The names Grey Owl, Morning Star and Crazy Horse have held a place of wonder in my mind and in my heart from a young age. I’ve pondered the nature of these names and of the practice behind it. I’ve also wondered about the meaning of clans and if they necessarily had ties to lineage. It would seem that as an adult walking into a culture that was never explained to me, my genuine curiosity is met with warmth and in time, I’m discovering the ways in which these practices hold meaning.
I was not fortunate enough to grow up in the tradition of my Cree ancestors, but I am trying to learn about their ways and find the wisdom in their customs, legends and beliefs. I was named in my late twenties and have only recently received my clan. How do a spirit name, a clan and a person interact?
The truth is, I’m finding out as I go. I have yet to fully understand what my name means, and I’ve even more to learn in regard to my clan.
What I do understand is that we are children of Sky and Earth. We are souls, who’re given a nature and a body. We have an essence that is both metaphysical and physical. We are gifted from our spiritual father and from our spiritual mother.
In my limited experience in bearing a spirit name, I understand it as a gift from tFather Sky. It’s the guiding principle in my life and in finding myself, despite all the noise. A name is given by an Elder (or a family member), which is used in ceremony, during teachings or when in alignment with my purpose, my true nature. The name is given when the bearer is ready for the responsibility it entails, as the bearer grows into the full meaning of the name and carries this medicine with them. A name chooses the bearer. It is given as a ceremony and must be feasted and honoured.
A clan, or dodem (i.e. totem is an adaptation of the original word), is a soul family. It helps the clan member understand his or her nature and his or her role in the collective. This isn’t a blood line, as far as I understand it. Traditionally, members of the same clan wouldn’t marry, even if they were not related. My clan, or dodem, is a gift from the Earth Mother. It’s the group that shares my life mission, my values, goals and skills. Clans are also revealed in ceremony and should be considered an honour and it’s a privilege to be “accepted” into a clan. The clan chooses us, much like the name.
A clan is not to be confused with astrology or with power or spirit animals. Power animals (or spirit animals) are guides or helpers that come into our life and journey with us either for a temporary period, to help us learn a lesson for example or stick with us for life. These are considered helpers or teachers, but are not your clan. Your clan is essentially what you’re made of, where you come from and that does not change.
Both clans and spirit names are very personal because they pertain to our truest selves.
There are many existing clans, depending on the beliefs and customs of the Nation to which one belongs. I asked a Cree Elder because my heritage is mostly Cree. There are far more than I could name here, but I have heard of Fish, Bear, Bird, Moose, Turtle, Wolf, Butterfly and Snake clans to name a few. A common approach when discovering your clan is to become familiar with the animal’s traits, qualities, habits and environments. This, in turn, helps us understand their medicine. What do they carry and what do they have to teach us about ourselves?
What About City Slickers?
In our contemporary world, finding your clan may mean something different to you. It may mean finding a group of friends who love and accept you for who you are. They support you in your life mission, when you are being authentically YOU. Your clan understands you because they are your kin on emotional and spiritual levels. Your clan acts as your support system. These are the people who share your values and your goals. They aren’t competing with you, but rather, are moving independently towards a shared vision and cheering you on.
Remember that First Nations do not marry into their clan, so it’s perfectly normal to find your clan as friends outside of your romantic relationships. Your clan’s place is that of your soul family, so if you have a complimentary relationship with your partner, that’s nothing to be concerned about.
I am fairly certain that my partner and I are not from the same clan, and for us, it means that our natures compliment each other. We share values and goals as well but we are not alike and that keeps things fresh. We also catch each other’s blind spots. Other clans can act as wonderful teachers.
I have met remarkable Moose Clan and Fish Clan Elders and one of my closest friends is Bear Clan. Because they differ from my nature, I learn from their personalities and perspectives.
Different Belief Systems
Whether you adhere to the spiritual concept of a soul family, in very real terms, or whether your belief system differs from this one, the importance of finding the people you most identify with will help you learn greatly about yourself. It will also provide tremendous support in being who you are and provide courage and inspiration. Your clan also offers safe haven and an environment to refuel. We may be born into families, but we all have clans, which may or may not be our physical families. This is something First Nations understood. We are given a physical family but we also have our heart-centred families – or rather, we find them and they find us.
I feel that I have gained so much from learning my clan. Many of my questions about myself were resolved instantly. Others will resolve over time and familiarity with the characteristics and values of my clan. I will study the characteristics of the emblem and meditate on its medicine.
Will you honour yourself by honouring your origins, and your clan?