Animal Medicine. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you’ve seen a copy of Ted Andrews classic book Animal Speak. Perhaps you own one.
Animal medicine has been a tremendous influence in my life – animals have many great gifts to give – and yet I’ve continued to be bothered by how closely animal medicine is associated with Native American traditions.
The association bothers me not because I have any quarrel with Native North American traditions, but because it may prevent people who have no affinity or familiarity with those traditions from examining – and benefiting from – their own valuable experiences of animal consciousness.
Native North American Tribes did not invent the affinity of animals with human beings (such teachings are, in fact, likely present in all indigenous traditions) and yet, because their ancient cultures have held on to the belief in – and practice of – learning and healing with animals, culturally we assume that, somehow, animal medicine is a Native American Thing, an indigenous “cultural property.” We may also assume that, to do it right, we need to consult a book, a medicine man or a shaman.
This is not a difficult assumption to make. If you’ve spent your life identifying as a Jew, an Italian, or just a plain American, you normally wouldn’t say you “have a wolf totem” or are “a bear person”. People who generally say this have been introduced to certain indigenous traditions.
And yet…introduction to those traditions is not a necessity for sitting on a beach and connecting with birds. Familiarity with Lakota, Cherokee or Northwestern Tribal traditions is not necessary for being moved with awe at the vision of an eagle or the power of a salmon.
Animal consciousness is available as a teaching and healing tool for all human beings, of all ethnicities, religious backgrounds and belief systems. Wherever there are animals, there is an opportunity to rise above your own limited perceptions and approaches to life. Wherever there are animals, there is an opportunity to see from another’s pure point of view.
Books, medicine men and shamans can surely help. But, when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like the real thing – sitting face to face with another sentient being and letting it tell you its story and give you its gifts. And then giving gratitude, peace and acknowledgment in return.
In this way, we can all become a little more whole, a little more integrated and a little more conscious of what it really means to be alive on this planet.