Animal Wisdom: Connecting People and Animals

A blog encouraging deeper relations between people and animals.

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Shadow Animals (Part 1)

People fear snakes, and run from spiders. When we see these particular animals, we shrink in fear. Certain types of animals make our skin crawl. These animals are the “creepy crawly” ones or the ones we only see at night like owls. The ones that we feel the queasiest about are the animals that are the most alien or radically different from us.

Animals that elicit such a strong response from us are our Shadow Animals. These animals represent the part of our inner landscape that we want to keep in perpetual darkness. Shadow Animals are the manifestations of the unacceptable aspects of ourselves. They hold the aspects of ourselves that we dislike. Since many people feel uncomfortable in embracing their dark side, fear of certain animals is one way to keep it at bay. Hence, we invest our dark qualities in spiders and snakes.

What do Shadow Animals do? They give us permission to love the unacceptable parts of ourselves. When we work with Them, we take back our lost power to forgive ourselves. Once we embrace our Shadow Animals, we will be reunited with these missing parts of our being. They show us that our most hated, feared, and shameful qualities are actually our keys to living the life of our dreams. Shadow Animals call you to make peace with yourself.

Everything has a shadow. Winter is the shadow of summer. Death is the shadow of life. Without shadows, we would not appreciate the light. An Arab saying illustrates this, “All sunshine and no rain a desert makes.” How can a person contemplate the light without the shadow? To be whole, you need to acknowledge both.

Take anger for example. Since they believe that anger is destructive, most people would rather not deal with this emotion. However, what people do not realize is that anger acts as a fuel. Anger energizes us and propels us forward through difficult tasks. My anger helped me to recover after my traumatic brain injury.

The Shadow Animal shows how to use your anger in a good way. They demonstrate that negative emotions can be positive. Anger opens up our abilities to say no and set our boundaries. Since sadness opens us up to love, it becomes a doorway for us to connect with others. Fear, the wonderful advisor, warns us of danger, and helps us to detach from a dangerous situation.

To uncover your Shadow Animal, ask yourself, “which ones do you fear.” Which ones do you strongly react to? Did an animal bite you? Did you have a strong reaction to the bite? Bees and mosquitoes can be Shadow Animals, too. In fact, any animal can be your Shadow. They do not have to be big or ferocious or dangerous. In fact, one person’s favorite animal can be another’s Shadow.

Write down the various traits in the animals that you dislike. What it is about a particular animal that you dislike? These aspects are probably your shadow traits. For example, I despise bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). I regard them to be ill-tempered bullies who beat-up on harbor porpoises and other dolphins. For me, these marine mammals are darkness personified. In contrast, these dolphins are beloved by many people.

Why would I have a strong negative reaction to bottlenose dolphins (also known as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins)? Pondering this, I focused on what in specific I dislike about them. The trait that stands out in my mind is their obnoxious and deadly bullying. I ask myself, am I a bully? I do have a strong, forceful personality, and enjoy overwhelming people with my knowledge. These dolphins are pointing that out to me. They are reminding me to be a kinder person.

Another aspect of dolphins that I dislike is that they communicate by whistles and clicks. When I am around them, they blast me with their sounds. I am deaf, and I dislike wearing hearing aids. I believe that the dolphins are bullying me to integrate with the hearing world. Sometimes, I can be stubborn and dense. As my Shadow Animals, bottlenose dolphins break through my defenses. Bottlenose dolphins prompt me to re-examine myself. They work to integrate all of the parts of myself. These marine mammals challenge me into a better way to live. That is what Shadow Animals do, dare you to go where you refuse to go.

Part two will deal with types of shadows and how they affect us.

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Virginia Carper, a Roman Polytheist, lives in the Washington D.C. area with her family. She navigates life with a traumatic brain injury which gives her a different view on life. An avid naturalist since childhood, she has a blog called “Nature’s Observations.” Having experienced the animals directly, she teaches on-line classes about the spiritual and natural aspect of animals. She has published articles on her brain injury, Roman polytheism, and working with extinct animals. In addition her writings on animals (including dragons and other mythic creatures) can be purchased her book site, Animal Teachers.  


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