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Totems: Rat, Part 1

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


We are indeed creatures of great fecundity, capable of initiating and executing marvelous and significant undertakings, when we direct our prodigious minds to the task before us.  Be mindful though, of not using work as an excuse to become reclusive. People count on you for sage advice, and your calm, considered viewpoint. Don’t hide yourself away from them. Let down your defenses once you have ascertained that your environment is secure, and you know that you won’t be trapped if you are willing to be in a loving relationship, or spearhead a new venture. You will be able to cope well with any obstacles in your path.

We are the Rat nation. Are you being challenged enough in your present circumstances; using your creativity and resourcefulness? Have you considered starting over, perhaps in a new country or state? Let your eyes sparkle once again with the promise of an engaging future. No need to worry about change for you adapt well in any situation. That is the gift of my people.

"MMMmmm, you dirty rat!" a line commonly attributed to the famous actor, James Cagney in the film era of gangster movies, was never actually said by him. He did come closest to it in the 1932 film, Taxi: “C’mon out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat, or I’ll give it to ya through the door.” Not exactly anatomically correct info about rats, who don’t have yellow bellies, but I’m sure you get the point. The point is that our dear totem - Rat, is a much maligned four-legged about whom pejorative terms are frequently used.

There’s the expletive, “Rats!” which I myself have used on occasion, when totally frustrated. To “rat on someone,” “smell a rat,” or be a “rat fink” means to be an informer or traitor. A “rat trap” refers to housing that is terribly run-down and dangerous; rats often inhabiting the walls. “Like rats abandoning a sinking ship” implies one is only thinking about oneself, whereas it’s actually pretty smart to know when to leave a failed venture. 

In fact, it seems only the French have positive associations. “Un rat eglise” is a pillar of the church and Proust refers to women who hold salons in their drawing rooms as – “rattesses” - although he made that word up because there is no female equivalent in French for rat. “Mon petit rat” is an expression of affection in French, although saying someone has “une face de rat” is very uncomplimentary, either in French or English.

Actually rats have some of the most interesting qualities of the animal kingdom.  According to Chinese astrology, “rats” (SHU) are some of the most hard-working, efficient, generous, protective, kind, meticulous, communicative leaders and humanitarians out there. A rat can appreciate living in a lavish environment without wasting resources. How else will there always be food to share if unexpected company comes? And there must always be sharing. Rat totem reminds us to give and to share. Why, rat owners and lab workers have even observed rats opening cage doors for other rats.

One of rat totem’s best qualities is being ambitious, yet honest. Though not everyone can appreciate the rat’s forthright manner, usually it’s done in such a disarming way, that the recipient often finds him or herself at a disadvantage to argue with what’s been said. Many with this totem tend to be pack rats (though a Virgo Sun sign keeps everything organized and tidy). If you have a person with a rat totem for a friend or family member you are fortunate indeed, for rat people cherish their friends and family, cater to their needs, and would always support them with time and energy, if not always money. Depending on how evolved they are, they are anywhere on the spectrum from frugal to stingy, unless you are their child. Then your doting parent will find it hard to deny you anything.

If rat has scurried into your life, be restrained about complaining. Remember, that only attracts more to complain about. Put your amazing ability to observe detail and perceive patterns, into an art form such as writing or line drawing. Make use of your ability to understand the world through your voracious reading. If you are in business, your natural acumen will serve you well, and you have spot-on shrewd hunches. It might be an understatement to say that rat totem people are thorough. They research all the facts and figures. They are good at promoting their work and projects, and are persuasive speakers, garnering support. In crisis, they tend to be the calm and level-headed ones. They usually come up with the practical solution.

People with rat as a totem can be gutsy to the point of peril sometimes. This inclination to put it all on the line for high ideals might blow up relationships, or shorten an otherwise long life. (A rat that reaches age 3 is comparable to a person reaching 90). In the end though, self-preservation will win out, for rat people take good care of themselves, physically, emotionally and spiritually. They just like to check another “challenge mastered” off their list.

The Muridae family has more than 1,000 species including rats, mice, voles, lemmings, hamsters and gerbils. The more than 500 species of Old and New World rats fall into this category. Rats are the most prolific, invasive species worldwide. They are everywhere. Though most of the 56 species of the brown rat’s genus rattus are completely harmless to people and live in the wild, all rats are almost universally considered vermin. Some rats like the Black rat, a.k.a. Ship rat have adapted well to living alongside humans, but most rats live in forests or grasslands. Both Short-tailed and Greater bandicoot rats live in complex burrow systems. And then there are the ones who live up high. Climbing rats and Smooth-tailed Giant rats make their nests in tree hollows. They have fur-lined cheek pouches for carrying food and nest material up and down trees. 

Did you know a rat can broadjump up to five feet – especially to get out of the way of a striking snake? They prefer walking to running, but when galloping, the hind feet land in front of the forward limbs. Other favored methods of locomotion include swimming. Australian water rats have webbed back feet. They live and hunt along the banks of rivers, lakes and ditches. Water rats have a pad of fat to keep the heart warm, for its coat is not waterproof. There are even Fish-eating, and Marsh-rice rats. Many rat species eat almost anything. Rats have dietary needs almost identical to humans. You would think the biggest rats would be the meat-eaters, but the Smooth-tailed Giant rat is almost completely herbivorous, feeding mainly on shoots.

My favorite is the Wood rat, better known as the Packrat, because of its tendency to create elaborate nests or houses of sticks, bones and leaves to keep out the cold and rain; then adding all sorts of items from human debris to the structure. Such large nests (the nest is sometimes as large as 5 feet across and high) would house many rats, but the Wood rat usually lives a solitary existence. They might start with a nest that belonged to previous generations of wood rats, modifying it to their own specifications. Some nests are known to be hundreds of years old. People with this totem are often architects, specializing in skyscrapers or larger development projects. How smart is this? A Wood rat will use a haying technique, stacking vegetation to dry to prevent it from composting in their food cache.

Is it time for Spring cleaning? It may be time to challenge yourself to begin anew. Packrat totem folks need to be vigilant about not letting things they’ve accrued turn into clutter. Selling or giving things away helps us purge things we don’t really need, but are taking up space, including emotional and mental space. Ask rat totem to help you let go of old emotional issues and destructive thinking patterns. Pack rats are well known for liking shiny objects such as glass, silver foil, jewelry, nuts, bolts and cutlery. Some cultures thought that instead of stealing the object, they were doing a trade, leaving something in its place. What is actually happening though is that the rat will drop what it is carrying, replacing it with the new, shiny object.

Rats have a keen sense of hearing – the better to hear its many predators. In humans, this ability often is clairaudient. These folks just “hear things” – guidance, warnings, inspiration. Mysteriously, rats communicate danger to other rats; Kangaroo rats will drum their feet in warning. If one rat is poisoned by something, all the other rats in the colony will avoid it. If something has made a rat feel ill, it will never go near it again.  That they are naturally suspicious of anything new is helpful to rats, since they are unable to vomit as a way to void their stomachs if they eat poison. Interestingly, it has been documented that rats often sense when there is poison in bait. Its sense of smell is not as acute as it is for animals that live out in the open. Whiskers maintain contact with the walls of the many passageways underground. As a nocturnal animal, smell and sight are not as important as hearing and touch.


Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 40 years; author of this column for 17 years. For Healing for you or your animal, Training, or 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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