Power Animals and How they Differ
By Jan Engels-Smith
LightSong School of 21st Century Shamanism and Energy Medicine, the school that I founded, is based on linking people to their divine connections in the spirit realm. All too often this connection has been lost. We start this process in the basic journey class called Through the Rabbit Hole. This is a gateway class that is amazing and is transformative in multiple ways. Doors open, hearts are healed, and there is inspiration, motivation, enthusiasm and hope. The feelings that many people have of disconnect are lessened and an awareness occurs that this disconnect is and has been an illusion that our culture and lack of understanding has created. I teach the class called Through the Rabbit Hole two times a year, usually in January and September.
We start with the basics—connecting you to your power animal. I was adopted into a Lakota family in 1992. I learned from one of the elders that the Lakota believe that we are all born with 405 helping spirits assigned to us. 405 is not a literal number but a number of huge qualities. Very different from “one power animal,” there is a team of divine beings that are assigned to YOU. Just you. They are of service to you for all your needs. These Beings know who you have been, your purpose, and how to help you, and they have magical powers of intervention and healing. You do not need to know all 405 but throughout your tenure with LightSong you learn about many of them and learn to use and incorporate their abilities into your daily life. It is a wonderful experience. Not all spirit allies are animals; however, there seems to be a special bond with the animals for the initial undertaking of discovery that is loving and natural.
I always bring back a power animal for my clients in their healing ceremony. More often than not, the animal that appeared had a special feeling to the client—one of connection. They often discover a past connection such as having lived on a street named Wildcat Way or that the power animal was a favorite stuffed animal as a child, or that they had lived at the coast during their childhood and talked the sealions daily. I remember there was one power animal that I didn’t recognize when it appeared. It was a bird and I told my client, “This bird is here but I am not sure what it is.” The bird flew right into my face and said I am a Night Hawk. My client laughed and said that was one of her favorite birds. Years later this client asked me to perform her marriage ceremony. The ceremony was outside in a beautiful meadow. During the ceremony a group of night hawks started circling above us. My client and I both laughed as the amazing divine connection that nature was vividly displaying for us both.
In the Christian faith, people often speak of guardian angels as beings that are available to provide special assistance in the time of need. In the blending of faiths that I practice, I too believe in guardian angels, but in shamanism there is the belief that we are born with a power animal that serves as an ally throughout our lives; although, we may not always be aware of this formidable supporter. As we grow into adulthood in the West, it is likely that we are not familiar with the concept of a power animal, but these beings are always available if we decide to seek them out and call on them for support.
Children, in their divine innocence, are assigned a power animal at birth and this spiritual helper intervenes to buffer the child from the notorious bumps and bruises that each child is so subject to. Children’s resilience and adaptability is enabled by these divine spirits that keep them safe until they mature. We often lose contact with these divine spiritual beings as we grow up and unfortunately put away “childish things.” Our loss of imagination and dismissal of “magic” as a force in our lives causes us to sever our connections to the spiritual world and to our power animal. Power animal loss affects us in many of the same ways as soul loss, as they are closely connected. In shamanic practice, the restoration of lost parts of the soul is aided by the retrieval of one’s power animal and this spiritual helper sustains us in difficult situations.
The signs of power animal loss and/or soul loss may include:
- Chronic fatigue, depression, misfortune, faulty or failed relationships, emotional problems or suicidal tendencies;
- The inability to overcome some emotional trauma from the past such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or distress in childhood;
- Addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other debilitating dependencies;
- Repetitive or major illnesses or a problem with recovery;
- Shame, guilt, or a feeling of unworthiness;
- A feeling of powerlessness.
In difficult situations, when we are in our greatest need, the absence of our power animal exposes us to greater danger and the opportunity to heal is lessened without this divine intervention. Fortunately, as we seek to recover from trauma, possibly by seeking out a soul retrieval from a shamanic practitioner, the retrieval of our power animal can help us to fully mend and this spiritual helper can remain with us to sustain our recovery. Our power animal does not cease to exist when he has left us because of our ceasing to believe in him; he has simply bided his time awaiting our decision to seek him out and bring him back to help us.
You may think of your power animal as having traveled from you (although it might be more accurate to understand that you have traveled far from him) or you might consider that he has been sleeping for many years. In either scenario, you have been exposed to debilitating and harmful conditions and have suffered the consequences of facing your suffering alone. If you have entered in a quest for personal enlightenment, healing, and reconnection to the universe, then you would be well served to retrieve your power animal and accept his willingness to aid and abet you in the restoration of your wellbeing, regaining your own personal power, and thriving in your spiritual development.
I would make one distinction in reference to power animals. If you engage with shamanic healing, you may be aware of the shaman calling on a diverse range of power animals to effect healing and to restore wellness in an individual. These power animals are allies of the shaman and assist the shaman both in healing sessions as well as everyday life. The power animals incorporated in shamanic practices often are assisting with tasks that you are involved with. These power animals can come and go without power loss to the individual. These are not the power animals to which I am referring when I speak of your retrieval of your personal power animal. As an example of this, when I was writing my first book Becoming Yourself, I asked for a power animal to come forth in the writing process. A raccoon appeared. I inquired from the raccoon what were his gifts that he could offer me during my writing. He informed me that it was his dexterity with his hands. He would help me with typing.
Your unique connection to the spiritual world is shaped by your individual divinity and your power animal is specific to your birth, life, and person. In your life you may not have a full awareness of your power animal because you have created a distance between him and you, but you possess the capacity to recover this important ally in your life and the ability to reconnect and draw on his strength. Your personal power animal is important because he is specific to you and, once retrieved, can be one of your strongest allies. For me, the discovery of my birth power animal took years. I had many allies by this time that did all sorts of tasks for me, especially in my career of being a shamanic practitioner. I had a power animal for soul retrieval, my primary healing technique, and one for extractions that I performed regularly. The list is extensive, with various allies that I use for various reasons, but I could never get an answer to my question, “Who is my birth ally?” I finally had an experience that undoubtedly revealed my birth power animal. It was powerful, magical and extraordinary. It changed my life. I will write about this experience in the future.
The variety of power animals that I access provide different support in different circumstances. You might have one power animal that you call on when you are feeling fear in a frightening experience. A powerful tiger might cause you to feel safer because of the fearlessness of your ally. In another circumstance, you might seek out a power animal that you identify with as providing peace and comfort when you are in need of gentle solace and a relief from tension.
People often confuse power animals with totem animals. With totem animals there is a recognition of a particular animal that most characterizes a person’s own natures or their desired natures. I have a friend who is funny and playful in his everyday habits and he identifies readily with the coyote, which often reflects those same behaviors. An adventurous individual might find that his totem is an eagle that soars to great heights. An individual seeking confidence might discover that his totem is the brave lion. Again, totem and power animals are different. Our power animal does not necessarily represent parts of our persona. We do not invent our power animals; we discover them, or they discover us. To find out their purpose in our lives it is best to ask the animal. Many people will turn to books such as Animal Speaks by Ted Andrews or the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sands to find out why an animal came into their lives. Turning to resources such as these can be helpful in understanding the basic qualities of the animal but your best source of information about its appearance as your “power animal” will always come from the animal itself.
There is no better or lesser power animal. The great elephant is not superior to the small prairie dog or even the earthworm. In the great design of the universe, each living being plays a significant role in existence and is equally valued. There is no hierarchy in the spirit world, which is where these allies exist. The earthworm, the honeybee, and the songbird are essential and make invaluable contributions to the continuing functioning of the universe. As you seek out the restoration of your power animal, stay open to all possibilities and you might be surprised by your discovery of this divine ally.
I have known of animals actually appearing in Ordinary Reality when its human was in danger. A client of mine was at home late at night and a burglar tried to enter her house. She instantly asked her panther to protect her. Hiding in her hall closet, she heard the loud, aggressive growl of a huge cat emanating outside the house by the door where the burglar was trying to get in. In moments, she heard the burglar scream and run off. She called the police. After their arrival and their usual questions, she went outside with them. One of the policemen pointed out that her very dusty and dirty car had huge paw prints that started from the hood and went to the trunk. Stunned, she realized that her panther spirit guide had chased the burglar away and left its tracks on her car to prove it! Power animals are the greatest protectors in the spirit world.
We have much to learn about the spiritual realm. The journey provides a format for gathering information concerning your own intention and also for listening openly for what the spirits may want to express to you. I have found the shamanic journey to be one of the most profound ways of connecting with the spirits and one of the richest sources of understanding and awareness.