From earliest times, humankind has used animals as totems and symbols of the highest ideals – the lion as a symbol of strength, the lamb as the purity of God, the serpent and eagle as symbols of the sacred principles of the universe.
Mesoamerican societies worshiped the winged serpent Quetzalcoatl, a god who was master of the winds and the sky, and the protector of his people. In Greek mythology, Medusa’s scalp writhed with live snakes, symbolic of her sovereign female wisdom. The hero Hercules was often depicted wearing a lion skin, which gave him the beast’s cunning, strength, and dominance. In the Bible, King Solomon is referred to as the “lion of Judea,” and Jesus is called the “lamb of God.” In the Hindu religion, cows are held to be sacred. The zodiac has animals as symbols, as does the Chinese calendar.
Cultural identifications with animals are so strong that entire civilizations have taken them as symbols. The mighty lion has long represented England; the industrious honeybee, a symbol of immortality and resurrection, was chosen by both Charlemagne and Napoleon to represent France.
Perhaps the most omnipresent animal symbol of all is the eagle, adopted by both ancient and modern cultures around the world, such as the Greeks, Egyptians, Sumerians, Hittites, and Romans. The bald eagle represents the might and freedom of the United States.
Even automakers use animal imagery to symbolize their products because potential buyers intuitively respond to certain animal attributes. We expect the Jaguar sports car to be sleek, fast, and elite; the Dodge Ram SUV to be sure-footed on rocky terrain.
Four archetypal animals are particularly important to the Laika of Peru. The serpent symbolizes knowledge, sexuality, and the healing power of nature. The jaguar represents strength, courage, and the power of transformation. The eagle (or condor) symbolizes foresight, clarity, vision and the self-transcending principle of nature. The hummingbird symbolizes courage, strength, and guidance. When shamans open and close sacred space, we invoke these spirit animals, representing the four core principles of life.
Apart from archetypal images, most of us have lost our sense of connectedness to all but the most domesticated of animals. But whether we are aware of it or not, we all have power animals that symbolize the instinctual aspects of our soul in its natural, most unspoiled state.
When my son was born, a wolf came to me unexpectedly and clung closely to my side. He told me his qualities were commitment and dedication without compromising individuality – lessons I needed to learn, since I’d spent much of my adult life exploring the Andes and the Amazon. The wolf taught me to be part of a family pack without feeling constrained by it.
When we call for a power animal, Spirit provides us with whatever we need – we do not get to choose. In fact we may retrieve one that is entirely unforeseen, or actively disliked. The animal that comes to us represents an instinctual part of ourselves that we may have become disconnected from – or even find distasteful.
Working with a power animal is an instinctual process about who we are becoming, not about who we would prefer to be. It is up to us to learn its attributes as it reveals its wisdom.
You can learn more about power animals through my book, Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval.