All One Family: The Kinship of Toteg Tribe
by Aisling SongWeaver
Toteg Tribe is the fruition of a long-cultivated series of groups, philosophies, organizations and ideas. Its roots reach back to the work of indigenous practitioners of nature spirituality. Toteg Tribe's strength is in its mutability and viability over time. It remains today a vibrant and energetic spiritual system. It is my honor to speak as a representative of this living Tradition.
Who We Are: Toteg Tribe is the culmination of the work done by many people over forty years of study, training and sharing. The founder of Toteg Tribe, Joseph B. Wilson, is still a living and working Guide for its practitioners. The present incarnation of Toteg has its roots in the former group known as Metista, which itself has as its roots much of the philosophy of the old Temple of the Elder Gods, an organization started as a "coven" in about 1976 or 1977 and eventually incorporated as a Church by Joe and several others. According to Joe, the word "TOTEG" itself started as
"the lazy way people called the group we had in Sunland, California. It began life as an acronym for "Temple Of The Elder Gods" (T.O.T.E.G.). Temple of the Elder Gods (T.O.T.E.G.) was formally an ecclesiastical organization, incorporated as a California Non-Profit Religious Corporation with full Federal and State Tax Exemption on December 21st, 1984."
Over time, the concept of "The Elder Gods" has evolved, but still remains a central focus of Toteg Tribe, one that will be discussed in the Beliefs and Practices portion of this essay. It is important to realize, though, that the meaning of the WORD Toteg as it is used in the name of Toteg Tribe is very different from the meaning of the former acronym TOTEG.
Toteg Tribe is intrinsically an experiential path and has no dogma in the usual sense of the word. Joe recently said to me, "Unlike most neo-Pagan denominations, the tradition of Toteg Tribe does not consist of dogma about divinities, rituals, or ceremonies. Rather it is a movement of methodology, intent, and focus back to the experience of and interaction with the Gods themselves, including one's own personal Gods, if any, without artificial or affected cultural overlays." So the word "Toteg" has taken on a meaning of its own that is only incidentally connected to the "Temple of The Elder Gods". Another member of the Tribe recently commented, "We do not dictate who/how/what people's religious beliefs are; rather, we encourage folks from all walks of life to explore their 'Natural Spirituality.' " It is sometimes the case that this "Natural Spirituality", as discovered by an individual, may have no component of worship of Gods, or even belief in Gods, only focusing on the individual's connection to Spirit. Toteg Tribe is about discovering effective ways of making this connection by direct personal experience of the practitioner.
In the words of Joe Wilson, "I'd say that if the word "toteg" actually has a meaning today, that meaning is "grandparents." So, who we are may be defined as "people searching through their own experience for the ultimate meaning of their own existence, connected to the grandparents of all existence as family members." For purposes of this essay and definition of this spiritual tradition, the above is the "who" of Toteg Tribe.
Beliefs and Practices: It may actually be misleading to speak of the "beliefs" of Toteg Tribe, because that might lead one to believe that Toteg Tribe is defined simply as a Tradition of the Craft. In actuality, the relationship that Toteg bears to Craft is more that of an atmosphere, or a society, or a culture, in which Craft may be practiced as a matter of course. Indeed, one may be a part of Toteg Tribe whilst also being a member of another, or several other, covens, groups, or even religions. An illustration from Joe might be useful here. He says;
"Think in terms of location. A member of Toteg is like the citizen of a State. Membership in a Clan is like being the citizen of a City, and membership in clan branches is like being the citizen/resident of a neighborhood. None of these things preclude one from being a member of a religion, or club, or lodge, etc."
But there definitely is a "Toteg mindset" that underlies all the approaches to whatever specific beliefs and practices a Tribe member pursues. That mindset, somewhat elusive, but unmistakable when it is present, is the core element of truly identifying oneself as a Toteg Tribe member, and it is of that mindset we will speak here.
As was the case in my own experience, most people who are members of Toteg Tribe are people who are already pursuing a certain type of spiritual journey before they ever are aware of Toteg's existence. They are explorers of spirit, traveling diverse roads that will all ultimately lead to the same destination. They are non-dogmatic, and consequently open to the impact of their own personal experience without measuring it against any particular set of dogmas. The idea that links them to other practitioners of a similar spirit-walk is partly the idea that one's personal experience is the only valid arbiter of spiritual truth.
But there is a fine line to be drawn here. There are already far too many people and groups out there that are so eclectic as to accept just about anything. This is not the kind of universality embraced by Toteg Tribe, because it assumes that any particular KIND of acquiring experience will lead one to the same place. Practical experience of many Seekers over many years has proven that this is not so. It is the particular similarity in the methodology of acquiring experiences, not the content of the experiences themselves, which marks one as Toteg. Again quoting the Tribal Doyen, Joe Wilson:
"when people set aside preconceived notions and pet prejudices, and follow the instructions for having experiences, the content of these experiences they will have is strongly influenced by location, as well as by group and individual backgrounds. There is a much more common thread there than folks recognize at a first glance."
So then, you may justifiably ask, what are the identifying elements of the Toteg methodology, the Toteg mindset, as we define it? As earlier stated, the mindset is elusive and defies a simple definition. But there are certain attitudes and "ways of being" that seem to be constants:
Toteg practice is meditative, shamanistic and exploratory.
Indeed, one of the early experiences of many practitioners of Toteg Tribe spirituality is the realization that they do not completely fit in to other groups and organizations they may attempt to join, because their personal spirits are telling them to do, or to be, something or somewhere else. This individual instruction by Spirit is a constant in the experience of members of Toteg Tribe and is universally honored within the Tribe.
Even where Totegers join with one another in Clans or other small group organizations within the Tribe, the method of conveying information to new members is different from what seems to be the norm in some other groups. Although the new member is likely at some point to be "given" or "revealed" the knowledge of a particular Clan Deity or set of beliefs, the new member is not the only one to be receiving knowledge when he or she enters the Tribe. Instead, it is also the Toteg Tribe way that all in the group will also incorporate the experiences of the new member into group journey-work, and so adjust the group mind to embrace the new elements. This keeps the group mind fluid, growing to embrace new experiences and other ways of understanding, and keeps the egregore from becoming stagnant and dying.
Focus is on the land and spirit of the place where one resides.
Methodology often proceeds from discovery to hypothesis, not from assumption to "proof".
Toteg Tribe honors the individual ancestry of its members, cultural, spiritual and hereditary.
"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old. Seek what they sought." Matsuo Busho
Recently Toteg tribe adopted the following Affirmation as a cogent outline of our principles and philosophies. I offer it here as a summation of the various answers to "What Is Toteg Tribe?"
We are Toteg Tribe.
We know that all things are children of the Earth Mother and Sky Father, and thus we are all related.
We learn the lessons Mother Earth teaches us through the languages of our brothers and sisters; all that breathes, swims, flies, moves, grows, changes and exists.
We aspire to walk in balance on Mother Earth and live in harmony with all that is.
We remember to speak with respect with all things.
We honor and respect all of our ancestors: physical, cultural, and spiritual.
We listen with consideration to those who choose to share their wisdom with us, and respect their rights to do so in their own way, in their own time.
We invoke the power of spirit for our own dreams and visions for the guidance of ourselves and our Tribe.
We respect your right to follow your own vision.
We seek to find correctness, good judgment, learning and knowledge in all things.
We practice personal responsibility in our daily lives.
We are the Toteg Tribe.
Toteg Tribe is structured in a Clan system, because we have found that this structure gives the greatest degree of autonomy to individual groups. The Tribe is made up of a number of Clans and their associated subgroupings. No one is precluded, due to membership in Toteg Tribe, from membership and activity in any other coven, group, religion or organization.
Each member of the Tribe has a voice in Tribal business and is equal in influence to every other member. The tribe is like a very large, multi-generational, far-flung family organization. The Patriarch of this family is at present Joseph Bearwalker Wilson, the founder and Tribal Doyen of Toteg Tribe. This is a position not of authority, but of responsibility. The work of the Tribal Doyen is mostly organizational, clerical and archival. The position is for life. When Joe dies, the next Tribal Doyen will be elected by the members of Toteg Tribe's leadership. Indeed, all such leadership positions are, like that of Tribal Doyen, largely functional in nature. It is not in the Toteg mindset to give high regard to the concept of hierarchy. Honor and respect is given in proportion to work and contribution, not accorded merely by means of title.
What might be thought of as the central "working group" of Toteg Tribe, and what most closely resembles the covens or circles of other Traditions, is the Circle. The Clan Leader may lead a Circle or designate another to do so. There are several other designations of structure within the Tribe, but these are probably only relevant to Tribe members. Other details of structure within the Tribe are still evolving and are probably only relevant to those within a Clan. To communicate with the Clan in your area, or to learn what might be required if you wish to form a Clan yourself, please visit our home page at http://www.toteg.com
Summation: Toteg Tribe has many similarities with groups of practitioners following other traditions. But there is one significant difference. Clans of Toteg Tribe may or may not be the primary spiritual focus of the members thereof. For this reason the different kinds of teaching, ministering and spiritual work required on the part of leaders within the Tribe may require a vastly different approach and a far more diverse skill-set than is assumed to be part of more traditional priest/essing. Certain members of Toteg Tribe may be called upon to do shamanic journeywork, spiritual or physical healing, psychic prophesy, and many other things not normally encountered in more "traditional Traditions."
What is most important to us in Toteg Tribe as we define ourselves, is the close-knit, familial feel of the Tribe, and the deep respect and interest with which members regard one another and one another's journeys of spirit. The feeling of membership in Toteg Tribe differs from that of other groups, simply because we are not bound together by a doctrine, or ritual structure, or lineage, or tradition, or Book of Shadows, but by our free will and choice, and the permutations of sharing in that context are endlessly interesting. We hope readers of this essay who may feel that "hunch" or drawing of Spirit might be encouraged to investigate and see whether you might like to be part of our family.
Aisling SongWeaver, Sacar