Connect with your spirit allies: power animals of the lower world
The shamanic journey
Awakening The Shamanic Force Within
There is no shamanic work without spirit allies and teachers. These provide the shaman with power, wisdom, guidance, teaching and protection in the physical as well as spiritual worlds. Power animals are helping and guardian spirits best described as being ’the essence of a species perceived in the form of an animal’. They are essential for many tasks the shaman undertakes, such as lower/underworld journeys, healing, shapeshifting and soul retrieval. The relationship with them is central for the shaman, who strives for a strong, reciprocal relationship with all spirit allies.
Animal spirits are neither lifted to the status of deities nor lowered to the status of a psychological metaphor.3 They are seen as manifestations of a natural power that is stronger, and often wiser, than human beings. When we are in touch with animal spirits, we are stronger and more likely to be in touch with our own nature as well as the natural world, and therefore less disconnected and fragmented.
In some cultures it is assumed that the spirits of at least two power animals stay with us from birth to keep us physically safe and healthy. Some shamans believe that losing a power animal is one of the causes of illness and they will journey to retrieve the power animal of a person who is ill. Certain North American indigenous cultures distinguish between four types of animal guide: journey guides accompany and help us through a certain part of our life’s journey; messenger guides leave us as soon as the message is understood: shadow animal guides infuse us with fear, returning at times in our lives when we are severely tested; other guides stay with us over a lifetime.
Power animals are wonderful creatures. To connect and work with them is exciting and will enrich our life. Let me describe two of my ’lifetime’ power animals to you and briefly outline my relationship with them.
My first journey with the intent to connect with a power animal led me to my power place, where a bear immediately came towards me. We were instructed to turn away a few times from the first animal we met, which I did. But the bear followed me and then she just took me in her arms, led me to a tree and held me very close. I felt a strong sense of warmth, love, comfort and safety. Next she took me by the hand and led me into a river, where we had a playful time together, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This was at a point in my life when I was depleted of energy. The power animal showed me in no uncertain terms that I needed ’mothering’ and more playfulness in my life. The bear has now been with me for almost 20 years.
An eagle connected with me later. He, too, has been with me ever since. He is quite fierce and focused, always pushing me forwards. He sees the bigger picture of my life and has, for instance, always been with me when I have gone through initiation rituals. He is often around when I want to give in to hesitation and fear. Sometimes he carries me to the upper worlds or flies with me to other destinations of a spiritual nature.
Whenever I do shamanic work I ask my power animals to be with me and help me. I could have never undertaken soul retrieval, for myself and for many clients, without this strong relationship with my power animals, especially with my bear, who has always been there, whatever grim landscapes and situations I have journeyed to. She has fought off attacking creatures, carried me on her back over water, cleared pathways in the underworld, showed me where to go in landscapes unfamiliar to me, and more than once rescued a hiding, terrified child and other parts of my clients, bringing them to me so that I could take them back to my clients.
It is important to recognize that we do not choose our power animal. It will come to us and it is for us to accept it, learn from it, work with it and build a relationship with it. All power animals are equal, as they are part of the energy of the divine in nature and our instinctual forces. They have thus certain qualities. Each provides a specific kind of medicine, which, let me assure you, will be exactly the one you need. For instance, a male participant in one of my groups who was very introverted and shy connected with a roaring black bear, whilst a woman who had real problems with her own femininity connected with an otter — a very feminine water energy — and a client of mine who was heavy and whose soul was starved connected with a hummingbird.
Although more than a psychological metaphor, power animals are also helpful in many ways psychologically: they are balanced creatures and having the energy of a power animal around will in itself help you with difficult emotional states because they are usually nurturing, loving, generous in their help and regard you positively. These qualities are in themselves healing forces.
It is difficult to describe the relationship with your power animal. You have to build it and experience it yourself. In comparison to spirit guides, power animals are not very verbal. Instead, they communicate by taking you to places and showing you things. They are not your instinct, but they certainly activate it. You don’t have to do deep work or journey to get help and guidance from them. Just envisaging them and asking for help can produce astonishing results.
I live near Dartmoor National Park, a huge area of moorland, sparsely inhabited and in parts without mobile connection, where the weather can change very quickly. One day, during a hike, I found the weather closing in quickly, without much warning, and thick fog blocking almost all visibility. Moor landscape looks the same at the best of times, but without any visible landmarks, it is particularly easy to get disorientated and lost. I wandered around for an hour, getting tired, before I finally had to admit that I couldn’t find my way back to the only road that would give me an idea how to get back to my car. So I closed my eyes, visualized my bear and asked her to ’lead me to the road’. I kept visualizing the animal walking in front of me, pointing the way; after about 15 minutes, I arrived at the road.
Exercise: Journey to meet your power animal
Use the drumming download and the journey outlined on pages 63—64 as a guideline and adjust the process as follows:
Your intent is:
’I am going to journey to the lower world to meet my power animal.’
· Imagine that you are travelling down to the lower world.
· You will end up in your place of power, where you will meet an animal. Turn away from it. If you meet it repeatedly, ask it if it is your power animal.
· When you have met your power animal, let the journey unfold. Observe the animal — get to know its energy, its qualities. Be with it. Let it lead you.
· When you hear the call-up beat, thank your animal and ask it if it wants to come with you. If so, bring it with you, travelling up the same way as you travelled down.
· Thank spirit and your animal.
Integrating your power animal
There are many ways to integrate your power animal into your daily life. Write the journey down and also the qualities of the animal. Be with it often. Dance it, draw it, compose a song about it. Craft something or find something that represents it and put on your altar. Ask it to be there in all your journeys. Demonstrate its traits and qualities until they become part of you. However you integrate the energies of your power animal, as long as you develop a relationship with it, everything that feels right is okay.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have great respect and love for my power animals and I know many people who feel the same about theirs.