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Totems: Wolverine

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


What does the world need now more than anything? Balance and sustainability. On the one hand, humans need to stand up for the environment and for justice for everyone. On the other hand, how that is done is of tantamount importance. I, Wolverine, tend to live in a curious, energetic, wild, and sometimes aggressive manner, and those of you who have my Medicine need to be careful not to let my ability to be ferocious get out of hand. A true warrior uses courage, but not cruelty. The warrior employs power, but not power used to control and subjugate. The valiant use power for the benefit of all. So, I ask this question: How will you use your power? Will you choose to use it for good?

If you are a business owner with a Wolverine Totem, or someone supervising others, it’s impossible to imagine you are not successful, for you welcome challenges, actualize the goals you’ve set, take risks when necessary, and fight for what you need to survive. But this has two sides to it. Remember to be kind and fair to those who work for you. You have an amazing opportunity to make lives better. This applies to family members too – first and foremost, children. Not only will you be shaping their life experiences, but they may grow up to be forces for good in their future lives.

So, which is true? Is wolverine a vicious, cunning monster or a powerful, rare mammal doing what it needs to do to survive. Survival is a real issue in the frozen North where wolverines live. After bears, mountain lions, and wolves, the wolverine, with its massive head and chunky, stout body is the largest of the North American predators. Their usual prey are Arctic hares, birds, grubs, and small rodents, but when hungry, they are not above attacking larger prey. If food is scarce, they will eat carrion. Wolverine however, really prefers to be more of a robber and scavenger. Some trackers feel that wolverines would rather eat carrion, or take food from another animal’s stash than hunt.

Long winters and icy conditions mean that growing seasons are short, and predators need to traverse large areas to find enough food. Often, there will be one wolverine in a 200-square mile area. It may take a week or two for an animal to cover its entire territory. Wolverines live in small numbers in the northern latitudes where the hard weather often weakens some of the larger animals, making them easier targets for the smaller, but fast-moving, agile wolverine. Also, their large, heavily furred, flat feet enable them to outrun animals usually known to be faster runners when the weather conditions are less severe. In summer, wolverine’s feet help it to climb trees, scramble over rocks, and tear up logs searching for food. In winter, their feet move across the snow like snowshoes. So, even though their legs are short, and they run with a kind of hump-backed lope, wolverines often outrun their prey in the snow, and bring them down with their powerful jaws. Those large, strong teeth give wolverine a bone-crushing bite that can crunch through frozen flesh.

Though this burly animal, somewhat resembling a small bear, only weighs around fifty pounds, and is about three feet long, it is extraordinarily strong for its size. Wolverines can bring down caribou, deer, wild sheep, or moose. They often store surplus food in a cache for later, which is partly how they got a reputation as wanton killers. They either bury their own cache, or pull it up into a tree. In the summer, when competition from other predators for food is greater, they are known to eat berries, and even wasp nests! Basically, it’s safe to assume there probably isn’t anything that a wolverine won’t eat, including the prey and food already mentioned. Some wolverines have been tracked covering forty miles in one night, foraging without rest when they needed to eat – ergo, the wolverine’s reputation for endurance and stamina.

With a buff-colored stripe from shoulder to rump, and its habit of marking territory with musk, it’s no surprise that another name for wolverine is skunk bear. Unlike skunks though, wolverines don’t spray their musk. They can, and do make their kills repulsive to other foraging carnivores who might otherwise try to rob their food, by depositing glandular secretions of stinky musk on their caches. Large predators normally try to avoid each other. Biologically, they do what they need to do, only to survive. They have no need or ability to prove anything to other species, therefore, attributing qualities to them like malicious would be a fallacy.

Wolverines are a species that can delay implantation. They mate during the summer, and the mother would normally give birth a few weeks later, as the gestation period is only thirty to fifty days – but since the season is so short, they avoid producing young in mid-winter. Instead, they often give birth around April, when the days are longer, and food is more abundant. At birth, cubs are born fully furred with white coats. Mothers take young out foraging. The babies don’t stay in the mother’s den very long – usually only over the first winter, but they do stay in the same area until about August, when the male kits especially, go out on their own.

A dream with wolverine in it may signify that some test, trial, or obstacle needs to be dealt with. Wolverines and those with this power animal are no strangers to adversity, but a high-stakes existence also yields gifts and rewards if lived well. Perhaps the dream is telling you not to back down from a difficult situation, and that you are being fortified to deal with it. You do not have to be overly aggressive, but only stand your ground. Tom Petty’s song, “Won’t Back Down,” perfectly describes Wolverine’s quality of persevering, even during a time of testing.

Wolverine is also a master teacher that reveals to us our shadow selves – the parts of us still unhealed from trauma, and the parts of ourselves we would prefer not to look at too closely. It takes courage to look at one’s dark side, but if you’re working with wolverine, you’ll be able to muster the courage to face what needs to be faced, and transform any traits that need to be healed.

The Innu are indigenous inhabitants of Quebec and some eastern portions of Labrador. Their myths portray wolverine as something of a trickster, and they love telling tales for group enjoyment at gatherings. There is a bawdy, irreverent side to wolverine in the legends of these tribes, and there is even a Noah’s Ark version of a wolverine god who builds a boat to keep animals safe during the Great flood. Sound familiar?

For ages, because of being associated with the legends and tall tales promulgated by tribes, trappers, and ranchers, wolverine has been portrayed as a malicious monster with unparalleled cunning and viciousness. In fact, most members of the Mustelid family (weasels, minks, martens, ferrets, otters, badgers, skunks, fisher-cats, and wolverines) are typified as varmints by humans. The idea seems to be that this family of animals, and most predators in general are bloodthirsty, destructive creatures and should be destroyed. In actuality, they often have high metabolic rates, requiring frequent eating to convert food into energy, and replace it at a faster rate than most mammals. Also, they don’t have a lot of fat with which to store energy over time. Thick skin protects them somewhat from cold and damage. They seldom den up, or sleep through bad weather and that’s saying something, considering where they live. Wolverines spend the winters in tundra and dense conifer forests that provide a certain amount of protection from the weather.

A long time ago, wolverines could be found much farther south than Canada and British Columbia. They used to live across the whole United States, as far south as Arizona and New Mexico. There are still a few stragglers in Idaho and California, but they are extinct east of Montana. Nobody truly knows why, except that the early European trappers killed an awful lot of fur-bearing animals. And even though wolverine fur will not win any beauty contests, as it is rough and coarse, it’s the only fur that can be breathed on in the freezing cold without frosting up, so it’s used to line hoods.

Wolverines used to be found across Europe. No accurate population counts of wolverines are available from Siberia and Russia, but their numbers have declined greatly in Scandinavia. Probably less than a hundred exist in Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and those that remain have retreated into the remote mountains. Moreover, there’s an economic factor – for the pelts of all the Mustelidae still command a market as fur clothing. Because they have been so valuable and so hunted, their numbers became drastically reduced, and they are now considered rare. So then, aren’t trappers and breeders of mink and other fur animals also predators?

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 45 years; author of this column for 21 years. Send your email address if you wish to be notified with a link to Wisdom Magazine when a new Totems article comes out. In-person healing sessions are available once again on an individual basis, as well as long-distance healing for you and your pet. Call or email for more details and to arrange an appointment. Phone: 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com For a print version of Totems for Stewards of the Earth,Vol. 1 - delivery U.S., send $22 to P.O. 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370


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