You’ve heard the expression, “playing possum”. Depending on the context, it could either be a sign of slyness, or of cowardice. It’s definitely not a popular move, especially when people around you are looking forward to the spectacle of a valiant fight against all odds. Playing possum against insurmountable odds is simply anticlimactic.
But there’s a lot more to playing possum than meets the eye. Aside from being a very practical move, playing possum requires a great amount of intuition. It’s not a tool on its own, but merely a part of a greater set of techniques one can use to solve problems. If we pay attention, the possum (or opossum, depending on who’s spelling it), from which the act is named after, can convey a lot more lessons about this.
Possum (Opossum) Symbolism Facts & Meaning: A Totem, Spirit & Power Animal
Possum (Opossum) Symbolism & Meaning
Let’s get something out of the way first, before delving into the act of “playing dead” that made possums a part of the vernacular. “Playing dead” isn’t really the correct term, since technically the possums are not “playing”. When confronted with the danger of a predator, the possum’s biology automatically switches off its nervous system. This “off switch” is the evolutionary response to the fact that predators generally do not want their prey dead before they feast. The coma-like state that possums lapse into is just the perfect defense.
This automatic switch is essential in terms of the possum’s symbolism. Any animal can play dead if they so wish, but none can do it quite like the possum. In human terms, anyone can lie low and wait for the storm to pass, but it requires a special talent to be able to do this instinctively and in such a way that one essentially disappears before the onslaught of the problem. This is opposed to simply hunkering down and still taking a beating.
The possum’s ability makes it a symbol for creative problem solving and lateral thinking. Because they are small, “playing possum” is just one of the many strategies these creatures have to take care of themselves against bigger predators. These strategies ensure they never have to fight and risk their lives unless they really have to.
Possum (Opossum) Spirit Animal
Possums are blind at birth, and while they are nurtured by their parents, they need to hone their instincts very early on if they are to survive in their inhospitable environment. This way, they grow up learning to read almost anything in their environment. More importantly, they know what to do based on what they see.
Thus, the possum as a spirit animal is aimed at honing our instincts on what goes on around us. It is one thing to see, and another thing to react — as fast as possible — based on what you see.
Possum (Opossum) Power Animal
As a power animal, the possum is great for helping you handle great changes that may come to your life. There are times when you may feel like the possum — small and insignificant against the greater forces around you. But this does not mean that you are helpless, for in fact you have the ability to survive. Your power animal protects and nourishes you while you learn the ropes, so that when you need to rely on your instincts for survival, you can make it through to the other end.
Possum (Opossum) Totem Animal
People born with the possum as a totem animal are naturally adaptive to different environments, even to those ones that other people may consider dangerous. This adaptability may come as a wonder for many people, who may have thought the small fish in a big pond (or small possum in a big forest, as the case may be) does not stand a chance. But the possum person’s ability to weave in and out of danger is unmatched, and so long as they can use this ability to achieve their goals, they can reach great heights.
The possum person is also the type who prefers brains over brawns, believing that more problems can be solved with the mind.
Possum (Opossum) Native American Symbolism
To the few Native American tribes that recognize the possum’s cleverness, he appears as a trickster with his signature “play dead” move. There are some tribes in Mexico that make use of possum tales as birth charms, thanks to the animal’s nurturing spirit. There are also tribes that hail the possum as a wise war advisor. Some braves would actually play dead until the opponent was within striking distance, allowing him to shock the latter with a war cry.
Possum (Opossum) Celtic Symbolism
The Celtics did not have an equivalent for the possum in their lore, and makes no mention of the animal in their pantheon.
Possum (Opossum) Far Eastern Symbolism
The Far East also did not have many interactions with the possum, hence the animal did not appear in their annals.
Possum (Opossum) in Dreams
When you see a possum in your dreams, it’s high time to duck and cover! The possum is telling you that you may be in danger, as some danger is slipping through the cracks. Take care of yourself, and trust your senses. If your instinct is telling you to hunker down, there’s no shame in doing so.
Possum (Opossum) Encounters / Possum (Opossum) Omens
When you meet a possum, it may be warning you to take necessary steps to keep your self-image in check. There are times when we let others define who we are. Especially in this age of social media, we may be trained to look at ourselves in terms of other peoples’ approval instead of on our own merits. Like the possum, we may be underestimated — but we have a lot of skills to show to the world!
Possum (Opossum) Mythology and Folklore
The possum appears as a figure in Australian Astrology, as the birth animal of January — that time of the year when everyone is planning the year ahead! They consider the possum the perfect animal for those who need to learn and exercise patience. How else can you apply the possum’s wisdom, instinct, and resourcefulness in your life?