The Power-Animal, Tiergeist or Totem
Sooner or later you will meet residents of the twilight when conducting an ecstatic flight of the soul. Of the many different kinds I single out only the most important ones for your shamanic practice. In this article I describe the power-animal or totem more detailed, offering some suggestions how to deal with it and how to deepen the contact with it. Actually the contact with certain spirits is similar to a classical pact. The shaman offer some sacrifice or respects the requests of the contacted spirits and receive miscellaneous rewards which are part of the deal before. It is a similar situation similar with the poweranimal, yet this particular relationship is much more than just a partner in a quasi-contractual relationship.
Authors who make a living with shamanism name this ally differently: totem, nagual, poweranimal, familiar spirit, guardian angel, fylgja, clan-animal, animal soul or alter ego to list only some of the more popular ones. These terms are extracted mostly of indigenous cultures and address the mostly animal-like partner and helper in the twilight. In our region the term "poweranimal" became accepted due to the FSS that introduced this termin. The central role which the poweranimal has in central-european shamanism is a peculiarity which is not necessarily common to other native cultures. In fact these creatures are known there, but more often the ancestors or other spirits like the spirits of diseases are much more important in their shamanic work.
There is a difference between the personal and the unpersonal ... (please fill in your favorite term). The personal power-animal can only be refered to the shaman himself. Unpersonal poweranimals can be determined by astological methods, by tribal tradition, or by familiar tradition. In my article on our ancestors I am also write something on the clan-spirit or clan-animals. Unpersonal poweranimals everyone "have" who resides in the specific group or reads the right books, regardless whether you are a shaman or not. In the case of magic-lodges the clan-spirit would be the Egregore for example.
There exist more sorts of poweranimals. As the most important one the lifelong poweranimal should be named here that is named totem by me. During your lifetime, you surely met a poweranimal in infancy by some means or other in reality or in your dreams. I myself met my totem already at the age of three in the zoological garden and again later in TV, too. I knew intuitively that condor was somehow important to me, related to myself. I even mentioned to my parents that I would be the shown animal. My "nonsense" was talked down at that time but I never could forget these meetings. Almost two decades later, the andean condor was the first animal in a big falconry which contacted me and accepted me immediately. Anyone working with bird of preys and vultures will know how difficult it is to establish such a contact based on mutual trust. In the meantime I could establish a very deep understanding with my totem and know very much about the special powers and weaknesses of my her. My personality owes powerfull aspects to the totem, an additional effect of such a lifelong connection and relationship.
It should be mentioned that condor was not the dominant animal for many years, but also eagle, tiger, elephant and dolphin played an importand role depending on the situation and period of my life until I re-established the conscious contact to condor. The central animal always stayed in the background silently in order to come back when I began to shamanize. As already mentioned there are other animal spirits as well which accompany a shaman for a certain time. These animal spirits are also poweranimals which tend to change - therefore I tend to call them period-of-life-companion (POLC). Depending on the phase of life or the special lesson, the length of its presence varies between some weeks and some years. There are also special poweranmials which have only to do with one special lesson or deed. Humans with more than one poweranimal at a time tend to own these specialists. It is interesting that over the years only one or two animal emerge to be their totem.
Zoological gardens are nice institutions because you can meet the physical representatives of your poweranimal there if it is not part of the wildlife where you live. It is open to dispute if it is better to meet animals in the wild or in captivity. Unfortunately it is much more easier meeting them in zoos because most of them are endangered in the wild. I hear again and again that animals which are kept in zoological institutions would not have the power their wild fellows have. This argument is frequently presented when relating to parts of these poweranimals, like fur pieces, feathers and whatever else like moulted feathers of such animals in captivity. Since I heard of this strange idea, it is incomprehensible and inexplicable to me, rational deductive as well as spritual explorative. It sounds as if animals, which are kept in captivity, suddenly would not have anymore strength or something like that. For me those bizarre statements are result of a mixture of emotional coloured smatterings of spiritual and common nature. How important the work of the zoological institutes is, you can imagine in the special case of the califormian condor that can be observed today in the wild only because of captive breeding, after the breeding-program succeeded. Is a reintroduced condor who never lived in the wild at an energetic and spiritual disadvantage? I seldom heard such a nonsense!
Actually everyone possess personal power animals but only the shaman works with them and knows them. There is almost no rule-of-thumb how power animals appear, how powerful and how many there are, if they are there all the time or if one is away for some days and is on vacation or rarely disappears completely. There is a lot of literature about the behaviour, the character and the abilities of power animals which wants to ease your workload - better only take them as suggestion. Poweranimals can be brought back - if they cleared away. Power animals also are suitable for realizing wishes. Sometimes they do so unquestioned. The better your contact with the poweranimal, the more common and intense these experiences are..
It is possible to draw parallels between the life-long power animal and the holy guardian angel (according to Abramelin or Crowley). But, the life-long power animal is not necessarily the holy guardian angel like you probaply would believe if you are more experienced in magical things. To reduce these creatures to mere helping spirits - like some anthropologists or wannabe-shamans enjoy doing - should be reviewed keenly. I even consider it outright wrong. Helping-spirits are something completely different. A helping-spirit owns a fixed-term contract with the shaman. It is a specialist of its field of duty. The relationship with the shaman is a pure commercial one, the relationship to a totem however is much deeper. In many cultures the mythological origin of the shamans is related to the totem (the animal-mother) - mostly an eagle - that is sent down from heaven to impregnate a woman who gives birth to the first shaman. Shamans possess sometimes several helping-spirits and bind them to material objects. The totem can also be compared with the so-called animal-kings which are mentioned in some fables. Totem animals are never explicit spirits of deceased individuals of the according species, but relate to the archetype of the according species. So it is not the power of a bear but the power of bear which a bear shaman feels! I could not understand these statement until 2001 I came across the magical system of the hawaiian Huna. Max Freedom Long notes that there is a collective higher self and that the Kahuna can contact these beings. Another detail provides the old-persian religion of the Parsee/Parsi. They call this creature fravashi and it is deemed to be the highest intention of life to learn anything about the familiar spirit and to merge with it in death (Y 16.7, 26.7, 26.11, 71.23, Yt 22.39).
The gestalt of the power-animal
Until now I have not wrote anything about the shape of the poweranimals. "Animal spirit" or "poweranimal" highlights that it should be an animal-like creature most of the time. In fact there should not be laws regarding the shape or nature of a power animal. It is possible to recognize a certain regularity by longer observation of shamans. In the middle-european cultural region I notice lots of eagles, deers, foxes, bears, lions, felines, corvidae and a lot of other regional species as expected.
Animals native to other regions or continents also appear from time to time. Mythical creatures, insects, reptiles, spiders and extinct animals are rare, too. Pets (almost) never appear. The horse is an exception. Fish spirits and crocodiles are very rare. It is interesting that there is almost never a special species like the spanish imperial eagle, sarus crane or kestrel. Probably these sub-species also appear as power animals, only the human usually does not recognize it and uses the more general term of it. Sometimes even this name is unknown to them, they then refer to "a big black bird" or something similar. The fact that most of the people beginning to fiddle with shamanism don't live in close touch with nature but originate in the "urban jungle" and therefore have (almost) no knowledge of wild animals is probably the reason for these commonplaces of the poweranimal species.
Sometimes power animals change their appearance, even human-like shapes are known. They own abilites which exceed the normal: they can talk and find the way in untypical surroundings: diving wolfs, flying pink elephants, eagles soaring in earth ... During the journey you can melt with your poweranimal. Your astral imago then melts with the one of your power animal. An intensive contact with your poweranimal can have fascinating impact in everyday reality. Animals of the same species react to strong present animal spirits and tend toward an accepting behaviour towards the shaman - or react with intensive flight behaviour (natural enemy!). An invocation of the animal spirit in trivial situations can also have an interesting impact on people in your surroundings. The skill of your power animal to morph its shape was the key to the insight that also the animal-shape has to be a well-led shape for the viewer. Since some years condor appears as a sheer energy-being in certain occasions, more resembling an angel than an animal. The power animal is, like an angel, a creature of light and without a physical body. Because I occupy myself with my own totem animal first and foremost, I know that there exist legends and fairy tales about how condor appears in human form and even enters into a partnership with humans. I knew that already before I read the first text sources. I suppose that it is similar with many other species who are closer to the consciousness of humankind.
In the legends of almost all cultures there are clear hints concerning this practice. It is reported about people who could morph into animals. So the werewolf is a memory of shamans who had the wolf as ally for example. In the german myths it is often talked of the falcon-cloak of Freya. Another hint, this time to the soul flight in animal trance and to the rite of using animal costumes for it.
You can use the animal-dance to endeepen and intensify your contact with your poweranimal. In the animal-dance the poweranimal is personified and embodied in the all-day reality of the shaman. The term dance is a bit misleading, because there is no choreographically determined dancing steps or something like that. "Dancing the animal" rather means to dedicate oneself to the poweranimal and its behaviour and to loose control over your own body. This possession can be very strong and intensive. The animal-spirit enters the physical body of the shaman, replaces the ID of the shaman and takes over the control of the body for a limited time. During this time the animal perform healings at the shaman and the client or the shaman can make a soul-flight as animal-human or completely as animal. This sounds more spectacular than it often is. In practice the animal-dance is often just a modestly deep trance. Most of the time the dance can be directed in controlled pathways. Depending on how far the practitioner wants to go the trance can get deeper until an entire loss of control and the total possession. There is always an energy exchange between animal-spirit and shaman which is of great value for both sides. Animal dances never damage the shaman. Solely the fact that the poweranimal gets evoked as the most intimate familiar of the shaman, damages are excluded from the beginning.
It is best for your animal-dance to take enough time for preparation and post-processing. First it should be clear how the trance will be induced. There are several ways of course to do this. Seiðr, drugs, drums, respiration techniques, blood sacrifice, imagination work and imitation are the well known to me and well-proved methods. If the trance induction is clear, the location prepared, possible musical company arranged or ready per electronic medium, the animal-dance can be conducted. Within bigger groups it is easier to get into animal-trance. During the animal-trance the animal expresses itself in its typical way and also behaves accordingly. In a group this is always very interesting and makes a lot of fun. After a certain time the animal-dance ends by any means. A phase of recovery and normalization which means grounding should follow. Baning laughter is out of place there, for one thing you are out of breath, for another thing it is not very sensible to ban positive forces. It proved to be powerfull to be a little hungry before the animal-dance because hunger is one of the body experiences which are common to all creature and which make it easier for the animal spirit to express himself.
Within the shamanic practice costumes are applied for this trance-technique that are imitating the animal spirits or at least should represent it in some ways. Such a dance-costume is not a requirement to induce animal-trance but if you have the possibility to make yourself one this shamans costume is a most valuable, holy and powerful and also an individual tool. Besides the representative functions these dance-costumes also have more essential meanings. An important one is the protective function. In this connection the costume is more a resource for the incarnation of the power animal. Masks can fulfill a similar function. Costumes and masks need a special attention concerning to the production, storage and usage.
Among the Kwakiutl there existed different dance-costumes. Thunderbird played an important role in the indian mythology. On the left side the Thunderbird dance is done during a wedding-celebration. On the right side the dance costume can be looked at in more detail. Thereby the dancer has to have an excellent sense of balance, otherwise he will go bathing.
Thereby it is important to ask the spirit that is represented by the costume and who can be invoked. Blessing rituals and special requirements of the shaman can be linked to this regalia. Animal costumes are very powerful charged shamanic items which can enable the shaman to get completely into trance in a few moments. It is not necessary that the costume has to be made out of original parts of the animal it represents. Anyhow it is complicated to get a wolfskin, a bearskin or enough molted feathers. A representation according to the statements of your animal spirit will be the common rule. Think of handling genuine parts of your power animal as an extraordinary honour! Often these things come to you without you having to invest much! Felt, leather, other natural components like wood or fiberglass are important materials for stabilisation of the costume. There is one condition you should never forget: the dance-costume should be made solid and flexible enough to not fell in parts if you move in it for some time. Remember that you will be in deep trance most likely while you are wearing the costume! Attaching bells or cymbals is also a good idea. On the one hand the sound drives off bad spirits, on the other hand the ringing gets you better in trance.
Putting on the dancing-costume is a very delicate matter, because you transform energetically more and more into your poweranimal or into the being that finds its expression in the costume. In my own practice the on-putting of the costume is already an important ritualistic act which I fulfill slowly and with deep respect. While I carefully put on more and more pieces of the dancing decoration, I feel the change and the stepwise manifestation of the transformation into the condor spirit. Once I took up more time and could feel this transformation more detailed. This transitory situation leads to a extremely labile emotional balance. The more powerful such a decoration is activated or charged, the more intense is the experience of the slow transformation during putting it on. You will need help when putting on more complicated costumes - it is very important to consider in which order the pieces of the decoration have to be put on and for which ones you need this help. Try to reduce the help to the most necessary hand grips only. Talk about that with your assistant. It should be someone who is trustful and is accepted by your ally, who you call in with the decoration and the trance.
At best this person should know from own experience how to deal with these things and have knowledge about the states of awareness in which ones you find yourself in the different phases of putting on the costume. Indeed before you let anyone close to your dancing decoration you should talk with your poweranimal first. The last word always have the spirits in these situations. Analogical to the putting on is the putting off of the decoration. Putting off the decoration is the completion of the whole ritual and should be executed gracefully and also with deep respect. Like you might have guessed I need help for putting on and off my dancing-costume. After some years of fiddling I could reduce this need to an absolute minimum. If you are interested in my own dancing-costume, have a look here.
Other instances in the twilight
There are a lot different instances (or better: spirits) who can get contacted during the shamanic journey and from which ones you can get informations. Specialists for specific problems can usually be found easily. If you ask your poweranimal to be brought to a specialist who knows something about the circumstances, a spirit who is specialised in symbols or one who has accurate informations about the residence of lost soul parts, then you will normally establish contacts very fast. It may be the case that these spirits have an affinity or have to be convinced of your genuineness. Most of them are relatively friendly and provide you willingly with information.
A fairly important spirit will be your shamanic teacher. Inside the current shamanic practice like it is lived in my region this spirit is one of the most important ones beside your power animal. At the basis class of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies or any study group for shamanism this spirit is introduced to the participants at the beginning. Normally the shape of the teacher is more human than animal-like and can be influenced by religious paradigms. Christians would most likely find Jesus Christ as a teacher (but it does not have to be like this), moslems logically Mohammed. But it can be just as well a totally different shape: a stone, a cloud, an energy field, a tree to name just some examples. You should approach your teacher with respect. To appear in fron of him without questions can be insulting. Better have some in reserve every time.
The answers of your allies are not necessarily verbalised instructions, they can be extremely encrypted or be of pictoral, non-verbal nature. Even the location or the behaviour of the ally can be insightful. If your teacher stands at the bottom of a steep mountain with an almost invisible serpentine when you ask "where am I on my shamanic journey" and leaves you alone more or less saying or doing nothing else, you can imagine what this picture means in this context. It is better to ask questions of someone else and which are asked to you in your function as shamanic counselor. Questions about the personal health or other things you want to know surely will be answered seldom by your shamanic teachers - and when you doing this it is possible that you lead yourself into believing in a suitable answer. Always thank your allies no matter if you received an answer or not. You can even invoke those allies in the context of a dance. This experience is a whole different one in its quality than the animal-dance. My own teacher tends to possess my body during a shamanic session and is present during the whole session.
When you established a good contact with your power animal(s) and your teacher and you are experienced with your journey technique, it's worth a try to get to know other instances and beings. That is insofar important as these creatures are not necessarily friendly or honest towards you. Depending on the mythological background you can contact a lot of different creatures within your journeys. Thereby all locations of every myths of the world stand open to you and you can meet vedic gods for example, babylonian spirits, loas from Haiti, orishas in Cuba or Ankari of the Andes. Even in Europe there is an own tradition of different beings with their field of duties. I think about the revived old-European religious believes with its deities and the runes. Also the angels and their holarchies can be contacted within the scope of the ceremonial magic. If you deal with myths and want to know more about a creature than is accessible to you by normal means, you can meet them in a shamanic journey - or you can be shown better ways of establishing a contact.