Power Animals have a long history in the practice of shamanism. They are one of our primary spirit helpers. We have acknowledged such wisdom and ancientness in our circles this year.
In circles past and articles written I have talked about caves with ancient altars to Bears and Jaguars. Cave paintings still adorn the walls where our Ancestors lived for thousands of years. Most cave artefacts were left between 35,000 and 10, 000 BCE. The most beautiful of what remains of cave art was obviously made during this long time period.
In the cave Les Trois Freres inPyrenees, there are over 500 paintings and engravings. Many of the ancient paintings represent figures of man in various transitions between animal and human. From top to bottom a whole wall is covered with engravings. The surface has been worked by your ancestors with tools of stone, creating the animals that lived at this time in southern France: the mammoth, rhinoceros, bison, wild horse, bear, wild ass, reindeer, wolverine, musk ox; also, the smaller animals have been engraved: snowy owls, hares, and fish. In many of the pictures are seen darts everywhere, flying at the game, enacting the hunt. Several engravings of bears have holes where the images were struck and blood is shown spouting from their mouths.
In circles past we gathered to do Jaguar postures. The postures we chose to do were of the jaguar shamans, half Jaguar/half shaman, referred to as the shapeshifter. Many of these paintings have very intricate details of the animals going so far in detail as to show movement. I believe the most intense of all of the trance postures I have ever done, Jaguar has been the most powerful.
The Inuit call the shaman “lord of the beasts”. I think that we created such beautiful creations of animals because we found a medium to express our experiences traveling through the doorway. We could finally translate what we experienced. That very thought leaves an indelible impression upon me. The paintings of the animals are not symbolic, or at least rarely. Man is often a stick figure, not a great deal of attention was paid to humans. That may be for two reasons, first the artist knew everyone knew what a human looked like, and secondly the artist may have been attempting to portray that his presence was of little consequence. We move again to the cave, to the depth of the cave. I don’t think it is a hard leap to make, to say that the deeper we move into the darkness of caves in our journeys, the deeper we feel connected to the Sacred.
We were originally hunter/gatherer societies. The animal would have been the most sacred and sought after spiritual helper. Glossolalia must have its origins in the first days of animal human relationships. For those who don’t know, glossolalia is the proper word for Tongues. Shamans globally learnt the language of the animals, through sounds, gestures, observations, costumes… the shaman remembered the importance of NOT separating from a sacred language. One of the first things you learn at any basic shamanic workshop is to journey, or to take a voyage, to meet your power animal. This has been a basic step of shamanism throughout its history, which incidentally stems from the Ice Age and has continued without interruption to present day. If we look to the myths and stories we have studied this circle season we have seen a pattern. The myths tells us of a time when animals and humans spoke the same language and were in harmony. For various reasons the worlds, as they were, could no longer exist together. Separation occurred. The shaman’s first journey is to reunite the connection between the land of the animals and the land of the humans. That is an ecstatic experience. A balance between the human’s need to eat and the animal’s (often referred to as brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather…) right to life.
In circles past I have talked about bear ceremonies and the altars. Any trip to the library will allow the casual observer of shamanism the opportunity to see pictures in various books of shamans wearing head dresses of birds, coats of wolf skin as well as masks of all shapes and sizes. Power Animals still enable us, as they did our Ancestors, access to both the inner and the outer world. Over time we heal the rift that has developed and separated us into accepting that there is an inner and outer world, nasty duality.
Story telling is an important part of our shamanic heritage. Some of the caves the initiates walked through ranged in depth of ½ kilometre to several kilometres. The use of stories told not only the initiates, but others involved as witnesses, the complex relationship between the world of the human and the world of the Spirits. The stories also held deep meanings.
Have you read the stories Bone Collector and Skeleton Woman? Skeleton woman is an Inuit story instructing the initiate about the importance of the skeleton. They believed that the skeleton was both death and resurrection. The flesh died away but the bones often did not decay, so it was an immortal event. Initiates journey to with the hope of finding their skeleton when they reach the Spirit World, for they then have truly crossed the barrier between the place where time exists, to the place where no time exists.
The Bone Collector is a story of resurrection, however it also teaches the initiates to listen to the bones and to hear the language they speak. The phrase “the shaman is to be like a hollow bone” comes from these very thoughts. Shamans feel spirit in their bones, whether in their physical body or in the spiritual body. The Bone Collector sang to the bones, the vibration creating life in the bones. Healers sing to the bones of the dead, asking them to take their messages to the spirits and grant their request. Some Bear Shamans, as have been mentioned elsewhere on my site, were particularly adept at fixing bones, most times these shamans sang to their patients, the power of the song is what is used to bring the shattered parts of the bones back together. The divining shaman throws bones to find where the animals have gone. Animal bones played an enormous part in the role of the shaman.