Finding Your Power Animal

This post is dedicated to two of my friends. The first was so interested in this topic that I simply had no choice but to write something on it. The second is my dear friend Hora whom I can only describe as one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. If it wasn't for him, this post would have never been written and I will now explain why.

Hora has been studying and practicing Shamanism for quite some time and as you may know, power animals are an integral part of Shamanic practices. This summer, he shared some of his knowledge regarding this topic during the Witches' Site 2013. I have to mention that everyone considered this lecture and workshop to be one of the highlights of the gathering.

In this post, I bring you the complete workshop and lecture from the Site (of course, with Hora's permission) as well as some additional, juicy pieces of information.

What Are Power Animals?

The term "power animal" is a fairly new concept which comes from Animism and Shamanism. It was introduced in 1980 by Michael Harner in his book entitled The Way of the Shaman. The animal itself is actually a good-intentioned spirit that protects the person it is connected to and gives them strength, courage, wisdom and anything else and anything else they may need in life to overcome obstacles.

Two different interpretations exist, that is two different currents which define power animals differently. In traditional Shamanism, a power animal can only be a wild animal, mammal, fish or reptile (definitely not an insect!). Neoshamans are a bit more flexible when it comes to this so they created a wider spectrum in which a power animal can be anything of the above options, as well as a mythical creature, a domestic animal and much more. Actually, it all depends on how much freedom you will give yourself in this situation.

Another Neoshaman belief is that our power animal is a reflection of our higher Self in the lower world (that is, the subconscious, but more on this in the next headline). It takes the form which will teach or heal us the most. Some believe that it may have all the characteristics that we lack (basically those that could make us better human beings) so in this sense, they actually fulfill us. It is, therefore, an essential part of us. Or, as Hora said: "we are actually one being and any feeling of detachment is an illusion". 

The traditional Shamanic approach opposes this interpretation. It claims that the power animal is a completely different spirit (so it is separated from us), but that we have the ability to connect with it symbiotically so that each side benefits from the union. We gain new knowledge, wisdom, power/strength and in return, we give the spirit a physical body for a short while with which it can experience the physical world through our physical senses (since they don't have them).

The Shamanic View of the World 

I mentioned some kind of "lower world" a few paragraphs ago and not it's time for me to explain this term.

Shamans believe in two realities; the usual reality (the real, physical, "our") and the unusual reality (the immaterial, energetic and spiritual). We perceive the usual reality when we are awake while we experience the unusual reality in altered states of mind (trans, dreams, etc.).

I assume you understand what is meant by "usual reality", but the unusual reality must seem very...unusual to you. Shamans divide it into three parts: the upper, middle and lower world. This is illustrated by a tree (often resembling the Tree of Life whose branches and roots mirror one another, although any tree is a fitting symbol). In this symbol, the tree top represents the upper world, the tree trunk represents the middle world and the roots the lower world (which will be the focus of this post).

The middle world is the energetic reflection of our ordinary reality in which time flows normally, while the upper and lower worlds exist only in the unusual reality; time and space cease to have meaning, everything is here and now.

What we are interested in is the lower world because it is precisely here that we can find our power animals (although they can travel from one world to another).

Why Not Say "Totem Animal"?

A short answer to this question would be: out or respect towards North American Indian tribes.

But here's a more detailed answer. The term "totem animal" really does have a special meaning to these cultures. It constitutes the belonging to a certain tribe or family whose guardian is that specific animal. It is usually thought that this animal is also an ancestor to whom we should show respect and gratitude. In their village, each family had its own totem pole with depictions of various totem animals which somewhat served as guardians but also as reminders of important events in the family's/community's past as well as a sort of keepsake.

Another very important reason why we use the term "power animal" is because Native American Indians believe ti to be spiritual stealing when a white man adopts on of their terms, or even worse - one of their customs.  

What Is a Shaman?

"Shaman" is a Siberian word which literally means "one who leads through the darkness" and is often used to refer to a wise person or someone with a lot of knowledge (something similar to the etymology of the word "wicca"?). This is a person how is able to enter a state of trance and travel into the unusual reality and which serves as a mediator between the human world and the spirit world.

The role of the Shaman in primitive societies was multiple; he was both the priest and the tribe leader, the medicine man and much much more. Basically, the tribe's fate depended on them.

Members of certain Shamanic paths, like Core Shamanism, do not use the word "shaman" since it holds social connotations that no longer exist in modern society. In stead, they use the term "shamanic practitioner". 

A famous author on this topic, Mircea Eliade defines a Shaman as a person who is believed to have healing abilities, just like any doctor, and perform miracles of the fakir type just like all magicians... But the most important thing of all is that the Shaman is also a psychopomp (a guide of souls). In addition to this, he can also be a priest, a mystic, a poet etc. Even though Eliade takes Shamans from Central Asia and Siberia to be the "purest" examples, he believes that Shamans don't necessarily have to originate from these places. This term also doesn't apply to all doctors or magicians. If these author's thoughts interest you more, you can read one of his major works on this topic - Shamanism - Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. If you happen to find it in pdf form, please send it to me. :D

But, you don't have to worry about you being/not being a Shaman because you DON'T HAVE TO BE a Shaman to be able to find your power animal. You are definitely able to do this because everyone has a power animal!

Exercise - Finding Your Power Animal 

As I have already mentioned, this exercise was led by Hora during the Witches' Site last summer. He played on his Shamanic drum which made the experience all the more powerful. Of course, before starting the exercise, he gave us a short introduction, such as the one in this post, and then told us what to do.

First of all, it is necessary to travel to the lower world. This is done in the following way:
  1. Find a place in the ordinary reality (i.e. the physical world) where you can start the journey in peace (it's best if the terrain is slightly sloped downwards to help with the visualization, there shouldn't be any bumps and you should be comfortable there).
  2. Lie comfortably, preferably face-down and relax. A good thing to do would be to make yourself warm and to make sure that nothing can interrupt you.
  3. You should already have the firm intention of finding your power animal (if you already have one, then your goal should be to meet with it again for a certain reason).
  4. Now is the time to "visualize" a hole in the ground/a cave/tree roots or any place you can go down into (I say "visualization" because this would imply entering one's imagination, while this act is an entrance into a spiritual realm where you perceive spiritual reality). You have to go through this entrance and go down (!!!) deeper and deeper until you reach the lower world (you will know when you have arrived and also, be prepared that the tunnel you go down in will get narrower as you go on and that it will become wide when you arrive in the lower world, but that's normal. Note: there are no rules as to how the lower world should look like because everyone has a different perception and experience of it).
  5. When you enter the lower world, you should once again clearly state that your intention is to find your power animal. This is when various animals start entering the space you're in from all sides. It is now necessary to recognize your power animal. 
How to know if an animal is your power animal? 
  • You will see it from at least 3 sides (e.g. from the back, the front and from one side).
  • You will see 3 details of the animal (e.g. the nose, tail and eyes).
  • It will circle you (i.e. run around you).
  • It will run into to you very fast and actually become one with you.
  • It will come back the third time if you have chased it off/rejected it two times previously (more on this in the following steps)
How to know if an animal ISN'T your power animal? (if you agree with the traditional Shamanic approach)
  • It's a bug.
  • It's a fish, reptile or bird which is showing you its teeth.
  1. Each animal can be sent away if it doesn't meet the requirements above or simply if you don't feel any connection to it. If it returns even after you have sent it away two times, then that's your power animal.
  2. When you're certain that you've got the right animal, you have to "grab" it (or simply take it in your arms, or grasp a part of it e.g. it's neck or leg) and bring it out into the middle world any way you are able to. (For example, I grabbed my animal around the neck with my arms and practically dragged it out since it's a large wild animal).
  3. You can return to the middle world by following the same tunnel which you can down by (although there shouldn't be a lot of tunnels around you and your instinct will guide you anyway). Since you're now with your animal, the ascension my now be a bit more difficult and it may last a bit longer, but your return is inevitable.
  4. When you're back "in the open" (in the middle world), you have to bond with your power animal through your heart chakra, practically breathe it in. This is done by visualizing a white light penetrating both you and your animal; the light interweaves, goes in and out of each body etc. (Of course, this can be done in other ways so feel free to experiment and find an alternate way that's more to your liking if this one doesn't work for you).
The exercise lasted 20 minutes during which Hora played his Shamanic drum. It would be pointless to try and describe the rhythm, so I found a few videos and songs which could be a good guide for this exercise. The rhythms vary, but each one will have one rhythm throughout the song, another rhythm which signalizes that it's time to return to the middle world and another rhythm that signals the end of the exercise.

Here are two videos that lead you through the process although each one does it in a different way. You will notice that both the rhythms and instructions vary so I would recommend you try both and see what you feel most comfortable with. The first video resembles our exercise from the Witches' Site much more than the second video and I can say from personal experience that the first video was very pleasant.

You can download the songs which you get with Michael Harner's previously mentioned book The Way of the Shaman on the following link:
Shamanic journey solo and double drumming - I recommend the solo drumming tracks
You can download some interesting songs with Shamanic drums on the Schamanenstube web site (it is in German but I don't doubt that you'll manage somehow with the help of a bit of common sense and Google translate).
If you have torrents on your computer, you can also download these songs (although I didn't like them that much because they had too many additional sounds for my taste...basically any sounds apart from the Shaman drum are simply a surplus).
BUT, once you have successfully traveled to the lower world and found your power animal, that isn't the end of the story. If you want your power animal to help you in life, you have to keep in touch with it and work on your relationship just as your would with any friend. So here are a few tips:
  • Travel to the lower world as often as possible; spend time with your power animal, learn from it etc.
  • Ask it to be with you when you take a walk through nature (as you would any of your friends in the usual reality).
  • As it to help you while you are doing a ritual, divining, healing or doing anything of a spiritual nature.
  • Keep paintings, figurines and other decorations with depictions of you power animal in your house.
  • Keep objects that remind you of it close to you.
  • Develop a relationship with an animal of its kind in the usual reality.
  • Inform yourself about your power animal's species, it's habits in nature, behavioral patterns, its nutrition etc.
  • Dance with it (this may sound strange but I will explain).

Dancing with Your Power Animal

Since Hora is a TranceDance instructor, a form of Neoshamanic rituals and a dancelike way to enter the unusual reality, he made all the participants of the Site dance right after this exercise. We had a few rattles that we played (Hora continued to play his Shamanic drum) and during all this we danced freely (i.e. we let our bodies move the way it feels natural to them). We could sing if we felt like it...basically, the point was moving as comes natural.

So, in short, the dance is done while our power animal is still in us (that is, while we are still connected to it). Hora emphasizes that it would be best to dance as often as possible to strengthen the bond between our animal and us. The only thing you have to take care not to forget is to completely detach yourself from your power animal at the end of the dancing session (you can do this with movements, visualizations etc.).

How Can My Power Animal Help Me?

This is probably one of the practical questions you asked yourselves while reading this post. The whole times, I've been talking about how nice it is to find your power animal and what a great experience it is, but how can it actually help you?

The answer to this question is: in any way possible.
Your power animal is your power and you need that in any given situation.
If I were to give you specific examples, I would say that it can help you on your spiritual path by coming to help you during a ritual, magical work, healing, divination etc.
It can give you physical and mental strength in your everyday lives to help you endure or overcome something etc. It can help you keep you health and a good immune system and may other things. It can also be your support, friend and motivation. It can give you energy when you need it and also calm you down when necessary. In any case, it can bring you only good. :)

So, I hope I helped you out somehow.
Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

P.S. If you're interested in reading more about Shamanism, you can have a look at the website shamanism.org where you can find many interesting articles and anecdotes written by other individuals such as yourselves. 

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