The Underworld is the medium by which all spiritual energy interracts, like a web or network that underlies and transcends the physical world. Travelling a world composed of raw, native energy can be a risky business. Not every nature spirit is particularly impressed with humans, and some of them are just plain wild. There are, of course, also spirits which are essentially evil, or at the very best hostile. In our everyday lives, our spirit is protected from those unfriendly energies by the simple fact that it’s contained within our physical body, but when we make a shamanic journey – an out of body journey – that protection is gone.
Fortunately, there are also helpful spiritual energies. These energies are of a more complex nature, perhaps more complex than ourselves, and are possibly extremely old. For whatever reason, they have chosen to act as protectors and guides to those who want to journey in the Underworld. There are a variety of these type of spirits, and not all of them offer their services for free. But payment, as far as the Underworld is concerned, does not involve money. As you’ll see, it gets much more personal.
Most people have an affinity or liking for certain creatures and many people make the mistake of assuming that this affinity means that this creature is their spirit animal. This is not the case at all, though it doesn’t mean that animal is not their spirit creature. A spirit animal chooses you. It offers itself to you. You don’t get to pick.
The main benefit of a spirit animal is that it will ward off any hostile spirits you might come across while journeying. It will also ward off spiritual attacks to your physical body while you’re in a trance state. It will travel with you, usually unseen but often close by, and guide you in the right direction if you get lost or confused.
Seeking their spirit animal is usually the first journey a shaman makes. It would be foolish to make a more involved journey without at least some protection. The journey would involve entering a trance state with the intent of finding a companion for the work ahead. The spirit animal will not be easy to find, but you will see glimpses of it, either in the environment, such as a flash of feathers or fur, or in a more abstract way, such as disembodied faces, eyes or paws (think Cheshire Cat) which appear unbidden in your mind.
What you identify might be a complete surprise. Again, just because you feel affinity for a particular species does not mean that’s your spirit animal. Traditionally, you would find something native to your own country, which makes sense, since in ancient times, knowledge of ‘foreign’ species would have been limited to non-existant. Being a worldwide community these days, though, does not mean your animal will automatically be a native species. Do not reject a spirit animal just because it isn’t British, or Australian or South American or whatever part of the world you are from. However, the animal is usually appropriate to the kind of Underworld you visit.
What I mean by that is, we all have our own mental ‘furniture’. The environment we live in, the climate, the local wilderness will have a bearing on how we perceive the Underworld. A British shaman will tend to encounter an Underworld with British environments, such as forests, moors, windswept beaches and chilly hilltops. Their power, or spirit, animal, will be appropriate to such an environment. A lion in a silverbirch grove doesn’t really fit, does it?
To identify the creature, you will see parts of it at least three times. When you see it, it isn’t because you expect it and then conjour the image in your mind, the views you get of it will come unexpectedly – unbidden and often surprising.
Once identified, the creature needs to be hunted down. It will make you work, too. You will have to follow it, track it down and finally capture it. By capture, I mean you fall onto it, both within your trance, and in physicality. You must wrap your arms and legs around it, hold it down, wait until it succombs and then finally accepts you.
Now you must ‘dance’ your animal. This not only reinforces the connection between you and it, it calibrates both your and it’s energy, so that you’re both in sync. To dance it, you simply have to become it. Stand up, close your eyes and feel its energy flowing through you. Move the way it moves. Make the sounds it makes. Run like it runs. Play like it plays.
Your power/spirit animal will remain with you for many years, possibly for your lifetime. This is where the payment comes in. The spirit animal is spirit, and cannot experience the physical world, except through you. By ‘dancing’ it, you give it the sensation it craves. That’s all it asks. In return it gives you protection on your journeys, enhanced health and luck, and new eyes to see with. It’s not much to ask. Set it free every so often, and it will be a loyal companion on your shamanic adventures for years to come.