Identifying And Working With Your Power Animal
Power animals have been around for millennium and are a core component of shamanism. Shamans are people who work with the spirit world to help bring about healing at the spirit or soul level, which can also result in physical, mental or emotional healing as well. All shamans work with power animals, but power animals are not limited to just shamans. Power animals are available — and want — to work with everyone and can be invaluable guides in our lives.
Core to the power animal relationship are the gifts that each animal brings. People around the world can see the physical gifts that each and every animal on the planet has. So, for example, eagles are known for their ability to fly to great heights and see far and wide with their incredible vision. Bears go into hibernation for months, give birth while hibernating, and then come out in the springtime with new life. Ants work together and cooperate. And ducks can float serenely on top of water even when the water is choppy.
Shamans see not only the physical aspects of each animal, but also the spirit aspect when they meet these animals while on a shamanic journey. (A shamanic journey is when the spirit of the shaman meets with the spirit world.) The spirit aspect of an animal is even greater than the physical aspects, since the spirit aspect embodies the best of all the attributes of a particular animal.
Every one of us has at least one power animal. Some of us have one power animal that works with us our entire life. Some have different power animals that come into their lives at specific times to help them with a certain issue or life lesson. And some of us have a mix of these two.
For me personally, I have a mix of these two things. I have a lifelong power animal that is with me at all times. In my book, This Trip Will Change Your Life: A Shaman’s Story of Spirit Evolution, I refer to my power animal as 444 because he has asked that his identify remain private. When necessary, he brings in other power animals to help me at different times and in different situations in my life. For example, he brought in Fawn to help me learn about the ebbs and flows of life; he brought in Hawk to help me envision a different way of living and working; and he brought in Vulture to help me with the actual birthing of this new vision.
What do I mean by bringing them in?
In each of these examples I just gave, 444 brought in physical representations of these animals into my life so that I would know that they were working with me. Each animal showed up in a way that was unique or abnormal so that I would notice it:
- I saw Vulture for the first time when I got to the top of a hill where a sacred Mayan site was. Vulture was standing there, facing me, with his wings spread wide open. It was as if he was waiting to give me a hug. He then slowly turned and faced the sun. He showed absolutely no fear of me. The shaman I was with at the time told me he had never seen Vulture at that site before, and that Vulture obviously was waiting for me with a message.
- Hawk showed up for me repeatedly as I was thinking about the life I wanted to create, which was especially incredible since at that time I was living in downtown San Francisco at the intersection of two very busy four-lane streets. There weren’t any parks nearby, but Hawk was sitting outside my high-rise apartment window for several days in a row.
- And Fawn showed up for me when I was at a retreat and going through one of the most difficult times of my life. I had found a private place in the forest for my daily personal introspection time and had just sat down on a log. Fawn walked into the clearing where I was, stood about ten feet away from me, made a complete circle around me, and then continued on her way. She did this every day for the five days of the retreat.
Your power animal can show up in other ways as well, beyond just in physical form. You may see your power animal in your dream; or as a cartoon, drawing or other likeness; or perhaps even through the words of a song. One of my clients has a dragon as his power animal. Real dragons are kind of scarce in our world, but whenever my client is looking for confirmation or support, he will see an image of a dragon. He feels as if each time he sees one it is as if his power animal is saying, “I am here with you.”
How to Identify Your Power Animal
Every single animal has value, and all power animals bring gifts. We tend to equate power with animals that are big and fierce, such as bears, wolves and lions, but that is not what true power is. True power comes from the gift that the animal brings to you and how you work with that gift. So Mouse (whose gift is attention to detail), Ant (organization and hard work), and Squirrel (planning and being prepared) are as equally powerful as Bear (awakening), Wolf (guardianship and loyalty) and Lion (assertiveness and feminine energy). Each has a unique gift of power that they are bringing to you.
There are several ways to discover your power animal’s identity:
- One way is to work with a shaman and ask him or her to do a shamanic journey for you to retrieve your power animal. The shaman will journey to the nature-based lower world and look for your power animal. Typically, a shaman will ask that your power animal show itself to the shaman multiple times to verify that it is your power animal. When I do power animal retrievals, I also ask the power animal why it is coming forward at this time and what message it has for the client. This helps give perspective as to why a specific animal came forward.
- Another way to discover your power animal is to ask that your power animal come to you in your dreams and let you know that he is your power animal. Ask that he show up more than once, so that you can be sure that it is your power animal.
- You can ask that your power animal show itself to you physically. Again, you may ask to see your power animal — or a representation of it — multiple times so that you have more certainty that it is your power animal. Go about your day as normal. Don’t actively search out an animal, but do keep your eyes open for any interesting or different behaviors that connect you to an animal.
- You can also try to connect with and discover who your power animal is through meditation or channeled writing. The trick is to do so without judgment. You can’t go in expecting that a certain animal will show up — you have to be open to whatever animal comes forward, because that is the animal that is meant to be working with you at this time.
About a year ago I did a power animal retrieval for a client, and a Condor came forward. She was not familiar with Condor, but was very disappointed because she wanted her power animal to be a different animal. I suggested that she spend some time getting to know Condor, and she reluctantly agreed to do that. The next day she sent me an email and was very excited. It turns out that Condor had been showing up in her dreams recently, but she hadn’t known what kind of bird it was until she started to do some searches on Condor as a result of our session.
Finally, sometimes you just know what your power animal is because you have had a strong affinity for that animal for quite some time. I did a power animal retrieval for one client and Tiger came forward. When I told her, she laughed. She then told me that ever since she was a young girl she had been fascinated by Tigers and had drawings and figurines of tigers all over her house. And, as an artist, the tiger was one of her favorite subjects.
What Do You Do with Your Power Animal?
Once you know your power animal’s identity, then what? What do you need to do?
I always tell people that they need to build a relationship with their power animal, much as you build a relationship with anyone else that is important in your life.
Start by learning about your power animal. Begin with the physical animal itself. Research your power animal online. Learn about where it lives, whether it migrates, its physical attributes, what its mating habits are, how it raises its young, what it eats, etc. Each one of these things can serve as a message or insight for you. For example, between Winnie the Pooh and Yogi Bear, most of us know that bears like to eat honey. Honey is nature’s candy. If Bear is your power animal, he may be telling you that you need more sweetness in your life — whether that is in the form of food, your relationships, or even your own personal outlook on life. Bear also gives birth to its young while hibernating, and only brings its cubs out when it is spring. That could be a message for you to sit with that idea that you are contemplating and only birth it when you have more clarity or light around it.
Then look deeper. How has your power animal been portrayed in mythology, indigenous stories, legends, or even in contemporary stories, TV shows or cartoons? Unique attributes of different animals are usually highlighted, and sometimes even exaggerated, to make a point about that animal’s gift.
Mythology is an extremely important resource if your power animal is one that we don’t have in physical form, such as a dragon or unicorn. Through what we can learn from various myths, we can learn that some of the gifts that dragon brings are courage and strength…which you may need in order to shed your “scales” and transform your life.
See if there are symbolisms of or sayings about your power animal? In the Northeast part of the United States, we always say that spring is coming when we see the first robin of the season. In fact, as a power animal, Robin symbolizes new growth — which is exactly what springtime is all about.
If possible, spend time with the physical version of your power animal. Depending on your power animal, this may be as simple as sitting in your back yard and watching hummingbirds come to your bird feeder, while you take in the joy that exemplifies Hummingbird as a power animal. Or, if your power animal doesn’t frequent your back yard, head out to your local zoo or to YouTube and watch your power animal that way. Look at their mannerisms and the feelings that are invoked in you. For example, if you spend time watching the gorillas, you can’t help but feel the peaceful nobility that exists in this animal. Perhaps Gorilla is asking you how you can cultivate that same peaceful nobility within yourself.
Once you have gotten a good idea of what your power animal is known for and maybe even have had some additional insights come up for you as a result of your research, spend some time thinking about how these things may apply to your life.
Be open and honest with yourself through this process. Our power animals show up to help us through difficult times in our lives and to help us to continue to evolve and transform. This type of work isn’t easy, and it requires a frank assessment of whom you are, where you need to focus, what you need to change, and where you want to go. The things that come up as you learn about your power animal can be clues to help you navigate through your evolution and transformation process a bit more smoothly — but only if you are willing to look clearly at yourself and your life.
Really spend some time on this! Each of the insights you have received from your power animal research is a potential gift and key for you moving forward. Naturally, not everything will be, but I can tell you from my own experiences, and the experiences of my clients, there is always at least one really big nugget that can be life changing if you are willing to see it and apply it.
So, for example, Swan might be nudging you to stretch your neck out by bringing more of yourself forward to the world; while Scorpion may be telling you need to release what is poisoning you; and Rhinoceros may be urging you to protect yourself better and wear some armor.
Finally, like any relationship you may have, you need to remember to thank your power animal for his assistance. Some ways you can do this include putting a picture or a figurine of your power animal where you can see it often and be reminded of the assistance being provided to you. If you have a home altar, you might want to consider putting it there. Or, make your cell phone wallpaper a picture of your power animal.
Some other ways you can honor your power animal include making a meal of the type of food that your power animal eats and offering the meal up in gratitude to your power animal. You may need to get a bit creative — if your power animal is Anteater, for example, you might not want to eat ants, but maybe gummy candies shaped like ants would do the trick. It is less about the actual food and more about your intention of gratitude. If your power animal is on the endangered list, you might want to make a donation to a conservation group to help protect your power animal. Or, honoring can be as simple as saying a heart-felt thank you.
You can also work with your power animal to get guidance or signs that you are on the right path. You could, for example, ask that your power animal show himself to you to let you know that he is around, or in a manner that serves as a yes answer, or whatever parameters you decide upon. It may not always be possible to have your actual power animal show up — but a representation of him could. So, for example, if Zebra is your power animal, it’s unlikely you’d see one while walking down the street, but Zebra could present himself to you in the form of zebra stripes on a purse or scarf, as a cartoon character on the TV in your office lobby, or as a photo on a billboard.
Your relationship with your power animal is not a one-time thing. To truly benefit, you need to develop an ongoing and deeper relationship over time with your power animal. This means that you actively invite him into your life, reach out to him with questions, look to him for answers or guidance based on his physical and spiritual attributes, and express gratitude.
One thing to keep in mind is that as humans we always have the power of freedom of choice. You do not have to do anything with the information you receive from your power animals. In fact, you don’t even have to build a relationship with yours if you don’t want to. If you do think that you’re getting some interesting insights or perspectives from your work with your power animal, make sure that you are comfortable and willing to take full responsibility for any actions you take as a result. Your power animal is a guide; he is not in control of your life.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your relationship to your power animal is a private, personal, even intimate relationship. You’ll notice that I have not mentioned who or what my primary power animal is. This is out of respect to my power animal. He has asked that I don’t disclose his identity. But even if your power animal doesn’t say this to you, I would suggest that you not share his identity to others for a couple reasons:
- Other people may diminish your relationship with your power animal. They may tell you that it’s stupid, or make fun of you or your power animal, or even use the information against you. Obviously, not every one will go to this extreme, but like everything else in life, people tend to have opinions and will share them…and sometimes that leads to self-doubts.
- By not sharing your power animal’s identity, you keep the relationship a spiritual one. This is important, because a power animal is the spirit form of the animal and is bringing you the best of that animal. If the relationship is reduced to purely a physical one, you could end up limiting the insights you can receive.
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