I had already been considering taking a moment to write about my experience with animal “guides” (specifically Spider, who had a significant impact on my spiritual journey during my divorce), when I nearly walked face first into a giant web that spanned across the path to my house. A large brown orb-weaver had built the web in the short time between when my housemate came home from her night shift and when I was leaving for work a couple of hours later; she was now suspended between the porch and a tree in the front yard, waiting patiently for a delicious meal and completely blocking my path. It demanded my attention. That was confirmation to me to set aside a different post I had been working on, and write about my experiences with the shamanic tradition of receiving guidance from animal energies. Of course Spider would be the one to deliver the message…
Animal messages have been an important part of my spirituality for most of my life, long before I had any interest in the occult. It started with my mother, a devout Christian who is more psychic (and more witchy) than she cares to admit. When I was young, she had multiple encounters with foxes during her treatment for breast cancer. Seeing one fox in our city would have been a treat, but she made several sightings in different parts of town over the course of a few weeks. After a fox ran alongside her car for two blocks in daylight hours, she knew it was a sign. She told me about other natural (but extraordinary) encounters in my family history that seemed to her to carry messages from either God or ancestors or guardian angels or somewhere. I began to realize that this language of intuitive learning from the natural world was a family tradition passed down several generations and it was already woven into my daily habits and perception more than I realized.
The stories she told me were beautiful moments… instances where time seemed to stand still for a moment for all the universe to align just right to get a point across. There was a time that she found a single red rose in a dormant, snow-covered garden… frozen, but perfectly intact. It was January, and her mother had just passed away. There was a story from my grandmother’s childhood, about a stray white dog that accompanied her through the woods one day, and ended up saving her from a rattlesnake before disappearing back into the woods where it came from. Decades later, a large white dog appeared to protect my aunt in a similar way when a man started following her home in New York City one night. The dog mysteriously appeared, growled at the man until he left, and then accompanied her to her front door before wandering off into the night. There were other stories about owls, cardinals, squirrels, hawks, eagles, cats and even shooting stars that made perfectly timed appearances to my family members. They seemed to carry messages of encouragement or lessons that would only have meaning to the person that they appeared to at that very moment. These days I have a word to describe these encounters… synchronicity. When I started to dabble in the occult, I learned that shamans, witches and animists have been making note of special moments like this since the beginnings of human consciousness.
In cases like my family’s white dogs, the animal ally becomes a protector in a very literal manner. Other times, the animal’s assistance may be more rooted in the esoteric language of symbolism. In my post Death Revisited: Close Calls, I mentioned a recent encounter I had with a hornet that made me realize I wasn’t doing a very good job of dealing with the spiritual aftermath of some of the traumatic events I had experienced in recent weeks. Like many animal messages, it was an extremely personal message, open to interpretation by the one who experienced the moment, even though it might not have any apparent meaning to an outside observer.
You can google any animal + the word “messages” and you will get a dozen results for sites that are devoted to decoding animal encounters. Some provide lists of “meanings” or some will give you a channeled message from a shaman, guide or interpreter. Other sites are simply aggregators of the symbolism of an animal across various cultures and faiths. I’m not going to lie, if you have a bizarre or extraordinary encounter with an animal and you have no idea what it meant but you can’t knock that gut feeling that it did mean something, checking those sites may be a good place to start. But the purpose of this post (and it’s follow-up article) is not to provide you a standardized meaning for all encounters with Spider energy, but to help you find a way to interpret your own animal messages by reflecting on my experiences. Your goal should not be to copy the meanings that other shamans have found in their experiences, but to develop your own working language of divination with the environment around you.
As I’m writing this, its just before the Autumn Solstice, the time of year that spiders really thrive in Kansas. You don’t go hiking in the woods in September without a big stick to knock the webs down (at the very least, you let your boyfriend walk first so he gets all the scary ones for you, like I do). Nor would I recommend sticking your hand blindly into a dark corner of your garage or shed without checking it first. Spiders love woodpiles and dry leaves, both autumn staples; open windows entice them to come inside our homes where its warm and dry; campouts, bonfires, trick or treating and football games take us out into their territory. This is a prime time of year for spider encounters, and maybe that’s why they are so well represented in our Halloween décor. Well, that and most people agree that spiders are terrifying….
It was a few autumns ago that I had my first spiritual encounters with Spider as an energetic entity. I was only just learning that animal messages were something that didn’t just happen to me and family members. I was going through a rough time; I had just learned that my husband had been cheating unrepentantly and when caught, he decided to leave town. I was feeling scared, rejected and lonely. Financially, I was in dire straights. My comfortable world of ignorant bliss was being ripped away painfully, like flesh being torn, and it was a disorienting, painful time.
In the midst of that chaos, I was drawn to shamanic traditions. More specifically, I had started looking closely at my traceable ancestral lines (Celtic, Scandinavian, Germanic, and Native American) and their traditions. Perhaps in the ancient rituals of my bloodlines, I was hoping to find myself. As more and more of my perceived identity was being dissolved by the unraveling of all things familiar in my life, the titles and roles with which I had once identified myself were now meaningless. Maybe I was looking for a deeper connection to myself through ancestral ties which couldn’t be taken away in a divorce. What I found that surprised me was that even when there was seemingly huge distances and oceans separating these different branches of my family tree, there seemed to be some overlap in the ancient traditions, beliefs and practices. These overlaps were things that resonated deeply with me as I tried to make sense of the world. There was a shamanic quality to all these traditions, and I found myself enthralled by the possibility of astral traveling through realms to bring healing and protection.
I spent a good deal of time reading and researching, until finally a wise witch told me, “You can’t learn about this stuff from just books. You have to do it.” So I started to play around with sacred drumming and trance work, which was a natural progression from the hypnosis and meditation practices that were already becoming a part of my new daily routine. Every time I went into a trance, the visions became more vivid.
I built a medicine wheel on my balcony from stones and found objects. As I worked my way through the Wheel of the Year, I began to visualize connecting with animal spirits that corresponded to the directions of the wheel. What I discovered was that when I would reach out to these animals in the spirit realm, the response I would receive would sometimes be encounters with that animal in the real world in the days or weeks that followed. If the actual animal didn’t show up, sometimes its represented form would appear through images or media, sometimes in the form of a gift from a friend. You can’t help but smile when someone hands you a stuffed bunny that made them think of you, when the night before you had been spending time jumping down the astral rabbit hole with a long-eared spirit friend. Beautiful synchronicity.
Two of my encounters in the Other World were absolutely terrifying. In one visualization I watched from outside my body as Raccoon removed all the skin from my face, leaving me bloody and paralyzed by fear. The other terrifying encounter was with Spider.
I reached out to Spider on the autumnal equinox in an intense session of shamanic breath work. I had not worked with breath work before and had been unaware of what kind of painful physical effects this kind of work can have. There were times in that session that I believed that I was about to die. (This is why I would always recommend doing your first sessions of Shamanic breath work in a safe space with an experienced guide present). Without going into too much detail, Spider took me down deep into the heart of an old tree where she wrapped me in webbing and consumed me whole. She was the tomb. She was the womb of the earth, the consuming forces of death and rot and decay. And when she had taken me into herself, I could see through her many eyes, each showing a different view. In my head I heard an echoing voice tell me that I alone had the power to weave my fate….
Somewhere in the course of that trance, I fell asleep. Maybe I lost consciousness from hyperventilating…I’m not exactly sure, to be honest. What was really freaky was that when I woke up, I was laying out on my balcony on my back, head pounding, and the sun had gone down completely. A bright light on the side of my apartment building was glaring in my eyes painfully. As my eyes began to focus, I saw a glimmering silver thread that stretched across the light, and on that thread was a tiny swinging acrobat. You guessed it…a real-life spider was working diligently to spin a web across the light. I sat and watched her work for at least a half hour, decompressing from the visions I had experienced and amazed at how swiftly she created this beautiful silver net, swinging gracefully from the balcony to the roof and then dropping fearlessly back down to the railing. It was mesmerizing.
At some point I grabbed my journal and started scribbling down thoughts as they came into my mind. Messages were surfacing quickly and with laser like clarity and then fading like vapor. Among the notes I had written:
- You alone have the power to weave your own fate
- “Home” is not just a place, you can create Home from within yourself. Just because you are being forced to leave the place you’ve lived in for ten years doesn’t mean that you are losing your “Home”
- Spider consumes her own web to give her nourishment to build a new one. When you fail to do things right the first time, consume the lessons of the experience and transmute that energy into building something better.
- Build your web in the Light and wait patiently for the blessings and nourishment to come to you. Act quickly when they arrive. You don’t have to grasp at things. Spider builds her web in places where she knows that her insect prey will naturally be attracted….a bright light, a windy alleyway, or a pile of rotting leaves.
In the days that followed the experience, spiders started showing up everywhere for me. Of course this is because it was autumn in Kansas, but each time I saw one, I was reminded of the messages that I had received. These messages were exactly what I needed to get through the coming months, as my home was taken away, and everything I had built my life upon was slowly deconstructed. Each time I started to fall into a dark depression, I was reminded of the spider web in the light. It was a powerful image that embedded itself in my mind, popping up whenever I needed to be reminded that there were forces of Light in the universe, and I could align myself with those forces to redesign and rebuild my own fate. This experience became one of the building blocks for my new theology.
Funny enough, I’m not really afraid of spiders much anymore, where I once was terrified of them. It took a little getting used to at first but I decided to stop killing them and let them build their webs when they came into my home. In return, they seemed to respect my personal space, building their webs in high corners, taking care of any insects, but staying clear of my bed or shower.
This morning, my fiancé told me that he had saved two spiders while working at a construction site this week. He had been ridiculed by his coworkers for his sensitivity, and even chastised by his boss for spending the extra minute to shuffle them off to safety in the nearby brush. I smiled because he didn’t know I was writing on this topic, but Spider was yet again appearing in synchronicity, this time using him as a vessel to carry the message. It seemed perfectly appropriate: if I had not allowed myself to be open to the changes that were occuring in my life when Spider first appeared to me, or if I had not followed the advice of Spider to take my destiny into my own hands, then maybe there would not have been room for this beautiful man with a heart of gold, who halts construction to saves spiders, to come into my life. It was a reminder to stop and appreciate that the blessings I’m enjoying now came from seeds planted in my past, along with the dilligent care and nurturing that resulted from learning from my mistakes, and setting up my web in the Divine Light, making myself receptive to the blessings that were meant for me.
To continue exploring the topic of interpreting extraordinary encounters with Animal Spirits & developing your own symbolic language, follow-up with Decoding Messages from Nature