August 12, 2021- Teenaged boys often, being at the cusp of manhood, walk with an air of indestructibility. Only those who have witnessed, or directly experienced, a horrific turn of events can allow themselves a measure of the realization that physical life has a limit. Even then, as with those who are conscripted by terrorists or by religious zealots, the reaction to the horrors witnessed and/or experienced entails some bravado, sallying forth in swagger, as if the young man alone can set things aright.
It is not just in battle that young men earn their key to the citadel of manhood. Traditional Sioux society sent boys on a Vision Quest, in which the man-to-be had to live alone in the wild, turning to the Great Spirit and absorbing the visions which were to be part of his journey, usually in the sacred Black Hills. Young Maasai men, in the Serengeti and nearby savannas of east Africa, likewise had to survive alone in the wild, for a prescribed period of time-facing, and preferably killing, a lion, a hyena, a leopard-with the highest honour going to one who slew a lion.
Among the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, from the coast of Washington state to southeast Alaska, the Eagle Totem crowned a village pole, as the symbol of one being pushed to the limit, to soar to heights far beyond what he had thought possible. Boys who voyaged into the wild ocean, or who ventured into the coastal mountains and forests-facing both the harshness of the climate and the most ferocious beasts- Grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves among them, could credit the spirit of the eagle for inspiring their achievements. The Eagle Totem carried with it the spirit of the chief, of the bravest of men. Thus, the eagle is found at the top of a totem pole. Thus, the eagle inspires the onlooker to reach higher, and to deny oneself no opportunity to achieve.
In our day, women, too, are rightfully inspired by the spirit of the eagle.