Totem pole


In a Human Development class I took at Weber State University, my professor conducted a unique experiment on my class members using hypnotherapy.  At that time, I was unaware of this communicative medium to a higher power within oneself; however since that time, I have learned that hypnotherapy is:  A form of psychotherapy used to create subconscious change in a patient in the form of new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviours or feelings. It is undertaken with a subject in hypnosis.  How did he go about hypnotizing my class without our consent?

It began as a simple meditative practice.   We students were asked to close our eyes while my professor began taking us down a mental journey.  He took us to places where we found ourselves interacting with others while seeing new things and people along this path.  It was really like taking a walk down a windy cobblestone path all the while encountering experiences and people along the way.  Nearing the end of our long journey, we came upon an object that was completely unique and individual to us.

After the hypnotherapy session, my professor admitted the purpose behind the hypnosis. He said the object we saw at the end of our journey is a symbol of how we see ourselves or how we perceive the way others see us:  I saw a totem pole.

 Totem poles are sculptures carved from large trees, such as the Western Red Cedar. In North America, totem poles are part of the cultures of many indigenous peoples of Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Totem poles serve many purposes beyond their beauty, and their meanings are as varied as the cultures that make them.

Some totem poles represent stories or important events. On these poles, each figure on the totem represents part of a story. These totems are used as a way to record the history and legends of the tribes.

Figures on a totem pole are not gods to be worshipped. Instead, they represent traits and characteristics each clan or story embodies.

There are many other types of totem poles. Genealogy poles are erected in front of a family’s home to represent the owner’s clan or social status.Memorial poles are carved in honor of a deceased clan member. Mortuarypoles are also raised in honor of the dead and include a small compartment for the ashes of the deceased.

Another interesting type of totem pole is the shame pole. Shame poles are carved to embarrass and ridicule someone who has done something wrong.

Shame poles are taken down once the person has made amends. A famous shame pole erected in Cordova, Alaska, included the face of an oil company businessman. It is said to represent the unpaid debt the oil company owes for damages caused by the oil spill in Valdez, Alaska.

Colors used to paint totem poles were limited. Artists relied on natural pigments. Black was the most common, made by grinding soot, graphite or charcoal. Red came from red ochre, a clay-like material. Blue-green was made from copper sulfide.

Common figures found on totem poles include the raven (a symbol of The Creator), the eagle (representing peace and friendship), the killer whale (a symbol of strength), the thunderbird, the beaver, the bear, the wolf and the frog.

Though the totem pole has been a part of history for decades, totem poles are still created today. Native carvers in the Northwest continue to carve totems as symbols of their cultural pride and clan kinship.

Why did I see a totem pole?  This was truly the most random event.  I had never learned much about totem poles or what they represented.  How would I have known that what I saw was a representation of how I perceived myself, or that I was a “walking story, representing traits and characteristics that I have inherited from my ancestors to pass down to my posterity”?  Since this time however, and because of this experience, I have longed to learn more about who I am and my ancestral line…otherwise known as family history.

To my surprise, I learned I am the 5th great-granddaughter of a Sioux Indian on my father’s mother’s side. I suppose it shouldn’t be much of a surprise since my family on that side would call ourselves the “Modena Indians”, referring to a small Southern Utah railroad town my great-grandparents lived in during the early 1900’s.   After coming out from Missouri and Kansas on their honeymoon to homestead the wild-wild west in Hamblin Valley, my great-grandparents moved to Modena, Utah to run the post office (currently a ghost town).  I actually thought they were always kidding when they spoke of our Tribal association as the “wild” comanche bunch.

What does this mean to me?  The answer is found within the prophet Lehi’s vision of the olive tree also given to his son Nephi, and this is his account while speaking to his brethren, Laman and Lemuel:

1 Nephi 15: 12 Behold, I say unto you, that the house of Israel was compared unto an olive tree, by the Spirit of the Lord which was in our father; and behold are we not broken off from the house of Israel, and are we not a branch of the house of Israel?

 13 And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after theMessiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed—

 14 And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.

 15 And then at that day will they not rejoice and give praise unto their everlasting God, their rock and their salvation? Yea, at that day, will they not receive the strength and nourishment from the true vine? Yea, will they not come unto the true fold of God?

 16 Behold, I say unto you, Yea; they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive tree, into the true olive tree.

The entire Book of Mormon gives an account of Lehi’s posterity:  These are the indigenous people of America.  The Lord revealed to Lehi and his son Nephi, the first Jews to live on American soil, the future of their posterity….and that is me!!!

I am like a totem pole or “walking story” because I am a part of the gathering of Israel and the grafting of the “wild” branches into the olive tree.  I, like Joseph Smith. am a descendant of Lehi’s branch or the indigenous people of America.  Also, I am a Gentile whose responsibility it is to share the gospel with the world and stand out as a symbol of the clan of Jesus Christ.  I have been instrumental in taking His message of the restored gospel to the ancient inhabitants of America as I served 18 months in Honduras C.A. and as I live my life daily.  Of the House of Israel By Daniel H. Ludlow

The totem pole contains layers or generations building upon the shoulder’s of forefathers all the while ascending heavenward together as one.  This is how I saw myself.  This is my purpose in life.  This is the meaning of life for all of us.  How grateful I am for the wisdom of my professor that day 30 years ago, that he helped me define my journey while diving deep inside my soul to see who I really am, what my purpose on earth is and the importance of knowing my family history and building upon it.    

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