Updated: Feb 12
Author: Michael Erwin
What I wish to share with you today, is the connection to the spiritual world of animals that I have learned and experienced since I was a child. This will certainly be a mix of North American, Neo-Pagan and Shamanistic traditions, nicely rolled into a package that works well for me and many others. That being said, there are many approaches to working with Spirit Animals, and mine is just one.
For this blog we will cover:
- Defining common terms heard within spiritual and indigenous traditions
- My experience with animals both physical and spiritual
- A little history
- Working with animal energies
4 important types of Spirit Animal archetypes you may encounter
I have been closely tied to animals since getting my first pets at 3 or 4 years old. I have spent much time in nature, watching the patterns of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insect. My childhood, and much of my adult life was spent breeding and caring for many exotic animals, including many species of snakes, toads, lizards, unusual mammals, exotic insects, but my particular favorites were always of the aquatic variety. I have extensive knowledge of animal husbandry, breeding habits and social life of many species. I also have managed and maintained pet hotels, aquatic shops and pet stores for much of my life. This has all provided me with an interesting viewpoint on working with Spirit Animals. I hope you are inspired by what you read today and begin working with Spirit Animals.
Totem Animal: (Mostly known in Native American culture but also prevalent in Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the Arctic polar region) An animal symbol that represents a family, group, clan or tribe that represents the ancestry of said group.
Power Animal: (Eurasian and American) A broadly animistic and shamanic concept, tutelary spirit guides, helps or protects individuals, lineages and nations.
Familiar: (European) supernatural entities believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic. Often they were said to appear in numerous guises, often as an animal, but also at times as a human or humanoid figure, and were described as "clearly defined, three-dimensional forms, vivid with color and animated with movement and sound.
Fylgia: (Norse) A supernatural being or creature which accompanies a person in connection to their fate or fortune. Fylgjur usually appear in the form of an animal and commonly appears during sleep, but the Sagas of the Norsemen relate that they could appear while a person is awake as well, and that seeing one's fylgja is an omen of one's impending death.
Fetch: (Irish) Very similar to the fylgia, the fetch is a supernatural double or apparition of a living person in Irish folklore, which usually appears as a human of the opposite sex. It is largely akin to the doppelgänger, and sightings are regarded as omens, usually for impending death
History of animal omens: Animals have long been looked at for omens, probably starting with the earliest human beings on the planet. The migration patterns of birds and land animals signified upcoming seasons and changing weather. This practiced evolved into reading the animal kingdom for insight into warfare, politics, and other man made ideas. Augurs would trace the way birds would fly, Shamans witnessing the movement of whales, priests finding signs with the neighing of horses, a sorcerer reading entrails of a fish, Native Americans spotting an owl in the village- these are just a few examples of how ancient people looked to the wild. This is a core part of many cultures, and a core part of understanding ourselves as human beings, something shared in our ancestry that can be very important for us today. Many ancient people looked to the realm of the beast to answer everyday questions. Our personal animal guardians, and those that bring us messages are equally as important, and we should be more open to the signs around us.
How to work with animal energies: Our animal companions can help guide us in many ways. They can be messengers, offer us their unique attributes such as strength, magic, or foresight, help us with transitions in life, offer us insight to any past traumas or past lives, and the darker aspects of our personalities. Any person, regardless of their tradition, can tap into what animal spirits have to offer. Simply learning about an animals’ natural characteristics, then acting out some of those traits, can be an easy method of working through difficult situations. Simply thinking about the stubbornness of a bison, bringing that energy inside, may help someone from be pushed down and bullied at school or work. Maybe a salesperson might look to a songbird for gaining magnetic speech, or someone working an extra shift at a construction site may pick up on the qualities of an African Wild Dog that has particular endurance qualities, maybe a mother of a hyperactive child could speak to them and show them how to act like a sleeping kitten, or a hibernating bear to help calm and comfort them when needed.
Different types and what they teach:
Messenger: Messenger animals are usually birds, almost always reappearing, or grouping together until we get a message. Sometimes we will dream about certain animals, sometimes we will see them over and over while driving to work, maybe they group near your house, hanging out on windowsills, or even trying to get in. Usually these animal show that there is some information you are missing, or are resistant to. When you see these animals, be open to changes, quite pushing against the flow, and open your eyes to the greater situation.
Life-long: Life-long guides are animals we have been attracted to since a very early age. Think about your childhood, did you have certain animals you liked to draw? Did you collect figurines or read books about a favorite animal? These guides represent a part of your personality and usually reflect how the world sees you. They can be called upon for comfort in times of need and their own distinct personality traits can help out in difficult situations. If you do not know your life-long guide, you can seek them out through meditation, writing down your good traits and finding an animal that matches these characteristics, vision questing or dream work.
Transition: These guides come into your life during major life changes such as new employment, a big move, relationship changes, illnesses, deaths and other import stages in life. They may be with you a day, or a year, but these are usually animals you are not accustomed to seeing or working with, yet you feel their energy pulsing through you during these times. We need to look at what gifts they wish to share with us, try to understand their nature and habits, as they will be important to moving forward in a positive, healthy way. Be aware of them and try to figure out their message, or you will repeatedly see them until you figure it out.
Shadow: Shadow guides are the least talked about in modern spirituality, but are very important to positive personal growth. These are animals you have an unnatural fear of, animals that terrify you for no apparent reason. Our shadow guides may not come into play until we become older, more experienced people, or when we need to let go of past traumas and hurts. Your shadow guide also represents your fear, your hatred, illness and traumas you have dealt with, dark childhood memories, anger expressed at others and the not-so-positive choices you have made in the past. We can connect with our shadow guide through meditation or magical workings when we need to let go of the past, when we are ready to bring out the darkest parts of our being, either to shed, or to use in a current situation. Our shadow guides can be positive as well, there are times when our darkest emotions and actions are needed, a time when only anger, rage and seething emotions can help us out. Maybe this could be in cases of protecting a child from harm, in a war, defending our home from intruders, or maybe even standing up for someone else who cannot defend ourselves. We hope these times are few and far between; but the world we live in can be cruel and unfair, and these instinctual emotions can, or rare occasion, suit us very well.
Here’s a few examples of what many people believe these animals represent within a spiritual practice:
Ant - diligence, industry, community, strength, hard work
Badger - aggressiveness, passion and drive
Bear - gentle strength, dreaming, introspection, power, protection
Bee - divine messenger, service to others, gathering, community
Butterfly - rebirth, the soul, transformation, the three phases of life
Cougar - power, swiftness, balance, coming into your power
Fish - water magick, abundance, foresight, fortune, knowledge
Hummingbird - joy, pure love, celebration of life
Owl - wisdom, clairvoyance, magic, surrounded by strong spirits
Raven - magic, shape-shifting, prophecy, trance
Snake - healing, supernatural power, shed the old- rebirth is coming Squirrel - gathering, balance work and play, stock up for lean times
Whale - record keeper, blessings of spirit are coming
Wolf - teacher, loyalty, family, ferocity, patience
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