Outside the deep recesses of my trance, the voice summoned the animal to me. This was an important day. Though a novice in the Craft, I knew power animals were fundamental to any shamanic tradition. Like a princess dreaming of her prince, I had often wondered what my animal would be. A jaguar or a cougar? I loved cats. A raven or an owl? I courted wisdom and prophesy. A horse or a hawk? I was willing to take risks. What about a bear or an eagle? Majesty, power, yeah! “Your spirit animal is here now,” the voice intoned. “Look to your left. Look!” My mind cleared and in the space ahead I saw….
Well, far be it for me to look a gift hog in the mouth, especially when it’s speaking to me.
And talk talk talk they did. I say “they,” because there wasn’t just one animal; there were many. On the metaphysical plane, groundhogs often come in bunches. Thus began years of being teased and ribbed by other Witches about my animal allies, because of course word got around on that one. But groundhog medicine is very powerful. Don’t laugh.
What I relate here about groundhogs is true for many of the large burrowing rodents, for instance Yellow-Bellied Marmots, prairie dogs, and even Pocket Gophers in some cases. Groundhogs are hardheaded individuals, with unusually thick skulls that can take a pounding that would sap most other mammals. They need those hard heads, because they burrow through some pretty dense dirt. About 700 pounds of soil is moved to make a single burrow, and they usually have at least two. They also need big teeth and claws to move that dirt, and those accoutrements make the groundhog very good at defending herself. She’s a rather aggressive animal when threatened, though she prefers to pop back into her underground home if possible.
And what a nice little home it is, with its own bathroom and a sleeping chamber lined with dried grass. The hibernation burrow is below frost line, staying relatively warm during the winter. Groundhogs and all marmots are true hibernators, sleeping from October to April in the northern climates, roughly coinciding with the time you can legally use studded snow tires. Prairie dogs, on the other hand, are simply much less active in winter, and Pocket Gophers hoard food in their burrows instead of hibernating. As a complete hibernator, the marmot needs a good coat of fat by autumn; otherwise she dies of starvation.
Groundhogs are escape artists, always having a few exits to dash into or out of. These exits also serve as spy holes, and they typically peek their head out and get acclimated before venturing out into the brush. Then they stand on two legs and look around, always alert above ground. With a penchant for open grassy spaces, their eyesight is very good. The groundhog sometimes climbs trees to eat, escape predators or just look around, and occasionally she’s seen swimming. While the Pocket Gopher likes to spend all her time indoors when not foraging for food, others in this clan are sun worshippers, spending their free time soaking in the rays, preferably on a warm rock.
This is only one of the 101 reasons why the groundhog doesn’t scurry back into her burrow on February 2nd if she sees her shadow: she likes the sun. Also, she shouldn’t be outside on that day, or she’s in a lot of trouble. Coming out of hibernation with spring far away and food nowhere to be found would be dangerous, since a groundhog only survives the winter by drastically reducing her metabolism to conserve fat. Plus, the groundhog is a lousy weatherman, with only 39% accuracy from the town mascots prodded awake in service of civic pride and slow news days.
Early German settlers to North America started the Groundhog Day phenomenon, recalling folk beliefs about Candlemas. If the bear sees his shadow at Candlemas, he will crawl back in his den for another six weeks, one saying went. Sometimes the hedgehog or badger was substituted, but the idea was the same: a hibernating animal wakes on that special day to predict the mildness or the severity of the remaining winter. It’s speculated that the task fell to the groundhog in America because the hedgehog is not native to the continent, the badger is not found in the Northeast, and bears quickly became extinct in farm country while groundhogs proliferated. There are now more groundhogs, Pocket Gophers, and Western marmots than when the first European settlers arrived.
The groundhog sits up on two legs like a bear, but the choice of the groundhog to replace the bear at Candlemas may not have been entirely based on observation. The Lenape (Delaware) Indians who lived in regions of heavy German settlement revered the groundhog as a grandparent. The Lenape say all the animals lived underground at one time, and the groundhog was one of the first to emerge from Mother Earth. There may have also been Lenape folklore related to winter forecasting and groundhog appearance during autumn, although I have not been able to locate any.
Use groundhog power not only for weather prognostication but for strength in surviving winter. The most useful application for groundhog psychic healing is in moving blocked energy. This is the source of most dis/ease as well as the root of intractable problems. Invoke the groundhog when progress seems stuck and you’re looking to move things forward.