Tag Archive for: truth

tiger spirit animal meaning

Spirit Animal: TIGER

Courage, Strength & Tiger Spirit Animal

The most common associations with tiger spirit animal are courage and strength, which are very easy to understand. Tiger has a fierce reputation known for preying on humans and taking down prey twice his own weight. The tiger is rivaled in size only by lions. There is no definitive evidence that tigers are, on average, bigger than lions, but, no matter, they are very, very big cats. Tigers can weigh upwards of 600 pounds and be over 9 feet long.

When we see someone overcome with ambition, drive or obsession, we often say “Whoa! Tiger!” to indicate they are getting out of control. This may trivialize the ferocity associated with symbolism of tiger, but it also serves as a reminder of tiger spirit animal’s intensity.

Spirit Animal Tiger Cutting to the Chase

The orange/gold and black stripes of tiger spirit animal are a key into lesser-known aspects of the tiger spiritual meaning. Morphologically, the stripes provide excellent camouflage in the dense forests and grasslands that tiger calls home. The broken pattern, different on every tiger, blends in with twigs, leaves, shadows and light.

The difference between the symbolic meanings of a tiger’s stripes versus a leopard’s spots is great. The leopard’s spots imply a softness and indirect nature with things coming around full circle.

The tiger’s stripes demonstrate a sharp directness, slicing through the darkness, and cutting to the chase. In the shamanic journeywork I do, I often find that the spirit animal tiger is great at slicing through chaos and confusion allowing for new levels of healing and transformation to breakthrough.

Tiger is not a long distance runner, so he must silently prowl for miles over his territory to stalk prey and pounce on them unsuspecting. There is commitment and passion in the focus of tiger spirit animal meaning. When it comes down to getting a job done, tiger spirit animal cuts straight to the chase.

Where in your life can you act swiftly and cut through the underbrush in your way? Ask tiger spirit animal for assistance.

Doubt and Conviction of the
Symbolism of Tiger

The light and dark stripes of tiger relate to pronounced opposites. In tiger’s case, the contrast has to do with the struggle between doubt and conviction.

The Buddha taught that “having killed a tiger the Brahmin, undisturbed, moves on.
This comes from verse 295 in The Dhammapada and a Brahmin is translated as an “awakened one” or a spiritual guru or teacher.

In his translation of this important Buddhist text, Gil Fronsdal shares that this teaching about killing a tiger is not meant to be taken literally. Fronsdal says that to the Buddha, the tiger is symbolic of one of the five hindrances – doubt.

Overcoming doubt is attaining conviction. Therefore, in looking at the shadow and light attributes of tiger spirit animal meaning, we see that tiger can represent both sides. He can slice through doubt with conviction or degrade conviction with doubt.

Our struggles with doubt are intense, challenging and shattering. There is nothing soft and cuddly about what doubt can do to our own wellbeing and what we must do to doubt. We must be fierce in taking down indecision and hesitation. Tiger spirit animal is here to help.

Like the tattered fabric that tiger’s coat imitates, tiger spirit animal will tear our illusions to shreds allowing us to see the fault in our ways and find the conviction to move ahead.

When considering the tiger spirit animal meaning in your life, where are you struggling with doubt? The breakthrough from doubt to conviction is not meant to be pleasurable. Where can you let go of the need for things to be comfortable and embrace the call to be ruthless?

What Does a Tiger Represent –
Good Fortune

The Chinese God Tsai Shen Yeh is often depicted sitting on a tiger relaxed and smiling. Tsai Shen Yeh is a supreme god of wealth ruling over abundance and good fortune. His position atop the tiger is meant to show his mastery over the fierce tiger.

When considering what does a tiger represent, it could be the unruly or unpredictable nature of fortune. Tiger is known for his wild nature and unpredictability. It is said that in good times Tsai Shen Yeh offers great prosperity and in bad times he protects against poverty, riding out whatever unexpected events life brings.

This takes on a different meaning all together when we think of the tiger as a dual symbol of doubt and conviction.

Doubt undermines our stability, especially when it comes to good fortune. So often, I have people come to me thinking they’ve seen a bad omen and fearing that bad luck will follow. Their fear steals from their good fortune.

The doubt that we won’t be able to ride out whatever twists and turns life sends degrades our peace. Fear of bad luck begets tension and unhappiness, the opposite image of Tsai Shen Yeh content on his tiger.

What omens are you trying to interpret to find confidence? Align with the medicine of tiger, stop watching omens, and turn your attention to dismantling the uncertainty that plagues your tranquility.

By mastering the battle with doubt, bad omens no longer carry significance. When we are riding the back of the tiger, we are prepared for whatever life brings. We know, in our heart of hearts, that we have the strength to do what it takes to absorb the abundance of life.

 

Want to learn more about spirit animals?
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the trickster archetype

The Trickster Archetype

Daredevil skateboarders, snowboarders, BMX bikers, skiers, and motocross riders have an ever increasing dictionary of tricks. They are our modern day trick-sters, doing what defies logic and seems impossible while having a good time. An avid snowboarder for many years, I could never fathom what a rodeo flip was, let alone how to do it, but it didn’t matter, I still admired the beauty and grace of my trickster friends. These amazing tricks are a simple demonstration of how the trickster archetype stretches the bounds of what we think is possible.

Blaming the Trickster

Like the counter-culture members of modern-day youth, the trickster archetype is often viewed as a mischievous outsider. The trickster is interested in breaking through convention, undoing structures and over-stepping bounds.

Most people think of the trickster as a misfit that causes trouble. Many distrust the trickster.

The trickster archetype is blamed for our computer crashing in the middle of completing a lengthy tax form, our pipes breaking and flooding the basement during a dinner party, or an overdue loan payment getting lost in the mail. We often don’t see the trick coming, it comes at the seemingly worst possible time, our plans are defeated, and our life as we know it is ruined.

In viewing the trickster from this one-sided perspective, we leave ourselves subject to the whims of this energy. We feel powerless and helpless. We pass off blame. The best we can do is throw up our hands and hope life gets back to normal soon.

Paradox of the Trickster Archetype

When asking, “what is a trickster?” a key piece to realize is that the trickster is known for duplicity, landing us in situations that are both a blessing and a curse. This propensity for paradox is signature of the trickster archetype.

The Greek God Hermes

The trickster archetype has taken many forms throughout history, and the greek god Hermes is one that most embodies the paradox in this archetype. Only hours after Hermes’s birth, he made off with a handful of the god Apollo’s oxen. Initially, Hermes denied ever stealing them, but soon enough took Apollo to the cave where they were hidden. Apollo couldn’t stay angry with Hermes for long because he was charmed by the sound of the lyre instrument that Hermes had just created.

This story shows that the trickster archetype can be both charming and frustrating. We want to stay mad when the trickster wrecks havoc in our lives but we soon throw up our hands and find laughter. Usually the act of the trickster is so preposterous that we can’t believe it. A newborn baby stealing oxen and inventing a musical instrument is about as absurd as it gets. There’s nothing left to do but laugh in exasperation.

Hermes was known for being both the inventor of sacrifices and protector of sacrificial animals. He was the god of commerce and was a thief. He was heralded as a peacemaker and committed fraud. He was a great container for paradox.

The Roman God Mercury

The greek god Hermes was known to the Romans as Mercury. Today, astrologers call the planet Mercury the trickster.When the planet Mercury goes into retrograde (moves backward in relation to the earth), astrologers warn us to be on the lookout for the trickster. The element mercury itself is paradoxical, and as Carl Jung points out, Mercury “is metallic yet liquid, matter yet spirit, cold yet fiery, poison yet healing draught—a symbol uniting all opposites.”

Blessings of the Trickster

For some, the trickster is a constant presence. For others, he merely comes to visit on occasion.  However often he drops in, the trickster’s influence is typically unwelcome.

Many people believe that the best way to thwart the trickster is to become more conscious, mapping our patterns and befriending our shadows. This comes from knowing that the trickster is incredibly good at finding what is hidden, unveiling our greatest insecurities and fears.

In this protective stance against this multi-faceted archetype, we miss key blessings of the trickster archetype:

  • The trickster manifests what we wish for but are too afraid or meek to actualize. Whether it is changing careers or investing more time in a relationship. The trickster breaks what we no longer want and makes room for the new. The trickster makes the time and space for what we’ve secretly been craving.
  • The trickster knows what is best for our soul and cares little what is best for our reputation and pride. Staying home to dry vac a flooded house may be just what’s needed to unwrap us from the constant need to achieve and produce and impress.
  • The trickster is our natural “eject” button that pulls out of a crash course leading us precisely to a life devoid of soul. Even though the trickster’s tricks feel like a crash landing, the trick is a rescue mission bringing us out of our ego and into our soul. Anyone who values humility should befriend this archetype.
  • A trickster experience brings disappointment and elation. The trickster archetype teaches us the divine truth that everything contains its opposite. When we stop trying to frame experiences as either good or bad, we come closer to the sacred.
  • Fun, welcome, liberating and happy accidents are also the craftsmanship of trickster. Remember to keep an eye out for the faux-pas that delight and inspire. Give thanks to the trickster.

The Divine Trickster

Above all, rather than fear, revere the trickster. The trickster archetype has appeared as Gods, Goddesses, spirit animals, demigods, guardian angels, and helping spirits. He has played pivotal roles in creation myths and helped shape countless life forms. The trickster acts as a divine messenger bringing us much needed guidance when we are most blind to our own need. Leading us to cosmic truths, the trickster helps us transcend into the infinite. One of the most common forms the Divine takes to intervene and save us from ourselves, the trickster is a sacred instrument.

Confused with Tricksters

There are a number of archetypes that are confused with the trickster archetype, among those are the fool, magician, and alchemist. The fool makes jokes to alleviate tension within conventional structures whereas the trickster is set on breaking free of the structures.The fool often wants people to like his jokes. The trickster is not trying to make friends. The trickster could care less if we think he’s funny or not. The magician archetype is caught up with creating illusions and fascination. The trickster exposes illusion. The alchemist is concerned with the evolution of the soul and is invested in forward momentum. The trickster is glad to take one step forward and two steps back.

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understanding solitude

The Seriousness of Solitude

I was brought to tears this morning by the most surprising of lines in a book:

I see more and more that solitude is not something to play with. It is deadly serious. And much as I have wanted it, I have not been serious enough. It is not enough to ‘like solitude,’ or love it even. Even if you ‘like’ it, it can wreck you, I believe, if you desire it for your own sake.” – Thomas Merton in A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals

This is one truth I have endeavored to express in any myriad of ways, but Merton’s gravity does it more eloquently than I ever will. Solitude can wreck us and that is precisely why we should come to be with and know it, seriously.

What We Don’t Understand About Our Need for Solitude

Solitude is not simply taking time out for ourselves. Here is how we get solitude wrong: We think it simply has to do with being alone and not talking to anyone. To many, solitude means unplugging from email, social media, internet searches, television, texting, and phone calls. Others go further and believe that true solitude means turning the lights off, putting away all literature, leaving home, going outdoors, refraining from elaborate meals or fasting altogether.

When we think we are going towards solitude we are really looking to be left alone. This is what Merton means when he says, “desire it for your own sake”.

By looking at what we do when seeking solitude, we can easily see that the root of our need for solitude is one typically born of our need to escape, to get away from it all. Overwhelm is likely the most common excuse for a flight into solitude, but so is frustration. How many times do we say, “I just need to get away and clear my head?” But, how many times are we secretly hoping to regain control?

Solitude has a way of stripping us clean this is true, but we have no say in what is left over after it sweeps through. Solitude is not about being in control, precisely the opposite in fact. The process is anything but obedient.

What About Not Liking Solitude?

While living on an island by myself which I wrote about in my memoir Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks, I met the perils of solitude. I hadn’t gone to the island to be alone. I was not one of those people that Merton says “likes” solitude. Albeit, at times I had wished I could escape the shackles of societal pressure and expectations – why else would I be out in the wilderness? – but I preferred to be with both a crew of researchers and the sea.

In regards to alone time, I had nameless hours alone during my childhood as a latchkey kid. That was enough for me, thank you. I was afraid to be alone on that island because, like many others, I associated being in solitude with feelings of emptiness, abandonment, and depression.

So many of us are afraid of what we will find in ourselves when left to our own devises. What if we encounter that deep pit of sadness/hopelessness/pain/apathy? How will we ever come out? The question, “What is wrong with me?” often looms in the quiet of time alone along with “What am I doing with my life?” and “What’s the point?”

The Grace in Solitude

Yet no matter, there is great beauty and peace in this life of silence and emptiness. But to fool around brings awful desolation. When one is trifling, even the beauty of the solitary life becomes implacable. Solitude is a stern mother who brooks no nonsense.” – Thomas Merton

And, thank God she does brook no nonsense. What I found in living alone for such an extended period of time in such a harsh environment, was that solitude was stern. I was forced to stay in a solitude (my only way off the island was a private plane that came once per week), which took charge and ferried me past the anguish and tears.

I found an inner space so quiet and clear that I truly felt the sacred for the first time in my life. This was no fooling around. For those of us who currently reside in a fear of solitude, this is the gift of staying in solitude beyond the point of discomfort. Solitude surprises us with meaning and soul.

For those of us that wish, at present, to get away from it all, the craving is eventually destroyed by our own self-involvement. Our need to escape overwhelm and frustration follows us into the wilderness and we find that to know peace we must let go of ourselves. It is this surrender of control that can be messy, fitful and tumultuous.

If we stay in solitude long enough, we have the opportunity to glimpse the true grace of solitude that changes the life we no longer want to live. Solitude allows the sacred to infuse our being. Clarity becomes ours.

Understanding the Joys of Solitude

Sometimes life comes through and brings us into solitude without our planning or choosing so. This can be the unexpected job loss or the debilitating illness. One of my teachers called this “cocoon time” and it is known by mystics as a sacred gift along the road of transformation. If we can take these unplanned way stations without resistance or resentment, the benefits of going with the flow of divine timing are numerous.

What we usually forget about solitude is that the decision to retreat into solitude can beget from gratitude, joy and love. Simply taking the time to give thanks and reflect on this beautiful life we have is reason enough to seek solitude.

The magic of an honest experience of solitude is that what we once thought was important falls away. We are given the chance to touch something greater both inside and outside of ourselves. Pain and anguish melt away. We become centered and generous and good once again.

Not all of the time we spend alone is time spent in solitude. The grace of an experience of solitude is too strong to maintain for prolonged lengths of time. So we simply set the stage however we know how and wait for solitude to come to us.

 

 

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a Spiritual Director and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the matters of the soul easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More About Spiritual Direction.

shamanism beliefs

Do Shamanism Beliefs and Other Religious Beliefs Mix?

Shamanism as a Container

Unlike organized religions that tell you exactly what to believe, precisely when to worship, and literally how to talk to God, the practice of shamanism does not fill our worlds with things to do and think.

I like to use the metaphor of a container, be it a bowl, vase, or basket, that holds our beliefs. Shamanism is that bowl. It is our hands cupped and open, ready to receive whatever we choose to fill them with. This reality is refreshing for many people who are looking to break free from the confines of an organized religion that no longer fits what they believe, but who do not want to leave everything behind.

Shamanism is a worldview, meaning a way of seeing the structure of the cosmos. Shamanism beliefs tell us how the world is ordered and connected. We learn early on in shamanic studies that the cosmos is made up of three worlds: lower, middle and upper. These three worlds are connected by a central axis, also known as the axis mundi, world axis or cosmic axis.

This belief in the basic structure of the universe leaves a lot to the imagination, and that is where other religious beliefs come in to fill the container.

This motif of the three worlds and connecting axis mundi is common throughout all shamanic cultures. Of course, each tradition elaborates on the theme adding levels to each world and/or preferring one axis over another. What fills these three worlds also varies widely depending on the local religious beliefs. In polytheistic groups that believe in many gods, there are gods and goddesses that move throughout the worlds, some laying claim to one world or another. In monotheistic traditions, one God is infused throughout and influences all of the worlds.

Shamanism Beliefs & Christianity

Most people know that shamanism and Christianity have historically been at odds. Although not the only establishment hunt witches, the Catholic church was famous for naming shamans as witches and sorcerers. As a result, many shaman were burned at the stake for their beliefs and practices. If you feel these two paths are incompatible, history is on your side.This rift between the traditions is only recently healing in the hearts and minds of individuals who follow the teachings of Christ and benefit from shamanic practices.

The age-old trouble between Christian churches and shamanic practitioners assuredly has a number of roots that fill many volumes, but we can view it simply as the clash between the need for centralized power and the desire to place power in the hands of the community.

In traditional shamanic cultures, belief was much less centralized and the shaman had a good deal of authority and influence over the spiritual lives of community members. People trusted their shamans and knew them well, this pulled them away from organized churches which was an obvious threat to the church. But, this is just politics after all. Let’s get back to beliefs.

The toughest conflict in beliefs to reconcile between Christianity and shamanism is in regards to what lies beneath us. Shamans travel to lower world by going down through the earth, and they have beautiful, healing experiences. Christians believe that hell is below us and would never dare to imagine venturing below the earth’s crust. Anyone who is a Christian practicing shamanic techniques has to forfeit their belief that hell is the only thing below us.

What shamanism and Christianity do have in common is a shared belief that there is both good and evil. Exorcism and depossession are practiced both within Christian faith and shamanic tradition.

The belief in a single God and the belief that Christ is our savior do not come into conflict with shaman beliefs. In fact, they blend quite nicely into shamanic tradition. I know a number of Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, etc. that incorporate shamanism into their involvement with an organized Christian theology. I myself follow the teachings of Catholic mystics and find these teachings support a lot of what I experience in my shamanic practice.

Shamanism & Buddhism

As I mentioned in a previous article, shamanism and Buddhism have a lot in common. The belief that all of life is interconnected is paramount for both systems. They are both forms of eco-spirituality and neither depend solely on the existence of a God or gods.

Buddhists focus on the workings of the mind and how to release thoughts and attachments. Shamanists believe that thoughts are energy and that thoughts have a profound effect on our world. Shamans are taught how to watch the movement of energy. In shamanism, the study of attachments is common and shamanic practitioners learn how to break attachments.

Buddhists are interested in dissolving the ego. Shamans endeavor to become a “hollow bone” or “hollow reed” to be a clear channel for healing energy. Ego gets in the way of the healing. Thus, shamans are also interested in dissolution of the ego. As you can see, there are many ways that these two belief systems compliment each other quite nicely.

Shamanism & Atheism

Like Atheism, shamanism does not require belief in any particular deity or deities. However, it does require the belief of spirits and a spirit world. The belief that we have souls and the acceptance of the movement of energy in the hidden realms are essential and basic components of shamanic practice. This may or may not be an issue for some atheists depending on how strictly they’ve diverged from traditional religious convictions.

Shamans work to understand mystical laws so that they can understand the processes of illness and healing. Shamans also study the movement of harmful and compassionate acts in relation to illness and advise others on ethical behavior. Similarly, atheists often find some form of ethical code to follow and are interested in the cause and effect workings of the universe. In this way, the two perspectives inform one another.

Shamanism & Paganism

Paganism is a natural fit for shamanism and many of the beliefs in these traditions are the same. Paganism arose from hunter-gatherer cultures at the same time and in cooperation with shamanism. Paganism can easily be viewed as the lay-person religion in communities that had the shamans as religious leaders. This does not mean that all shamans are pagans and vice versa. The two can be practiced independently and do not rely on each other to exist.

Shamanism Beliefs & Other Religions

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive comparison of shamanic beliefs and other religious beliefs, but, suffice it to say that shamanism can be studied and practiced in collaboration with many additional faiths including Hinduism, Judaism and Sufism. Please share your experiences below of how you’ve combined your religious beliefs with your shamanic practice.

 

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

bat symbolism

Spirit Animals: BAT BRAVERY

The mere mention of a bat sends many people into a panic. Conservationists have been working for decades to dispel the terrifying myths about bats and to bring humans into a greater appreciation of these flying mammals. Bats work wonders for an ecosystem keeping pest insects in check and producing fertilizer in the form of guano. Still, despite the best public relations campaigns, many shy away from bat symbolism.

Coming to Terms with Bat Symbolism

We often want our spirit animals to bring good tidings, but it’s hard to feel optimistic about bat spirit animal. When we draw a bat card from an animal totem deck, we tense up, brace for impact, and begin furiously trying to figure out how to spin this in a positive light.

At the core, bat symbolism carries an archetypal association with fear. Our gut reaction to seeing a picture of a bat speaks of this. There is really no good way to turn fear on its head so that we can feel better. Fear is unnerving, and bat spirit animal seats us firmly outside our comfort zone. If you find yourself already holding your breath, it is likely that bat is bringing to the surface the fear you’ve stored up inside.

Move into the fear and know that you have one of the best guides along for the journey in the form of a flying, furry mammal. You have an opportunity to inherit gratitude, which will be one comforting emotion during this very trying time.

Bat Spirit Animal’s Foreboding

When helping others interpret their encounters with spirit animals, I often find a nail-biting listener on the other end of the conversation. Many people fear that the message from the animal is bad news. I always want to bolster the listener’s faith in the universe by creating an uplifting reading about an animal encounter, but this can be tough to do when faced with bat symbolism. The truth is, it’s scary.

Bat spirit animal carries messages of fear, suffering, trial, initiation, and challenge. At the same time, this tenacious, outstandingly brave little creature could not be a stronger ally to have in times of uncertainty.

On the spiritual path we hope to find great rewards and even bigger favors, but coming into connection with the Divine is not a way to guarantee comfort, safety, peace, joy, or abundance. It is a way to gain fortitude and presence. To become a generous being that moves grace and love into the world.

Death & Initiation

To become clear channels for grace we have to release our egos, identity and attachments. Release is a poetic word for death. Shamanic teachers are much more candid about what this process of releasing looks and feels like. It feels like dying. Even though the physical body comes through the process, we are not the same person on the other side. Who we were has passed away.

Just like the seasons, bat symbolism reminds us that our lives move in cycles. There are times when all the old must be sloughed off so that we can move our gifts into the world without distractions or obstacles.

Traditionally, shamans understood the necessity and periodicity of these “small” deaths in our lives. They created ritual and ceremony to facilitate and support this critical component of the spiritual path. Initiates were buried up to their necks, locked in caves, left in the woods, and abandoned in their own graves. We now affectionately call these ancient and painful rituals “vision quests” which can disguise the severity of the experiences.

Today, we don’t have such rituals for better or worse, but this does not mean that many people aren’t experiencing what is known as the shamanic death or initiation. These initiations are happening in the midst of life, cloaked in the mundane, but they are no less painful.

Bat spirit animal appears during these initiations when the world seems to be falling down around us. The loss of a job, a health crisis, death of loved ones, floods, fires, lawsuits, and so forth can be the outward manifestations of an inward crisis.

Upside Down and Clinging

Bat hangs upside down from the ceiling of the cave, clinging to the rough surface. This inverted posture could be seen as everything going wrong, but I see it as a defiance of gravity. Symbolically, gravity is the past. Gravity is what weighs us down and  keeps us from moving forward into grace.

Bat spirit animal says, “I’m not going to let that bring me down. I’m climbing as high as I can and riding this one out.” There is an intense tenacity in bat symbolism, more so than you will find almost anywhere else. Even when things are at their very, very worst and it seems like we won’t be able to go on, bat is the voice deep inside us that tells us to keep hanging in there. Bat symbolism is about not giving up, not matter how hard it gets.

Is this Ever Going to End?

In the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson, they warn against stagnation and preventing the death-rebirth cycle from progressing, but there is an important component of bat biology that we must evaluate. Female bat has three ways to prolong her pregnancy. She can prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg, she can keep the fertilized egg floating free awaiting implantation, or she can keep the very young embryo in a sort of stasis where it is not allowed to grow. She forestalls the development and birth of her pup until environmental conditions are more favorable.

Forbearance is another key component of bat symbolism. When everyone else is saying to get on with it, let go of the past, and start a new life, we don’t have to listen. We know when the right time is and we know when there is still more that must die. When we deny these truths it is no use. The cosmos provides more obstacles to slow us down anyways. Trust your instincts about the timing of your emergence from the cave.

Rebirth & Resurrection

Bats give birth to their young while hanging upside down. The babies come out feet, rather than head, first. This again speaks of the enormous strength and effort that is at the heart of bat medicine. Born against the pull of gravity, the force of the universe that pulls everything down, your new self is coming. It is a tremendous, heroic effort not to be taken lightly and worth every ounce of power you put into it.

At dusk every day, bats are born anew into the darkness flying out from the cave. That is why so many cultures associate bat with resurrection. We think being reborn into our new selves means we will come out into the light and have everything revealed to us. The trick of bat spirit animal is to remember that we are being born into the mystery. So much will be uncertain, but with bat spirit animal as your faithful companion you’ll be able to fly to new heights, hear the voice of the cosmos with great precision and have more freedom that you ever could have imagined.

 

Want to learn more about spirit animals?
Visit the Spirit Animal Guide

 

 

is shamanism a religion

Is Shamanism a Religion?

Is Shamanism a Religion?

Shamanism is experiencing a great resurgence. As everyone figures out how to pronounce shaman and shamanism (the first “a” is soft, like an “ah”), there are alternative terms adding to the confusion. “Shamanistic” and “shamanist” being primary contributors.

Given that people are still getting accustomed to the words, it is no surprise that few know how to categorize shamanism. The question of “is shamanism a religion?” is a worthy inquiry. 

Religion is typically seen as an organization of people that follow the teachings of a set spiritual tradition. Shamanism looks a lot like a religion because it is about spirituality. There are also strong shamanic traditions. But, is there enough organization to make it a religion?

Shamanism is involved with worship of the Divine, but the practices vary widely. It doesn’t have a written moral code like we see in religion, but shamanism does have a set of common beliefs. We’re used to seeing a head of a religion – the Pope being a primary example – so who is the leader of the shamans? There are local but not global figures. 

Religion is defined in the dictionary in these three ways:

  1. “The the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods
  2. A particular system of faith and worship
  3. A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance”

Absence of a Shared Shaman God

Shamans do believe in a higher power or powers that orchestrate life on this planet and the movement of the heavens. So, strictly speaking, shamanism fits the definition of “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power.”

However, there is no unifying story about the nature of this power that ties all shamans together. Without the glue of a specific mythology, shamanic practitioners around the world don’t unite in a cohesive way like other religions.

There is worship of superhuman powers, but no agreement about what or who that power is. Consensus is missing. Whether or not consensus needs to be present to make shamanism a religion is up for debate.

Shamanism is different than traditional religions because there is no set God or pantheon of deities that every shaman believes in. Some shamans work with a single God, like in Christianity. Others relate to a collection of goddesses and gods, like in Hinduism and Paganism.

Western shamanic practitioners that have lost trust in Christianity leave the definitive God or gods altogether and simply speak of life force or “the universe”.

In addition, there is no collection of written works to refer to in shamanism. Shamans don’t have a Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Quran, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Upanishads, Dhammapada, or Vedas to refer to.

This is a reflection of the locality of shamanism and how much it varies from place to place. As an earth-based practice, it adapts to the environment and people where it takes root. A shaman may adopt teachings from a spiritual text and incorporate those into their shamanic practice. This is a personal choice, not a collective one.

Shamanism Beliefs

Shamanism is a worldwide collection of people that have certain shared beliefs and world views. Here are the basics that unite shamans around the world going back as far as we know:

  • There is a physical reality AND a spiritual reality. Both exist at the same time.
  • The cosmos is made up of three worlds (lower, middle and upper) and connected by a central axis (such as a mountain or tree)
  • Spirit guides in human, animal, and other forms are real
  • We have the ability to travel to the spiritual realms via an altered state of consciousness known as the journey trance
  • Everything has a soul or is at least imbued with spiritual energy
  • All of life is interconnected and sacred
  • There is a higher power or powers that help coordinate the movement of the cosmos
  • There are cosmic laws that govern illness, healing, life, and death

As you can see, shared shamanic beliefs are about the big picture.

Variation in Shamanic Beliefs

The smaller, specific details vary widely. Shamanism is found on every continent around the world, and variations in the details depend on the country, culture, and individual. For example, some cultures believe that the three worlds have multiple worlds within them while others adhere to a simpler three world model.

There are many ways different shamanic cultures travel to the spirit world. Celtic shamans travel through a mist while Greek shamans use caves. Himalayan and Peruvian shamans travel via mountains and Norse shamans use rivers and oceans.

So when considering a “particular system of faith and worship” it is a matter of degree with shamanism. 

There is immense variation in shamanic practice. Because of this, we could easily make the case that shamanism doesn’t fit into the basket of “religion”. There is just not enough agreement on the details of both belief and ritual that bind the world-wide shamanic community together tightly enough.

There is no PARTICULAR system. In this way, it seems that shamanism fails to meet the definition of a religion.

Shamanism Religion for Lay People?

Traditionally, people who practiced shamanism held an esteemed and unique role in their communities as the tribe healer. The members of the community practiced a religion such as Buddhism, Hinduism, or Paganism. They went to their shaman for guidance and healing. 

I’d argue that more people today than ever before are accessing the wisdom and healing of shamanism directly via their own journey trances. This makes shamanism less of an elitist practice than it used to be. It’s now a spirituality available to anyone.

There is a collective identity in practicing shamanism. Many believe, including me, that laypeople can practice shamanism without needing to have a career as a shamanic practitioner. This opens the door to the possibility of shamanism as a religion because it has a wider application and following.

However, without centralized leadership and gathering places, shamanism still looks different than we expect religion to be. The leaders and communities are more localized than other organized world religions.

Pursuit of Supreme Importance

Then there is the last definition of religion: “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance“. Shamanism most definitely carries that supreme importance for me. When I ask myself “Is shamanism a religion?” in this light, I can easily say it is for me.

I appreciate participating in a spiritual practice that doesn’t require I believe a set way. The freedom to mix and incorporate different spiritual and religious stories and teachings is what draws me to shamanism.

Shamanism provides a container, a conduit, for our relationship with the Divine. Rather than tell us about the nature of a higher power, shamanism allows us to experience The One directly. Rather than require I read a book or speak to a priest to learn about the Divine, I can engage in direct revelation. For me, this is of supreme importance.

Re-Evaluating Religion Itself

You can make the case for a shamanism religion or not.

You have the opportunity to choose.

As we re-evaluate our relationship to “religion” and what that word means, we can decide for ourselves if we want to fit shamanism into that mold or not.

For people who have been betrayed, disappointed, or wounded by organized religion, shamanism offers an alternative spiritual path. For them, embracing shamanism as a spiritual practice and leaving the term “religion” altogether brings safety and freedom.

For others, calling shamanism a religion and reclaiming the word “religion” in a revolutionary way is what is healing. Whether or not we call it a religion, I can say for certain that shamanism is a worldview, a healing modality, and a spiritual practice. 

Is shamanism a religion? I’d love to hear what you think! Post your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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“Split in the Canvas” from Gracious Wild

In this excerpt from my book Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks, I share the story of the first time that the northern harrier hawk named Thalia came flying to land on my glove. Thalia lived at a wildlife rehabilitation center where she’d been trained to work with humans to do bird of prey education programs. I was learning how to work with her to become her caretaker. Annie was Thalia’s current custodian who was handing the reins over to me… 

One afternoon in warm spring weather, I met Annie out at Willow Brook. This was to be our last day together with Thalia because Annie was leaving to do field research for the summer. I had asked her to meet with me not only because I wanted a chance to say goodbye, but also because I wanted hands-on instruction on how to fly Thalia.

I walked with Annie as she carried Thalia down the road to the corridor lawn and A-frame perch. She walked me through the procedure for hooking the flying line up to Thalia’s jesses and narrated as she called Thalia to her glove a handful of times. Thalia was focused and obedient, hitting the mark every time. I watched and listened, diligently trying to pick up every nuance of Annie’s methods. I’d seen this all before, but would now have to put it to use.

Annie set the brunette hawk on the perch and walked over to hand me the pouch of food and flying line. I made sure to get everything set up as I needed it. We watched the harrier out of the corner of our eyes to make sure she was still. Thalia sat nonchalantly, facing straight ahead.

I walked in an arch to a point twenty to twenty-five feet away and turned my back to the bird. I kept my hands in front of me and out of her view while stuffing a large chunk of meat into my gloved hand. I double-checked the line to make sure it was firmly under my left foot. Both of my feet were firmly planted in the grass, shoulder width apart. There was little room for doubt here. Thalia wouldn’t think of flying towards a shred of fear. I took a breath in and let it out, feeling my energy sink into the ground. If I’m going to be a raptor perch, I need to stand rooted like a tree, I thought to myself. I raised my left hand out parallel to the ground, held steady, looked over my left shoulder, and whistled.

Thalia crouched, her body tense but lithe. Every feather on her body lay smooth in the instant before her wings extended and legs pushed off. Now she was five times the size I’d ever seen her before. I stood from the perspective of a mouse, surprised to a standstill. Her wings drew in and out with my breath. One beat and a quick glide. Two beats and I could feel her stare penetrate my soul. Stretched across my entire line of vision was this fabulous creature. Just as I was sure she was coming straight at my head, she rotated a fingertip. The sound of her feet hitting the leather of my glove was deafening. The clutch she had on my hand was crushing. I reminded my lungs to draw in air while the huntress devoured her prey.

This was a split in the canvas where the world around was no more and I stood with both feet in another. Here was the infinite spirit I knew lived within this crippled body. Through this vision she’d offered me a direct link to the vastness beyond the mundane. A sense of hope, which I hadn’t felt since I couldn’t remember how long, welled into the beaming smile on my face. I now held in my heart a true vision of my own soul along with that of my dear friend. She had leapt over that last gap between my true promptings and myself. What a miraculous gift. I carefully slipped back through the veil and turned to face Annie. She was smiling.

I repeated this profound exercise a handful more times until Thalia and I both lost our focus. It was exhausting to hold such sacredness amidst the weight of the reality we were bound to. She flew past my glove and landed in the grass beyond.

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

The Shamanic Journey & Hero’s Journey (Part 2)

In Part 1 of The Shamanic Journey & Hero’s Journey we explore the trials the hero goes through to reach the ultimate boon.

The Ultimate Boon

When we embark on a shamanic journey we have so many expectations for what is to come. There is a climax to this story we are certain. We will come back with a new power, a supernatural gift, a better life. The promise of riches from this journey are so compelling that we can become obsessive, even mad, in our quest. Our motivation to attain this goal is what helps us overcome the most nasty and devastating of obstacles. We are willing to give up what keeps us safe, long-held belief systems, and ego barriers. We are willing to face our deepest fears. Where does this expectation of a boon come from? Myth of course.

This is the stage of the hero’s journey where after much trial and striving that he reaches the ultimate boon. In many stories it is often a literal boon such as Jack’s golden egg, Jason’s golden fleece, and Prometheus’s recaptured flame. We are used to seeing the hero depicted in movies and books coming home with a great treasure, a mystical diamond, a magic staff or sword. In mythology this object is what literally makes the hero’s life better. This direct thinking can present a problem with the shamanic journeyer causing her to expect to be able to return with some THING that will improve her life. We know it sounds ridiculous at the time, but this is a difficult expectation to shake.

We are so oriented to stuff and things, and the shamanic landscape can look deceivingly like our own. When we ask what gift the power animal or soul part is bringing back, they can show us an object (a flower, a wand, a crystal, a stone). I can’t tell you how many years the magical child in me secretly fantasized about finally being able to bring one of these objects back. It is an obvious leap to make even though we know the laws of physics are against us.

I always encourage those I do soul retrievals for and those I teach to journey to watch out for the pitfall of taking this object literally. It is a slippery desire. The gift is in the simplicity of the metaphor. The way we bring this gift into our ordinary, everyday life is to assimilate the deep meaning of the simple truth that is coming through. It is easy to understand the object literally and it takes a heroic transcendence to understand it symbolically. It takes time, sometimes years, to understand the vast resources of this seemingly simple gift. This is why this is actually one of, if not the, most powerful and mystifying boons to receive.

Other boons are not objects, but climaxes and accomplishments. Joseph Campbell tells of sacred marriage with the goddess and gives numerous examples of the male hero coming to and marrying the divine feminine. In today’s world, what this looks like is the intellect marrying the heart. This is the coming together of action and receptivity. This is the sacred marriage. At this time in the shamanic journeyer’s progress they meet their anima or animus and are joined with them in the journey. This is the beginning of the end to the split between reason and feeling. The two come together in the journeyer. The coming forth of the “other” side allows the person to become fully integrated. The polarization between right and wrong that causes so much suffering in us is absolved in this moment, and no longer does disharmony rule the consciousness like it once did.

Now the journeyer has access to congruence. The form of congruence depends on the journeyer. It could be a new found decisiveness, a new found ability to hear one’s intuition, or a indescribable sense of peace. This is a coming to peace with one’s life and the process of birth, life, death, and rebirth that is inherent in the goddess. Often we would place the divine feminine as the heart in this exchange, but Mr. Campbell explains her as wisdom which is beyond intellect. “Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known… The hero is the one who comes to know” (p. 97). The shamanic journeyer comes to know what is needed at any given moment as she gains full access to her intuition. Without any preference for life, death, or rebirth – holding all as potential – true knowing can come through.

At the climax, the hero can finally come into confrontation with his father. Joseph Campbell calls this “atonement with the father” and artfully translates it into “AT-ONE-MENT” (p. 107). At ground level, this can be a confrontation with a male figure in one’s life that seems to always sit in judgement of our actions. At the spiritual level, this is the belief in a wrathful, vengeful, or just God that sits in the sky delivering judgment. Zeus is a perfect example of this projection, but regardless of the name of the male God, this is an imprint in our consciousness.  Atonement is about coming into oneness with divine will, letting go of all the judgements and justifications we use for holding on to our ego. What this looks like in the shamanic journey is coming face to face with our righteous selves and the reasons we use to justify our arrogance and vengeance. The final trial is a transmutation, a purging, of our ego.

The mystagogue (father or father-substitute) is to entrust the symbols of office only to a son who has been effectually purged of all inappropriate infantile cathexes – for whom the just, impersonal exercise of the powers will not be rendered impossible by the unconscious (or perhaps even conscious and rationalized) notice of self-aggrandizement, personal preference, or resentment. Ideally, the invested one has been divested of his mere humanity and is representative of an impersonal cosmic force. He is the twice born: he has become himself the father. And he is competent… to enact himself the role of the … sun door, through whom one may pass from the infantile illusions of “good” and “evil” to an experience of the majesty of cosmic law” (p. 115).

The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands – and the two are atoned.” (p. 125).

In the shamanic journey this can look like a battle with a great force of darkness. It can be struggling against a black tsunami or facing off with a fire breathing dragon. It can be encountering a frighteningly giant snake, spider, shark, or squid. Always the opponent feels malicious, all-powerful, and wrathful only to find that we are able to come to peace with them. We do so by releasing the need of our ego to triumph and replacing it with the call of our soul to atone.

The final boon that Joseph Campbell outlines and that the shamanic journeyer may encounter is apotheosis which is defined simply as “the elevation of someone to divine status”. This is where we experience the cosmic law that “what is in one is in the whole.” This boon is of the more rare kind in my experience, and something we are lead to. This is not a boon any traveler can make happen no matter what obstacles they overcome. This is God coming to the hero. Absolute dissolution into the sacred is hard to come by and is only accomplished in unplanned encounters that are fleeting. These are the possessions by the divine as explained by St. Theresa of Avila and other great mystics.

In a journey, apotheosis is proceeded by a dismemberment experience. Apotheosis for the shamanic journeyer is when one’s consciousness completely dissolves into white light, when one is completely taken over by a divine being, and when one all of a sudden takes in the world and all of its suffering at once. We inherently open our lives up to the possibility of this life changing experience by following the hero’s journey in our own mythology. Oftentimes God hears us and comes. Ultimately, our small, personal mythology is a reflection of the large, collective story of what it is to be human. What is in one is in the whole.

Read PART 3 of the Shamanic Journey & Hero’s Journey

fate free will and karma

Fate, Free Will, and Karma

Most, if not all, of us have a desire to know our futures. A testimony to this is our media. There are so many movies, books, and TV shows that are based in the future. Then there are those that explore the concept of predicting the future and these stories either include an the oracle (think The Matrix) or a time traveler (think Back to the Future and The Lakehouse). There is an entire workforce of psychics that thrives on our need to know what is going to happen. Mostly we’ve explored the theme of one special person or small, elite group of people who get the opportunity to foresee or visit the future. If this person is gifted (as with the TV show Medium), a brilliant scientist (such as “Doc” Brown in Back to the Future), or a layperson (like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is up for grabs. Clearly enough of us wonder what it would be like to be one of these oracles, that a host of characters has arisen to fill that fantasy.

Just recently, I finished a TV show that ran for one season on ABC in 2009 called FlashForward. This show was unique in that it asked the question, “what if everyone saw the future?” No one had a choice to see their future or not, as the opening credits announce “The planet blacked out…The whole world saw their future.” Each person got a glimpse of 2 minutes on the same day a year into the future, unless they were dead by that date. Then they saw nothing. What happened when everyone became their own oracle? They went mad with trying to figure out their vision if it was unbelievable, to make it happen if it was amazing, or prevent it from happening if it was disastrous. All of their choices leading up to that date were based on their relationship to their own vision. By observing the future some people were able to change it, while others made happen what may not have come to pass. They were all exhausted and living on doubt and adrenaline.

Why in a blog about shamanism am I sharing stories from pop culture and mass media? I think it’s important to bring this traditional practice into perspective of the modern era. In nomadic times, shaman were sometimes known as the oracles of their tribe. They would toss bones, sort through entrails, crack eggs, or watch the clouds to receive a glimpse of the future. Divination is a branch of shamanism many current day practitioners engage in. Since shamanic practitioners are often caught under the umbrella with other healers, clairvoyants, and energy workers we are asked regularly to help people make decisions by giving them information about the future. I have never been fond of the idea of acting as an oracle on someone’s behalf. I understand how much weight is put in that vision, and I am acutely aware of how much power people give to such predictions. My goal is to empower people. By glimpsing the future, people most often come out of the present which is a loss of power. Spiritual illness is a result of not all of us being in the current time and space. Soul loss happens backwards AND forewords (see definition of soul loss), and in this day and age we are spending way too much time out ahead of ourselves.

The reason why soul loss happens foreword in time is because we commit our efforts to creating or diverting a specific moment in time that we believe might come to pass. We leak an immense amount of energy and power to trying to control the uncontrollable. As we see demonstrated in so many films, we have no way of knowing the consequences of all of the choices we make. This is known as the “Butterfly Effect”. We make thousands of choices even in just a couple minutes. Will you have orange juice or tea? Should you wear a green or black shirt? How long will you run the water when you’re brushing your teeth?

Humankind has contemplated the nature of free will versus fate for centuries. Though many have presented “truths” in regard to this, there is no overlying agreement on the power of fate over free will, thus the prevalence of this inquiry in our culture. In the Middle Ages, the myth of the goddess Fortuna and her wheel of fortune (Rota Fortuna) was a common way to explain how fate works in our lives. Fortuna is often depicted wearing a blindfold and spinning the wheel at random. There is everything from great wealth to utter poverty available on the wheel. In this myth, one’s actions do not determine where the wheel lands. A man who does good deeds can be labeled a criminal and a thief can become a trusted aristocrat.

Then there is karma. What we put out there will come back. There are consequences to the actions we take. These consequences, good or bad, accumulate over time to also steer the course of our futures.

There is evidence to show that all of these laws are at play in our lives: free will, fate, and karma. It is incredibly simple to see how we can get stuck in the future, even when we try to manipulate the future through just one of these cosmic laws. We can get caught in a mire of reasoning trying to figure out what are the “best” choices to make to get us where we’d like to go, what karma we need to clear to ensure the optimal outcome, or how we can best prepare for whatever fate is thrown our way. All three of these options serve to pull us into fear and out of the moment. We are no longer acting from our authentic selves. Indulge in entertaining a combination of two or three of fate, free will, and karma and you’ve left your body altogether. There’s just too much for one person to manage. There is no way we can control or steer cosmic forces. Yes, we can make a choice, but we cannot choose the outcome of that choice. That is entirely impersonal.

In the end, it is your job to concentrate on getting here, in your body. Just as we have so much effort focused on releasing and moving on from the past, we must put an equal amount of effort on releasing the future. From the present moment you have the most power to love and to heal.

I once had a shamanic practitioner retrieve a soul part of mine that was me as a healthy, elderly woman. When I saw her in the journey I was so relieved to find her again. I knew I’d allowed her to wander off into the future out of my belief that I couldn’t be a wise crone until I was physically old. My longing for her before the soul retrieval resulted in all consuming questions like: What if I never get old (fate)? What if I take the wrong path and never make it to her (free will)? What if I don’t heal enough to become worthy of her (karma)?  Out of my intense desire to become her 40 or 50 years from now, I was draining my current resources with strategies on how to get to her. I was not in the now. Just like we can ruminate on the past and make decisions to prevent old wounds from happening again, we can obsess on the future and make choices that to feed the destiny we crave. It doesn’t matter where the prediction of the future comes from, the Gods, a psychic, or your intuition. I don’t care if the prediction is right, wrong, or highly probable. It still has the same capacity to corrupt the moment and bleed you dry. Consider setting aside the temptation to get ahead of yourself and instead settle in to yourself. Call the fragments of you home, at last.

Attending to our present-moment mind and body is a way of being tender toward self, toward other, and toward the world. This quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love.”
– Pema Chodron in Comfortable with Uncertainty

Spirit Animals: POLAR BEAR

Polar bear spirit animal’s world is frozen, with landmarks often hard to find. To make matters more challenging, the wind constantly moves the drifts and the floes carrying his plans and thoughts asunder. He does not have a preference for one way, the way, but rather relies on the wisdom of the ages and the abundance of the underworld to carry him through. He’s been doing this for a long time you see. He was the one who knew who we were before we did.

Polar Bear Spirit Animal’s Coat

When we see a polar bear’s coat we assume that the individual hairs are white, but they are actually clear. The translucent hairs scatter sunlight with no preference for any particular color ray and, thus, they appear white. This brings to the fore an incredible truth as the color “white” is often associated with goodness and purity, but “white light” is interpreted differently. White light is synonymous with Source, God, and divinity.

Polar bears, like the stark, snow-covered landscape they live in, reflect divine light. If a polar bear has walked into your imagination, dreams, or ordinary world , now is the time to pay homage to the blinding beauty that is the Creator. The immense size and presence of these apex predators gives additional gravity to the message.

Polar Bear as a Channel for Grace

The longer guard hairs of a polar bear’s coat are hollow as well as transparent. The hollow hairs were originally thought to conduct the sun’s warmth down to the  bear’s black skin, but this theory has proven false. Most of the heat from the sun doesn’t make it past the polar bear’s incredibly dense coat. Through the qualities of his hollow fur, polar bear spirit animal demonstrates how being a hollow reed can reflect divinity out in to the world. It is so clever that scientists used to think the hollow hair conducted the energy of the sun to the bear’s skin to warm him, and now we know this is not true.

In your own life, examine your beliefs about why you have decided to be a channel for grace. Do you believe allowing joy to move through you will bring you more joy? Are you afraid to allow the light to move through you for fear you’ll be overheated or overwhelmed? Do you spend all of your time trying to clear yourself so that you can be a channel for healing? The polar bear spirit animal has come to guide you through this process, and before we barely get below the surface we see the first set of lessons about appearances and beliefs concerning channeling divine energy. Being perfect or pure or good is not the goal, radiating the divine is.

 

Find your spirit animal workshop. Painting of red-tailed hawk.

 

Connection to Snow Symbolism

There is a compelling parallel between the polar bear’s fur and snow. The multi-faceted ice crystals of snow flakes cause all color rays to bounce around, not absorbing or reflecting any color with any consistency, which causes us to see the snow as white in the same way we do the polar bear’s fur.

Many dream interpretation guidebooks define snowflakes and snow as “frozen emotions,” but I particularly am interested in the less common idea of these representing “spiritual truths”. The spiritual aspect coming from the white light they reflect and the truth coming from the concrete form of an ice crystal. Also, like any spiritual truth, snowflakes are temporal and infinite in nature. We all know that no two snowflakes are alike. Being of the land of snow, polar bears bring an innate ability to connect with the nature of spiritual truths.

Contrast of Scarcity and Abundance

There is intense contrast in the realm of the polar bear. He lives in a white, seemingly barren landscape, but just below the surface he has easy access to a dark, fertile underworld. The ocean that he navigates as effortlessly as the top world is teaming with life.

His own physique mirrors his outer world as his hollow, transparent fur hides a black skin covering a thick layer of blubber over 4 inches thick. He has a hard time staying cool in one of the coldest environments on earth. This shows that although you may appear to have a stark life on the surface, you hold vast resources below/within. How can you begin to see your life inside-out so you may honor this abundance more fully? Is the contrast jarring you at this time? Polar bear spirit animal has come to help you walk and swim the duality with grace.

Polar Bears in Folklore and Art

In the mythology  of the Inuit, polar bear spirit animal is known “Nanook”. Many northern tribes say polar bear is the one that taught man how to hunt and survive. In Greenland he is known as “Tornassuk” the master of helping spirits and the main agent of initiation for shamans. The Inuit too saw him as the primary guide for shamans. In many traditions, he is rumored to take a human shape, being a human while inside the igloo, which he also taught humans to build, and a bear while out on the ice.

I’d like to highlight one artist has dedicated her life’s work to depicting the white bear. I’ve known since childhood and always adored Barbara Stone. In the 35 years she’s been captivated by the polar bear’s presence, she’s traveled to the north to observe them dozens of times. Her whimsical artwork shows the bears taking baths, sitting down to tea, and out tending the garden, and readily demonstrates how these massive creatures can easily assume our form. She has tapped in to an archetypal, subconscious knowing of how we are linked with these animals.

The Polar Ice

Ice plays a critical role in the life of polar bears. Their migration follows the flow of the polar ice pack. Polar bears need the ice to ambush their surfacing prey from. When ice is less prevalent polar bears will swim hundreds of miles to new ice floes in search of hunting opportunities.

This speaks of the usefulness of having a solid, but fluctuating boundary between our outer and inner worlds, to trusting that what we need will come from the unknown of the dark depths below, and to knowing when to put in concerted effort to seek out new nourishment.

Ice being more permanent than snow, it represents frozen spiritual truths, and polar bear can show us the need to freeze some of our beliefs into the ground we walk on for a time. When the seasons change and the time comes, those beliefs will naturally break up or move on and new floes of ice will form to support us. Polar bears will fast for a time when the ice floes are absent. This is a reminder that it is okay not to have beliefs to stand on for a time, and that you have the reserves built up to last you until you are supported in freezing up a new belief system.

Association with Seals

The diet of polar bears consists mainly of seals. Seals are linked with creativity and the imagination. Thus, we see here the need to harvest the fruits of our creative endeavors rather than solely allow them to surface for breath on occasion. Time to haul that beautiful gift of yours up onto the ice and allow it to provide the sustenance you need to take you into the next length of time between projects.

Mother Polar Bear

Mother bears typically have twins which again highlights the dual nature of these white beasts. The number two is significant here and it may be worth your time to look into mythology surrounding twins. Have you given birth to two ideas at once? How will these creations co-exist? Mother polar bear may be able to help you with these questions. Just know that she does not wean her young for 2 and a half years, so this process of raising two dreams at once may take some time. As always with the polar bear spirit animal as our teacher, patience is a virtue not to be forgotten.

Spiritual Masters

It turns out these great beasts have a great amount to teach us. It is even worth looking in to what spiritual masters and mentors have made a difference in your life. Which of these teachers radiated the divine without preference for a given color, way, or understanding? Who was willing to offer guidance without attachment to the outcome, purely for the bliss of sharing? Who gave support and knowledge to you without asking anything in return? These are the polar bear spirit animals that have wandered into your life in human form. Watch carefully what they do for they will teach you how to survive in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

 

Find your spirit animal workshop. Painting of red-tailed hawk.