I’ve always been interested in tarot, but it was my Sensual Shaman Immersion that really brought me face-to-face with animal totems. I’ve always had a passing interest in animal totems and guides, and had even downloaded some basic apps to my phone that I could look up an animal if one randomly crossed my path in a way that made me take notice. But I’d never explored it with the depth I found out this subject area has.
I’m an animal lover and have been all my life. If I could do my life over, I would totally become a zoologist or some kind of person that works directly with a wide variety of animals, not in a veterinary setting, more in a behavioral and observation setting, like a zoo keeper or other animal handler. So animals and animal symbolism have always played a role in my life. When I discovered the Pathfinder deck, I knew I had to bring it into my world and learn more about working with animals as totems and guides.
The Pathfinder deck is an 83-card deck that features a different animal portrait on each card. The Pathfinder can be used in much the same way any tarot deck is used, although there are some readings designed specifically for this deck, like the “Cat’s Paw” and “Bird Claw or Talon” spread. Each of the animal portraits was commissioned to an artist, and the cards were then sold online, mostly via word-of-mouth, by each individual artist and at a site about the cards. There’s even a blogger who dedicated a blog solely to readings done using the Pathfinder cards, but she seems to have abandoned the project since 2011. There’s still some interesting reading there.
Another deck I was recently introduced to is Kenneth Ray Stubbs’ Shaman Cards. This deck uses animal symbolism but in a very different way than the Pathfinder deck does. Kenneth Ray Stubbs’ Shaman Cards have an image of an animal included amongst three other images: a plant life, a crystal, and a human. Tuning into the animal, crystal, plant, and human for “entrainment” (aligning your vibration with; coming into vibrational harmony with) to these different energies allows users of the Shaman cards to explore these energies and archetypes which are part of our collective consciousness.
The Shaman cards are used differently from typical tarot. First of all, the cards are large, about the size of a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. Each card has so many opportunities for entrainment that you really don’t need more than one card, although I’m sure someone has devised readings using multiple cards. But each individual Shaman card has so much to offer that it takes time getting through just one. The first step is entraining to each of the four energies (plant, animal, crystal, and human) on the card face, then entraining to the concept in the center (in the image I used to illustrate the Shaman Cards, it is “Strength”). Then you entrain to the concept, and how the four energies on the card relate to the concept in the center. It is a fascinating process that has much to reveal. For more details on how to use the Shaman Cards, as well as how to order them, check out Kenneth Ray Stubbs’ site.
I’m definitely a fan of animal symbology on both cards and in life. As I was just writing that sentence, two pigeons swooped by my window. Pigeons are common in the Northeast urban centers, but I checked Pigeon animal totemism anyway, and it says “love of home, love of community. Security in family and numbers. Your foundation, your heritage. The promise of a loving home.” Sitting here at my desk, clacking away at my laptop while looking out the window, I am in full glow of the love of my home, the love of my foundations, feeling the community I am blessed to have that offers me strength, love, and common bonds.
If you have any interest in animal totemism, symbology, or animal guides, I encourage you to look into it because it is an area rich in information. Are there any animals that speak to you? Do you have any memories of a particular incident involving an animal? Is there an animal you feel a particular affinity towards? These might be clues that may help you discover one of your animal guides.
During Isis Pheonix’s Sensual Shaman Immersion, we used shamanic journeying to discover our animal guide. In a complete surprise, mine was Eel. I will blog about that at some other time. Not a few days after discovering my totem animal through shamanic journeying, I literally came face-to-face with another animal that had uncannily similar information to Eel to offer me. That was American Woodcock, a lovely round bird that shouldn’t be in New York City, but was probably flying through on a migratory route, hit a window, and was injured and afraid when I found him huddled in a corner on 3rd Ave. and 43rd St. I’ll blog about him soon too. Then all weekend, I have had a fly in my apartment. I even opened the door, shooed him out, and he returned (or another, bigger hairier blacker fly took his place). Fly teaches adaptation, making the best even out of displeasurable circumstances. Fly can also warm us about our ego. Perhaps we are “bugging people” with our big buzzy ego. Maybe we are annoying someone just for kicks, to instigate something for fun or to get things moving.
Animal totemism can work like tarot in that it offers us a lens into our current inner world and allows us to organize our thoughts, perhaps even revealing things to use which we might not see if we were observing our situation just in a literal sense. Allow animals to speak to you and enter the world at a level beyond conscious thought; engage with the universe archetypically.