(Warning . . . This started out light, and I’m afraid that I may have waxed too philosophical and heavy. I promise the next post will be lighter)
As an aside, if you don’t remember this from an earlier post, religion and shamanism are not in competition with each other. Shamanism doesn’t ask that you give up your religious beliefs. Nevertheless, shamanism and traditional religion are fundamentally different in several respects. For example shamanism asks that you view the world, both seen and unseen, with different eyes. It asks that you see all that is with a fresh perspective and realize that (1) there is more to this existence than what we can see, touch, feel, and hear; and (2) you have the ability, without help from another mortal, to access the unseen world. In addition, from my point of view, most religions teach that you have become separate from The Source and that you need to realign yourself once again with IT. Shamanism on the other hand believes that you are one with The Source. That means that you and I and The Source are all interconnected and that IT is present in all of us.
Traditional religion has colored the way that we see the world and has tended to turn concepts that should be simple into ideas that are very complex. Religion doesn’t describe reality, it describes an interpretive reality. If we presume that reality is one, that is that multiple realities cannot exist simultaneously in the same time and place, and if religion described reality, then there should only be one religion (one reality leads to one religion). On the other hand if we presume that reality is one but that religion is an interpretation of that reality, we can have multiple views of that one reality from different perspectives (one reality with multiple interpretations of it). The great religions are messages that have been given to humans by Spirit, and then which have been interpreted (in a specific place and time) by humans . . . an interpretive reality.
In the same way, a shamanic journey is an interpretive reality. I go on a shamanic journey, have an experience, and then interpret that journey in light of my own background, needs and wants and experience. We are always limited in our capacity to interpret the messages that we get from Spirit. The message is as “true” as we are willing and able to understand an incorporate into our lives. Because we are human the logic of the brain may never be sufficient to fully grasp and incorporate the full reality of messages from The Source.
Finally . . . Power Animals
Most of us, born into this world without memory and with free will, are perfectly poised to make a complete mess of our lives and the lives of those around us. Guess what? The Source doesn’t care . . . It doesn’t care about your weight, your race, your gender, your political leanings, your nationality, or your pocket book. On the other hand it does care about you learning to use your free will in ways that are good for all. The Source has provided helping spirits in forms that we can relate to, to teach, guide and direct us as we learn how to use our free will. The Source doesn’t care how you see your helping spirits, as long as you see them in a way that helps you and makes it easier for you to work with them. My guess is that we see our helping spirits in ways that are culturally and experientially meaningful to us.
From a shamanic perspective, everything that is is alive. Obviously a tree is alive, but so is a rock. The life of a rock is different is from the life of a tree which is different from your life or mine. The Oak tree outside my window has a spirit. Oak, as a species, has a universal Oak spirit as well. All that is alive may communicate with us by speaking spirit-to-spirit.
Whether you accept them or not, whether you believe in them or not, you have Helping Spirits. All true helping spirits are protective, though they may specialize in healing, guidance or teaching. All true helping spirits are a voice of The Source. Helping Spirits come to us many ways and generally reflect back to us what we are, especially the parts of ourselves that we haven’t discovered or are not yet owning.
They may appear in dreams, shamanic journeys, or during meditations. Helping spirits may appear in the forms of animals, plants, fish, mythical beasts and beings, ancestors, deities, elementals, and features of the local geography, like mountains or lakes, and even rocks (remember that everything that is is alive). I will always remember picking a beautiful piece of petrified wood while hiking in Washington State and hearing in my mind the rock tell me, “I use to be a tree and I’m pleased with my new form.” As I age that message means more to me now than it did 30 years ago. I use to be young, and I am pleased with my new (older) form. It just took some time for me to catch up with message, to be in a place where the message now has meaning in my life.
Power animals are one of the many ways that shamanic peoples, both ancient and contemporary, envision the help that reaches out to humans from The Source of All That Is (whatever you may call it). Humans have never responded well with direct communication with The Source. We tend think that a visit from God would solve all of our problems immediately, but when the visit comes we are overwhelmed in such a way that the message is totally lost. Humans prefer mediation from burning bushes and angels and things that have faces they can talk to. After all, we are just little kids at heart.
I view power animals as energetic constructs that help us to live in harmony with The Source. By the way, you are a highly stable energy construct. That means that power animals are just as real as you are. We are all energy. There is something about our energy that makes us manifest in the physical world (a low vibrational level perhaps). There is something about the energy of our power animals and other helping spirits that keeps them from manifesting in the physical world (a higher vibrational level perhaps). Are we real? Are they real? Both are as real as is energy.
For us to be mature as spiritual adults it is necessary for us to have a working relationship with Spirit. We need to have tools so that we can send and receive message from Spirit. Power animals are stable energy patterns that take meaningful forms so that Spirit can communicate with us.
From a shamanic perspective we humans are not at the top of the ladder in terms on consciousness. In fact, I expect that we are close to the bottom of the ladder. If you have read research on plant consciousness (non-local, instantaneous communication for example) then you may realize that they may be a lot higher on the consciousness ladder than we are. Have you ever heard a tree or a rock deny its true destiny, its life purpose? They accept who they are, often times we don’t. The Source and helping spirits know that we have a tendency to mess things up so there are here to help. Pay attention to them. Listen to them.
Next post . . . how to engage with your power animals and other helping spirits.
I'm Dr. Dave, a modern druid. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice modern druidism and contemporary shamanism.