September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

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Kat Lady
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September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Kat Lady » 01 Sep 2009, 01:43

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s an animal guide.

As the summer ends, many of us return to our normal lives after a summer holiday to some new vacation spot. As we know, any trip requires a few things in order for us to avoid getting lost. We need a map, perhaps a compass (or a GPS), and maybe even a guide or two. Our spiritual journeys are much like that. We have lesson materials, outside readings, and carry our own sort of compass called instinct. We also have guides from the spirit and physical realms that help us on our journey. These guides may be human, animal, or sometimes something in between! None-the-less, they are there to point us in certain directions so we do not lose our way.

As I meet more of those embracing an earth-based spirituality, I find that some of the questions most frequently asked are about these guides, especially about animal guides. Why an interest in animal guides? Aside from the fact that we seem to all like furry little creatures, as Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm explain, “Animals in particular are revered for their ability to bridge the gap between these two worlds. They can bring messages to us from the Otherworld, and they can act as our guides in that realm when we cast off our bodies in death. Because they have a spirit-form as well as a physical form, they can be our guardians and protectors even when they are not present physically.”

In each discussion I have, a few questions are repeatedly asked: “What is the difference between a guide and a totem?” “How do I find my animal guide and/or totem?” “Is this my guide or totem?” and “Why is this animal my guide or totem?”

There are many techniques used to help us connect to our animal guides, so perhaps that is a topic best left for another time. I will, however, direct you to a wonderful thread here written by Donata which may be of help.

But, if I may, I would like to share some of the insight I have gained concerning the difference in terminology and the questions of discerning if an animal encountered is a guide. I hope that some of my thoughts might help in some small way.

Animal Guides vs. Animal Totems

We hear terms such as animal guide, totem animal, medicine animal, spirit animal, life animal guide, shadow animal guide, or animal helper when we participate in any discussion concerning spiritual guides. Depending on your particular practice, each term will mean something different. In the end, they are all animal guides each with a different purpose. The two terms that I think are most commonly used are “animal guide” and “totem.” So if they are both a type of guide, why differentiate?

Perhaps the best place to start is with a basic definition. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a guide as “one that leads or directs another’s way;” “a person who exhibits and explains points of interest.” Merriam-Webster then defines a totem as “an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often a reminder of its ancestry.” I think that the definition of a guide is pretty clear, however, the one defining totem is still muddy. In addition to the definition by Merriam-Webster, I like to use the description of a totem as explained by Kenneth Meadows: “Totems can help us to understand ourselves. They are both connectors to our own inner dynamics and reflectors of the ‘substances’ of which the personality of our temporal Human Self is composed. In other words, totems can help us to understand why we are as we are and point us to the strengths and weaknesses of our own characters…”

To illustrate the similarity and difference, let us take a nature hike in a National Park. When we go on a nature hike, we have the option of having a guide lead us on the path and point out interesting things along the way. We may have the same guide for the whole hike, have a new guide replace the original, or have one or more guides join us at different points of the hike. That is what an animal guide does; it points us in certain direction or points out things that may be important to a particular point of our journey.

As well as our nature guide who points out the important things around us, we have our own experiences and personality as well as those passed down from our ancestors that serve as our inner guides or “instincts.” They help us decide which path to take and help us to relate to what is around us. Instead of just pointing out that there is a tree over the hill that we might want to sit under, they help us to understand why that particular tree is of interest and why we either weep with joy at its’ discovery or curse the root that we trip over. These “totem” guides do more than point us in a certain direction. They help us to see why we go in that direction and show us our true reflections as they are a part of who we are.

To simplify, an animal guide is a friend, a colleague, a companion, an acquaintance that helps us for a period of time. A totem is part of our conscience, sub conscience, ancestry, and ego and is a part of our "self." In the end, I don’t think what we call those animals that guide us is as important as recognizing that we have some guides that walk beside us for a period of time and those that step in our footsteps.
If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.--Mark Twain

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Kat Lady » 01 Sep 2009, 01:48

Is this my animal guide and why?

The young warrior sits by the fire, a puzzled look on his face. He has recently completed his first vision quest to find his totem animal. For three days and nights he was alone in his inner circle, fasting and praying. Now he has returned, feeling as confused as he was before his journey.

The tribal medicine man quietly sits beside him. After a few moments of silence, he asks the young man, “What troubles you?”

In reply, the young warrior relates his tale to the medicine man. “On the first morning, I awoke to see a fox run by with a rabbit in its mouth. It stopped, looked at me and ran on. I thought, ‘Fox, a strong totem.’ On the second day, I awoke to the sound of the great eagle over my head. It circled me three times and dived to the ground, rose again and flew off toward the river, a rabbit in its talons. I thought, ‘Eagle, I am honored’.” On the third day, I awoke to nothing. As I made my preparations to return home at the time of the high sun, I saw a rabbit sitting in the shade of the tree. I looked at him, and he held my gaze before hopping into his hole.”

The young warrior turns to the medicine man, wide-eyed and says, “I am not sure which of these is my totem!”


Often in our eagerness to find our animal guides or totems, we make assumptions that any animal that crosses our path may be a guide, especially if encountered in the physical realm. But we should not allow our preconceptions and eagerness influence us to see a portent or animal guide in everything we encounter on life’s journey. Sometimes a crow is just a crow, doing what crows do best.

To help avoid this trap, some questions I often ask when I have an encounter are:

• Is the animal exhibiting normal behavior for the particular season or location or is this “out of place?”
• What does the encounter make me think of?
• How does the experience make me feel?
• What was my mood at the time of the encounter?
• What events have been happening in my life?

It is never wrong to question. Many times just the process of asking the question provides us with the answer. It has also been my experience that recording the encounter in a journal allows greater opportunity to reflect. And usually, upon reflection, the answer has been there all along. After all, who is the best judge of an experience but the person who experienced it? In any case, thinking of how the experience makes us feel, what we think of when it happens, and taking stock of our presence of mind will give us insight into whether there was a message to be delivered or if it was just a chance encounter.

The medicine man chuckles, looks at the young warrior, and asks him to speak about what he knows about Fox. The young warrior tells him that he has always liked Fox and has encountered her often. “She usually hunts at night, feeding herself first. She then finds rabbit before the dawn and returns to her den at the sunrise to bring food to her kits.”

The medicine man nods and asks “So what does this tell you?”

The young warrior thinks for a moment then replies, “It tells me when I saw Fox, she was doing what she does naturally and is not necessarily my totem, though I might wish it so.”

The medicine man nods and says, “Now tell me about Eagle.”

The boy tells the medicine man that his brother has Eagle as a totem. “Eagle begins to hunt at sunrise.” He pauses, enlightenment in his eyes. “Ah! I see now, Eagle was just doing what Eagle does and just because Eagle is my brother’s totem, it is not necessarily mine.”

The medicine man nods again and asks, “So, young warrior, do you know your totem now?”

The young warrior nods, sighs in disappointment, and answers, “Rabbit. Rabbit showed himself many times during my quest, even in the jaws of Fox and the talons of Eagle. Then Rabbit did what a rabbit does not do; he greeted me at the time of the day when he was to be back with his kin. By doing this, he was showing his connection to me. I see that now.”


As this story illustrates, often when we are searching for our animal guide or totem, it is staring us in the face. However, we allow our desire for something different to interfere in our quest. We enter our journey with the idea that we will find a bear and have a difficult time accepting that perhaps the toad at our feet is truly the guide we need.

Author RJ Stewart puts this into perspective: “If we work with older traditional methods, however, the creatures choose us, even if we do not like them. In this way there cannot be a fantasy or emotional investment or romanticised self-identification.”

This does not necessarily mean that if we favor a certain animal, that there is no chance in that animal choosing us. In fact, this is quite the opposite in many cases. However, if we seek without a preconception and without prejudice, we do not influence and romanticize the outcome. We may not always like or appreciate the guides that choose us at the time of the choosing. But in the end, the lessons we learn from then are those that help to shape our future. Even the small mouse has much to teach us if we are willing to listen.

“You sound disappointed, young warrior. You desired a different totem?”

The young man turns to the medicine man with sad eyes and says, “I wanted a strong totem like my brother has. Instead, I have timid rabbit. Why rabbit?”

The medicine man looks at him and replies, “Why not?” And he leaves the young warrior to his thoughts.

The young warrior settles down for the night and thinks about his experience. He thinks about what he knows about Rabbit and remembers that Rabbit is quick and agile. He hides in plain sight in the tall grasses. He is smart in the fact that he builds two entrances to his burrow so that while his enemy is at one, he can escape through the other. Are these not qualities much like his own, hiding when others cannot see him? Is he not considered to be one of the fastest in his Clan? Do they not speak of his cleverness in escaping from difficult situations?

He grins as he also remembers that rabbits breed often and with many. He decides that maybe Rabbit isn’t so weak of a totem after all and falls asleep dreaming of the chase, but he is the one doing the chasing!


By asking a few questions when we encounter an animal on our journey, we will be able to discern if this perhaps is a guide or just an animal tending to its business. By accepting that an animal guide or totem "is what it is" and not superimposing our own desires, we allow ourselves to be open to its message and begin to understand ourselves and the world around us. If we trust ourselves and reflect upon the experience, we grow in our own abilities and knowledge and learn the language and protective powers of the animals around us. Whether we call them animal guides, totems or “Henry” doesn’t matter. What is important is that we seek interaction with our guides and accept their guidance.

So next time you get the attack of the ho-hums and see a sloth staring you in the face, ask yourself if this is a good part of your personality or one you want to make an effort to change. And when you meet an animal that you would not normally think would be a guide, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” instead of “Why snail?”

______________Sources__________
Andrews, Ted. Animal Speak-The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2004

Carr-Gomm, Philip and Stephanie.The Druid Animal Oracle. New York:Simon & Schuster, 1994

Meadows, Kenneth. Shamanic Experience: A Practical Guide to Psychic Powers. Rochester:Bear & Company, 2003

Stewart, RJ. “Stampeding to Oblivion, Survival of the Fatuous-The Underworld Perspective.” http://www.rjstewart.org/blessbeasts.html originally published in Pan Gaia Magazine, June, 2004

Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary and Thesaurus. Merriam-Webster Inc. 2009 http://www.merriam-webster.com/
If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.--Mark Twain

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Twig » 01 Sep 2009, 09:25

This is an incredible post, Kat Lady. Thank you so much. I intend to study it when it's not three in the morning. I am always trying to "figure out" who my animal guides are, and the deck keeps shuffling...

A few remain, however, through the years, mostly as guardians of the directions. No noble animal has thus far stepped forward to guide me through my life.
"...some part of me is tree." -- Stephanie Kaza (Buddhist author)

"It takes courage to live ordinary lives." -- Connie Schultz (newspaper columnist)

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Selene » 01 Sep 2009, 16:21

Thanks for this, Kat Lady. Questions like these are so common among those who walk the paths of earth-centered spiritualities of all kinds, and it's good to see this information laid out so concisely.

Twig, sometimes nobility is where you find it, not necessarily where you look for it. :wink: I have two guides who have been with me since I took my first steps on this path—the small black cat was no surprise since cats are a big part of my life, but the water moccasin was something I'd not anticipated or looked for! I admit that initially I was somewhat taken aback by having a venomous snake greeting me every time I entered my sacred grove, but sometimes the unexpected ones have the most to teach us, and I have learned much from him. And the little cat is just a cat, not a panther or something big and impressive—but he is the one with the lessons for me and that's enough for now. :)
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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Ade Sundog » 01 Sep 2009, 18:50

Thanx Kat Lady , nice one .

I once read , or heard somewhere that there are two kinds of animals , those that are nice to eat , and those that are nice to think about .
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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Bracken » 01 Sep 2009, 19:34

Kat Lady, this is brilliant. Totally original. Thank you.
I'm sure this information will be used time and again.
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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Dryadia2 » 01 Sep 2009, 21:17

Wonderful Seminar, Kat Lady! Bravo! :clap:

I'd like to add that sometimes a guide will show up just to give a 'wake up call'; like the time I dreamed I was a tiny ant on the prairie, looking up at a gigantic buffalo (bison). That was a humbling experience!

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Donata » 01 Sep 2009, 21:43

Excellent explanation Kat Lady!

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby lotuswelcome » 06 Sep 2009, 13:12

Excellent, Kat Lady! I agree with Baobab. It will be used as a reference time and again.
Good work!

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Jingle » 06 Sep 2009, 20:49

Well done!
I have a question about animal guides. Is it common for them to leave and never return once you've learned from them what you were meant to learn? I had a baboon guide once, and once I figured out what he was trying to tell me, he never showed up again. I miss that old guy.
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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Kat Lady » 07 Sep 2009, 00:14

I have a question about animal guides. Is it common for them to leave and never return once you've learned from them what you were meant to learn?
Yes, some guides are there just to teach us one important lesson. But you may be surprised and the old guy may show up again! :wink:
If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.--Mark Twain

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Eilthireach » 08 Sep 2009, 07:41

Dear Kat Lady,

my congratulations to this wonderful seminar! You have explained some classic truths about the topic, and used a beautiful Native American(?) story to develop your line of thought. Very well done!
I am certain that this seminar will be helpful to many OBODies and seekers.

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Serpentia » 08 Sep 2009, 09:30

I love the seminar, as I have told you already, but I would like to take this one step further, if I may.

You have addressed totems and animal guides here. Are there any other experiences/encounters with animal spirits that do not belong into these two categories?

In Germany, we tend to talk a lot about "power animals". I am not sure how they figure in between totems and guides, since the guide aspect is definitely missing in the terminology, at least. May be a mis-translation, which would make this seminar double interesting for German readers, since the very concept comes to us (again, maybe?) from english-speaking countries.

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Kat Lady » 09 Sep 2009, 01:09

This is a good question, MoonDancer, and I think that the answer really depends on which tradition you follow.

I often hear of three distinct terms used by Native American Medicine Men/Women: Guide, Totem and Power Animal. The terms guide and totem are of course briefly described in this seminar, based on my understanding and experience of course. There can be a distinct third guide that helps a Medicine Man/Woman specifically with his or her work. That animal empowers them with the power of that animal for a specific purpose. These are what they often refer to as Power Animals. But the Medicine Man/Woman does not discuss these Power Animals with any but a small handful of individuals. Their work is so sacred, that to discuss them lessens the work and demeans the special bond. In addition, by sharing these special guides, you give away some of that sacred power to others, thus giving others possible power over you. So, for example, I have an armadillo who occasionally shows up as a guide, mainly when I need to be a little more “hard shelled.” One of my totems is Lynx, as seen in my Avatar. I will discuss these freely as they are who they are. However, when I need to do a cleansing, I may call upon one of my Power Animals to be able to utilize the power it can grant me. I do not discuss them and the only ones that know are those that do the work with me.

I think that in our neo-pagan terminology when people refer to a Power Animal, they are often referring to a guide or totem and use the term interchangeably depending on the audience. Let's face it, "Power Animal" brings a more vivid picture to mind and sounds better than "guide" or "totem." :grin:

However, out of respect for my various Native American friends, I personally prefer to just use the terms guide and totem unless I am specifically speaking about Medicine Work. And even then, I use the term Power Animal very sparingly. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to say “Power Animal.” It is just not a term I am comfortable using often due to what I have been taught.

Does that help?
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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby spiritgal » 09 Sep 2009, 19:47

Thank you so much. That is one of the best understandings of the two, that I have heard and read. i will read it again a couple more times. I especially liked the questions upon meeting or seeing an animal and wondering if it is meant for me. I find that when I start finding feathers then I know a big message is coming. Especially Crow. Bluejay is another if I need to watch my "P's &Q's" in regards to my healings. Bluejay is use your powers wisely, careful. Thanks for the help in discernment.
Blessings :thinking:

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Serpentia » 11 Sep 2009, 12:23

Thank you, Kat Lady, for that explanation. I understand you were scratching the limits of what can and should be said on such a platform with it, and I want you to know I appreciate it!

In analysis, now, I must say that this is indeed a mis-translation. Whoever first brought "Kraft Tier" to Germany had not read your seminar, obviously. I will try and differentiate this more from now on, particularly when translating.

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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Aurora » 17 Sep 2009, 04:55

Thanks for this kat lady! The whole Guide/Totem thing makes alot more sense to me now :D
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Re: September Seminar: Is it a bird, a plane or my animal guide?

Postby Ra3vyn » 26 Oct 2009, 15:54

Thank You so much for this Kat Lady- it has certainly help clear up some pointers for me in regards to my Animal Totem. Wonderful post! :hiya: :applause:

Blessings

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