I sometimes wonder where we humans ever come up with our ideas. That we can look at a set of circumstances, or a reality, and then posit something completely opposite to what the facts suggest is one of our biggest deficiencies as a species. It's not even as if conclusions are reached out of ignorance – which could at least be an excuse – for all the evidence is usually right there for any and all to see.
In some ways it's a rather extreme form of denial; a willful blindness that allows people to ignore reality in order that their vision of the world remains intact. One of the worst examples of this that I have come across is the manner so many new age folk have taken to viewing the natural world. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, they have created some Pollyanna world where everything is bright and beautiful and all live in harmony in bucolic splendour.
They have their books to tell them how to go about finding their animal totem to act as their guide. They will learn how the animal's attributes and characteristic behaviour will be their clues to leading a better life. A person who has a beaver for a totem, for instance, is industrious but needs to watch that they don't create bottlenecks of their emotions by damming them up.
Since they are an aquatic mammal that can stay submerged for great lengths of time there is some sort of lesson to be learned from that, just like there is from the big flat tail and the ability to chew through wood. Of course the fact that they wouldn't recognize a beaver in the wild state if it walked up and shook their hand is far less relevant than the fact that going in and out of the beaver lodge is similar to traveling the birth canal repeatedly.
Of course they need to learn how to invoke the "teachings" of the beaver in order to fully integrate its important attributes. Don't worry if you are at a loss as to how to go about doing this, the book will explain all about creating a ritual to fully realize the potential of the beaver within you.
Now, aside from the cultural appropriation of vision questing from the Native Americans, without the bother of actually questing, it's all pretty much harmless. The real problems start to arise when they start thinking of nature as something beautiful and idyllic — complete with images of happy nature spirits frolicking in fields of wildflowers surrounded by happy birch maidens and gentle beech men.
The problem with that image is that it's so far removed from even the reality of the old stories they think they are worshiping as to be ridiculous. The old nature gods were untamed and fierce as befits things that are far beyond our control. Ask anyone who's ever lived through a hurricane or even a tropical storm how sweet and gentle nature can be.
That is the tip of the iceberg as far as their misconceptions and silliness goes. They don't see why animals like the coyote, lynx, and wolf have to hunt and kill that lovely wide-eyed faun or eat the bird that was just talking to them. They've sentimentalized nature to the point where it's nothing but a Walt Disney animation.
While that may not sound like such a bad thing, the problem is that they have developed expectations about how the natural world should be that are no different from the way those who believe that nature is man's to exploit. For all their supposed spiritual connection to the natural world they are no more connected to the way things really are then anyone else.
Of all the species in the world, the only one whose extinction would have no effect on the natural order of things is man. We do not exist inside any of the food chains or do anything but take from the planet for our own personal gain without giving back. As it stands now, if man were to cease to exist at this very moment it would take probably a few thousand years for the world to completely heal from our occupation.
Now while that may sound like quite a length of time, in relation to how the long the earth has existed it's a mere blink of the eye. In spite of everything we are still of very little importance in the bigger scheme of things. The only ways in which we make impressions on the planet is the extent of the damage we inflict, and thankfully as soon as we're gone it will begin to recover.
All through our history we have done nothing but try and bend nature to our will, with generally little or no success. Look down at the sidewalk you walk along in your city and you can usually see grasses or small plants growing up between the cracks. It would take very little time for nature to reclaim everything that we've built.
We do things like try and change the flow of the Mississippi river and build farmland in the areas that we've supposedly drained. But the river remembers where it ran for years and years before men showed up and it periodically attempts to follow its old path. The ensuing flooding is called a tragedy and humans rail against nature and her cruelty.
But there's nothing cruel about her. She only does what she would do whether we were here or not. Any time that we have ever pitted ourselves against her or tried to coerce her into doing something that serves our purposes we end up suffering for it in the long run. The fault lies not with nature in those instances but with us for thinking that we are able to work against her or even control her.
Anybody who believes that nature is here to serve us in some way, or that the natural world gives us any consideration is at best misguided. You can have as many totem animals as you want but you are no more harnessing the power of the natural world for your benefit than anybody else.
We can only lose when we come into conflict with nature. If we do end up somehow subduing her, the cost is so great that the area we have exerted our "dominion" over will become uninhabitable by any life form within a very short period of time. In all other cases, the chances are that what we have built will either be swallowed, washed away, or somehow or other destroyed.