When Jason and I first met almost ten years ago, one of our first ideas was to create an animal spirit card divination deck and accompanying reference book.
It would be a deck based on animals native to Britain and contain information about the natural history of each animal and the message that it might hold for someone.
The first step to this was to research and write about each animal species in the UK. We listed them out and had over one hundred species to research. With it being such a daunting task, we didn’t start this process until two years ago, and we completed it earlier this year, the results being the Animal Spirit Guide Library in our Mystery School.
Every animal embodies a particular message based on its characteristics. When a person meets an animal in the Otherworld, the chances are that animal has come to them because it holds a specific message. This is also true in the physical reality. A deer running across someone’s path, a newt walking into the kitchen, or the first sighting of a crow on the bird table can all have meaning. It is a matter of deciphering what this might be for that individual.
Animal encounters are one of the first things people experience when they start to go on shamanic journeys. There are several ways of deciphering the message. If you encounter an animal, the first consideration is to reflect on what that animal means to you.
As an example, let’s consider the message of Squirrel. If you have an opinion about squirrel, then draw on this in your interpretation at the outset. Do you think of squirrels as hoarders? Excellent preparers for the winter ahead? In that case, perhaps Squirrel is telling you to take time to prepare for something: gather in all the resources that you will need to see you through a particular project or life event. Or maybe you think of squirrels as being excellent acrobats. If so, maybe Squirrel is telling you to look at how you can get more balance in your life.
The next step is to research the natural history of that animal. It’s important to really get to understand its characteristics and how it interacts with its environment. Squirrels are scatter-hoarders; they gather food in the autumn and store this in small caches to retrieve through the winter months when food is scarce. They have a sophisticated way of storing their food. Some caches are temporary, located near an abundant food source, and others are more permanent burial sites where food is stored for several months. Each squirrel makes several thousand caches to last itself through the winter, and can remember their locations according to how near or far away they are from various landmarks.
When it comes to protecting their hoards, squirrels have developed techniques to prevent other animals from stealing from their food stores. One way is that if they feel they are being watched, they will pretend to bury their food by digging a hole and then covering it up again whilst hiding the food in their mouths. Another way is that they may bury their food whilst hiding in vegetation or take it up and deposit it high in the trees.
How might it help you add more layers to your journey interpretation with knowing this additional information?
One message could be that it is time to get planning. Squirrel could be telling you to look at the goals you want to achieve and then plan how you will achieve them. Be prepared to be steered off course as you strive to achieve your goals. Just as Squirrel has to develop strategies to throw its rivals off course and protect its stores, so too you might need to look at who and what is encroaching on your space and develop techniques to ring-fence what is important to you.
Just as Squirrel relies on the resources it has laid down to last it through the winter, so you might also need to protect whatever it is that you need, not just to survive but thrive. This could be money; it could be ringfencing time and space for you; it could be setting your boundaries with certain people in your life. You could draw on Squirrel energy to help you pinpoint what resources you need to gather and protect.
Another consideration around preparedness is that Squirrel is very good at squirrelling away: laying down resources for future hard times. You could consider what you can do to future proof. It might be that you need to start to save some money, putting a little aside for a rainy day. It might be that you need to invest in yourself and undertake some training so that you are stronger, more resilient, have more strings to your bow.
There is quite a lot here in the message of Squirrel, isn’t there? Dig down into any animals characteristics, and there are always many layers to the messages that they hold.
The third step you can take to investigate the message an animal carries for you is to look at what someone else has written about that animal, What messages have they drawn from it? There are plenty of viewpoints online, and a quick google search will bring you a range of opinions. However, we consider this as a last resort, as the information each author shares is right for them but not necessarily right for you. Usually, it is unclear where the writers have got their information from, as no natural history write-up is included in their interpretation.
Getting back to our research, we have now carried out this process of looking into an animals natural history for over 120 different animals. These are either native species to Britain or have been introduced at some point in the past and are now commonly found in nature. Species range from grasshopper to gannet, shark to snail and weasel to wren.
Understanding an animals natural history gives us a solid foundation to decipher what particular message they hold. It has been a fascinating journey and an important part of the writing process. These animals are now contained in our Animal Spirit Guide Library in The Mystery School and will form the basis for our card deck, which is in the pipeline for some time in the new year.
In researching the animals, I have learnt never to cross a stoat, shrew or pike, as they are the gangsters of the animal kingdom. I have learnt that starfish, eels and octopus's are miracles of the universe, pigeons are art critics and swifts are more like the element of air than birds. Knowing the animals in this way, I have become closer to nature.
In a culture where we are so detached from nature, I believe it is important to get this connection back in any way we can. Our distant ancestors lived very close to the land. Wildlife would have been woven into the fabric of their lives. They would have understood the craftiness of a fox and the mysteriousness of the eel. They would have seen the beaver as the creative genius of the animal kingdom and awed at the silence of the flight of an owl.
Archaeological and historical evidence shows us that our ancestors drew on the messages of animals to help them. One well-known example is when the Celtic Queen Boudica led the last uprising of the Celts against the Romans. In the final battle, she released a hare and led the battle charge in the direction the hare ran towards the front line. There are other examples too that we teach in our Working with Animal Spirit Guide course.
Go back further in history to Palaeolithic times, and there are the pictures of animals that were carefully drawn inside caves, sometimes many hundreds of metres in. These drawings were used to help people tune in with the energy of that animal and receive guidance for the benefit of the tribe. There are several excellent books if you wanted to read more into this theory: The Mind in the Cave by David Lewis-Williams and Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality by Michael Harner.
Some might say that this is all in the past, and so why does this matter now? Many hold a view that through civilisation we have evolved beyond this: that these techniques used by our ancestors aren’t relevant for us now. I disagree and think the opposite. Our downfall has been that these methods have been abandoned or rather forcibly removed from the people over the centuries. It feels empowering to reclaim them back, and I know from personal experience how beneficial it can be.
Animals have been my guides for over a decade now. They have helped me make important life decisions, and I have an example I would like to share with you to illustrate how.
Back in 2016, I was in a transitional period in my life. I was working in the field of corporate sustainability, advising businesses. I was unhappy and wanted to make the jump. At the same time, Jason and I had been running The Way of the Buzzard for several years. I worked both fields and wanted to move into the shamanic work full time, but I wasn’t brave enough to make the jump. I didn’t know when the right time would be, so I soldiered on. Then something happened to give me a loud signal that it was time. I received a message from Blackbird.
I was driving to a meeting with a new client that was interested in my environmental consultancy services. I didn’t want to go, but I felt I had to, as it was helping the environment, and I thought it was my calling to do this work, even though I found it challenging and stressful. As I was driving down the road, a female blackbird flew out in front of my car. I didn’t have a chance to break as she literally flew right into my windscreen. She died immediately on impact. I stopped to pick her up, and when I got back home, I buried her in my garden.
It felt odd that I had killed a bird on the way to something I thought I should be doing, but I pushed the concern to the back of my mind. Then a few weeks later, I read of a similar story Dr Martin Shaw writes about in his book Snowy Tower, where he killed a bird when driving in the US. Around the same time, I pulled Blackbird out of my Druid Animal Sprit Card Deck, and that was it. I realised there that I needed to pay heed to the message of Blackbird.
The blackbird's bright beak, in contrast to its black body, holds a strong symbolism that they are messengers from the Otherworld. Blackbird is the revealer of hidden truths. When Blackbird comes into our life it is most likely sending out an alarm call to us to watch out for something which we aren't necessarily aware of yet in our conscious minds. Blackbird helps us delve into our unconscious and reveal hidden truths which lie there. My encounter with Blackbird meant that it was now time to do this. Just as all animals within earshot of the Blackbirds alarm call heed and take notice, I knew I must too.
Also as with all songbirds, there is a strong message about finding our voice, and standing in our truth. It was time to take stock on what I was choosing to do in the world and ensure I was being true to myself. So, I closed my sustainability consultancy down and moved full time into the spiritual work. When birds start falling out of the sky in front of me, I take that as a sign that I was going in the wrong direction.
I have so many examples of how animals have guided me. From the message of Woodpecker telling me to cushion myself from the stress brought about by the onset of the pandemic. To Robin telling me I have a beautiful song to sing. To a sighting of Eagle that showed me I was on the right path learning about Shamanism.
So, my call to you is, if you encounter animals out in your wanderings or in shamanic journeys, spend time drilling down into the message they hold for you using the techniques I have shared here.
We would love to talk more about this to help you learn how to do this. We are holding a free Pop-Up Talk this coming Thursday, 2nd September. Come along and learn more about the messages of animal spirit guides and how they can help you on your path. Don’t worry if you can’t make the live talk, as we will share the replay within 24 hours with everyone who registers. Click here to register.
And the animal spirit deck? Well, hold tight for that if you would like one as it is on its way next year!
Our Animal Spirit Guide Pop-Up Talk is the second in a four-part free training series we are running as part of our Mystery School relaunch. If you haven’t already registered for the series and would like to come along, here is the link to take you to the full programme. You only need to register once to attend all of the talks, and you will be sent all of the replays.
If you would like to hear more about The Mystery School, where we teach about all the aspects of Shamanism and nature connection I have mentioned in this blog, please click here.
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