Now that I’ve written on some of my own encounters with animal messages (read: Messages from Spider and Other Critters), I thought I’d expound on how to develop your own working language of animal/nature symbolism.
There are almost no rules when it comes to this form of divination. Its about cultivating a relationship with your environment and the Divine Essence that is in all things. Like any relationship, it should be equal parts give and take…equal parts speaking and listening. Everyone’s encounters with these energies will be different and unique, and each individual incident might look different then the ones before. There is no uniform way to recognize or interpret these messages, but looking at other people’s interpretations can give you a good starting place. As you learn to watch for signs, intuition will be easier to grasp in the moment (and in your reflections after the fact.)
Here are a few of the suggestions that I’ve found useful for developing a language of synchronicity with the Divine:
Inviting these experiences into your life
- The one essential practice is to spend time in nature, observing, meditating and listening and make that a regular part of your regular routine. When you go out of your way to spend time in the untouched wilderness, the distractions and blockages that may normally drown out the messages of the Universe are removed. Once you’ve developed a sense for attracting these encounters and recognizing them when they occur, you may just find that they follow you into your regular day to day life also.
- Watch for signs. Sometimes the signs are impossible to ignore, but its not always going to be as obvious as an otter hopping aboard your kayak for a ride. Sometimes it might be the repetition of encounters with a particular animal that grabs your attention, or the synchronicity of thinking about an animal and then having that same animal cross your path the same day. Did you have a dream about a wolf? Did you find a possum sitting on your car? Did a spider crawl across your leg while you were meditating? Did you see a puffy white turtle in the clouds? You may need to silence your inner skeptic to open yourself up to recognize the encounters as they happen.
- Study shamanic techniques for connecting with natural energies and animals. There is plenty of reading material out there that looks at shamanism in depth and many of them will cover divination techniques like I’ve mentioned. But maybe the most important thing to take away from Shamanism is the ability to connect with the soul essence of natural entities. One of my favorite books on the subject is Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova. I prefer this text because its structured in a way that will take you through a year-long practice of building relationship with the elements, plants, animals and ancestors.
- Just ask. Set the intention that you are open to receive messages from animal guides and then sit back and wait. If your experiences mirror my own, then before long, you’ll find these extraordinary encounters start interrupting your boring, ordinary life, bringing a sense of magic and mysticism to the mundane.
In the moment
- If you have the pleasure of meeting an animal face to face, savor the moment. Its tempting to grab your phone and video the encounter, but try to limit that impulse to snapping a photo or two, and then put the phone away and quiet your mind. If you have experience with trance states or meditation, let yourself descend into that place of stillness and openness. Take in everything you can.
- Observe the actions of the animal and make note of what it does. Is the animal hunting or eating? Is it watching you? One of my favorite examples of an shamanic encounter is when Dakota Walker (Gaia Wisdom School) observed an owl while kayaking. The owl was eating a snake, a lengthy process of swallowing it whole and allowed Dakota to watch from a short distance for a good long time. This imagery is rich with symbolism the symbolism of death and consumption and the combined energies of Owl and Snake and River.
- Be open to receive messages, but don’t feel pressured to interpret everything in the moment. Observe and note details and feelings, and burn it into your memory. The time to reflect and interpret will come later.
- You may want to try the shamanic technique of joining your energy to the animal. This can take some practice, and should be done with the utmost care and respect. Visualize seeing from behind their eyes. Feel yourself in their skin.
- Try not to disturb the animal or its habitat. It may be tempting to try and get
a closer look, but let the animal come as close to you as it is comfortable with. It seems like it should go without saying, but all to often, people respond to extraordinary encounters to animals by trying to provoke a reaction from the animal. Don’t pick it up, or feed it, or poke it with a stick, or throw rocks at it. Again, this should go without saying, but spend any time in a public park and you’ll see too many examples of folks that just don’t respect the boundaries of the wildlife. Leave them be and observe quietly from a safe distance, and I guarantee you will have a more meaningful experience.
Reflecting & Interpreting
- Afterwards, find a creative way to reflect on the experience. Its not always easy to process the epiphanies and revelations that can come through in a spiritual encounter of this nature. By using different pathways to express your feelings, you engage different parts of your body, mind and spirit. Grab a journal or sketchbook, colored pencils, markers or your favorite pen and then let loose. It doesn’t have to look perfect or even presentable, because this is just for your eyes. Turn off your internal editor/censor. Scribble whatever comes to mind before it evaporates. It may be random words or phrases, symbols, or song lyrics…let yourself spill out onto the page in whatever manner feels right in the moment. You may be surprised by the insights that come out of your own brain.
- Read up on the animal that visited you. Look for metaphors that you can apply to your current circumstances to expand your perception. How does this creature interact with its surroundings? How does it get its food or conserve its energy? Has it evolved to have any interesting characteristics or survival techniques? How can you apply those to your own life skills or spiritual path? What element do you associate with the animal, and how to you relate to that elemental energy? It may be helpful to look up the animal’s historical or esoteric symbolism as well, but I encourage you to try to come up with your own symbolic interpretation first to distill the essence of the encounter and train your intuition.
- Find art or imagery connected with the animal and meditate with it. Practice “Active Imagination” techniques by slowing descending into a trance state while visualizing the art in front of you until it starts to come alive, or invite you into its reality. Record what you observe.
- Remember that these messages are quite personal and others may not understand. You may tell others about the synchronicities and find their reactions to be judgmental or dismissive. That’s okay, its not meant for them. Because these encounters are of a spiritual nature, an outside observer may not be able to recognize the significance that you feel in the moment. Sometimes, even when another person is there with you during the animal encounter, they may not experience the spiritual connection if the message is meant only for you. But in rare and beautiful circumstances, all the people present can experience the significance of the moment in a sacred communion, if they are open to the connection.
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find your life’s meaning in a single encounter. Sometimes these encounters may bring about a revelation that will completely transform your perspective. Other times the experience is merely a confirmation that you are on the right path, or a reminder that you are connected to the whole of the Universe. That’s still valuable. Every time I see a cardinal (which was my grandmother’s favorite bird) I am reminded that I am supported and loved by my ancestral spirits , and it instantly reminds me that I am a spiritual being in communion with other spiritual beings. Sometimes the cardinals show up at critical points in my life. Other times they pass in and out of my day to day life as a quick reminder. A little cosmic hug, interrupting my day.
- Give Back. In order to cultivate an ongoing relationship with the animal energy that reached out to you, do a little research to see if you can take action to help protect the species. If Owl comes into your life, donate money to a Bird of Prey Sanctuary. If you have an encounter on protected lands, use your vote to elect officials that will continue to protect the area and fund the researchers who are working to keep the ecosystem in balance. Be mindful of your effect of the environment and the creatures that you are communing with. This will hopefully come from a place of gratitude rather than duty. In my philosophy of the universe, the animal spirits that we work with are not necessarily the souls of the individual animals we encounter, but greater entities that encapsulate the essence of that swpecies. A protector or shepherd…like Tolkien’s Ents were to the trees and forests of Middle Earth.
I hope that these tips will be helpful for you the next time you find yourself in an extraordinary encounter with a speical creature and that you are able to reflect on the experience in a meaningful way. It is my prayer that everyone that reads these words will soon after have a special encounter of their own to demonstrate the beautiful synchrocity of our universe that I have become familiar with when I started looking for it. In these troubled times that we are so isolated from the natural world, and often at odds with it, we need more people to be aware of these special moments, and awakened to the messages that Nature is trying to send to us. When animals allow themselves to be vessels and messengers of the Divine Will for our benefit, its a great blessing. Even though these experiences are completely natural, its still a little bit of a miracle everytime it happens…an experience to be cherished and savored.