Grant Guindon is currently living in North Vancouver, British Columbia and has been on the path of learning the shamanic arts for many years with a focus on Animal and Plant spirit medicines. He moves through this world learning to embody the wisdom of his ancestors and works to bring the awareness of Spirit into the common place.
Animal Spirits: Shapeshifting, familiars, companions.
Its been quite a while since I’ve shared on the topic of animal spirits and what they are to me personally. Throughout all my travels, apprenticeships, teachings and overall exposure to the spiritual realms I’ve experienced countless perspectives on the subject of animal spirits.
The first of which I would care to touch on is the idea of a companion ‘spirit’ of an animal that is present with a person much like a caretaker or a guide throughout parts of their lives. The idea of this sends off a subtle alarm in the back of my mind as a warning that often makes me question the reasoning behind why a person wants to believe that for instance they walk with a companion spirit of a badger. Some would claim that this spirit assists them in their lives and often states that the badger helps them understand human problems. I personally am not fond on this idea that a legitimate animal spirit would bother with something like finding ways to pay your bills, fixing your car and all variations of our human plights. Though I am open minded and I can understand how there would be some overlapping similarities in the life of a human and a badger, it leaves one to think just how deep that rabbit hole goes.
Another way of working with the spirits seems much older to me, where instead of assisting us with our human conditions, they would rather reveal wisdom of living much in the ways an animal would, Seeking of food, building of shelters, reactions to conflict. We have all met someone on our journey who we can definitely associate their behaviours to a certain type of animal. The connection is real, it is tangible, primal and ancestrally bound to our being as those who once lived in harmony with the animal kingdom and depended on that alliance for their daily survival.
On a more physical plane it’s interesting to consider how the idea of the Familiar applies to our relations to the animal spirits. In particular I find it helpful to discover what a familiar is by looking at the meaning of the words associated with it. I think number one is my favourite and is hilarious.
1. A demon supposedly attending and obeying a witch, often said to assume the form of an animal.
2. Well known from long or close association
3. In close friendship; intimate
Looking at these we can get an idea of how an animal “familiar” becomes associated to having a deep spiritual connection to an animal that is living in and around your daily existence for precisely the same reasons as one would be associated with the incorporeal animal spirits that were mentioned earlier. We desire to have a connection to our totemic beasts on a level that is both primal and intellectual. As the modern era of spirituality takes hold of these age old connections that our ancestors cherished I take a great deal of comfort in the fact that my relationships with animal spirits remains relatively void of anything unreasonably modern. For instance I do not want a spirit of a wolf assisting me in building a house, I have ten thousand ancestors that are far more up to the task of advising me on the ideal way to swing a hammer. Although when it comes right down to the deeds of survival I would welcome nothing more then the guidance of that wolf for when tracking a deer or navigating wild terrain.
Having long considered what all of this means, I found myself one day asking my ancestral spirits: “How is this knowledge best applied in my life?” I knew that it was one thing to receive the information but it was quite another to apply it effectively. Sitting in a dark room filled with smoke ponding the path towards a stronger connection to these spirits the answer was unanimous.
“You must become the animal”
The best story that I can recount of a person doing this was of a man deep in the woodlands of England on spiritual retreat. As he sat in meditation upon the vast meadow of wild flowers and grasses, in the distance he noticed a large group of deer grazing that were seemingly unworried of his presence. He watched as they frolicked and danced about in the sunlight, often pausing to feast on the lush foliage surrounding them. The man wondered what it would be like to run with the deer and to play with them as they do, to run with and touch a deer became a thought that obsessed him. He stood and began walking towards the deer and stopped as they became aware of him. Their eyes probed worriedly as the man stood and slowly crouched to the ground where he began a gentle song calling to the spirits of the deer.
One of these spirits approached him curiously and they had a brief moment of truly seeing one another on a deep and fundamental level. The man stood back up and allowed that spirit of the deer to enter his body and he gently bounced towards the herd of deer who immediately ran away. Saddened he crouched down wondering if he was wasting his time only to realize that behind him two young deer had returned and stood not far away. He stood and playfully gave chase to the deer that no longer ‘ran’ from him but rather they moved with him. Running faster and faster as a group he laid his right hand on the neck of a full grown deer and then stopped in disbelief. He sat down again and let the deer run off into the woods at a gentle and peaceful trot.
Feeling this spirit of the deer leave his body, he became aware of a very real and ancient art of shapeshifting, the path of becoming an animal. To me this is a sacred act of such importance that I don’t think we can ever truly step away from it.
We are bound to this tradition by ancient roots that nourish our living bodies.
The next time you step into the wilderness and encounter your animal allies think long and fond thoughts of them. Consider how you would expand on this relationship and further more begin to glean from them how you can assist one another in sharing this world we call home.