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Totems: Octopus, Part 1

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


If I wrap my many arms around you, would you melt into my embrace, or would you fight it, though you would not win? I am very strong, but I can be gentle as well, once I learn to trust you. I am Octopus, the one who reminds you that things aren’t always what they seem at first glance. I am an expert at multi-tasking, which makes any of you with my Medicine – very efficient at what you do. Perhaps, in your own life, you can learn to use your strength to be a force for good, and to help others. For the time has come for all us beings on Mother Earth to learn to live in peace and cooperation, for the good of all. We are here to remind you of life’s endless possibilities.

What has blue blood, three hearts, and a doughnut shaped brain? One of the most interesting and intelligent sea animals in the world – Octopus! Did you cringe? Sea creatures in general evoke irrational fear in some people. Is your frame of reference for octopuses that they have gelatinous bodies, bulbous heads, jaws shaped like a parrot’s beak, vicious looking eyes, and eight long arms called tentacles, that wriggle like snakes? Well, while some of those things about its appearance are true, get ready to meet a most remarkable creature that is a master of intelligence, camouflage and regeneration, because of all invertebrates, octopus is the most intelligent of all. They strategize, use tools, problem-solve, and have amazing dexterity.

The octopus brain is the largest and best developed of all invertebrate brains. The central brain is divided into 14 lobes, and each lobe governs one or more functions. Some of the lobes govern sight, and some are for memory and reasoning. Octopuses can be found in every single ocean in the world, though their numbers are greater in warmer tropical seas.

They belong to a group of highly evolved mollusks called cephalopods, which are predators that lack an outer shell. They have 8 arms, each equipped with suction disks to hold fish and other prey, and to hold onto rocks as they crawl along the ocean floor. The number 8 mediates, bringing in balance between two worlds – as Above, so Below, receptive in this plane. It’s a solidity factor of 4, building on the foundation energy that 4 brings in. People whose number is 8 are usually great organizers, and end up with jobs that involve power and money. So, how will you use your power? Will you try to dampen it down, hiding from life, or will you use power for good? Use your intelligence to create the world you wish to live in? Those with Octopus Medicine or currently in its sphere of influence are great problem-solvers. In the world we’re living in, it’s so important to use strategies that bring more love and kindness into the world. Even if you weren’t raised with those values, it’s not too late to become a person of grace and goodness.

Do you do your best thinking and get the most done in the morning or at night? Octopuses are primarily nocturnal. That’s when they emerge to hunt. For the most part, an octopus is shy – except when it hunts for food! Crabs, snails, clams, and mussels (crustaceans) and small fish are its favorite foods. An octopus tastes everything in its world with its entire body, but its sense of taste is most highly developed in its suckers. One of its hunting strategies is to hide under rocks until its future dinner passes by, and then dart out and grab the prey with its suckers, and tear it apart with those strong, beak-like jaws, though it is its venom that kills. Other hunting skills are crawling out of the water to capture escaping prey, or pushing a lot of water through their funnel-shaped siphons so they can propel through the sea for a quick chase.

All Blue-ringed octopuses have rings that are colored a subtle blue when resting, but when agitated or feeling threatened, the rings turn vivid, iridescent blue. But it is its saliva that contains the deadly venom tetrodotoxin which is a powerful neurotoxin that either subdues or kills its prey. Some reports state that it is over 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide. By the way, it only takes 15 minutes for a Blue-ringed octopus’s venom to kill an adult human. They typically live on coral reefs and face the same threats most sea creatures are dealing with: ocean acidification, pollution, and warming waters. They have also been known to have been harvested for aquariums because of their beauty, by people oblivious to how venomous they are, especially in their ability as escape artists. For example, they can easily escape from an open tank or aquarium and often will. And you don’t want an octopus to do that. That always means trouble. They’re way too smart not to be kept occupied and entertained. For otherwise, you might find an octopus hiding in a teapot, or turning a valve that releases a ton of water, or have them opening locks to places they shouldn’t be.

That’s why some aquariums have developed handbooks for enriching octopus’s lives. Like hiding food in a toy, which they unscrew and then screw back together again, or giving them Legos, or even enabling them to create art by moving levers to release paint onto canvases. So, if you have Octopus Medicine, live or have recently vacationed somewhere where you’ve come across one, or had a dream about octopus, make sure you have an art form to keep your creative forces pulsing, or that you regularly learn something new that intrigues you. But not in a hurried way. Make sure to take time to flow with your experience of these things, allowing their beauty and wonder to inspire you and leave their impression on you.

The largest octopus species of the 250 or so that exist, the giant Pacific octopus, can weigh as much as an adult person, yet can also pour its body through an escape passage the size of a peach, despite the fact that it has about 1600 suckers, many of them about 2.5 inches in diameter, though some are smaller. If all its suckers were that size, it would have a sucking capacity of 56,000 pounds. It’s hard to imagine that one of the fastest growing animals on the planet began life hatched from an egg the size of a grain of rice. It’s also kind of sad that such an alive and sentient being only lives 3 or 4 years at the most. Other species of octopus live even less than that.

Octopus’s true cleverness occurs when it is being hunted, for then it devises astonishing ways to avoid being caught. For example, even though it is actually color-blind, it can change to myriad colors before your very eyes, its emotions reflected in the changing colors of its skin. It can also camouflage itself to look like its surroundings – even look like rocks – and squeeze it’s way into small crevices or caves. Cephalopods can change color, pattern, and texture in seven-tenths of a second. A researcher once counted an octopus changing 177 times in one hour. In a 7-hour period, an octopus can change its skin patterns 1,000 times. They can achieve a good match with their background in an instant due to many layers of complex chromatophores, which contract and expand to change skin color and texture.

Octopuses are masters of change, and their Medicine can teach us that change can be a good thing. The Veined octopus has a neat way of avoiding predators by disguising its shape, making itself look like a different species. Though it has 8 legs like other octopuses, the veined octopus has evolved the trick of walking with 2 legs along the ocean floor. It rolls the sucker edge of the leg along the ground as if it were tiptoeing backward, while wrapping the other 6 legs tightly around its body. If octopus has come into your life in some way, you have the ability to move and shift anything that doesn’t look quite right to you. You can color your world beautiful!

And if changing its colors and textures isn’t working, our friend, the octopus will discharge a dark-colored, ink-like fluid, which acts like a smokescreen so it can jet away backwards. The predator is then either distracted by the ink or enveloped in it. The ink also contains chemicals that may paralyze the sense of smell of the pursuer. And since they can also squeeze into and out of tight places, the ability to get out of tight situations is a characteristic of those with Octopus Medicine. However, isn’t it far better not to get into slimey situations in the first place, rather than having to use your intelligence to wiggle your way out of trouble? Also, we should remember that obfuscating the truth will not ultimately serve anyone’s best interests. Muddy waters only make a situation less clear and less easy to understand.

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 22 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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