Working with Animal Spirit Guides

This will not be a post on how to find your personal spirit guide, but more of a personal account. A story of how my own spirit animal continued to present itself to me, despite all my efforts to dismiss it…

I may work with gods, do divination, talk to trees, …, but despite all of that I am not at all into ‘woo’. And especially I tend to be very, very critical of everything that has an odour of commercialization or ‘plastic shamanism’ around it. And for that reason, for a very long time I avoided working with animal spirits. Because it seemed like something that was the topic of almost every single ‘introduction to shamanism workshop’ (but.. if this is for real, you shouldn’t treat this as a bit of spiritual entertainment, right?). Or all these oracles around ‘learn from the wisdom of the animals’ (is this real spirituality, or are they mostly put on the market because it sells?). And I am not even going to mention issues like cultural appropriation (but really, having a ‘spirit animal’ that doesn’t even live on your continent, how real can that be?). Justified criticism or unreasonable prejudice? I’ll let you make up your own might on that…

Anyhow, because of this I was very critical when at some point within the course of Druidry I am taking myself (with OBOD), it was suggested that we do some shamanic journeying to figure out what our spirit animal would be. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to do it. As I told myself: I am perfectly happy working with trees. They are my guides. What do I even need a spirit animal for?

And so I decided to do a bit of divination on the topic. Try to connect with the animal spirits, and ask them what their opinion is. What about all the commercialization? Isn’t all of this just plain wrong? That divination session did not yield any of the answers I was expecting to get. I had expected to be confirmed in my opinions. Instead, I was called out. Below is an attempt to paraphrase the message I received:

We are seeking to reach out to humanity. What you see as petty commercialism may, for some people, well be the first time they are touched by the otherworld. The first time they truly get face to face with a non-human animal in an environment where the animal is not only considered as an equal, but rather as a teacher, on that has wisdom that is worth listening to.

We use the channels that are available to us. Many of them are not perfect. And yes, unfortunately some people take personal advantage of this to enrich themselves. But that should not concern you. The point is that this allows us to reach people we would otherwise never be able to reach. And once the spark is planted, who knows what might be possible in the future?

What to say to that but bow my head and acknowledge that I had been at least somewhat wrong in my views? And so I consented to take the journey for myself as well: I did the meditation, and at some point on the journey found myself standing in front of ‘the council of animals’, where Hare came forward to be my guide on the spiritual path.

Soon after that I found myself in the middle of a heap of real-life issues to deal with first, and so that experience with hare quickly faded into the background. And when things went finally back to normal, I reverted to the parts of my practice that were familiar  from before. When questioned on the topic of animal guides, I’d tend to say that I was a tree person, and that I didn’t really do animals.

Only, it seems that someone is not quite as ready to abandon me as I was to abandon her…

She’s made a point of showing up at during some of the most crucial points in my spiritual journey:

I’ve only ever seen a wild hare once. This happened when I was heading towards the place in the woods where I was going to perform a Ritual of Dedication to Cernunnos, one of my patron deities. When I arrived at the spot, there she sat, waiting for me. In retrospect, that ritual turned out to be a pivotal point on my spiritual path.

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Then, exactly one year later, I was sitting in meditation, mentally preparing for my Initiation into the OBOD Druid grade. They made me wait for quite some time. Then, suddenly, a white hare jumps into my Inner Sacred Grove, and leads me off onto a path into the forest, its pawprints leaving little sparks of light on the path for me to follow. I hear her whisper ‘Of you go, then.’ Then she’s gone. Some thirty seconds later, I hear a knock on the door. I am being fetched to start with the initiation.

After all that, I feel that it just won’t do to ignore her any longer. And I find that now she’s beginning to turn up in my meditations more regularly. I was just about to write that despite all, I still didn’t really know what this was all about, when she almost jumped at me, insisting on whispering this message to me:

See me as the voice of your intuition. I will be there when the path seems obscured, and when you need guidance in taking important life decisions. My territory is that of the night. The light that guides me is that of the moon. And aren’t you a moon-creature as well? Let us take that journey together then…

Yes I am a creature of the moon. The moon is quite a dominant force in my personal astrology, and the main goddess I am dedicated to is Artemis, a moon goddess. But those are all things that I only figured out long after hare had appeared for the first time. Guess I’d better start paying attention, right?

As a sign that I’m intending to listen this time round, I’ve honoured her by putting her on my drum…

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Life through the eyes of a tree: the heart

This is the first in a series of posts that tries to look at the world from the perspective of a tree.

To begin, I would like you to visualize the following. Go to a place in the forest that you feel closely connected to, and see yourself sitting there, with your back resting against a huge chestnut tree. It is autumn. Right in front of you, you notice one of its fruits, the prickly skin protecting the chestnuts from those that want to eat them before they are ripe.

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And you begin to wonder about that. Why the protective measures? Why does the tree not simply give away its fruits, but does feel the need to protect them?

And so you ask the tree if it will help you understand. In response, you feel your perspective changing, and it feels as if your body is slowly being absorbed inside the tree-body, and you become ‘the tree’. At first, that feels restrictive. You even panic slightly for a moment. What if you are not going to get out of here again? What if you are going to be a prisoner in here forever?

But then you relax. And slowly you begin to let go of your human senses, and you start to breathe with the tree. You listen to the sound of your heartbeat, and how it pumps the blood through your body. Relaxing further, you focus on that for a while.

As you do so, you feel your perspective expanding. You are walking around the forest again. Not in your human skin, but as a kind of expansion of the tree body. You see how you are attached to it through a kind of umbilical cord. And you realize that that cord does in no way restrict you, but instead, gives you freedom. For it takes care of all your material needs: as long as the tree is there, you are assured of nourishment, because the tree freely provides these for you.

Take some time to explore the forest from this new perspective. You are truly part of it now: for the tree not only shares its resources with you, but also its senses. Translated in a way you understand, that feels as if you have suddenly developed an ability for a kind telepathic communication: where before, the forest was a silent place, now it seems almost loud, as if multiple choirs are singing at the same time.

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It is hard to describe what it is exactly that you hear, and the word hearing isn’t exactly right either, for that would be a too one-dimensional way of describing it. For the ‘hearing’ that the tree provides you with, doesn’t happen with your ears alone, but engages all of your senses at the same time: you see it as a wave of colours, as an alphabet of perfume, interwoven with an ocean of sound. It is a language that is way more complex and rich than human language: it is as if every instant you engage with it, you receive treasure chests full of rich impressions, and whole stories download into your brain, instantly, complete with sounds, impressions, as if you were their protagonist.

As you walk through the forest, you realize that you are not simply visiting: in this moment, you ARE the forest.

Then you think back of what originally brought on this reverie, and you turn your attention back to where you came from, kneeling next to the tree to examine one of the chestnut burrs more closely. You admire the cosy little nest that they form around the seeds. You pick it up. And in that moment, you become it. Your mind links to the chestnuts, and you feel/hear/see the burr whisper to you in the colourful language of the forest: I will keep you safe until it is time for you to get born. I will pour all of my love into you, so that you get the best possible chance of survival.

And in that moment, you feel held and loved, not only by the burr, not only by the tree, but by the forest as a whole. You know that, whatever happens next, whether you manage to become a tree, or whether you become squirrel food, you are here, part of this family, part of this community. How you develop and where you end up growing roots will decide in which way you grow up, and what your experiences will be like, but you trust like you have never trusted before. You are part of the web of life. It breathes through you. And you are an immortal part of it.

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At that moment, you sense that it is time to go, and you feel yourself being sucked back into the tree, and then, after a few moments, find yourself back in your own body. And you hear the tree whisper ‘Did that answer your question?’

We are used to perceiving the world as human beings, locked into our own head, with our perspective limited to what our eyes can see, and where our legs can carry us. This visualization gives you a bit of a sense of just how limited that view is. For how can we know what the world is like when seen through senses that we do not possess ourselves? Next time you go to the forest, I invite you to try if you can repeat this exercise: go to a tree, and take time to introduce yourself: explain who you are, and what the world looks like for you. Then, ask if it would be willing to let you share in its perspective. If you receive a positive vibe, sit down with your back to the tree, close your eyes and let yourself be sucked in…