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Animal Totems and Symbolism

The Penguin


The Penguin as symbol:

Fatherhood; understanding of feminine energy; waking dreams; astral projection; patience; endurance; lucid dreaming; teaches grace in emotions and actions; paying attention to dreams, thoughts and ideals; Fasting. Sacrifice. Abdication. Self-discipline. Self-mastery. Self-maintenance. Territory. Aesthetic Appearance. Water Mastery. Air Mastery. Uncommon Grace. Earth Resistance. Primal Heartbeat. Self-Confidence. Specialization. Adaptation. Dreams. Slipping Between Worlds. Purpose. Determination. Etiquette. Black and White.

Pos: Paternal, masculine, feminine, patient, enduring, polite

Neg: Territorial, poor eyesight, rude, serious, conflicted

Primary Element: Water

Secondary Element: Air

The penguin--astral projection and self-discipline

The Penguin as totem:

The well-mannered penguin, with poor to no binocular vision depending on species, addresses threats by looking from the side, with a turned head.  This typical “prey” attribute is somewhat misleading, as the penguin is also a hunter; but he sees much better in the water than he does on the land, and is more well-camouflaged in the water.  His dark back means that he blends with the water when hunted from above, by birds of prey, but his white underbelly means that he blends with the lighter top of the water if hunted from below, as by sea lions.  With poor vision and a poor sense of smell, the many unique and fascinating evolutionary adaptations of penguins are quite necessary.  It is not uncommon for penguin people to have poor vision, but they make up for it by being very talented in other areas—swimming, being at home in the water, being very dexterous and sociable, and often being very successful in business and society.  It is usual for penguin people—especially as they grow older—to be very popular with other people.


Penguin cannot fly, but he is a very talented aquatic animal.  Some of the most important characteristics of the penguin as totem and penguin people, aside from this aquatic deftness, are their social and family abilities and their politeness and good manners.  They teach proper behavior and consideration to others in social and family situations.  Even a brief study or reading of the penguins social organization—regardless of type of penguin—demonstrates the importance of these attributes to those who hold penguin medicine.  In fact, most penguins and most penguin people cannot stand to be alone.  This can be as much a strength as a weakness, as in their desire to be around others they are more likely to be kind to others to encourage company.


The penguin’s bolt-upright manner and orderly way of doing things, especially while on land, denotes more than just manners and “properness,” however:  Penguins are very focused and orderly in many ways.  Such attributes abound in many penguin people, though sometimes the abilities take time to develop throughout childhood.  Despite the penguin’s formality of movement on land, however, he is quite graceful and fluid in the water.  This often translates to adeptness at being a master swimmer (or having the potential to be) for the person with penguin as a totem.  The penguin’s water acrobatics are highly impressive, from diving into the water to diving out and landing firmly on his feet.  On land the penguin has adapted his agility to be useful as well—many people have heard of or seen pictures of the tobogganing penguin.  This technique, in which the penguin also proves his extreme agility, allows penguins to travel greater distances and move with speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.


Many penguins, especially mating pairs, bow to each other before leaving the nest, often walking about the area in a show of respect.  The penguin person tends to be formal, and it is a great coincidence that the penguin, in all his formality, appears to be dressed for a formal dinner party!  Such formality and care is passed on to those who hold the totem, such that they tend to be very careful about their appearance and often mix in the circles of upper classes (many go into such careers as will allow them to mix in such social circles).  One of the most important life lessons for the person who holds penguin as a totem is to develop self-confidence, an attribute the penguin is well-equipped to teach.  Once this ability is developed, penguin people make great leaders and tend to be very outgoing and confident in any social situation.  Penguins also tend to mate for life, with complex courtship rituals.


The importance of water to the penguin means that those with the penguin totem will also do well to focus on astral projection, meditation, and possibly out of body experiences.  While such tasks are difficult for anyone unaccustomed to them, the person who holds this totem will usually prove more adept at moving from one dimension to another fluidly.  Further, penguin people tend to dream vividly, and should play close attention to dreams, as they are more likely than most to receive messages through dreams and meditation.  The penguin, as symbolized by its famous black and white colors, is gifted in understanding the hidden and unknown (symbolized by black) as well as the awakened consciousness (symbolized by white).  This rare combination leads to balance in the penguin, but is difficult to achieve even for those who hold this totem.  In fact, the natural potential and the need to balance these nearly opposing realities cause many unbalanced penguin people to suffer from bipolar disorder or similar problems.  Focusing on the penguin can help them achieve the balance they need.


Penguins range from the southern hemisphere (where most of them are located) to the warmer coasts of Africa and South America—adapted to their life by having flippers, specialized feathers, and a thick layer of blubber to regulate their body temperature in cold waters.  They swim at 10 knots and can reach speeds of up to 20 knots, porpoising out of the water for breath during swimming, but also adapted to dive deeply and be able to stay under water for long periods.  Penguins are very territorial, and penguin people tend to be home-bodies—if they travel, they usually feel better if they can return to a permanent home.  Adversely, many people with this totem can get caught up in the need for routine, if they are not careful.

Penguins and people who carry their totem may have an aversion to the element of earth, or resist it in other ways.  People who resist earth sometimes feel less comfortable on land, or when muddy, and often even focus on water- or air-bound careers, such as flight or sailing/boats.  This problem is especially prevalent in the early lives of penguin people, as these same people (if they are able to achieve balance) will later understand the importance of earth and its groundedness—earth is part of their lives, and a very important part, as it is for the penguin (even if he is more comfortable in the water).  The balance for penguin people is seldom overly difficult to achieve due to the desire of people with this totem to return to their homes and their families.  Even then, however, people with the penguin as a permanent totem excel at water and air (breathing) based meditation, and feel comfortable with the ocean and seas.  Penguins and penguin people are experts at adaptation, if only they allow themselves to admit change into their lives.


Penguin’s ability to be graceful, even on land when it appears clumsy (and is graceful in attitude and behavior) teaches the penguin person to have amazing self-confidence.  Not only that, but the penguin excels at knowing what is within its capabilities (or territory), and what is “out-of-bounds.”  The penguin can teach those with this totem to find their ideal place in life, to understand their own graces and gifts, and thus be more self-confident.


All of this is not to say that penguin people are not aggressive; they often are very aggressive, especially when they know they are being wronged by someone.  Their reaction, once they have mastered the penguin medicine, however, is to react prudently, rather than to lose their tempers with other people who are wronging them.  Before full development/maturity has been reached, penguin people exhibit great tempers and sometimes act rashly.  The penguin can aid those with this totem to achieve a balance and understanding that allows them to deal much more reasonably with such aggressiveness. 


One of the key words for the penguin person is sacrifice: penguins sacrifice for many loved ones, and in many ways: often this takes place through some physical disability or unusual appearance, which forces the penguin person to overcome.  Sometimes, the unique attribute that makes the penguin person a misfit in society is more related to attitude.  Either way, the ability to overcome such barriers defines the self-confidence that a penguin person will later develop.  Before these attitudes and balance are fully developed, however, penguin people can become bitter or begin to pity themselves.  While the penguin encourages sacrifice, one of his greatest (and most difficult) lessons is that sacrifice is needed—but can be overdone. 



Penguin lessons:

The penguin is a good animal to call upon to aid you in developing social abilities, “proper” attitudes and social behaviors, such as manners, and focus and organization.  If the penguin comes to you on its own, it may be trying to teach any of the above or it may be trying to teach you to respect others.  Respect of others is highly important to the penguin and its entire social life.  The penguin may also be trying to urge self-confidence on you, though he usually appears for other reasons in conjunction with this.


The penguin also may be urging you to pay closer attention to your dreams, or to meditate, in order to aid you in improving your knowledge of your own mind and body—a vital aid in getting through certain rough spots in life.  Another penguin lesson is the importance of monogamy and life-long relationships for the people to whom they appear.


If penguin appears in your life, he is often trying to alert you to major upcoming change and transformation in your life.  The change signaled by penguin is almost always permanent—something that will change your very outlook on life, but can also awaken your consciousness and help you balance multiple parts of your identity.


The penguin teaches sacrifice for others, especially for one’s children—penguins will often fast in order to assure that their babies get sufficient food.  Another important lesson of the penguin is building self-esteem, especially through self-maintenance and attention to personal appearance and hygiene.


Penguin also teaches us to simplify the decision-making process—to see things in a simpler light, to eliminate the extra factors (or less important ones) and therefore be more well-equipped to make a decision.  The penguin will often appear in a person’s life to give them a sense of purpose and direction when they are feeling lost; penguins do all things with purpose, and attempt to pass this ability on to people whom they visit.  When more developed, penguins fail to find the time to feel sorry for themselves, and can actually gain increasing self-confidence through their sacrifice to other people.



Penguin as shadow totem:

Those who irrationally fear the penguin often fear self-discipline and self-control.  They tend to be procrastinators, and would prefer to leave things as be and be lazy.  When forced to confront these realities about their personality, they are more comfortable ignoring the warnings. 


Furthermore, many people who hold penguin as a shadow totem fear gracefulness, or their own inability to be graceful, or fear self-acceptance (usually they have disliked themselves for so long that they fear changing such a fundamental attribute of their own personality).  Often they perceive something fundamentally wrong with themselves, and refuse to see how this attribute could be positive; often, however, they insist on focusing on some trait as a negative because of the attention they receive for it, and fear that if they can begin to see it as a positive part of their lives, that such attention will be diminished.  They are often people who feel comfortable feeling sorry for themselves for their natural sacrifice.  Penguins encourage seeing such supposed “faults” as strong points, and therefore clash inherently with the person who holds this shadow totem.


Finally, some people have the penguin as a shadow totem because they fear the intangible, and fear their dreams.  The penguin endeavors to teach them to accept and feel comfortable with their dreams.  Many people who have penguin as a shadow totem are especially un-spiritual, and feel much more comfortable believing that there are no worlds or realities beyond the immediately tangible.  Penguin seeks to show them otherwise.