Animal signs

While keeping up my series of posts on divination at the time of the new moon, I’m going to mix things up today and write a little bit about a kind of divination that is not nearly as systematic as Tarot or runes or other methods. It’s less systematic, and in some ways more open to chance and to individual interpretation, because it relies on nature for its signs. Specifically, I’m going to share a few experiences I’ve had with observing the appearances and behavior of animals that have carried spiritual meaning for me. If you’ve had similar experiences, I’d like to hear about them, too!

There are formalized systems of animal divination, or at least collections of the suggested interpretations of particular animals and their appearances or behaviors, but I haven’t studied any of these. So far, my work with animal signs has been primarily an extension of connection with the landbase and finding the divine in the immanent all around us.

The most powerful signs for me have been the animal form of a deity making an appearance, such as when I encounter ravens and crows and sense the Morrigan at work. These signs are often a gentle reminder of her presence – sort of like saying, “Don’t worry, I’m here with you.” On the other hand, they can also be a reminder to consult with a deity or power that I haven’t interacted with in a while – sort of the equivalent of that “Hey, we haven’t talked in a while. How are you doing?”

This kind of interpretation is an area that relies heavily on intuition and one’s existing relationships with spirits and powers. It can also be significantly improved by a working awareness of one’s landbase and its other inhabitants. Anything out of place or unusual is more likely to be able to carry divinatory meaning. For example, seeing eagles at the zoo is probably not a sign from Zeus or Athena; seeing eagles in the wild is more likely to be.

In addition to deity forms, I also draw on the stories or qualities associated with specific animals to interpret signs. I once went to Teddy Roosevelt Island and saw turtles in two widely separated places. That day remains the only time I’ve seen turtles there. That was a strong message for me to endure and be patient but persistent, and it bore out.

Now, not every appearance is going to have divinatory meaning. Even behaviors that seem unusual can be perfectly natural, just unfamiliar to you. It’s always important, with this as with other forms of divination, to reflect on how and why you’re interpreting the message the way you are, and to think critically about whether the message is significant at all. On the other hand, a natural cause doesn’t rule out a symbolic meaning; one time that I observed a very active stag during the rutting season, I knew he was out and about because of the rut, but his appearance was also a meaningful message to me to remember the masculine divine and the way the urge for life continues even near Samhain.

Finally, don’t restrict yourself to the charismatic megafauna (the big interesting animals) only. Don’t be bummed out if your power animal or the animal forms of your deities don’t live in your local environment. Try paying attention to what is present in the world around you. Does that cheeky cardinal in your yard show up more often at times when you need to let your own colors shine?

If you have worked with this at all, share some wisdom: How do you work with signs and meanings from the animal world? How do you develop this kind of awareness?

Shout-outs via the Humane Society

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association awarded Dr. Lori Pasternak  its Direct Practitioner of the Year award. Dr. Pasternak works at the Helping Hands clinic in Richmond, VA, a low-cost surgical and dental clinic. I’ve taken animals to Helping Hands before, and I can’t say enough good things about the clinic and about Dr. Pasternak. I’m delighted to see her getting the recognition she deserves. From the article:

“Surgery happens to be my talent. We should all use our talents to make the world a better place,” said Dr. Pasternak.

Well said!

Second, this month’s All Animals magazine has an excellent feature story on how humans and bears can coexist safely and peacefully. As the tag line reads, these strategies and examples prove “we can live in and with the wild without destroying it.”

Among other things, this article and the ideas behind it are a great example of framing. We don’t, for example, have to accept Bryan Fischer’s framing and metaphors that it’s “humans v. bears.” Environmentalists who accept that framing can potentially end up seeming like they support the bears more than the humans. By reframing the question as one of coexistence – even a potentially difficult coexistence at times – instead of unremitting aggression, a whole slew of different approaches become possible.

Finally, the article also provides some good perspective:

[Fatal bear attacks] average fewer than two per year. More people are killed by bees. By spiders. By dogs. By lightning.

“More people are killed in vending machine accidents,” says Andrew Page, senior director of The HSUS’s Wildlife Abuse Campaign.

These are interesting counter-examples of what fringe Christians don’t tend to interpret when they try to divine their god’s will. As far as I know, Fischer hasn’t yet claimed that a vending machine falling over was a sign of God’s wrath. I really loved C&L’s suggestion of a “wall of separation between church and weather.” Could we extend that to other extremely unlikely imputations of divine wrath such as earthquakes, bird deaths, and bear attacks?