Spirit Beasts Speak
I was up early this morning by three. I sat in the back room with candle light and listened to music while my thoughts drifted. Near the full moon, I’m a little restless. I’ve observed that behavior in myself for years now. Usually, it means a cup of coffee and a very early morning but it meant something a little more today.
As I sat quietly, I started to hear an owl right outside the window. A gentle “whoo” sound drifted into my ears, right as the dawn begin to break. My cup of coffee led me to the front yard, where I could hear a wood-pecker, dove and toad singing to the damp, cool summer morning. It made my thoughts churn about how important the animal world has been on my journey these many years. My eyes welled up with tears as gratitude and love washed over me. To honor them, I can tell you how they began to speak to me, and how I opened myself to hear them.
First, I don’t know how I feel about calling them totems, which for me, is a word with Native American roots and points to an emblem of a family or tribe of people. At least, that is the way I’ve come to understand it. Over the years, I’ve mostly referred to them as ‘animal kin.’ Some come to guide you, others come to heal, share a gift, challenge you and then there are those that just seem to stay. They were among the first kinds of ‘spirits’ to speak with me, followed by plant kin.
Summer time offered an opportunity to stay out at night when I was a kid. My youngest sister would busy herself playing basketball with neighbor kids, while I’d often be swinging or laying under the stars. In my most vivid memory, when I was twelve years old, I recall putting my arms out and spinning around and around beneath the sparkling lights of darkness. Gravity claimed me. As the world came back into focus I noticed a large shadow on my mother’s laundry pole shaped like a ‘T’ to the left of me. I imagined it to be a falcon, though I didn’t know why. I couldn’t see details but I “felt a look.” This feeling would come again many times, both in waking and in dreams. The strange bird took off into darkness just before I could tell my best friend to look.
I knew only that the bird was there and that it seemed to be observing me. As did other beasts. Spider wove a glistening web in the east on my sun-lit window. I woke each morning to its beauty. Frog, Toad and fish were among the first to visit my dreams. Furry-kin of all kinds showed up on the porch to visit me which really drove my mother to madness. I loved them. The Night-Bird was the first though -the first of many.
My family went swimming down at the floodways of Ben-Cash, the black river or the #19 ditch. My father once dared me to jump from a bridge. I don’t recall giving it much thought and took the leap after looking at each side of the bridge. My eyes flung open and all I could see at first was green water. Then, I noticed something shiny and pointed. I thought it must be glass. I’d barely missed it. Then the sharp point split, and I saw silver rings. I felt frightened when I realized it was moving towards me! Luckily, I wasn’t eaten by that very large fish, but it taught me how to swim real quick. My dreams took a new turn after this experience. It was as though I’d shrunk to the size of a ruler. Every grass field became a jungle. Animals were ten times the normal size. I was well, bite-sized. The immediate, instinctual reaction to seeing these mighty beasts was “Oh no! It’s going to eat me!”
Through 2007 and 2008 many animals came to see me. full omens and signs. First came the black birds. Every evening at seven, the black birds would flock in a mass to my tree. There were so many that the top of the tree seemed to be made of black leaves. They would stay for an hour and then fly away. Their feathers would drift to the ground and land vertically standing, stuck in the ground. Now, my front yard appeared to be made of feathers. A few of my neighbors were perplexed by the things happening around my apartment. The plants were being dramatic as well. The manager sent people a few times a week to cut my yard, which seemed to be more than necessary but the huge dandelions that would spring up all over the yard must have screamed “please weed me” to them. I however, quite enjoyed how surreal my yard looked with them. Skunk, armadillo, wood-duck, woodpecker and raven came to call by physically showing up either on the front or back porch.
By 2009, Dragon fly in iridescent blues and greens came to rest for a while on the elm tree that grew in my front yard. It was most definitely the largest dragonfly I’d ever seen. My daughter, Aragus the cat, and I had made a ritual of going and sitting beneath the tree in the afternoon. Later that year, in June, I rented a U-haul to move North. The truck I wanted had been rented out, but I was given a larger truck with no extra fee. The surprise? That same beautiful dragonfly was decorated on the side of that truck and I knew, it was a good sign. I thought about the way dragonflies are in nature. They make bold transitions from the water to the air. I knew to see one meant change -most likely, the moving kind.
I was visited by Mountain Lion in 2012. In a dream I found myself wondering through a forest. I felt tired and hungry. I came to a pool of water and noticed a small lion cub. It looked hungry too. I climbed into the pool and tried desperately to catch a fish. Instead, I struggled and fell on my face more than once. Mother Lioness walked into the picture from grassy brambles. I was frightened. She was huge, and my thoughts wandered immediately to being eaten as she walked towards me. Annoyed, the lioness shoved me out of the way. She stared at the water, keeping her strong body still. With quick precision, she slapped a fish out of the water to my feet. She did this twice more before stopping to stare at me over her shoulder. Now, looking into her eyes, I understood the message: “To sustain yourself, become still and wait for the opportunity to strike!” 2013 brought Lynx and Vulture to reveal secrets and to pick away ‘dead things’ that no longer served me in my life. In 2014, that dark, shadowy bird, visited outside of my window late at night.
Open to the Animal World
It is easy to go on an on about the animal folk. They are speaking to us all the time. Rarely, do people notice and even more rarely do people really, deeply listen. It is more simple than you may imagine. If someone were to ask me how to begin, I’d tell them to go outside for a few days and simply observe a natural space. Afterward, reach out to the animal world spiritually. Talk to them, tell them you are watching and listening. Invite them consciously. Then, do the work, listen and observe. Research animal behavior and you’ll see that the messages become crystal clear. I’ve had animal kin come to me physically, in dreaming, while I’m taking a trip in the car and even through the voice or dream of another person. Don’t be surprised if other spirits chime in too. The plant folk desire to be heard as well.
When I’ve taught students about the animal folk they often want to know what animal is their guide. I find that there are different animals that come to help through your life but sometimes, they come to stay. An exercise you might consider is to look at your own behavior patterns. What do you like to eat? Do you enjoy being outside or do you spend most of your time in your dwelling? Do you love to be around the water? What kind of environment do you thrive in easily? Questions like this can open the door for self-discovery. If you’re interested in guided meditation for animals, Youtube is full of them. Here is one I enjoyed quite a bit. Books are good sources for animal behaviors. I’d encourage you to look into local conservation magazines to find out more about your location and the species that naturally inhabit it. The Book Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews has been helpful for symbolism. I’ve also enjoyed Totems: The Transformative Power of Your Persona by Brad Steiger.
Animals have saved me. They have come when I have needed guidance, strength, even when a secret must be known or a painful truth revealed. If anything, I can say this. I have been claimed by the claw, tooth, scale, the furry kind. They are my life and mine is theirs. They are my family.