Beckoning, Boundaries & a Harsh Lesson


Beckoning is one of my favorite games. It is sort of like hide and seek, but much more fun. I didn’t learn how to play it until I was a parent with young children. When we lived on Osage Avenue and had a kind of “family compound”; two houses with connected yards, two of my sisters and their sons and my three daughters, we would play often. Our house was nearly perfect for this game with two staircases and an indoor trampoline for “jail”. One person is “it”. They close their eyes and count slowly to 20. Everyone else goes and hides- sort of… You could hide more or less permanently and wait to be found, but its more fun to just hide, then run away and hide again as the person who is “it” tries to “catch” people. You are caught if the person who is it sees you and calls your name. If that happens you must go to jail. If you are seen but called someone else’s name you do not go to jail. Anyone can free those in jail by beckoning them, e.g. sneaking up on the jail while the “it” is searching/chasing others and beckoning with a finger. In desperate circumstances you could even do a suicide beckoning, where you are seen by the jailor, but beckon all the prisoners before your name is called!  The jailor must count to 10 before catching anyone who was beckoned. The game/round ends when the jailor has caught everyone, or gives up. Its pretty hard to catch everyone, even so, there is never a lack of players wanting to give it a try!

I am nearly 64 years old and I still like to play, if I get a chance! I think this is partly why I get so into chasing the groundhog/s out of the burrows near our house to the borrows up the pasture. It has some of the flavor of playing beckoning! Unfortunately, this endeavor recently took a deadly turn alf events. When I noticed that the groundhog had returned to the burrow under the forsythia bushes once again, I tried the water treatment again, but did not observe if ki* had left. My husband suggested that I bait the humane trap and when we caught ki, we could just take ki and release it up in the pasture. I did and came back to check a few hours later. One of the apple halves was gone but the closing mechanism was not tripped. That should have given me pause. I checked the trap, unset it and set it again. We were leaving shortly to go into Philly and I would not be back until the next day- but I thought that I probably would catch anything, and if I did it wouldn’t be until the next morning. When I returned, there was a squirrel in the trap and it was dead! I was shocked and dismayed; I had not meant to catch a squirrel at all. Ki did not appear to be injured.  I tried to get some information on line about why ki had died. The only thing I found was a warning on one sight to not let a squirrel stay in a trap for longer than an hour or ki will die, but no info about why.

I am so sorry to have learned this lesson at the poor squirrel’s expense! Now I know that even humane traps can kill, so I will not be trapping anything else. I am, however, still engaged in this game or dance, if you will, with the groundhog. I feel sure there is a way to live near each other 9but not too near) without harm or encroachment.  The groundhog can live in the upper pasture where there is plenty for it to eat, and we can have our garden and our vegetables that we plant for ourselves. Is that so much to ask?

In the mean time, I have reconnected with the spiritual practice of animal medicine, or animal meanings from the Native American tradition. I first got interested in this about 15 years ago when I kept seeing foxes in West Philly! Up until then, I had seen  only one wild fox in my entire life! What beautiful creatures they are! A friend of mine recently loaned me his pack of animal totem cards and the book to go with them. Since I was engaged on such a level with the groundhog I was curious about groundhog medicine/meaning. But there  is no card for groundhogs in this pack or book. I went on the internet, but my first attempt produced nothing, in fact, one site even stated that groundhogs/woodchucks were not even mentioned in Native American lore or totems! I found that disappointing and odd since kin*are a native species.

Yesterday morning, upon seeing the groundhog out and grazing in the upper pasture, and noting my pleasure about that, I decided to try again. This time I found lots of information and I realized that I have a great affinity with this animal and much to learn from it.  Perhaps ki has even replaced fox as my primary animal totem, at least for this time in my life. Below is one description:

“A very difficult and powerful totem to have, 
Groundhog is the symbol of opening fully to the dreamtime. 
Of exploring altered states of consciousness more deeply and fully. 
Dreams will have great significance.
Lessons associated with death, dying and revelations about its processes will begin to surface. Groundhog can teach its people metabolic control. 
How to go into the great unconscious without harm.
People with a Groundhog totem need to have definite
 boundaries in their life and let those around them know those boundaries.
Groundhog’s power is strongest in Winter and two years is an important time period. 
Two years of intensive studying might be required to achieve 
true trances or alter states of consciousness.
This is often the totem of Shamans and Mystics.”

One thing that spoke to me right away is BOUNDARIES. I have needed to work on my own boundaries in the past, and even though I have made progress, its clear  there is more work to be done. I welcome this new teacher into my life and will continue my game of beckoning, but now with new found respect for this animal and its medicine.

*ki and kin are based on Robin Wall Kimmerer’s writing, asking us to stop using “it” for living beings. Ki comes from an Anishinabe word for other than human beings and she suggests kin be the plural, reminding us of our kinship with all life.


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