I saw a few large birds soaring in the sky the other day. As I watched, they were joined by a few more, and a few more, until what seemed like dozens had passed over my head. I could see them all landing in a small clump of trees not far away, so I walked over to take a closer look.
In my imagination, a hundred hawks had surrounded me in some rare avian ritual and we were among the few humans ever to have experienced such a wonder.
In actuality, turkey vultures were having their usual evening roost. I admit to feeling a bit let down. I recognized this brand of mild disappointment from my early days learning to journey. Journeys are trance-like meditations undertaken by shamans during healing sessions, that can also be learned by anybody who’d like to gain insight from the spirit worlds. (I have a youtube video of a journey – click here.)
When I first started practicing, I kept hoping for the most exotic, outrageous power animals, as if somehow that would validate something about me. “I know I seem like a dork, but my totems are Siberian Tiger and Pegasus. So there.”
More often than not, though, I met with Frog and Snake. I felt a bit cheated before I learned that all animals have powerful medicine and important insights for us. In the Spirit World as in Nature, no one animal is more or less worthy than any other and every creature has its place. Moth is just as important as Blue Whale and in fact might be a better teacher for someone depending on what they’ve got going on.
Turns out, Frog is an animal of abundance and fertility that goes through several metamorphoses. Amphibious Frog’s message to me was that I, too, can be comfortable anywhere. Snake represents our connection to Mother Earth. She is a creature of transformation, and symbolizes embodied energies and our potential for evolution.
Seems the creepy crawlies get a bad rap! I started to love my power animals – and all the creepies – and noticing them in the ordinary world, as well.
But back to the turkey vultures. I stood awestruck, totally caught up in the wonder of being surrounded by dozens of these huge, graceful creatures for more than twenty minutes. It didn’t matter anymore that they weren’t hawks— I wanted to know what they had to teach me.
Turkey vultures are truly a healer’s bird. They clean the environment of potentially toxic stuff: the Latin name Cathartes Aura translates to Golden Purifier. Without voiceboxes, they somehow communicate to other vultures and even other species about where to find food. They are gentle, friendly, and non-confrontational. Vultures ride thermals, flying very efficiently for enormous distances using natural air currents – in other words, they don’t waste their energy with a lot of flapping. They soar with ease, clarity, and purpose, teaching us to move with confidence no matter what our outward appearance may be.
Vultures can teach me exactly what I need to practice right now, so it was a special gift to be near so many of them.
I encourage you to pay attention to the animals that appear in your ordinary world and in meditations and dreams. They have much to share with us if we’ll only let them. Books about totems are a good jumping off point, but remember that you can develop personal relationships with your power animals. Research behaviors and folklore, and trust your own intuition about what they might be telling you.
Blessings to all our Animal brothers and sisters, and gratitude for the ways they teach us!