In our quest for the rational and scientific, humans have come to look at nature and Her elements as objects separate from us and only for being studied and used for monetary profit. This scientific approach to nature has destroyed most of the mysticism and spirituality surrounding it. Nothing could be so wrong. What science reveals about nature should amaze us and fill us with even greater respect for Earth, our mother. It should teach us how intricately every aspect of nature is woven into the whole plan of life.
The animal kingdom has much to teach us. Many animals are experts at survival and adaptation. Some are great protectors and nurturers. Some exhibit great gentleness and peace. Some embody courage, strength, and agility. Others can teach playfulness. These are all qualities the human race has, for the most part, lost a great deal of through evolution and human socialization, but are all qualities to be unfolded on a personal level.
Animals are a gateway to the phenomenal world of the human spirit. When we connect with the animal world we learn to listen with animal ears and see through animal eyes. We experience the mystical power and essence of our own animal potential, and it is then that they are no longer our subordinates. They become our teachers, friends, family, and companions. They restore our repressed childlike wonder, and restore our lost belief in magic, dreams, and possibilities.
In ancient times shamans, priests, and priestesses were the keepers of the sacred knowledge of life. These individuals believed strongly in the rhythms and forces of nature. They were capable of traveling the threads between the visible and the invisible. They taught that all is divine and the animals will talk to those who listen. The early shamans would adopt the guise of animals, wearing skins and masks, to symbolize a reawakening and endowing of oneself with energies. To these people, every species and every aspect of the environment had the power to remind them of what they could manifest within their own lives. These beliefs placed a bridge between the natural and the supernatural.
One of the most common forms spirit guides take is in the form of animals. Gods and Goddesses were often portrayed as animals, had shape shifting abilities, or a specific animal familiar, or spiritual companion. Early Germanic peoples worshiped the shamanic God "Odin", who was often seen upon an eight legged horse, riding between worlds. In journeys to the heaven, or otherworld, shamans are usually depicted riding some sort of animal. The character of the creature varies, but the horse is fairly common.
The Horse is well known through the worship of the goddess Epona, a popular deity known in Britain and Gaul. Her British and Irish equivalents are Rhiannon (Wales) and Macha and Etain (Ireland). The famous White Horse and Uffington Castle (in England) are likely constructs of the Belgae, who worshiped Epona. The horse has been associated with burial rites and birth - with humans riding into and out of the world. Hindu legend tells of the chariot of Surya, the sun god, being pulled by stallions in a chariot, similar to the story of Apollo in Greek mythology.
The pig is considered one of the most sacred of Celtic animals, representing certain energies of the land. These energies, embodied within the animal, were thus set in motion, being both animal and land. The pig was the creature of both the Underworld and the human world, because of its associations with fertility, plenty, food, and multiple birth. In turn, the animal was endowed with divinity, with the Welsh mother goddess Cerridwen, and with certain heroes, gods, and magicians, who were associated with the pig through their dedication to the goddess.
The bear was still thought of as a heraldic animal with the old Stewart family of Traquair in Scotland as late as the eighteenth century, as a sign of kingship. There is a possible relationship between King Arthur and the bear, commented upon by various writers. Connections have been made between the bear, Arthur, and the constellation of Arcturus, the Great Bear of the north. Artio and Andarta were Celtic bear goddesses, and there is the Greek goddess Artemis, who could take the form of a bear. Stone figures of bears from the pagan Celtic period were found during the rebuilding of Armagh Cathedral in 1840.
The Bull strongly features in the creation mythology of Ireland. Ritual practices associated with bulls are found all over the Western world. One ritual of the Druids involved being wrapped in the hide of freshly slain bull. This seems to hold similarities with ceremonies of the American Indians. The image of the bull has been found on coins, as statuettes, and in relief carving in eastern and central Gaul, and in Scotland and England.
The serpent is one of the important Underworld or magical creatures found in Celtic tradition. Late legends of St. Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland may relate to pagan worship of the serpent. The ram-headed serpent was associated with the god Cernunnos, the Lord of the Animals. Serpents are common decorations for torcs, the sacred neck ornaments of Celtic kings and divinities; such serpents may also have a ram's head. In Native American tradition the snake is a symbol of transformation and healing. Snake ceremonies involved learning to transmute the poisons after being bit several times.
Dolphins were well known by the Sumerians and said they were connected to Astarte and Ishtar. Ancient Egyptians thought of the creatures as symbols of Isis. Some classical literature portrays dolphins harnessed to sea chariots, as carriers to sea deities. They were called the King of Fishes and Arrow of the Sea, and were considered guides to the Underworld. Sculpted on the walls of Apollo's temple at Delphi were dolphins. The Greek word delphinos means both dolphin and womb, and is seen as the World Center. Painted on funeral urns, the dolphin represented the passing of the soul from one world to another. These sea creatures appear on Celtic coins and art, usually ridden by a human figure. Dolphins have been known to rescue drowning humans, this is not just a superstition.
Aphrodite, the Greek love Goddess had three bird familiars: the dove, swan, and goose. Swans were said to pull the chariot of Venus through the air. Zeus took the form to satisfy his lust with Leto and Helen. Some Celtic folk legends also tell of the mystical sacred swan. It's feathers were used making for ritual cloaks by the Bards since swans are connected with music and song. Heavenly nymphs were often portrayed as swans.
In Ireland, the raven was associated with the Morrigan, the goddess of battle and death. The Morrigan could shape shift into a crow or raven. The Celtic god Lugh had two magical ravens as companions. One of the great heros of Welsh legend was Owein, who had an army of magical ravens that fought King Arthur's men. Although an important totem of the Celts, it had a devious reputation, and they took great care when dealing with it. If a raven had any white on it , the bird was seen as beneficial. To Native Americans, the raven was a great shape shifter, a bird of ceremonial magic and healing.
Messengers of the Hindu death god Yama were usually two dogs, but occasionally he would send an owl. This bird is identified with many Crone goddesses in Europe and the Mediterranean. During the Middle Ages the owl was seen as the Night Hag, or Crone. The owl was called the Night Eagle by Native Americans, and was a frequent spirit animal in their dreams. In Latin, the owl was referred to as strix, a word that came to mean "witch." To the Celts, in general, this bird was a sacred, magical creature, symbolizing the Crone and Underworld deities.
These are only a few examples of animals, their magic, and spirituality. There are many living things and all possess some importance. Many people have a favorite animal and will collect pictures or statues of that creature. They may not realize they are subconsciously communicating with that animal. One never "owns" an animal, pet lovers will tell you this. Whether physical pet, astral familiar, or both, you can enjoy their company, and provide them with love and protection - but you never own them.
In seeking an astral familiar, you must be patient and accepting. An animal spirit may come to you during meditation, in your dreams, artwork or other expression of the subconscious. Different species of familiars may come and go. You may have one or two totem animals that remain constant throughout your life. Some magicians say you have to see an astral creature at least three times for it to mean anything. However, that is not always the case. Be observant when listening for telepathic messages, it will take a little practice.
The living world is charged with spirituality, which flows between all beings. Our fellow creatures, as we have observed, can be both complex and subtle. They exhibit emotion with moods ranging from grief and sadness to gaiety and glee. Their family structures can be as intricate and their bonds with one another as strong and tender as our own. We must learn to revere and respect the creatures, and share this amazing planet with them.
We must join a biospirituality that celebrates the sacred in all life.
Article From The Celtic Hearth