The Pagan Experience: “G” is for “Grundsau”

This post was inspired by a prompt at The Pagan Experience suggesting writing for the letters “G” or “H”.

Groundhog in CloverWell it probably doesn’t come as a surprise what my “G” entry had to be about! The Grundsau, or groundhog in English, is the inspiration behind this blog. I’ve already explained on my About page some of the parallels between this animal’s spirit and my intentions for my writing, but I’d like to explore both a little deeper in this entry, and hopefully provide a starting point for those who would like to work with the Grundsau in a totemic or spiritual context. I’d also like to talk a bit about my personal experiences with the Grundsau, which in my opinion is a super-cool and highly underrated spirit animal!

The groundhog is an extremely common animal in Pennsylvania, and, as I have lived here all my life, I have seen many of them. In one town where I lived when I was younger, there was a hillside near a retirement home where we routinely counted as many as two dozen of them chowing down on clover whenever we drove by! In another personal connection, the groundhog starts its hibernation season in October, the same month as my birthday.

About two weeks ago, I was out on a walk where I currently live, and I practically tripped over a groundhog that was peeking out from a wooded hillside right next to the sidewalk. I think both of us didn’t see each other until the last second! He froze for an instant upon seeing me, then dashed a short distance away and looked back at me. As I was still watching him, he scurried off further, and still further, until he was finally out of sight. That’s probably the closest I’ve ever physically been to a groundhog in the wild–if you can call a rather densely settled urban neighborhood the wild!

However, even though I currently live smack in the middle of a decently sized city, I’ve actually seen groundhogs running around my neighbors’ front yards. Like other members of the order Rodentia (rodents), groundhogs are extremely adaptable, and have made their way deep into human habitats. I feel that this has significance both for groundhogs and for all the animals that have adapted especially well to human intrusions on nature, including the cousins of groundhogs, the squirrels. (Squirrels and groundhogs are in the same family: Sciuridae.) Animals who have learned to adapt to our urban environments have lessons to teach us about living in them too–after all, cities are not our natural habitats either! Some of these lessons include resourcefulness, independence, flexibility, and being opportunistic when the situation calls for it.

Groundhog by Audubon

John James Audubon’s depiction of the Groundhog, which would have been roughly contemporary with later Deitsch culture.

When my Deitsch ancestors first came to Pennsylvania, they were looking for a friend from the Old World: the badger. In Germanic folklore, the badger was the animal known for journeying to otherworldly realms and bringing back tidings from the Gods and Spirits. But in eastern North America, where the Deitsch first settled, we don’t have badgers. We have the Grundsau, a uniquely North American animal, who creates extensive burrows and travels between them, much like the worlds on the Lewesbaam (world tree), and who goes into deep hibernation but returns in the Spring, much as a person going on a spirit journey. Thus the Grundsau took on this important spiritual role in the newly formed Deitsch culture.

Predicting the weather, a la Punxsutawney Phil, is another aspect of these tidings from the spirit realms. For an agricultural society, knowing the weather patterns, including when to plant, was of vital importance, so this would be a much-sought-after piece of news when the Grundsau returned from his journey. This is celebrated in the Deitsch holiday of Grundsaudaag, or Groundhog Day, on February 2nd. In modern practice, some of us may find the weather predictions of greater or lesser importance than other information the Grundsau may bring back. In this role, the Grundsau can also teach and facilitate with divination and spirit communication, as well as serving as a guide on spirit journeys you take. There is also a Deitsch tradition of lunar astrology, and the 11th new moon after Oschdre (the Spring Equinox) is the Groundhog Moon. This is an aspect of Deitsch tradition that I’m still very new to, so I hope to learn enough to post more about it here in the future!

groundhog day coverFor the record, yes, I have actually attended the festivities in Punxsutawney before. We went when I was in 5th grade, getting up at an ungodly hour to make the drive north in the dark. Gobbler’s Knob was unimpressive, but the crowd gathered was very impressive indeed–probably one of the largest groups of people I’d ever been in at that point in my life. The morning was very bitter cold, and the ceremony, quite short. I protested that with all the spotlights on Phil, the shadow results couldn’t possibly be genuine. We didn’t stick around for the feasting and other events because we had to get back to work and school respectively. It was fun as a novelty, and it might be an entertaining way to celebrate the holiday at least once in your life, but I didn’t have any spiritual revelations at that age–this being before I had discovered Braucherei and later, Urglaawe. Still, I think it’s pretty cool that there are towns where this Deitsch custom is preserved and celebrated!

I said earlier in this piece that I view the Grundsau as an underrated spirit animal. Overall, I see a tendency among practitioners to go for the big and flashy, exotic totem animals, and disregard the ones from North America as too common or ordinary. Yet, for those of us living here, don’t these animals have more to teach us about life that is relevant to us? From the start, we have a home in common.

The groundhog tends to get overlooked for another reason: it’s a rodent. In the view of the general public, rodents equate with dirty, destructive, and disease-ridden. Groundhogs are seen as agricultural and architectural pests.

In my personal life, I have a special connection to rodents and a mission to help the public shed these views and appreciate them for who they really are. I founded the Greater Pittsburgh Fancy and Exotic Rodent Association to help promote the rodent fancy–that is, the hobby of raising and showing specially bred rodents, such as mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and chinchillas, in just the same way as you would purebred dogs. It is my hope that I will help to show people all the wonderful traits these animals have, and that I can encourage better care for them as pets, as well as a love for those that live in the wild. Over 40% of the world’s mammals are rodents. That’s a huge number of animals to overlook or disregard, especially if you follow a nature-oriented spiritual path. They have their special role to play in the ecosystems of the world, both physical and spiritual, and they have many lessons to teach us, if we are willing to listen and let them guide us.

Groundhog Babies and Mother

Groundhogs actually do many things to help us agriculturally too, and they can be good to have on your property. They can bring subsoil to the surface with their digging activity, improving your soil quality. Their dens also provide habitats for other predatory animals, such as foxes and snakes, who will help control pest animals that can damage the crops. It is true that groundhogs can also put a sizable dent in the crops themselves, and damage property and farming equipment with their extensive tunneling, but there are humane ways of controlling these issues if that becomes a problem for you. Still, it has been posed that groundhogs don’t cause as much trouble as is thought, and that their numbers are actually lower in some states than is commonly believed.

While I don’t believe in using “totem dictionaries”, since people tend to turn to those for a very surface explanation of the animal they’re interested in, without digging any deeper, I wanted to provide at least some avenues for exploration of the Grundsau’s energy and teachings. Some aspects you might want to investigate include:

  • Hibernation, and the groundhog’s typical hibernation season of October through March/April
  • Burrowing, and the specialization of different “rooms” within a groundhog’s burrow for different purposes
  • The spiritual significance of timing, the seasons, and planning (for example eating up in the warm times to hibernate through the cold)
  • Spirit journeying
  • Communication with spirits
  • Divination
  • The groundhog burrows in the ground, climbs trees readily, and is a strong swimmer, giving it connections to land, water, and sky.
  • Groundhogs are preyed upon by a variety of animals including foxes, snakes, coyotes, wolves, bears, and eagles. These relationships can have spiritual significance too.

I hope that this entry has inspired you to take another look at this wonderful totem and the Deitsch traditions surrounding it! Heel der Grundsau!


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