Sunday, July 7, 2013

Spirit Animals

Needle felted "spirit animals" inspired by Huichol yarn painting and bead masks

Have you ever had a dream where you were visited by an animal and felt an intense connection or unspoken communication passed between you and that animal?  Are there animals you have a particularly strong attraction to, or seem to coincidentally encounter often in nature?  

It is no surprise that animals tell us much about ourselves considering all the myriad creatures that walk this earth have come from a single source, whatever you believe that source to be.  As empathic creatures we recognize ourselves in others, but we also recognize something of ourselves in the animal kingdom as well.  Spiritual traditions all over the world have long recognized this, from the concept of shamanic animal guides to the yogis who adapted many postures from the observation of our animal kin. 

Following are some brief thoughts on each of the animals I have created so far in this series of "Spirit Animals" inspired by Huichol yarn paintings and Mayan bead masks.  These initial four were selected in part because they each strongly represent a different classical element and direction.

 Rabbits (East, Air) are sometimes thought to represent fear, nervousness or caution, but if you have ever read Richard Adam's brilliant story about these creatures in the classic "Watership Down," you know what noble and amazing animals these are. 

My earliest memory of rabbits are actually from Bugs Bunny cartoons, where Warner Brothers so wonderfully represented the Rabbit-as-Trickster.  The rabbit also represents swiftness and communication (the way they thump their back leg to warn others of danger) and because of this, they could be considered a kindred archetypal spirit to the Greek god Hermes, who also represents swiftness and communication, and who was also a Trickster archetype. 

 Lizard (South, Fire).  As a fan of laying on the beach and soaking up the sun, I feel a special affinity for this creature.  They can look like they are asleep, but if you move close to one they quickly dart into nearby shadow beneath a rock or bush.  Simultaneously asleep and awake, they represent existing both in consensus reality, and that place of dreams, that place of deep symbolic reality underlying the world around us.

Frog (West, Water) is a creature of transformation, regeneration and rebirth, having made the journey from one form to another, from tadpole to frog.

The frog makes its journey of transformation as solely a water dweller (tadpole) to land by growing legs.

I think of frogs and their beautiful chorus with other frogs in the water.  So sing a song, take a bath, go swimming, as a way to transform. . .not necessarily the big life transformations, but as a way to change from a dark mood to a bright one, as a way to get back on your feet and moving forward, making your way onto the solid ground again.

Turtle (North, Earth) is a fitting juxtaposition to the Rabbit, that age old race between the tortoise and the hare.  Slow and steady.  But more than that, think of how it carries its house with it everywhere, it is the very picture of self-sufficiency.  It is also a wonderful icon for introspection, going inside its own shell, a safe place. 

I love the expression "It's turtles all the way down."  I don't remember what tradition that comes from, but its the idea of what holds the earth up.  According to one myth, it is a turtle. But then that begs the question, what is that turtle standing on?  Well, obviously, another turtle.  It's an expression that summarizes the idea of "infinite regress."  How you can just keep asking why, over and over, to every answer.  And how perfect is that for a creature that represents going inside, introspection?  It's cautionary. . . don't spend so much time going inside yourself in introspection, questioning everything so much that it turns into an infinite regress.  Go inside when you need to, but otherwise, poke that head out, munch some healthy greens, and move slowly and steadily forward in your life.


 This mask that hangs on the wall in my studio space is an example of Mayan bead art.  I picked it up years ago on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and it's funny how it finally crept its way into my own creations.  Be careful what you hang on your walls!

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