Animal Allies: an Introduction

erwan-hesry-128848.jpg

Wild animals have always been such a source of blessings, meaning, and joy for me.

Watching a fox hunt, or two eagles preen one another, or a spider carefully build her web - each of these is a precious moment in a tapestry of interconnected wildness. I think that in our modern era, we are forced out of our own wildness, often into 40-hour-per-week, indoor domestication. Animals connect us in a strange, immediate, and emotional way to this aspect of ourselves. I’ve wanted to write about my own experiences and thoughts about animals for a long time, but have had hesitation.

I have struggled with how to speak about them and how to make meaning of them, because our rekindling of animism into modern times is rife with appropriation and white-washing. The phrases "spirit animal" and "totem" have been taken from indigenous First Nations’ language and bastardized, sanitized of the deeply complex connectivity between nature and the tribes that originated here. In my understanding of these concepts, a person is born into a totem, or a clan, and sometimes even into an alliance with particular animals. These are not relationships that can be discovered by taking a quiz one finds on Facebook.

I understand the draw: we want desperately to connect with the earth, our landscapes, and wild animals about which we understand very little besides scientific facts. It is romantic and exhilarating to believe that we have "totems." Especially for those of us descended from Europeans, we are thousands of miles away from our own native lands and with nothing to show for it. We live in landscapes that do not belong to us and yet these landscapes are our homes.

We disrespect indigenous people by usurping these concepts and connections, generations-long and interrupted by genocide. As white people, we struggle to honor that we have our own healing to do with our lineages and ancestors, other peoples, and the earth itself. I am not in any way perfect or an expert in matters of appropriation, but I want to do better. I want us to come by our relationships with the earth as honestly as possible.

Thus, I use phrase "animal allies" to denote animals that are in relation with us - either momentarily, or long-term. This allows me to develop a relationship with nature and our wild relatives on my own terms, I hope, without contributing to further colonization. 

Photo by  Andrea Reiman

Photo by Andrea Reiman

This series is about the messages, meaning-making, and relationship-building that animal allies have for us. I will do this in the best ways I know how - which are, admittedly, as limited as any other human’s in the current century! My hope is that my reflections will offer to you a chance to find meaning and help you learn to balance nature facts with your own instinct, instead of trying to rely on dubious Google answers, or books written by white people about the mystical "meanings" of animals, which are often thieved from indigenous sources. I want you to learn the facts of your own relationships with them.

I’ll talk about metaphor, about learning about your own instinctual responses, and, of course, the animals themselves. I want to weave in cultural information into these discussions as respectfully as possible, because there is so much richness in the histories of the relationships between animals and people the world over. (I hope that you will help me by calling out anything that feels disrespectful!)

I will also talk about the shadow, not just the light. As white people and especially as New Agers, we have shied so hard away from the shadow that we often look at animals - even predators - as romanticized versions of their true selves. I believe that we do this because it’s painful to acknowledge the brutality of nature - and likewise the brutality of humans towards other humans and nature itself - but we can’t heal what we don’t look at. (And we are a world in desperate need of healing our shadow.) Like us, animals often have ugly sides: sometimes they are wasteful; sometimes they are cruel. But this doesn't detract from their mysticism: it only contributes to the complex, beautiful whole that makes up each being.

Thanks for joining me here, and please participate as much as you'd like to with questions - I'd like to grow with you in this space! If you’d like to read the pieces on Animal Allies that I’ve already published on Patreon, you can do so for just $1/month. Otherwise, stick around here and keep an eye out!