animal totems, Empowerment, Nature, Shamanism

Showing Up, Being Seen, and Commanding Respect: Lessons from Skunk

I had a dream recently that I walked out of my house to find a dead skunk lying by the front doorstep. It was disturbing. I felt sad for the little critter, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t thrilled about having to deal with his odiferous corpse, either.

I’ve never even seen a skunk in the wild, despite spending my youth on hiking trails in the southern Appalachian mountains. Why one would appear in my dream was very puzzling indeed. When something odd like that emerges out of the subconscious, there’s always a reason. So, I dive into the mystery, trying to unravel the deeper message.

Animal totems are rarely what you expect. I know everyone wants bear, hawk, buffalo, and eagle. (They’re probably overworked and underpaid). But the ones that have taught me the most were not so powerful and iconic. They’re usually a bit quirky, they show up randomly, and they may or may not be an animal that I’d want to encounter.


Skunks are awfully cute, but I’d give one plenty of space. They can spray from 10 feet away with perfect accuracy. That subtle but highly effective defense mechanism is part of what skunk teaches as a totem. They don’t have to be big and loud to command respect and get noticed. They just carry that medicine naturally. There is even a sensual aspect to the skunk, as scent is linked with sexual desire. The stripes on the skunk’s back also symbolize the rising life force, or kundalini.

Since my skunk showed up deceased, I was subconsciously killing the messenger. I don’t want to deal with any of this right now. The timing isn’t good! It’s never good! But as I was saying to a girlfriend this morning, Spirit doesn’t care about what else is going on in your life. Lessons arrive when they need to arrive, and you can run (which never works) or you can allow yourself to be schooled.

I’m getting thoroughly schooled on showing up, being more visible, and not dimming my shine to make others feel comfortable. It’s an area of my life that I’ve tiptoed around since grade school.

I’ve never been the type who wanted to get noticed, because it just didn’t seem to go very well when I was younger. When boys noticed me, it usually led to some form of teasing, sexual harassment, and in the worst case, sexual assault. When girls noticed me, I often became the target of their gossip or bullying. I internalized the belief that it’s better to not get noticed and blend into the walls if at all possible. That didn’t feel genuine and true to my nature, but it felt safer, at least for a while. It took a long time to establish firm boundaries and stand in my power, even when others were being really difficult and projecting their own insecurities. Like any skill, it gets continually tested and refined as I age.   

But I still find myself squaring off with that old belief at times. I still catch myself wanting to hide every time I second guess myself as a writer, every time I doubt my ability to blaze my own path in the world, and every time I think I’m going to be “too much” for some people.


The message skunk brings is that people are going to notice anyway, like it or not. It’s what you carry. It’s who you are, and it’s totally okay, because you ultimately get to decide how they notice and how close they can be. You get to decide what kind of imprint you want to leave, and however they take it is their business, not yours. Just keep doing your thing, be your best self, and never, ever try to cage your untamed heart.

Andrews, Ted. Animal-Speak: the Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small. Llewellyn Publications, 2006.

4 thoughts on “Showing Up, Being Seen, and Commanding Respect: Lessons from Skunk”

  1. I love this 🙂 animals come to me with messages a lot too. I always know it’s Dragonfly or Cat because he appears multiple times. It’s like the universe is tapping me on the head several times saying “Hey!” 😏 pay attention.

  2. I relate to never wanting to be noticed, fearing ridicule. It took years to step up and take pleasure in being recognized as a writer, for instance. Would like to have those years back.
    Skunks are pretty.

  3. I love this: “I’m getting thoroughly schooled on showing up, being more visible, and not dimming my shine to make others feel comfortable. It’s an area of my life that I’ve tiptoed around since grade school.” I love it because I felt it as I read it. It was almost as if it was written for me. Thank you.

  4. I have always loved skunks since I was a little kid, despite all the bad rep they get. They like to follow me around too, for some reason. We actually have three of them living on the property somewhere (probably under our deck); one of them is a baby. (Sadly, I had to bury one just the other day; I think she was killed by a dog. Your dream reminded me of this.) I have found that as long as you don’t scare them and you respect their space, they won’t spray, and despite all the skunks I’ve encountered in my neighborhood at twilight, I have yet to make any of them spray me. It’s impressive that such a cute and non-threatening little beastie can command such anxiety and respect from human beings.

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