Venturing into the world of animal symbolism, otherwise known as the study of power animals, can be very daunting. There are sometimes wide gaps and obvious contradictions between the various books and websites that tell you what a spirit animals signifies. It is important to fact check any power animal reading as well as flesh out these readings with additional information. I can tell from experience, that it would be incredibly easy to write an entire book about the symbolism and power of just a single species of animal. That means that any power animal interpretation available (yes, including mine), will not cover the entire scope of the animal’s gifts. Most books and websites have a limited number of animals listed, and it can be hard to find a reading on the less common animals. This is when we are forced to create our own interpretations, which is a good thing!
Any true inquiry into the nature of a power animal should include an absorption of simple scientific facts about the colors, structure, eating habits, mating, survival, and environment of the animal. Understanding how the animal makes a living and what their social lives are like can be incredibly enlightening.
Look for what makes this animal unique in the animal kingdom. Take notes on what fun facts really jump out.
We are drawn to the qualities in our power animals that we either identify with or we desire. In pinpointing what we like about our power animals we have the opportunity to make these characteristics conscious in ourselves. Identifying with power animals is a great way to boost self-esteem and become more empowered in who we are. It can be hard to sit down and write a list of what traits we like about ourselves, and a good place to start is by listing the positive aspects of the power animal that match our own great qualities. If the power animal has a characteristic we covet, they have come to help us manifest that expression in the world. A elk that proudly bugles his voice into the world can help someone with speaking up and claiming their territory.
Don’t dismiss what is ugly, cruel, or frightening about an animal. These traits help point out our judgements and fears.
We often think that our power animals are a direct reflection of ourselves, so when we unearth a piece of information about the animal we don’t like we tend to get discouraged. Just because a salamander eats baby birds doesn’t mean that those of us with salamander power animals are heartless individuals that devour helpless beings. This fact can either be taken as a metaphor – that the resource we need may come from those who haven’t left the nest – or as a generous reflection. When we find something that turns us off, this can direct us to the way we judge others unfairly. When we polarize strongly against a certain way of being, we are limiting our own path. In choosing to not do something we can waste a lot of energy making sure we don’t become what we fear.
With the scary or gross power animal we have the chance to learn acceptance and let go of fear. When we encounter a power animal we’d rather not have, we are being offered the opportunity to look into our own shadow. The characteristics of the animal will point out the best way to do this. A bat who is a creature of the night, for instance, is a perfect helper in going into the darkness. They often go out in groups and they use a chirping voice to call out into the darkness and see what’s around them. This could mean that the best option is to join a support group that is a safe place to navigate frightening subjects and ask the others to be a sounding board for what we’re working through.
Any animal can easily help us with both our fears and our triumphs. It is up to us to determine what the animal has come to help with.
Once we fill up to the brim with information on our power animal, it’s time to filter through the information and get clear about what the animal has come to help with. Some facts about the animal might resonate while others don’t. Our intuition is a powerful ally for us in this process. Try not to think this through too hard. Our rational minds can help sort the information while our intuitive nature deciphers the meaning.
Creating our own power animal interpretations is a practice that takes a lifetime to perfect, and it gets easier with each reading we create. I’ve put together a list of my favorite online resources for biological information on wildlife. If you have a website you’d like to share please post it in the comments below.
IN DEPTH ANIMAL GUIDES
This list of websites starts with sites that have the most animals listed with the most information on each animal. I also recommend an internet or library search for information on the particular animal. There are many books and websites dedicated to a single animal (such as polar bears) or group of animals (such as marine mammals) that have much more in depth information not always found in the general animal guides.
Encyclopedia of Life has all species around the world. Be sure to click “Read Full Entry” link below the bottom right hand corner of the image of the search result: http://eol.org
eNature.com has a series of guides for different animal groups down to the species level: http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/
BBC Wildlife Finder opens the door wide to exploring the habits and habitats of the animals listed on their site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildlife
National Geographic has an extensive list of mammals as well as other groups: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/facts/
QUICK FACTS ABOUT ANIMALS
Short on time? These sites will give you a quick summary so you can get in, get what you need, and get out.
One Kind is an animal protection charity with quick and great unique facts: http://www.onekind.org/be_inspired/animals_a_z/
A to Z Index of Animals has wildlife and domestic animals: http://a-z-animals.com/animals/
Defenders of Wildlife has many North American megafauna: http://www.defenders.org/animal-factsheets
World Wildlife Fund has megafauna throughout the world that are of conservation interest: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/
BIRDS AT THE SPECIES LEVEL
There is a lot of great information out there about different species of birds and I highly recommend that all interpretations of birds go to the species level. To simply have an “owl” as a power animal will get you some of information about what they offer as guidance. Being able to see in the dark and fly without making any noise are characteristics of the whole group, but we are limited on what we can learn given that there are over 100 species of owls around the globe. Going to the species level helps us delve deep and gives us magnitudes more information.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the premier source for all things avian. Be sure to listen to calls: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search
Seattle Audubon Society has facts about species hard to find elsewhere: http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/
For fun I wanted to add in some animal mythology. I couldn’t resist sharing this link to an extensive list of Native American myths about animals. http://www.native-languages.org/legends-animals.htm
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Director who teaches about archetypes and symbolism. Her speciality is working with soul pioneers - those of you who are making it up as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.