Seventeen-year-old Alexis Forsyth is hardly looking forward to moving from her home in California to Kent, Washington, to live with her older cousin, Liam. She never would have dreamed that there, she would uncover a secret over a hundred years old. But when she meets the skinwalker and begins to learn about the dangers of his world, she wonders if she could ever bring herself to go back to a life without him. For a forbidden friendship – and maybe something more – Alexis “Alex” Forsyth and Cougar “Coug” MountainScreamer (named for the animal spirit which possesses him) must run and fight against those that would rather see them dead than together.
Please welcome Enita Meadows!
By Enita Meadows
In my debut novel, The Messenger, there’s talk left and right of skinwalkers and animal totems. The native animals of the Americas play a vital part in the YA paranormal romance, but what does all of it really mean?
Even here in the Puget Sound (that’s the Seattle area for people who aren’t familiar) of Washington State where I was raised–and where The Messenger takes place–the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of the word “totem” is–wouldn’t you guess it–totem poles! What’s less common knowledge is totems aren’t simply a part of tribal wood carving; they’re the symbols depicted on the carvings, and more along the lines of universal spiritual guides. In plain English, an animal totem is quite the same as the more understood term, spirit animal.
In The Messenger, each person under the skinwalker curse is “possessed” by a single animal spirit, granting them huge – and sometimes uncontrollable – power. There’s just one totem per person, giving them their shapeshifting (among other) abilities.
In Native tradition, however, each person is connected to the essence of not just one, but several animals. Some stay from before birth till after death. Others come and go as their wisdom is needed and learned. On the most spiritual level, they are guides connected to a person’s core existence. On a lower, more skeptical level, they are simply symbols, but symbols able to teach powerful lessons regardless of the beliefs of the person who learns from them.
Each animal has a special meaning and “medicine” (think of a totem’s medicine as the lessons it teaches). The mountain lion, the totem corresponding to the main skinwalker character in the novel, is known as “the messenger,” between two worlds, and is connected to coming into noble leadership. The grizzly bear, hosted in the story by a highly-opinionated and headstrong skinwalker named Dante Beran, is connected to the care and protection of others, and even more so to the power of dreams. The golden eagle is the guiding spirit of a mute Aztec boy, and representative of illuminating that which is unseen and rising above expectations. Those are only three of the animal totems included in The Messenger, but in the real world there is a higher meaning to any animal you can think of.
During my research for The Messenger (and there was a lot of it!) I found my connections to the badger (the storyteller) the beaver (the dream-builder) and most of all the Bengal tiger (the devoted), among others. That’s right, I said the tiger, and even narrowed it down to a specific subspecies! Totems, I promise, are not restricted to the animals of the western hemisphere!
So, how do you find out your spirit animals or totems? Those who believe strongly in their existence as spiritual beings recommend meditation (sit in a quiet environment and clear your mind. It’s not as strange as you think!) or going to a medium who can identify them for you. Meditation introduced me to the beaver as a totem, but I found it easier to simply study biases. Everyone has a favorite animal, but sometimes there is an actual connection there that may have you mistaking your totem for your “favorite.” Think about why your favorite animal is your favorite. There was definitely a reason you were drawn to it, and it may be deeper than you think!
In The Messenger, the animal totems hold a terrible hundred-year grudge, which they pass on to the people they guide. In reality – or in Native American tradition, rather, for the skeptics – animal totems are there to teach and guide us. There is something to be learned from every creature and every symbol. The Messenger will introduce you to five of those totems – the mountain lion, the grizzly bear, the raven, the American badger, and the golden eagle – and tell the story of those they guide coming to realize the roles in the world their misguided spirit animals embody. The Messenger by Enita Meadows is vailable from MuseItUp Publishing starting July 20th, 2012.