Tag Archive for: dreams

animal symbolism

How to: Research Animal Symbolism

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.

Here are my videos on Spirit Animals:

 

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

National Geographic has pictures and videos of featured animals: 
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/topic/facts-pictures

 

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: https://onekindplanet.org/animal/

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:
https://www.worldwildlife.org/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/

 

ANIMAL LEGENDS

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

stacey couch

VIDEO: Stacey Couch at Boulder Book Store

This presentation at the Boulder Book Store in Boulder, CO was filmed on April 10th, 2014. In the first clip, I share a bit about the writing and publishing process and share my training as a writer.

In this second clip, I read an excerpt of the book that is a perfect example of why I decided to write the book Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. The excerpt is from the chapter “The Mouthpiece”.

barn owl gracious wild

"Ghostly Messenger" from Gracious Wild

This is an excerpt from my book: Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks

Another spirit I’d known in this life began calling on me regularly since I’d come to the island. The woman who was my babysitter when I was a child was a grandmother to me. She first appeared randomly in my dreams, but then her visits began to take on meaning. I hadn’t seen her during the last few years of her life and always regretted never saying goodbye.

I was in a dimly lit living room with the shades drawn. Pauline sat low on an old sofa with green and gold floral print. She was plump like I remembered her in one of her big, soft housedresses. The room was smokey with rays of light coming in through the cracks in the curtains. I knew she was dying.

“You should get going to class,” she encouraged. She was right; it was nearly time for my college courses to start.

“I don’t want to leave you,” I shyly admitted.

“All will be well,” she comforted, “come here and give me a hug.”

I approached her and bent over to wrap my arms around the round woman now on in years. She felt frail under my arms. The sweet scent of her housedress rubbed my chin. Her tight, gray curls tickled my cheek. Her arms engulfed me. I leaned into her and whispered, “goodbye grandma.”

I felt myself lifting up with her spirit as it left her body. For a moment, I held the embrace and revealed in the weightlessness. I felt so free. Then, self-conscious, I pulled back into my own body. I stood aside and watched her spirit ascend.

My wrist-watch alarm woke me from my otherworldly dream hours before dawn. I ate breakfast staring at three black windows and packed carefully for a cross-island trip. A setting three quarter moon surrounded by haunting, wispy clouds loomed ahead as I climbed Manzanita Hill. The scene was the perfect backdrop for a horror movie, and after my strange dream it felt as if I was walking the land of the dead. What was I doing here? In answer, a shrill, blood-curdling scream erupted from the darkness around me. I stopped, my muscles surging in anguish against the anxiety. I spun to face the tormenting barn owl that had released his shriek. I let out a madwoman’s scream of my own. Hearing my voice so similar to his raised my courage. His ghostly white figure glowing in the moonlight stealthily disappeared into the night sky. Just then my grandmother’s house came to mind. She had owl figures and pictures decorating her entire house. This was becoming way too real.