If you’re a sports fan, you’re no stranger to the fact that many professional sports teams are named after animals. There’s the Chicago Bears, the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons, the Philadelphia Eagles, etc. We also use animal names as terms of endearment (for example, ‘Teddy Bear’) or as nicknames (Richard the Lionhearted, or King Arthur…whose name means ‘The Bear’). This tendency is a vestige of a time when we lived closer to nature. We choose these nicknames because animals have certain characteristics. In using these names for ourselves, our loved ones, and our sports teams, we are either consciously or unconsciously invoking the characteristics of those animals.
If you have a favorite animal, have you ever stopped to think about why? What is it about that particular animal that attracts you?
There is an almost universal tendency in indigenous spirituality to take totem animals. Sometimes even whole tribes took on the name of a particular animal. The Wolf Clan of the Cherokee people is an example. Such connections with the animal world are important, but why are they important? Have you ever stopped to think about what this could mean?
Think about your favorite animal for a moment. You may have more than one favorite animal. If that is the case, pick the first one that comes to mind. Picture that animal clearly in your imagination. What is that animal? What are its characteristics? How is it like you, and how is it different?
In her book, Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler tells of an experience she had with catching fish barehanded. She was having little success, when a shamanistic friend asked her to think of animals who are natural fishermen. Adler immediately thought of a bear. Her friend then advised her to ‘become the bear.’ She then pictured in her mind how bears caught fish. When she adopted the pose and the technique that bears use to catch fish, she began catching fish at a rapid rate.
From mythology and legend, we all familiar with people who transform themselves into animals. There’s the werewolf, and Dracula’s ability to transform into a bat. There are legends about witches and Native Americans who had the power to shape-shift. Unfortunately, we took those legends literally. What if they weren’t about an actual physical transformation, but a transformation of the mind? If you could mentally transform yourself into an animal of your choosing, what would that look like? What could you do in such a frame of mind that you couldn’t do as yourself?
If you don’t already have a totem animal here are some ways of finding out what your totem animal is.
Ask yourself the following questions and see if your totem animal reveals itself to you:
•Is there a particular animal that you find yourself drawn to?
•When alone in the woods, is there a certain animal you find yourself looking for?
•What animal do you enjoy learning about?
•Does a particular animal keep showing up in your dreams?
•Have you ever been bitten, chased or attacked by a particular animal?
•Do you collect paintings, statues, stuffed animals or trinkets of a particular animal?
•If you’ve ever gone hiking, were you followed by a particular animal?
If you’re still uncertain after reading this list, then do a brief meditation before bedtime, and ask your totem animal to reveal itself to you. Make a note of your dreams that night. Did any animal show up? If not, keep doing a meditation and recording your dreams until your totem animal reveals itself to you.
Could you draw on the power and energy from your totem animal to help you to succeed in your spiritual journey as a Druid? How? Spend this week communing with your totem animal. If you haven’t selected one yet, or if one hasn’t selected you, pay particular attention to your dreams this week. Are there any animals in your dreams? What might they be trying to tell you?
Shamanistic cultures throughout the world use animals as metaphors for emotions, or as teaching tools. We even do this in our own culture. People can be “as hungry as a bear” or as “quiet as a mouse” or as “gentle as a lamb” Animals and their traits are deeply rooted in our psychology. We tend to separate ourselves from nature, and to forget that people are animals too. We are part of nature, and we cannot change that, no matter how much we might try to deny it. We even use animals in our research labs, from the white mice in the psychology lab to the often horrible conditions in animal testing labs. If humans don’t have traits in common with our animal brothers and sisters, then why do we consider research on animals to be helpful at all to humans?
As human animals, our psyches are rooted in the natural world. Each of us contains within us archetypes of various animals. We instinctively know that snakes can be dangerous, just as we know we have nothing to fear from the timid rabbit (unless we’re in a Monty Python movie!). When using animals as metaphors for our own personal lives, we can draw upon the strength of these archetypes when seeking the imbas.