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Totems: Seagull

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

There are advantages both to being alone, as well as living and working with others. That’s why you see me soaring and flying above the madding crowd at times, free as a bird you might say, and why you also see me noisy and sometimes quarrelsome with my flock. I AM SEAGULL. Others can drive you crazy, yet we also long for union. I suggest you enjoy whichever is happening, when it’s happening. When it changes, enjoy that too.

It was probably some Ring-billed or Herring gulls that decorated my car with their droppings. No, how silly of me; surely it was Laughing gulls wailing their hearty ha-ha-ha-ha as white dung splattered on the dark blue hood. My hosts said they had always parked in the same spot I had, and that had never happened to them. “Okay, okay,” I said to the Seagull nation. “You have my attention. The next Totems article will be Seagull.”

I had made a journey from western Massachusetts to Coney Island in Brooklyn. Coney Island used to be quite famous for great beaches, Nathan’s hotdogs, and Steeplechase Amusement Park. Shorelines attract seagulls - for the fish and the trash. In July 2011, people came to Coney Island from as far as Chicago to see a Grey-hooded gull. This is known as a “life-bird” because the only other U.S. sighting of this inhabitant of Africa and South America was in 1998 in Florida. That this gull was so far north testifies to the impact of global warming.

Seagull is the informal name for gulls. Except when nesting, gulls are found along seacoasts and large bodies of fresh water. More often lately they are found inland too. Upon reflection I realize that I have always lived near water. I expect to see their graceful curvature and hear their raucous cries. Seagulls always mean freedom and liberation.

Even before I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, I resonated to the drive for excellence portrayed by the world’s most famous seagull. More than anything, Jonathan loved flying. He defied conservative elder seagulls in order to try daring and challenging flight experiments to perfect his flying skill. Though he was made outcast from the flock, he later found a mentor who taught him the true meaning of freedom. “You’ve got to understand that a gull is an unlimited idea of freedom. You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”

Does the feeling of freedom connect you more with everything? What is freedom for, if not the ability to connect with life, with love? Eventually, J.L. Seagull returns to the flock that exiled him, to teach others what he had learned and perfected. JLS is a fable about listening to the beat of a different drum. When you do so, at the very least, you will make yourself happy. More probably, you will positively impact others. The next time you ask yourself whether or not you should follow your dreams, or whether one person can make a difference, please know that the energy of one being to effect change is so much more powerful than any lesser paradigm.

Gulls are known for their soaring abilities and agility when fighting over a catch. As a power animal, their appearance can help you find the strength and insight to rise above a problem in your life. Their amazing aerodynamics show us that we may see things from different points of view. Through the metaphor of flight, the author (a former Air Force pilot) inspires us to seek a higher purpose for our lives, and become great at what we love to do. “The gull sees farthest who flies highest.” Through our individual experiences, each of us is trying to find his or her way to freedom. Freedom is the right to occupy our own space, for that is the only way to eliminate fear. There can be no freedom where fear abides, for in fear we are driven into non-conscious behavior. Sometimes, pursuing our dreams alienates us from others (the rest of the flock). If that happens, we are thrust into deciding whether or not to continue on our path or succumb to peer pressure. Have you ever had to make this choice? If you had to, what would you do? “For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight.”

Historically, gulls are messengers from the gods because they live between the worlds, on the border of land and sea. However, they spend most of their time in the air. On the Medicine Wheel, Air is the element of the East direction, the home of the winged ones. Air rules mental abilities, especially intelligence, clarity, curiosity, and perception, as well as all forms of communication and new expressions. Gulls have these qualities, as do folks with this totem. In this direction we begin anew, committed to breaking down the constructs of our thinking that separates us from dwelling comfortably in our bodies, and knowing ourselves as part of all creation. When our minds are not connected to our bodies, we humans make choices destructive to the Earth. We disregard the welfare and freedom of all beings while we flounder in scarcity, greed and domination of others. When we are connected, our choices are deep, loving and life-enhancing for all beings. Gulls have highly developed social structures with complex methods of communication. They will uniformly mob predators, exhibit tool use (bread to bait prey) and are highly adaptable in human environments for food.

Herring Gulls are commonly thought of as Seagulls, although there are many varieties of gulls, and at least 10 subspecies of this one. They are the most widely distributed gulls in the northern hemisphere. This totem symbolizes long-life; a life-span of 49 years has been documented. The Herring Gull has that bugle-like, honking call that those of us on the Eastern seaboard are so used to hearing. How can you recognize Herring gulls? It takes four years for them to acquire adult plumage, which consists of a white head, belly and the underside of their wings. The back is pale grey as are the wing tops, except for the black tips with “mirrors” (white spots). To complete their stylish ensemble, they have yellow eyes, a broad yellow bill and pink legs. The distinctive red spot on the tip of the bill stimulates the appetite of young gulls. Speaking of which, Herring gulls will eat most anything. They can be found on large inland lakes and reservoirs, on farmland and even at the dump. They have learned to follow fishing boats back to shore. Yes, seagulls are scavengers. They are the cleaner-uppers and the opportunists of the bird kingdom. Do you make things out of materials that others would find useless? Do you like to create culinary dishes out of whatever stores you have lying around the house? Perhaps seagull is your temporary or lifetime totem.

Although preferring fish, mollusks and algae, these gulls also relish earthworms, rodents and both the eggs and young of other birds. They may even “hawk” insects on the wing. Okay, that’s understandable for a scavenger, but some species like this one and the Great Black-backed gull are also predators who will take on live cormorants, puffins, rabbits and anything it can steal from others birds. I’ve heard of gulls pecking bits of live flesh when whales breach. If this medicine is in your life, be careful to find the balance between being resourceful and stepping over the line legally. I would be remiss if I did not pick up on the obvious pun of gull-ible. Yes, that is part of seagull’s medicine. You might be on either side of this: the con or the victim. If seagull has flown into your life, and you need to make an important decision, meditate with seagull for its street-smarts. The whole purpose of flying so high (seeing the whole picture) is so you can make informed, discerning decisions, and not be duped.

Other well-known gulls are the world’s largest – the Great Black-backed Gull, with a wingspan of five feet, while the Black-legged Kittiwake nests in huge colonies of anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000. Pairs of kittiwakes are monogamous unless they are unsuccessful at raising offspring, or if one fails to return to the nest site. Then they “divorce.” The “married” pairs breed early and often. Gulls nest close together, but breeding pairs claim their own territory within the colony. Like them, you may also have site fidelity. If so, you like to plant roots, and stay in one place. If seagull is your totem, you will vigorously defend family and home. You have traditional values, but are not conservative. Kittiwakes waste nothing. Since they build their nests on the side of sheer cliffs, they use their excrement to strengthen the nest’s grip on the sheer-faced rock.

Laughing gulls, are so called because of the sound of their cry. They remind us to laugh, bringing in the lighter side. Picture a Laughing gull sitting on a pelican’s head to get its food! Do you need to lift your spirit through laughter and fun? Remember, a sense of humor alters the dynamics of trying situations? Often found inland, laughing gulls bring gull medicine to those who do not live on the coast.

In their courtship display, male Ring-billed gulls will bow to the female, circle them and pump their heads up and down. They are the interior decorators of the gull world. In addition to building their nest with grass, weeds and refuse, these gulls use feathers to decorate. With this medicine, you have a flair for fashion and you yourself might just decorate that home for which you’ve been saving. What is it that you need time and patience to grow? Just as most gulls get their adult plumage at 3-4 years, big projects like saving for a home or starting your own company may need time to gather enough energy to succeed.

Seagulls are intelligent, resourceful, cunning, sometimes noisy and cantankerous opportunists, and show great stamina. In other words, they are above all, survivors. They show us a great deal about how to communicate, live with others, and go with the flow.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for over 35 years. Her work is to bring forward and disseminate the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through writing, teaching, and healing, facilitating the mystical reunion of humans with Source and Nature, in all directions, in equal balance, allied with the Elements, acknowledging the divine within all.

For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to bring her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" to your area, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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