We’ve all heard it. “_______ is my spirit animal”.
Almost anything can go in that blank nowadays and there are hundreds of online quizzes to help you find your spirit animal by answering only 10 simple questions, but a majority of the people who use that statement have no idea the history and belief systems they are corrupting.
To understand the deeper meaning of what the spirit or power animal is, we must take a look at native shamanic cultures from around the world. An entire world once existed where men and women felt a stronger connection to our four-legged, winged, and finned fellows on this planet. Our ancestors lived among the creatures we have now crowded from their natural habitats and disrespected to their very core, not unlike what imperialism did to some of those very groups of people who shared their bond.
Among many of these clans and tribes, it was believed that not only could humans interact with these other species on a physical level, but could meet them on a more deeply profound spiritual level.
For some, it was a rite of passage through ritual and study to determine what that animal spirit might be. They sought out and observed these animals paying attention to their habits and behaviors and finding the inner connection to those beings in order to better understand themselves and their place in the world around them.
For others, they might be told by a spiritual leader what some of their animals connections were via divination, but it was still up to the individual to seek out those animals that they connected to most deeply.
In other words, it didn’t happen because they saw some cute video of a baby elephant stumbling around clumsily and declared, “Oh my god, that’s so me! He’s my spirit animal!”
The appropriation of such practices is all too common in today’s society and is only one symptom of a greater problem.
We have come to view animals as the “other”. They are no longer considered fellow residents of our planet. Oh, we love our pets and care for them as family. We’ve enacted laws that punish those who commit acts of animal cruelty with steep fines and even prison time. Still, society at large views them as lesser beings rather than the powerful creatures we once knew could teach us lessons about the world and how each piece fit together.
Even more importantly, modern society has pulled us away from the deeper spiritual work that it takes to connect to these other beings. We’re taught to seek the simplest paths in life and to trivialize spiritual practice and the cultures from which they came.
There’s no easy fix for this. We’ve spent centuries undoing these beliefs and it will certainly take time to bring them back into our contemporary mindset. There are spiritual movements coming into prominence again, however, that teach the proper ways of respecting those beliefs and even to do the work to seek out these connections with the animal kingdom and its denizens in an effort to not only save our planet, but to reconnect with teachings we never should have forgotten or subjected to our modern criticism.
If you’re truly interested in discovering these parts of yourself, I would encourage you to seek out these groups, approach with respect, and understand that there is work to finding those animals with whom you connect most deeply.
In the meantime, be mindful. Understand that the words you use aren’t just words. They have meaning. They have power to destroy or to create. And the flippant use of a phrase can show the deepest disrespect.