Spotted Hyena and I have a relationship. I wouldn’t say we are very close. More like an “oh hey, I was in the area and thought I’d drop by for some chit-chat” type of relationship. Spotted Hyena’s greatest lesson for me was nudging me in the right direction for finding my therioside. Something about her felt familiar and her energy matched mine in some ways that Grey Wolf, my lifelong mentor, did not. She was quick to dodge any latching on I might do, batting away any rushed jumps to conclusions that I’d made a mistake on identifying my inner-beastie and had been a hyena all along.
“Oh, we do have a bit of a kinship,” she said with a smile that was friendly and crafty at the same time, “But you are not mine. We’ll talk when you’ve figured it out.”
Then came a website with the statement: “Dire wolves most likely filled a niche similar to today’s spotted hyenas.” Aha! True to her word, Hyena dropped by to talk about this revelation and how her way of living often seems “right” to me. She’s actually older than Dire Wolf and the fact that she is both more ancient then he and yet still extant makes her perspective fascinating to me. She chuckles and reminds, “Honey, my tribe mastered this Game long before doggies entered the picture. We were so good at it that lions had to give up solitary life just to compete!” She is sure of herself, tough, and doesn’t give two damns if you love her or not.
When Ravenari posted her wondrously long lists of totemic keywords on Wildspeak.com, I of course immediately clicked on Spotted Hyena. I’ve quoted it below and bolded the lessons that I have also encountered most strongly with her.
” The healing power of laughter, seeking to find many ways to communicate with others, sharing your knowledge freely, endings, the end of a difficult or positive period, trusting your instincts, trickster energy, an ability to hurt with words, watch what you say, attracting people like you, being very adept at groupwork and collaborative projects.”
Hyena does teach about laughter, but it isn’t the warmest teaching in the world. Those maniacal cackles and whoops are rarely about joy. They are warnings, rallying calls, and a way to relieve stress. They are also a form of psychological warfare. Hyena laughter reminds you that sometimes you have to go a little crazy to keep your sanity. Sometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry. Laughing through pain and fear may sound ugly to others, but sometimes it is a way to build strength and a way to relieve pressure that would otherwise make you collapse. If anyone can teach you how to put on a “shit eating grin”, it is Spotted Hyena.
Instincts and Trickery
Kali. Hecate. Lilith. The Mother Who Destroys. Crone. Sorceress. Witch.
Spotted Hyena shares the shadowy current of archetypal energy with these entities and symbols of darker female power. She knows when to nurture, but she isn’t afraid to be cruel. There can be sweet tenderness among the hyena clan, but there can also be viciousness and murder. It is not uncommon for one of the first actions of a young hyena’s life to be siblicide. Spotted hyenas also defy what many people consider sexual and gender norms. Females rule the clan, are larger and more aggressive than males, and even have a large psuedo-phallus. Ritualized sexual behavior starts at an early age, with mounting and genital licking being daily events.
Because of their unusual physiology and the difficulty of telling males from females, hyenas often became symbolic of homosexuality and transgenderedism and were hated and vilified by those who also demonized these populations of humanity. The matriarchal nature of hyena clans also brought them infamy among some societies that felt that strong women were devilish or dangerous. Spotted Hyena is not a totem that one should seek if you are not comfortable with or do not accept diversity in gender roles and sexual orientation. She can be a dangerous being if you try to tame her or change her, and she does not stand for those who try to force others to change their essential natures.
Spotted Hyena is deeply instinctual. To work with her you have to be willing to accept all of her. You have to be willing to be made uncomfortable at times as she has a tendency to dive into the shadowy realms of your soul and drag back things you tried to hide or forget. She is unflinching, unashamed, and if she doesn’t respect you, sometimes she is untrustworthy. But for those who can stand up to her tests, those who can look at the fetid, rotten truths she sometimes drags in front of you and laugh instead of run, she can be one of the most loyal and supportive of guides you will ever meet.
She isn’t evil…no totem is evil in the human understanding of the word. But she is brutal in her honesty, challenging, and easily misunderstood. And she has somewhat earned her reputation as being a creature of sorcery and curses.
This is probably the lesson Spotted Hyena works with me the most often, and the one that most overlaps with some of Dire Wolf’s teachings. Spotted Hyena knows the impact of sounds and vocalizations. She knows how to intimidate and comfort with sound. She knows how to bluff, and she knows when to back up her bluffs. Spotted Hyena has often whispered in my ear as I’ve considered what I should say in a given situation but am at a loss for words. If I want to comfort a friend without smothering them, Spotted Hyena sometimes tells me how to craft my words just so. If I am trying to get an adversarial person to back off, again Hyena can guide me towards just the right words that will put that person in check and make them think twice about trying to spar with me. And on the very rare occasions that I want to destroy a person with words, well Hyena and I bare our fangs and attack the nearest weak spot we find. Biting words indeed.
I do realize that what I have just written could make some think that Spotted Hyena is a horrid and mean totem. I don’t see her that way at all. On the contrary, I have seen her gentle, playful, loyal, and caring side. She isn’t all “blood and guts in the dark night”. But I won’t lie about her or try to soften her image. Hyena wouldn’t want that.
Hyena-work isn’t for everyone as it can be harsh and requires just a touch of madness.
But some people will hear the laughter in the hot African night…and can’t help giving a little chuckle in return.