Animal Spirits

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Tatonka. 

The other day an acquaintance shared that she had recently noticed an unusual abundance of spiders in her life. All of a sudden, they seemed to be everywhere, climbing onto her body during yoga, getting stuck in her clothes and hair – in short, being a general nuisance. After overcoming her initial fear and repulsion, she began to view the creatures in another light, wondering about the reason for their sudden presence. Realizing that it’s not spider season in WNC, she came to the conclusion that the spider is her “power animal”. She began to look into myths and stories about these beings and subsequently drew some conclusions about the lessons she could learn from their sudden presence in her life.

Which got me thinking – I need a power animal. I mean, how cool is that? The idea of an animal showing up in your life, that you might even view as somewhat pesty, actually being there for a reason. And that you might just learn something about yourself, about life, in the process.

This obviously isn’t a new idea. Native cultures have long believed in the healing and guiding relationships between humans and animals, and shamans today continue to seek counsel from animal spirits. According to shamanic practice, each animal has something unique to offer, and unbeknownst to most humans, we each have a power animal that accompanies us throughout our lives, acting almost as a guardian angel. When we discover what this creature is, we can learn from its lessons and gifts.

Obviously, some – okay, many – people consider this to be a bunch of New Age nonsense. Maybe it is – who am I to say? But I figure it can’t hurt to look into it a bit. Maybe I do have a power animal. If so, I’d hate to leave it hanging without checking out what it’s been trying to say to me.

I think about the wild animals that have visited me lately. Is it the yearling bear that keeps hanging out in the backyard – or is he simply after the birdfeeder and compost bin? Maybe the buffaloes that seemed to follow us around last summer in Yellowstone. We nicknamed them the Three Amigos and got frustrated when they blocked traffic for hours on end. I hope it’s not the ants that invaded my pantry when I left a loaf of banana bread uncovered. Yes, that’s right – power animals can be insects. When I imagine my power animal, I picture something wild and free, a hawk soaring overhead, a bobcat darting through the forest. Not a common creepy-crawly that would typically warrant a call to the exterminator. I’m sorry, ants, but if you’re my power animals I’m going to have to call in a replacement. Call me shallow, but I need a power animal that can inspire.

Failing to identify a power animal that’s made its presence known in my life, I decided to seek outside help in locating my spirit guide. I could enlist a shaman to help with this process, but since I don’t know any qualified spiritualists, I turned to the trusty internet. Turns out there are all sorts of nifty online ways of finding your animal, from quizzes to intuitive sites where you move your cursor over a peaceful scene and your animal appears.

According to one on-line survey, my animal is the wolverine. Apparently I’m fearless, assertive, and tenacious. Nobody messes with wolverines. Not bad, but I’m not sure it fits, especially when I read on to learn that I would make a good Marine or middle linebacker. Onto the next quiz…

The buffalo spirit. Once again, I’m described as strong-willed, even stubborn. I’m noticing a trend here. Apparently I’m also social and compassionate – I guess that could explain my career as a social worker. But the buffalo is described as laid back, which I could never claim to be. Again, this power animal doesn’t feel quite right for me.

On the final try, I learned that I am fortunate to have the horse spirit within me. The horse promises to teach me how to balance my caring nature with my equally deep need for freedom and independence. She will help me to learn to relax fully into a peaceful and centered life, but will also help me to run like the wind and allow my soul to fly free when that’s what I need. Now we’re talking!

Okay, so what do I do now that I have my power animal identified? I guess I look for the horse’s appearance in my life, searching for hidden messages. Or maybe doing this exercise was enough, helping me to become aware of both my strengths and the qualities that I wish to develop. How about you – which animal spirit speaks to you? Is it the stealthy jaguar, or the wise owl? Maybe the hummingbird, who symbolizes happiness. Next time you’re out in the woods, move quietly and pay attention to the creatures out there with you – who knows what message they may have to share?

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