When choosing an animal ally, spirit guide or totem, it’s odd how often we Pagans find ourselves picked by glamorous top end predators, and how rarely someone admits to being guided by skunks, jellyfish, worms and other, less romantic life forms. You’d imagine, if the animal spirits were doing all the choosing, a few more people might have been called by slow worms and sparrows than seems to be the case. I dare to suggest that all too often we pick our animal guides based largely on how we want to be seen and what qualities interest us.
It’s worth considering the difference between a power animal, and an animal we happen to like and feel fond of, or wish to emulate. I happen to be very fond of owls. I know a lot about owls, and hearing their calls gives me goosebumps. Once, in a piece of deep visualisation work I was eaten by an owl, which led to a few very strange days. It’s not an easy thing to have to handle in your normal life. Actual spirit creatures, I assume, cannot be relied upon to fit neatly round the day job and family commitments. I have no idea how owls feel about me, really, and that tells me there is no magical special thing going on here.
I don’t have a ‘power animal’ – I have creatures I am fond of and interested in, and that’s fine. It is not a necessary rite of passage. We have far too many books telling us that we should all be performing the role of the shaman and collecting this and that symbol of power, and special guides for otherworldly travelling. Never mind that most of us to do not do the work of the shaman, have not been trained that way, and are not called that way. Some people truly are. We do not honour them by purloining the appearance of their work without actually having been called to it.
I like hedgehogs. I am inspired by the work of earthworms in breaking down the old to release nutrients into the soil. I think soil fungi are amazing in their interplay with trees to create forests. I have a longstanding love affair with beech trees, but am also fond of oaks and a bit intimidated by yews. The natural world is full of wonders and lessons to be learned. There are countless examples of life and ways of being. I choose to look around me and to draw what inspiration I can from all that I encounter. In this sense only, can I claim to be ‘guided’.
It is not my path to have a spirit guide. I know this, because nothing has ever come to me in that way. I do not feel in any way inferior or reduced by not being able to point at a creature or plant and claim its spirit as my own. This is simply how I am, and I have other work to do. There is no reason to assume that we should have anything at all. It is not a case of going out there to collect a patron god, a power animal, a medicine plant, a rune, an ogham, as though by cobbling together a set of special things we will in turn become special. We get what comes to us. I am blessed with a lot of inspiration, and for me that is enough.