View Full Version : Communicating with the animal spirit

Monday, December 12th, 2005, 10:20 AM
The people of natural, tribal cultures have always been living alongside wild animals. The beasts that surrounded them played a very important part in their lives and religious traditions. Animals are part of myths and legends around the world. In many stories of how the world was created, a female animal is said to be responsible. Imaginative and often very beautiful tales tell about enchanting creatures that are half human and half animal, or of an animal becoming human and vice versa. Animals mentioned in the myths have distinct personalities and fables often tell us about humans and animals communicating by just talking together.

The early Christians regarded these "Heathen myths", like most other that was not strictly Biblical, to be the Devil's work. In the middle-ages, to be seen talking to an animal meant to risk an accusation of witchcraft. This was especially true with lonely old women, who naturally found great comfort in their animal friends. The Church frightened its congregations into believing that the talking animal was a demonic creature sent from hell to aid the witch or wizard in their evil doings. The main reason why close contact with an animal was demonised might have been because in the ancient days, a practitioner of the arcane arts often owned a personal pet or familiar. This was his or her magical companion, and a link between this world and the hidden realms.

If we look at fairytales or even cute little children's stories, the main character is often surrounded, accompanied or even advised by one or several animals. Like mentioned earlier, fairytales often have hidden symbolism. An example is the fairytale Die Gaensemagd, about the goose maid whose talking horse Fallada is the only one that knows her tragic story. Even stories for children like Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland (the white rabbit is a classical spiritual animal) or Nils Holgersson (who, together with his pet hamster, flies away on a journey with the wild geese), reveal that the animal appears to be the guardian of the child and these adventures often symbolise a journey to the self and a new phase of life.

We know of the myths and legends of the brave hero and the dragon. The myths of the dragonslayer may well represent a youth's journey to manhood. He slays the dragon, conquering his own childhood fears, ready to take on the adult life.

The horse and the maiden

I mentioned earlier that witches were believed to use horses to ride to the nightly Sabbath. You will also perhaps remember that people in Scandinavia believed that the Mare, a female creature from a world below, would enter bedrooms at night through a little hole in the floor in order to ride the sleeper. From this comes the Norwegian word Mareritt, meaning to be ridden by Mare, and of course also the English word nightmare.

A female horse is called a mare. As we can see there appears to be a link between the witches' night-ride on horses, the female creature that causes nightmares and the actual mare ? the female horse. In Celtic mythology, the dead were believed to ride to the other side on white horses and it is in this world the shaman gets her or his wisdom. Thus, the word nightmare might also have a connection to this. In Britain, it is also traditionally believed that horses are able to see ghosts. The idea that the Mare enters the mortal world through a hole also symbolises shamanic practice. The shaman traditionally starts the soul-journey by visualising a hole through which she or he slips into.

A white or grey mare often appears in folklore, and in both Celtic and Germanic cultures white or grey horses (white horses are usually born black and gradually turn white) were sacrificed in fertility rites. A horse penis was often preserved and kept by the mistress of the house. The horse was sacred to the God Frey, and often the spring Goddess, the maiden, was pictured riding on a horse ? usually naked. A horse was also often sacrificed to be buried with the dead. The killing of a horse in fertility rites and the horses' connection to the world of the dead, again shows us these people's understanding of the connection between sex and death, and the idea that life continues after death.

Tales and legends tell us of the spiritual bond between the maiden and the horse. We know of the unicorns, the pure, white horse with a horn on its forehead that can only be seen and touched by the young maiden. This myth may symbolise the free-spirited young girl that has yet to experience her first love. The blushing maiden that discovers her own body, her feminine nature and who thus is very perceptive to any contact from the other side. A pubescent girl who dreams about riding on a horse, often naked, is said to dream about her freedom of spirit. Her riding on a horse could also symbolise her yearning for physical contact. The horse can be seen as the maiden's guide through the frightening process of growing up, becoming a woman, a wife and a mother. This is beautifully dramatised in the fairytale of the goosemaid and her horse Fallada.

Young girls often love horses. Riding is not just a sport for them, it is also the connection between them and the horse, the incredible feeling of riding the animal. These girls also see the horse as their best friend, someone they trust their secrets to. When I was a young girl, I had a great passion for horses and spent many hours a day by the stables. I also recall significant dreams of bareback-riding a wild horse and the incredible feeling of freedom it gave me.

Calling the animal soul

It was common in many tribal societies to call upon the animal souls before a hunt, and to thank the same after returning with the catch. The hunters would wrap the furs of wild animals around them, wear the animal's horns on their head ? in short, become the animal. They would dance and chant and once in a trance, they would communicate with the animal soul. This was done to maintain a harmony between the people and the animal kingdom. Likewise, warriors often invoked a wild animal prior a battle to gain its strength and fury. The most common animals invoked by the Northern nations were wolves, bears or wild boars. There were three types of warrior-cults: The Berserkers, the Ulfhednar and the Svinfylking. We know the expression "to go berserk", to go mad with rage. Originally going berserk meant to go into battle wearing only a bear-skin shirt, fighting with the rage and the strength of a bear. The Ulfhednar wore wolf skins and the Svinfylking warriors called upon the rage of the wild boar.

It would be a worthwhile practice to invoke an animal you admire in order to gain its grace, courage or other qualities you wish to obtain from it. You can also lie motionless, as in Seidr practice, and let your soul become the spirit of an animal of your choice.

You might have experienced an unusual, almost magical encounter with an animal. For example, walking alone in the forest, you turn around and notice that there is a wild animal watching you and you get the feeling that it follows you. It looks at you and you feel like it knows you or you even feel like it wants to tell you something. To the Pagans, such a meeting with an animal was often regarded as a sign or even a message from the Gods, with the animal serving as the messenger. This animal could also be a fetch-animal that shows itself in physical form.

Many of us own pets. We are attached to these, play with and even talk to them. For many of us pets are comforting, we feel they understand our problems and this demonstrates that humans need to have a relationship with animals. I certainly need animals around me. To be alone in a stable with horses and cows, for example, gives me an incredible feeling of inner peace.

Children love animals and they immediately show affection for them, unless they learn from their parents that animals are dirty and dangerous. To teach the poor child to fear, or even to hate animals is a terrible thing to do. Sadly, there are many people around the world who treat animals like lifeless things or who even mistreat them. Animals are viewed to be inferior to us and are seen as soulless creatures that were placed on this earth purely for us to use. Such people do not understand the needs and feelings of animals because they don't understand the animal within themselves. It is very important to realise that animals are part of Mother Nature, and that we in turn are a part of the animals. For we, too, have a wild nature within.

Our natural instincts are not something that should be suppressed. They are very necessary to any living creature. It is our instincts that give us the urge to survive and that tell us how to survive. Indeed, it is by acting out these urges that we feel truly alive. Our instincts tell us what is good for our body and what is poisonous. It is the natural instincts that make us aware of danger and that make us react in dangerous situations. Natural instincts tell the animal how to defend itself, when to fight, when to appear scary and when to run away. I think it is because humans have denied themselves many of these wild impulses that they have become so destructive towards their own environment and themselves, and at the same time unaware of any dangers surrounding them.

It would be a valuable exercise and a truly sensational experience for those who don't feel their inner animal to spend some time alone in nature without any modern facilities. When you are there, try not to think about yourself and your problems in the material world. In fact, try not to think at all, just sense yourself. Sense your immediate needs. Sense your environment: Smell, listen, feel and taste it. Feel the elements on your bare skin, the sunlight or the rain, wind or snow. Experience your inner wolf or wild cat and pretend that you are this great animal that is prowling through the woods sensing its environment.

Learn to know and trust your instincts and try to be alert at all times. I think the important thing is to learn to create a unity between your instincts, intuition, emotions and rational thinking.

Andrea Haugen, taken from "The Ancient Fires of Midgard (http://www.amazon.de/exec/obidos/ASIN/3935684010/qid=1134382681/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_2_1/302-2683543-5870459)"