Guardian of the Earth



Some friends of mine gave me a mole carving for my birthday. I was delighted and intrigued by this gift because fetishes have been important to me for many years; they are also part of my Native heritage.

A fetish is usually carved out of antler bone or stone. The artist has a personal relationship with the animal that s/he is carving and because of that relationship the bone or stone “lives” and communicates either practical (as in hunting, or curing illness) or spiritual (as in guidance or protection) information to its owner. These carvings are also given to others as gifts transferring the power embodied in the stone from one person to another sometimes intergenerationally. Fetishes act as mediators between the two worlds that are interconnected, the seen and the unseen.

The best known stone carvers are the Zuni Indians who inhabit the southwest. Many years ago I bought a medicine bear from Zuni carver Stuart Quandelacy and began to correspond with him after I had an unusual experience with the little pipestone bear. I loved the story he told me about creating his medicine bears. Whenever he carved one to sell he would ask the Bear Spirit to guide the bear to an owner who needed its particular power. Stuart became the Zuni carver who put medicine bears on the map.

Unfortunately New Age folks co –opted native fetishes (as well as other Indigenous customs) and assigned their own western interpretations to them. The problem with this approach is that the carvings were/are taken out of their original Indigenous context which includes keen observation of the animal in question in the wild and is also based on the intimate relationship that develops between that person and the animal. Fetishes are not symbols, they embody genuine Animal Powers.

In order to understand the power behind a fetish, we have to recognize that Native peoples were not only naturalists, but were people who did not privilege the human species over any other. Animals were understood to have as much intelligence as humans. Native peoples remembered the stories their elders told – that the people learned how to live from observing the behavior of the animals around them – Because animals have been on the earth for three hundred and fifty million years, while humans have only been in their present form for two hundred thousand years, this approach to older “relatives” (non – human species) seems well documented by the scientific community today. To Native peoples who choose the old ways, animals continue to be powerful teachers and allies…

When I received my little black mole I immediately did some mythological research on moles. I learned that in some Native American tribes mole helped during the hunt because he lived beneath the trees at the edge of the forest. He could trip or slow down prey so it could be caught.

When Mole is called upon for healing he is able to bring up plant and “root” knowledge that humans might need because he lives under the surface of the ground.

Mole has eyes that see in the dark. Mole may help a person develop intuitive insight, and a more complete understanding of the world of the plant people.

Because Mole lives underground he is able to help a person navigate the underworld, as he literally swims through the soil.

Mole may also help a person make peace with the unknown.

Grandmother Mole sees the world through spiritual eyes…

Frankly, I was surprised to find that the mole was so important to various Indigenous people. I had never paid much attention to moles beyond thinking of them as something of a nuisance because they created such havoc around my house. As soon as I learned that moles dug deep tunnels underground by swimming through the dirt with wide front paws, aerating the soil while eating lots of destructive grubs including Japanese beetle larvae, I began to feel quite differently about them. Although moles did heave up conical mounds of dirt in a few places around my house I realized that I was blaming moles for the damage that voles were primarily responsible for.

Moles live underground and rarely comes to the surface except in the evenings. They are 6 – 7 inches long. Moles are superbly adapted to a subterranean life style; they have cylindrical bodies, velvety fur, and very small ears and eyes. They also have a hairless pointed snout. They can tolerate higher levels of carbon dioxide than other mammals because moles can reuse oxygen inhaled above ground. Thus they are able to breathe comfortably in their underground burrows. Moles also are related to shrews and bats! They have an extra thumb that helps them to dig more efficiently. Moles also eat beetles, nuts and earthworms and they store food in special underground kitchens. Because of their food requirements moles must cover a larger area than most underground creatures. Three to five moles per acre are considered a high population. Deep runways lead from the mole’s den to its hunting grounds. The runways are 5 -8 inches below the surface but moles also tunnel close to the surface. During wet weather tunnels are very shallow. Moles make their homes in dry spots but they prefer to hunt in soil that is shaded cool moist and populated with earthworms and grubs. In neglected orchards and woodlands they work undisturbed. But this preference accounts for the moles’ attraction to lawns and parks. Moles commonly choose dening sites under portions of large trees. Unfortunately, the maze of passages provides protective cover for several other mammals like voles and mice to live in. These animals move through mole runways as they help themselves to grains, seeds, and bulbs. Moles often get blamed for these herbivores that do indeed damage garden plants. Moles eat up to one hundred percent of their weight in food each day. The star nosed mole can detect, catch and eat food faster than the human eye can follow.

Breeding season occurs for the seven species of moles between February and May. Males search for females by letting out high-pitched squeals and tunneling through new areas. Gestation occurs in 42 days with two to five baby moles being born. They are on their own in 45 days. Apparently moles are solitary creatures. Their territories may overlap and their range extends over eastern North America and Canada. Moles have few natural enemies because of their penchant for underground living. Sometimes coyotes, dogs, and skunks dig one up and occasionally a cat or owl might predate on one of these animals. Spring floods are probably the greatest danger facing adult moles and their young.

Moles remove many damaging insects and grubs from lawns and gardens. However their burrowing habits disfigure lawns and can create general havoc in small garden plots.

After doing this research on moles I can understand why volcanic mounds appear on my land after a good rain, especially in the spring. But I am also correct in my recent assessment that voles are the real culprits around my house. Voles and mice both damage trees, and the former have eaten almost all my spring bulbs. Throughout the year I see voles boldly popping out of their inch holes almost all day long in search of any seed I leave on the ground. Moles are responsible for making the life of a vole much easier. On the whole, though, I think moles are beneficial, so I am pleased to acknowledge this unseen “guardian of the earth” as a friend, although I shall probably never meet him!


6 thoughts on “Guardian of the Earth

  1. This post was fun to read and I learned a lot — about how an animal carved from stone or bone can carry real animal powers, and, of course, about moles themselves (I had them confused with gophers, if you can believe that).


      1. I would definitely check out the museum. With so many Indigenous peoples in your area fetishes must be around there somewhere. Bears and owls come to mind instantly.


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