…or are we being chosen? Indeed perhaps a further philosophical post is warranted, but at least for now ponder that
What we seem to choose is at the same time choosing us
We can come up with all sorts of reasons and justifications for why we like a certain animal. For this post I ask you entertain the possibility that these animals choose us as much as we choose (read: embrace their choosing of us) them. A certain harmony of inclinations and attributes is at play whenever we interact with a particular animal archetype.
Animal totems are an incredible way to learn more about one’s own nature and strengths, as well as to empower ourselves to be more than we would be alone.
All I have learned about Animal totems on this plane has come from the writings of Ted Andrews and to a minor extent Michael Harner, and the rest has come from working with these spirits themselves. When beginning this kind of spiritual work, begin with approaching with respect. That’s why we are starting with the notion that animals spirits choose us to work with, and embracing that resonance.
Perhaps it is that their instincts and perception of our true abilities and disposition allows them to choose more wisely than us, combined with the fact that our own ambitions and filters would distort if we were to be the ones initiating the choice. Furthermore, it helps us release the tendencies of control and ego-spirits are not at our beck and call or under our command. Such thinking leads quickly to the dangerous waters of darker magicks.
If the honor of being chosen by a spirit is not enough incentive, then allow me to elaborate on the importance of exploring our animal totems.
In terms of forms of spirituality, working with the spirits of Nature and animals is one of the more universal forms of practice. It is arguably as close as the Buddhists get with their “we all have minds” to work with, but even that gets into discussion as to the nature of that Mind and where Soul comes in to play.
Nature is not as philosophically messy, and we all have our own relationship with our physical environment until the grave. Working with animal totems is a great way to deepen the meaning we have in our interactions with nature, and to open the door to all sorts of magical synchronicity with the animal realm.
Animal relationships are of utmost important to our psychological and spiritual integration as well. In the normal progression of the psyche, given the large pressures of culture and society to repress such instincts, we go from baser animal instincts to more abstract forms of interacting with the world. However, all healthy growth transcends and includes the lower stages of development (see Ken Wilber’s work on Integral theory for more). So if we try to divorce ourselves entirely from our animal nature, we will grow more and more inconsistent in our behavior and our the shadowself will invariably rear its head and rock the foundation of our lives until we accept it.
Shamanic work has always included such working with animal spirits for this very reason: learning to channel and embody different animals that have resonance with our uniqueness allows us to get in touch with our own deeper and more ancient neural pathways.
Animal spirit work is important if for no other reason than to learn how to be incredibly present in this world we find ourselves in, as present as an animal fully attuned to their environment.
A traditional way to begin working with animal spirits is to have a Shamanic Practitioner retrieve an animal for you that completely suits you at this time in your life. The animal retrieved is often the perfect one for your given situation, but it can also be one of your “core animals” whose qualities you embody and have worked with your whole life.
For the latter situation, you can begin to discover and explore what totems are already active in your life. This is a wonderful place to start, as it helps get in touch and integrate with allies that have been with us for most of our lives.
Take this time to reflect on your upbringing, as our sense of fascination and wonder is very pure during our childhoods. What animals called to you back then? Did you have stuffed versions of these totems? Was there an animal you always sought out at any Zoos you visited? Did a research project on when given a choice?
Even if you have no tangible memories to the above question, close your eyes and allow your imagination to come up with an animal. Acknowledge the animal that comes to mind without any judgement, and begin to get curious about its qualities and traits that resonate with you. As an ongoing guide, Ted Andrew’s Animal Speak is an excellent resource that gives you more than enough to work for years with the wonderful world of animal totems. I have been working with it for over 5 years now, and still feel like I have barely begun to mine the depths of wisdom available.
In accordance with whale’s creativity (or in my case, Orca), I aim to catalogue my own interactions with Animal Spirits if you are curious as to my perspective. I am working on a compilation that is another resource you may consult when encountering a new animal.