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Totems: A Column which features a different Animal or other Totem each month.


by Cie Simurro

(aka Thunderbird Starwoman)

"My children, I keep my nose to the ground, always sniffing out something that will aid you in your journey onward. I myself travel a great deal. Travelling is of great interest and joy to me, as I move around foraging and hunting and stopping where I will. The subject of vacation never comes up for I consider my entire life a vacation. I go where I will, when I wish, how I desire, and except for those ribbons of black that you call roads, which are a great danger to me, I move about freely without undue caution.

"I AM OPOSSUM. I bring this message from all of my kinfolk to all of you: IT'S GOOD TO HANG UPSIDE DOWN IN TREES! The world looks completely different from that perspective, and considering the way the world has been going, it might be advantageous for humans to turn things upside down a bit, shake them up as it were, and move in a different direction.

"Ah, I see that you had not suspected me of having a dry wit, but among my people, my sense of humor is legendary. Are you not aware that I am continuously grinning, especially when laying low - you call it playing 'possum'; rolling over; playing dead. These are merely diversions so that the predators of the world will not consider me of interest or a challenge. I suggest that you imitate my strategy when danger is upon you. I will help you attain long life, for the one who tries to forestall a fight, rather than battling his way through, will live longer - less stress - and of course, there is always the more accomplished opponent. Have a happy life. Viva l'opossum!"

It had been pouring rain in Kernersville, North Carolina for three days. My dogs could no longer wait for the walk they were used to having every day, so off we went into the 214 acres behind the house. Maggie the hound was the one who brought my attention to the bedraggled baby opossum on the ground. After searching the entire area, and not finding its mother, I brought the baby home. I named her Precious, and that she was. She was tiny enough to ride around in a 3x6 inch fleece pouch around my neck, while she recovered from her near drowning. Later, she was quite content to climb through my long hair, perch on my arm and shoulder, or just explore the table, sniffing and investigating. I fed her with an eyedropper, until it was time to bring her to a local animal rehabilitator who specialized in 'possums. It was hard to let her go, but she needed the company, and the example of opossums, not people. I checked on her progress until she was successfully released back into the wild.

The Didelphidae (meaning double-uterus) family is quite possibly the oldest surviving marsupial from which all other marsupials (babies in a pouch) may have evolved. There are 63 species of opossums. The Virginia opossum is the one that lives in North America. They have a long, pointed, pinkish nose, a white face, and a bare-looking tail that can wrap around branches, from which they hang. Alhough opossums are extremely adaptable in terms of habitat, they naturally live in and climb trees.

The physiology of opossums is uniquely interesting. The most salient characteristic of female opossums is their pouch. Baby opossums, after only 13 days in gestation, are born with completely undeveloped bodies, except for well-developed forearms and fingers with claws, that enable them to grab the mother's fur and pull themselves upward, hand over hand, into the fur-lined pouch and mother's milk. The honeybee-sized babies crawl into their mother's pouch to nurse. The mother has 13 nipples; only 13 babies will survive. 13 is the sacred number to the Mayans; there are 13 lunar cycles each year. (For more on 13 see last month's article on Turtle.) This all-powerful instinct for survival that the newly born young show is a powerful medicine akin to pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps - the actual moment of finding the courage to decide to change the direction of one's life. I experienced this medicine in my mid-twenties, after I was divorced and was raising my daughter on my own without alimony or child support. I was earning a nominal salary for teaching in a small private school, and not making enough to meet my expenses. One night, exhausted and at the end of my financial rope, the washing machine broke down. I remember leaning against the hall closet where I kept tools, crying, feeling helpless and wishing my father had taught me how to be handy so I could fix it. At that time, my life felt like all struggle and hardship. It occurred to me that if I wanted, I could end my life. In a moment of clarity, I knew I was at a crossroads and was making a choice. I thought of my daughter and decided to stay on the earth plane. Spirit sent me the image of me pulling myself up by my bootstraps. The image and the event were so strong, that years later a palmist asked me if I had considered leaving the planet at that age. She said my life-line had split and continued stronger. 'Possum medicine says, "I'm a survivor. So, you don't think I'm the prettiest of the lot? Well, my friend, I have strength and resources one can only realize after having been tested by life."

Opossum young experience more than one cycle of 60 days. Once inside the marsupial pouch, the young feed on milk for 60 days, developing physically the way placental mammals would in the womb, in the later months of pregnancy. The mouth muscles of infant opossums attach onto a nipple that swells and extends so far, the babies can later venture outside the pouch still attached to the elongated nipple as they continue to suckle. 60=6 which is the number of full investigation-recognizing potential and bringing it up and out into one's life.. 6 has the energy of wiping the slate clean and clearing the way. 6 is also double three: the second stage of a new layer of consciousness in the journey of self-realization. The multiple-six cycles intensify the energy.

After opossums let go of the nipple, they ride on their mother's backs, learning about foraging and hunting, until they can use their 50 teeth (that's a lot) to hunt for an omnivorous diet of insects, small animals, eggs, mushrooms, grains, fruit and a lot of carrion. Normally, within around 60 days after weaning, the young have dispersed and become solitary except for mating and raising young. 'Possums are adaptable and opportunistic. The energy of 'possum recognizes what is at hand to create favorable circumstances. For example, opossums have many dens, some used for only a night. They will use a hollow tree, another animal's habitat or a burrow. ('Possum people often have more than one home.) Even if we city, suburban or rural dwellers have to move over a bit to make some elbow room for creatures like opossums, it is well worth our efforts for the continual fascination, enjoyment, exquisite wonder and self-knowledge they give us.

Because of their wandering, opossums have a foraging range of anywhere from 50 to 500 acres when they can, but they don't seem to mind other opossums in the area. The number 5 is prominent here. 5 is the number of humans and matter expressing in this world. Some call it the number of Man. 5 carries the energy of adjustment, change and listening receptively - all qualities of a successful strategist like 'possum. A predator of rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins, they are immune to venom. Call on 'possum when someone attacks you venomously, to neutralize any toxic affects to your being. Researchers should look at them for snakebite medicine because they can absorb up to 60 (there's that number again) times the lethal dose of other animals. Although 'possums will try to avoid a fight, even feigning an Academy award death performance, including drooling saliva, defecating, and letting themselves be bitten while seeming to be dead, attackers may receive a nasty bite from those 50 teeth. The moral is, don't push a person with 'possum medicine too far.

To play 'possum is to play dead. When we let go of resistance (force), we create a vacuum or pool for energy to flow toward, whereas when force meets force, we create more resistance. When someone attacks us, and we resist or attack back, the opponent usually redoubles their efforts having targeted "the enemy". (Like when we try to get off a spam list and get even more sent to us!) Opossum is the ultimate martial artist, using "chi" and the opponent's own energy to vanquish him. 'Possum is a master of diversion, which throws others off the track. Playing dead is the willingness to "just drop it" when we face a wall of resistance. Dropping it allows room for new energy or a creative solution. Then 'possum awakens from the dead ready to happily continue its life.

Today, in the midst of writing this, I saw a dead 'possum in the road, which reminded me of one of the negative aspects of 'possum energy. 'Possum people are master strategists. Don't use it to manipulate others. The Cherokee, like all indigenous people, tell their children and grandchildren stories and fables to guide them in developing character and acceptable social values. In the Cherokee story about 'possum, he shows undue conceit over the magnificence of his furry tail. Finally, sick of 'possum's bragging, rabbit concocts a scheme to wrap 'possum's tail in something that makes all his fur fall out. Intensely embarassed in front of all the other animals, 'possum grins his ghoulish grin and falls over as though dead until all the other animals leave. That's how 'possum got his bare tail and ghastly grin.

Opossum medicine may be just the thing to call upon when others spread false stories about you or otherwise try to impugn your character. Adding fuel to the fire will only fan the flames. The lesson is to trust that ultimately folks will see your worth. The more you are out in the world, trying to do good, the more opposition you will attract. Eventually, untrue stories will die down, and you will be justified. Conversely, 'possum can remind us to "fake it, till we make it". There are times in our lives when each must assume a role for a time. When trying to establish a new thought pattern or habit, we need to act as though it were already so, until the new vibration replaces the old. Actors and actresses need to be able to feel and portray all emotions so the audience can believe what they are seeing. 'Possum is their totem. I vividly remember being 6 years old, accompanying my father downtown on business. I felt so proud and grown-up, but also a little nervous. He taught me one of my most valuable lessons. He said, "The secret to poise is to feel that you belong. If you are poised, things will go well." As one who teaches and speaks publicly, I have seen the truth of this and its corollary: if I act confident, pretty soon I will feel that way. Why? Because then I have begun to vibrate to the energy of confidence, creating more. In healing and ceremonial work, it is also helpful to assume the role, or be the vehicle for Spirit to move through us. We must allow our non-physical allies of Light to work through us. No one stands alone who stands in power.

This is a time of cosmic change. We can see it in our weather. We notice that in the areas of our lives that need healing, we are being abruptly pushed to the wall. If we are not seeing the whole picture, we can become bitter and resentful when things aren't working out as planned. Natural reaction, but guess what? It doesn't work to our advantage! It works better to use some strategy. If one thing doesn't work, try another. After all, you are the most important factor here. Take care of yourself. That may mean switch-hitting to a different strategy, or it may mean dropping the whole thing. Just don't give up on yourself. Call for guidance from ALL LIGHT in situations large and small. Keep turning things over, especially when you feel you've been backed into a canyon. There is always a way, even if we have to face something difficult or change it before we see a solution. Most of the time, it is what feels unbearable that propels us into new arenas. What makes us ask forbidden questions, and seek the unknown for answers is what produces that "second stage of a new layer of consciousness in the journey of self-realization." rings_bar_md_wht.gif

Like her mother's mother's mother, who was the healing woman of her village, Cie Simurro has been a healer, writer and teacher all her adult life. Cie does individual healing sessions for people and animals, and trains people in Shamanic practice, Joyous empowerment, and Earth stewardship. If you want healing or training or Cie's new book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth, call Cie at 413-625-0385 or email