Animal Allies: an Introduction

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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. We’ve forgotten what the sun feels like on our bare chests, and the smell of storms. 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 interwoven connectivity inherent in all parts of 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. I am not immune to the emotion of it!

However, I am aware of the disrespect towards indigenous people by the usurping of these connections, generations-long and interrupted by genocide, especially by white people who 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. 

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 22nd 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 want to talk about metaphor, and 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!