Power Animals : As humans, we each have one or more animal guardians that have come to us at the time of our births to protect us, whether we are conscious of it or not.
Generally, these guardians, or power animals, are our spirit allies that have volunteered to do us service. Their job is to keep us healthy-physically,emotionally, mentally and spiritually. A person may have many different poweranimals during his or her life. These animal beings may be any type of animal: of the Earth, of the Sea, of the Air, extinct in this realm, seemingly “mythological” etc., though they generally are not insects or domesticated animals. Though a power animal can have a distinct gender, age and personality, it is representative of the entire genus or species. For example, if your animal guardian happens to be Bear, the spiritual power and guidance comes not only from that one specific bear, but from the entire genus or species of Bear. Also, there is no hierarchy of power animals. No particular animal is more power-full or more beneficial than another.
Power Animals are only helpful and never bring harm, no matter how fiercely they may present themselves. They are here to help us. Though your animal ally is available to help you in times of crisis, illness and/or danger, they can also offer guidance and support in your day-to-day life. Power animals often awaken our creativity as well as the ability to perceive the beauty and magic that surrounds us. Shamans may call upon their power animal(s) for many reasons: in the diagnosis of an illness, to assist the shaman in spiritual journeys through other realms of reality, to bring power to a ceremony or to provide needed information and teaching.
Calling upon your animal can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. However, the most important ingredient is your intent and focus. You can call out with your voice or quietly in your heart. You can simply repeat its name or recite many beautiful words of welcome. Whatever you do, be sincere and not frivolous in your request. There is a story of a poor Tibetan man that spent much of his day turning the prayer wheels of a monastery as he circled the complex repeating the prayers of a certain female deity. From the monastery, the monks could see that as the man prayed, the deity followed behind him. One day, a monk overheard the man’s prayers. Realizing the man had some of words wrong, he promptly corrected him. The next day, the monks saw the man as usual but no longer did the deity follow behind. Acknowledging the error, the monk returned to the man and instructed him to recite his prayers as before. Because, though the man now said the correct words, his heart was no longer in it.
In building a relationship with your power animal, it is also beneficial andimportant to often honor your animal in some way. Once again, this can be as
simple or elaborate as you want. In general, gifting the animal with your attention is a way to honor and  respect it. The simple act of silently greeting your animal in the morning as you wake and, for a few moments, opening yourself to being receptive to any information your animal may have for you can be a transformative experience. Giving thanks to the animal for Big Dreams you may have, drawing or creating images of the animal as well as physically exercising your animal by inviting it into your body as you hike or swim are also ways to honor your animal guardian. In this way, the power animal has the pleasure of experiencing the material world. It is important that the animal feel welcome and appreciated. Shamans often honor their animal allies by singing of the animal and\or inviting the animal into their body and dancing the animal. This is not mere imitation, but transformation.
So, how can you know if you have a power animal and what it may be? I invite you to look about your home. Are there pictures or figures of a particular animal that occur throughout your home that you feel an emotional connection to? Is there an animal that comes  to you in dreams or meditations that provides you with guidance or answers to questions? These are valuable observations and worth investigating further. All things are significant in some way. One way a shaman can discover whether or not an individual currently has the help of a particular guardian animal is to undertake a spiritual journey into non-ordinary reality, and ask the spirits.
How They Communicate With Us

In ancient times, there was unity between the animal beings and the human
beings. We conversed freely and easily with one another. Now, however, this
unity is lost in this physical world of limitation. Though the shaman is able to journey to realms where this unity continues, it is important for all to be aware of when an animal ally is communicating with us and what information they are bringing.Power animals are not the only animals that can and do communicate with us. Any animal can bring us a teaching at any time. An animal may come for an extended period of time to help us with a particular issue, or it may appear only to bring a timely  message or teaching and then be gone. Most helpful in building relations with the animal beings and opening yourself to their assistance, is to see them as sacred beings worthy of your attention and respect, rather than viewing them as objects, inferior, or stupid.
There are some practical steps you can take in learning to understand an
animal’s message. Observe the animal. What does it look like? How is it moving? How is it relating to its environment? Perhaps most importantly, how are you feeling as you observe the animal? What thoughts or memories are you having? Where is your attention drawn? Often, animals will attract our attention in some way before they offer us the message. Be patient. Use all of your senses. Silently ask the animal what it has for you and then be receptive to what comes to fill the space after your question. Some people worry that they are ‘making up’ the information. It is possible that in that moment you may fill the space with mind chatter rather than hearing any message the animal has for you. Even so, this is also an important message to you. Perhaps it is a teaching about the importance of truly listening to others, or perhaps an awareness that your mental chatter is blocking you in some way. There is no pretend, all things are significant and meaningful. Sometimes all that is needed is a view from a different perspective.
There are books available that can help in deciphering the message or gifts of a particular animal. Some of these books are quite insightful. Above all, pay attention to how the visit from the animal felt to you. For example, if you were to search in a book for the meaning of a visit by Bee, you may learn about the importance of productivity or the value of community. However, Bee came to me with some unexpected information, information that I’d not seen in any book. During a time when I was doing research on the nature of prayer, I was approached by Bee during one of my journeys. She told me that all Bees live their life as a prayer. She went on to share with me much information about prayer and how to pray. Recently, during a time of loss, I was again visited by Bee. She asked that I ask the Bees to pray for me and also to go out into my gardens. Sitting beneath the Spring blooming trees, my attention was drawn to a loud humming. I looked up to see a cloud of Bumble Bees among the branches of the trees. I began to hum along with them and felt a peace settle over me. For months after that day, I encountered Bees in the most unlikely places. Reminders for me that they continued to pray, and also that I was not alone. Neither are you.
Raven Cypress Wood is a shamanic practitioner in Western Massachusetts. ravencypresswood@juno.com
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