Animal Wisdom: Connecting People and Animals

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Shadow Animals:The Trickster and the Bringer of Death

Two difficult types of Shadow Animals are the Trickster and the Bringer of Death. Most Pagans are familiar with Tricksters since they know about Coyote and Loki, who transgress societal norms. The Bringer of Death is an animal who causes a near-death experience. People who undergo a Near-Death Experience (NDE) often gain more spiritual power by dying and then being reborn.

Dark Trickster

The trickster archetype has been a major part of myths from all over the world. Many stories feature the one who disrupts the status quo, and brings both death and new life. Touched by the Trickster’s magic, all are transformed.

Cultural historian Lewis Hyde defines the Trickster to be a boundary crosser. He explains that since the Trickster is amoral, He can break social and physical boundaries with aplomb. Since He is also a shapeshifter, the Trickster can move between worlds. (Hyde points out that Tricksters are usually male.)

In lore, animal tricksters range from Reynard the Fox of Medieval France to Br’er Rabbit of Antebellum South. Most Pagans know about Coyote of Plains Native American traditions. However, there is also Raven of Northwestern and Hare of Northeastern Native Americans. Besides these animals, other tricksters who are animals are Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God and Anansi, the Spider of African lore. All these animals violate the principles of the natural order, so that they can form a new world.

Shadows are the Dark Tricksters of myth, the stranger that appears without warning. Before he takes his leave; the world for those around him is changed irrevocably. An example of a dark trickster is the Raven in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” As the Dark Trickster, the Raven stripes the poem’s narrator bare.

On New Year’s Eve, which is a transitional time, the Narrator uses magic to enter the Realm of the Dead. Mourning his lost love, Lenore, the Narrator wants to see her once again. He fails and instead the Raven appears. Tormenting the Narrator, the Raven mocks his grief and forces him to face Lenore’s death, shaking him to the core.

Bringer of Death

In traditional societies, the final ordeal for a person to become a shaman was to stage their death. By facing their fears in this ordeal, the person would be transformed into a holy person if they survived. This difficult ritual of death and rebirth gave the new shaman, immense spiritual power.

Animals who bring about a near-death experience are usually predators. Bears, tigers, and even dogs can maul a person to death. Venomous animals such as a Gaboon pit viper or blue-ringed octopus bring about sudden death. Even a sting from a bee can kill some people. People who have survived these encounters have experienced a NDEs. When a NDE occurs, the person’s life is utterly transformed, thereby remaking them into a different person. (In my case, a wall fell on me, nearly killing me. It left me with a traumatic brain injury, changing my life.)

Shadow animals who are involved with NDEs are spiritual allies. They mark the person with a bite, which often triggers a transformative experience. Imbued with great power, these animals work to test the resolve of the person. They will force that person through the dark times, and remake them. Until they are able to withstand the darkness, the person has an ally of immense spiritual power whose objective is to test them.


Other posts in this series:

Shadow Animals: Nahualli and Heyoka

Shadow Animals: Darkness and The Shadow Archetype

Shadow Animals

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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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