie-in-a-bottle feel. Beautiful, mercurial, hard to capture. It’s not static, it’s always changing, and when it fades tonight, I know it will be back tomorrow.

Posted November 11, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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9 responses to “Sky Dancer Clan

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  1. This was very interesting. I read about spirit animals in The Earth Children series by Jean Auel. She called them totems.


  2. Fascinating social history, thanks.


  3. I’d love to see the Aurora Borealis one day. You’re lucky to have experienced it. No wonder you’re an aurorawatcher!


  4. I think perhaps the popularization of spirit animals and tokens has cheapened their meaning for the peoples who see them as part of the religion.


    • I think so. Some of my cousins are the Rez are really into it and they grind their teeth over people who play at it. They’re never quite sure with me because I’m interested in animism as an intellectual inquiry (and, I use it in my writing), but I’m clear that I’m never practicing it. It’s just one of the many ways I keep them guessing. 🙂


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