Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)- The Totem of Giving Thanks

Shamanworld.com has been in the web since the year 2000.  This new version has gone LIVE very recently, at the end of 2012.  Today, for our first post, we are focusing on Giving Thanks Day (Thanksgiving day), November 22, 2012.  Today we are all one month away from Winter Solstice 2012.  This is a date that so many have waited for.  One that speaks of Change,  Prophecy, and a Mayan Calendar of Days, but what does it all mean?

Who knows?! Yet.

However, to be in the NOW, American people can benefit by focusing on the Wild Turkey.  There is more to the story of Turkey than many Americans think.   This is true regarding all aspects of Thanksgiving.  It is not as the children’s school books said.  But now we are adults who are reconnecting with our sacred Earth ancestry.  As an Animist, a Shamana, a person of integrity, each must understand the history of this day, the Story of how ‘it came to be’, and that includes the story of the bird that has become the Totem of this national holiday.   The more we understand the true power, abundance, and intelligence of this bird, and realize that the Power of Turkey is far greater than the domesticated Turkeys that we have created,  the sooner these attributes are felt and demonstrated by the humans in this culture.

And so we share some Wild Turkey facts…

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is endemic to North America and evolved more than 11 million years ago.

The Aztecs honored the wild turkey – huexolotlin – with religious festivals twice a year, and believed turkeys to be a bird manifestation of Tezcatlipoca, a trickster god. Because of that spiritual connection, the feathers of turkeys were frequently used to adorn necklaces, jewelry and clothing. The Mayans revered and honored turkeys in a similar way.

(This image is a Mimbres bowl design)

Turkey, one of the most widely consumed birds worldwide, was domesticated by the ancient Mayans
more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.

The discovery of bones of a turkey from an ancient Mayan site in Guatemala provides evidence of domestication, a mark of civilization, and the earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the Maya world, according to University of Florida researchers.

The Mexican turkey is the ancestor of all domestic turkeys consumed in the world today and was Mesoamerica’s (extending from central Mexico to Belize and Guatemala) only indigenous domesticated animal.

The discovery of the turkey bones is significant because the Mayans did not use a lot of domesticated animals, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.  While they cultivated domesticated plants, most of their animal protein came mostly from wild resources, said Erin Thornton, research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the Florida campus, who led the study.

“The species originates from central Mexico, outside the Maya cultural area. This is the species the Europeans brought back with them to Europe – all domestic turkeys originated from Mexico,” Thornton added.

Turkeys served important roles for the Maya, including for food and sacrificial offerings. Their feathers, bones and other byproducts were often used to make medicines, musical instruments, personal adornments and tools. However, until this discovery (above), scientists assumed the Maya only used the native, wild ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) throughout the Preclassic to Classic period that ended in A.D. 1000.

More Facts…
Due to overhunting and deforestation
that eliminated wild turkeys’ habitat, these birds were nearly extinct in the 1930s. Today, there are more than 7 million wild turkeys and their range is spread throughout North America.

Wild turkeys have very powerful legs and can run at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. Their top speed in flight is 55 miles per hour. Domestic birds, on the other hand, are bred to be heavier so they provide more meat and therefore cannot fly.

These birds are omnivorous and will try many different foods. Most of their diet is grass and grain, but wild turkeys have a varied diet and will also eat insects, berries and small reptiles.

The average lifespan of a wild turkey is 3-5 years, and the oldest known wild turkey lived to be at least 13 years old. Domestic birds bred for food only live a few months.

Wild turkeys see in color and have excellent daytime vision that is three times better than a human’s eyesight and covers 270 degrees, but they have poor vision at night.

Wild turkeys were first domesticated in Mexico and then exported to Europe. European settlers brought domesticated turkeys back to the New World with them as colonists.

This article is a great synopsis of the grandness of the Wild Turkey.


For those people looking for a deeper connection to the Earth, this is a perfect day to honor the Spirit of the Great Giveaway Bird.  However, this isn’t the only day to honor the Turkey.

For those not who are not registered  members of any Tribe, Turkey is a perfect “New Tribe” animal to honor everyday and who’s feathers to use in ceremony.  Quynn Red Mountain, New Tribe shamanic practitioner and founder of The Institute for the Shamanic Arts in Tucson, AZ, has taken the Turkey feather as a sacred tool.  The photo is of Quynn with a part of a Turkey wing she found near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The following is from her book “Rhythms of Feather and Smoke“-

Everyone loves a feather, especially Animists who feel the call of Nature.  For many, finding a feather is taken as a positive sign, a good omen for success. Who doesn’t love that?!   People have always loved to display and use the beautiful feathers of our Bird Brothers and Sisters in our regalia, our ceremonies, and for healing tools.  They have been used as peace offerings, trade items and communication tools (between people of different cultures and languages, as well as between people and spirits) for thousands of years.  Today, however, there are people who would (and do) kill a bird for money and sport.  So there are rules in place to protect our feathered friends.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.

For those Animists of the New Tribes, this restricts the types of bird feathers you can have in your possession.  Accept this as a necessity during our times, and do not take it personally.  Spirit will show you a feather on your path, if you are meant to see it.  If it is a feather listed as a migratory bird, and you pick it up, please know that you are not supposed to have it.

Then, there are Wild Turkey feathers.  They are so beautiful, and legal for non-registered tribal members to possess.  Did you know that the Wild Turkey was Ben Franklin’s first choice to be the official bird of the new United States? The Bald Eagle was chosen instead, but Franklin wanted the Turkey because of it’s intelligence, so it is a perfect bird to officially represent and reflect the New Tribes of Animists, especially those of us who live in what is called the United States of America.

Turkey feathers are lovely, every bit as regal as an Eagle, Hawk or Owl feather, and they have also gone through a strange transformation.  While Wild Turkeys are smart and can take care of themselves, Turkeys have recently been made into domesticated dummies, sticking their heads up in the rain and drowning themselves.  Turkeys have been made stupid, but they aren’t inherently so.  It is time to reclaim our own Wild freedom.  So find yourself a Wild Turkey feather and use it proudly, knowing that, like us, they weren’t always stupid, they were dumbed down by their environment.   Thank you Turkey!

The Sacred Turkey has provided for the humans of this continent since, quite possibly, the beginning of human time.  It is a bird of abundance and reverence.  To close today’s honoring of this fantastic American bird, we would like to share a quote from elder L. Cota Nupah Makah found at www.manataka.org

“Our people called the turkey the Giveaway Bird who offered its body for our people to eat so we could survive. Turkey is part of the Eagle family and we, as the original people of the Earth, respect them by wearing their feathers in ceremony.”  Copyright © 2009 by by L. Cota Nupah Makah

If you listen to the wind you might hear the gobble of the Tom Turkey, and he might say “Please honor me today, and everyday”.   This Sunday, November 25, The Institute for the Shamanic Arts is hosting a Shamanic Journey circle that honors Wild Turkey.   See details here.

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