Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Animal Spirit Guides

Whether I'm in my own backyard or another country, I'm always aware of the animals surrounding me. We can learn so much by watching other animals in nature - watching birds fledge from a nest can be a lasting spiritual experience in and of itself. But our relationship with the natural world can extend further if we let it. 

In last month's newsletter we took a look at animal totems and their significance in modern life. Here's what I shared with readers. 

Why do animals want to help us?
We have a very unique place in the world. We have the ability to be masters or the ability to be stewards. The better, wiser, stronger, more peaceful, etc. we are, the better shape the planet is in. Animals, being the pure beings that they are, are continually appearing in our lives in an effort to help guide, teach and remind us. These helping spirits are what many cultures refer to as totems. But the practice of watching the natural world for signs, omens and other cues is one that spans both continents and millennia. In both ancient Britain and ancient Rome, the practice of watching nature and interpreting its signs was called "augury." It was believed that seeing a particular bird for example, flying a particular direction or behaving in a certain way meant something to the observer. Initiates were trained in the art of deciphering these signs, but I suspect that much of the information was also simply common knowledge, passed on from parent to child and carried through the generations that way.
The world doesn't revolve around us. But I do believe that the natural world is constantly trying to get our attention. We live in fancy boxes, sheltered from interaction with the chain of animal life and the elements, but we are still a part of the earth and connected to every living creature upon it. A great way to tune in more deeply to the world around us is to try and discover what animal totems may be supporting you. A totem is not necessarily an individual being in the sense that say, my dog Lucy is. An animal totem is a spirit. It is the over-arching spirit of that particular species. So, for example, if one of my totems is Owl, it may be a particular type of owl, let's say barn owl. But the spirit that is my totem comprises all the wisdom, knowledge and experience of every barn owl that has lived. You can reach out to your totems in meditation or shamanic journeying (I recommend this book by Sandra Ingerman, it comes with a CD). And to learn more about augury, Ted Andrew's book Animal Speak is indispensable.

You may have one main animal totem, or you may have several. I have found that animal guides tend to change throughout my life, but they seem to always be connected to you (so you can always "visit" with a past guide when you miss it or you feel you need it.) Some come to help you develop certain skills you need to accomplish something you're meant to do, or to help you learn a healthier way to be. The more you start to communicate with the natural world and explore getting to know your animal guides in spirit, the more strongly they will appear to you -- I can attest to that. You may dream of them, or they may appear right in front of you, like the owl I spotted near my backyard bird feeder in the middle of the afternoon. A good way to begin to search out your totem/s is to simply be more aware.

Are you seeing a particular animal again and again, either on TV, posters, books etc? Are you drawn to a coffee mug or another material item in a shop with a particular animal on it? Do you feel like you're suddenly noticing images or pictures or items for sale everywhere with a particular animal on it? Has an animal come to you in a dream? This animal may be a totem.
I got to know my first animal totem through a shamanic journey. Once that first step is made, there are lots of things you can do to support and strengthen your relationship. Donate money to the animal via a wilderness organization or give to support their habitat. Volunteer your time to help protect, care for or work with them. Purchase a small item to keep someplace special that reminds you of your totem so that you can keep the lines of communication open. You can also talk to them (via your mind) throughout the day, or think of them and send them feelings of love and warmth.

And a word to the wise (and respectful!) - Once you know who your totems are, it's best to keep them to yourselves. Telling others about your totems depletes their power. It's a sacred relationship, and one meant to be kept between you and the spirit of the animal. Exceptions to the rule can be if you "ask" and feel it is ok, or to help teach others who are looking to connect with totems of their own.