As we navigate life around the novel coronavirus, people around the world are finding myriad ways to pass the time. Some read, others do puzzles or work in the garden. But one neighborhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina decided to take the battle directly to the virus itself. Working with family members with whom they cohabitate, several families built totems to scare the virus away from their neighborhood. What started as a fun activity has turned into a force to be reckoned with. The totem builders are convinced that their totems will keep them safe. Pete says, “I built my first totem as a lark, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop. We now have three totems in our yard and we are both super healthy. Take that COVID-19!” Beverly helped her sons, ages 5 and 3, build a totem as soon as she heard about the neighborhood effort. Her family lives at the first house at the entrance to the neighborhood and she says, “While we have only lived here two years, we felt an obligation as the first house that would be affected to do all that we could to protect the neighborhood.” Neighbors thought that Michael did not quite get the memo since he built a friendly-looking totem. But when asked about his smiling totem, he quipped, “It’s a sneak attack. I made my totem look like the coronavirus so it would be attracted to my totem. But it has a secret weapon that will annihilate the virus upon impact!” We backed away slowly as Michael rubbed his palms together. The Lynch family went with a superhero-Medusa theme. Using spare parts from their old grill, they created the only female totem in the neighborhood. With snake-like hair reminiscent of the virus prongs sticking out of the virus, she hopes to attract the virus toward her and will then smite it with her flaming eyes.
There have been reports of late-night battles between the totem spirits and COVID-19, but no one has been able to catch that on camera. The closest anyone has come was when 9-year-old Cameron looked out her bedroom window last night and thought she saw a spirit wrapped around her totem. Only after she got her mom up did they realize that it was simply some fog drifting by.
Now, you may be thinking, “These folks are crazy!” But, their motivations have historical precedent. In 18th century Korea, King Jeongjo ordered “jangseungs” (the Korean word for totem) to be built to ward off evil spirits as he traveled to Suwon, where his father’s tomb was located. Koreans continued to use totems over time. Totems were usually located at the entrance of a village. They are typically made of wood and sometimes stone to guard the village against a misfortune, wish good harvest and safe return of their children.
As the totem-building fever (not to be confused with COVID-19) spread in the neighborhood, more totems popped up. At last count, we had eight. We are all feeling pretty safe here in Chapel Hill and invite you to start a totem building culture in your neighborhood. Perhaps if we get critical mass, we can push coronavirus off the continent!