Animal Spirit Guides Enlighten Us

Animal Spirit Guides Enlighten Us


by Shiela Baker and Kim Pearson

We all have spirit guides. Very often these guides take animal forms. Animal spirit guides live deep within our universal unconscious, our subconscious minds and in the relationships between us as souls. The practice of shamanism offers a way to connect deeply with the wisdom and guidance of these creatures.

Shamanism and Animal Spirit Guides

In shamanism, our spirit guides are the protectors, the witnesses and the pathfinders. They are the shaman’s primary helpers in facilitating healing. Shamans have strong relationships with their guides that are continually reinforced in journeys taken together. These interactions are the basis for shamanism and the foundation for the power of the shaman. As in any intimate relationship, they are intense, emotional and sometimes fraught with danger.

Our ancestors lived in close relationship with all forms of nature. They interacted with the environment and shared this knowledge. In shamanic journeys, I have found the ability to reclaim my ancestral heritage and to commune with these carriers of deep knowing, most of whom are animals. Communing with these animal guides during journeys has taught me about my passion for life, about right action and right timing and even about right communication.

Lessons From Your Power Animal

Finding your power animal is one of the great treasures of life. Animals come as guides and protectors, and of course as teachers. One of my favorite stories is of a guide who is large and has small feet. One day, while on a shamanic journey, we were wading in a river and I was complaining about the cold water, the slippery rocks and a multitude of other picky things. My guide head-butted me with his enormous head, sending me flying to land in the frigid water. Gasping, I got up and looked at him in astonishment. He looked back at me and said, “How big are my feet and how much do I weigh? And how big are your feet and how much do you weigh?” I understood the point. My esteem and respect for him increased greatly that day. Animal guides have much to teach us, and not always gently. Animals are powerful metaphors for the medicine of the lessons our soul has come to learn and heal.

Totems and Clans

Guides are also known as animal totems and power animals. A totem is an object, usually an animal or plant (or all animals or plants of that species), that is revered by members of a particular tribe or clan because of a mystical or ritual relationship that exists between the totem and that group. Generally, the members of the group believe that they are descended from the totem ancestor, or that they and the totem are “brothers.” In the case of a clan, descent is traced to a male or female common ancestor. Such groups have been known in all parts of the world and include some that claim the parentage or special protection of an animal, plant or other object. They also include such familiar groups as the Highland clans of Scotland (the English word clan comes from Gaelic). Most clans stress mutual obligations and duties to these animals. Many clan badges have animals as well as tartans associated with them.

The totem — or rather the spirit it embodies — represents the bond of unity within these groups. The totem may be regarded as a group symbol and as a protector of the members of the group. In most cases, the totemic animal or plant is the object of taboo. It may be forbidden to kill or eat the totem animal, as in the sacred cow in India. The symbol of the totem may be tattooed on the body, engraved on weapons, pictured in masks or carved on totem poles, as among Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest.

The Purpose of Animal Guides

As protective, non-antagonistic spirits, the purpose of animal guides is to support our growth and development as evolving human beings. We are spiritual beings having a two-legged experience. Their direct involvement in protecting and witnessing while teaching lessons is what makes the shamanic relationship to spirit guides unique. Working with an animal spirit guide is like having a watchful big brother in the spirit realm. Without our cooperation, spirit has no way to manifest. We need and want spirit involvement on our life path so that we, too, may manifest what we desire and deserve.

In my experience, some guides are helpers with particular events, lessons or life challenges. Others are here to be life partners. It is by spending time with them that this mystery unfolds. The shamanic journey is the way to find and develop a bond with your guides. Spirit guides may be personal, meaning that they wish to keep their relationship with you private; or they may be public, and willing to be discussed with others. In some circles, it is considered rude to ask the identity of one’s guides. Some guides appear when there is danger; others are playful. There are as many reasons for guides as there are guides. It is in deeply personal interactions that a dialogue begins to unearth the purpose.

By following one guide throughout a year I became aware of subtle things: the need to grow more hair or shed some fur, when to stock up on calories and when to travel to the sweet waters and turn back again. I have heard fantastic stories from others who have taken shamanic journeys, including tales of two-inch bears and of bears with lounge chairs on their heads. I have seen a crocodile remove an old scar. My guides perform the extraction work in soul retrieval (the recovering of lost soul parts). I could not do it without them. (See my previous article in the Imbolc 2001 issue of Widdershins.)

Two Examples of Animal Spirit Guides

Here are two of my public guides, and the meanings they have brought with them for my life. Each animal spirit has many meanings. A good resource for meanings of particular animals is a book such as Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. You will discover some meanings for yourself by working with your guides.

The dragon is described in the the online Encycopedia Mythica found at: as a mythical beast usually represented as a huge, winged, fire-breathing reptile. For centuries, the dragon has been prominent in the folklore of many peoples; thus, its physical characteristics vary greatly and include combinations of numerous animals.

In many legends, a dragon wreaked havoc on a town or village, and therefore was either soothed by a human sacrifice or killed. The dragon was also often the guardian of a treasure or a maiden. The highest achievement of a hero in Medieval legend was the slaying of a dragon, as in the story of St. George. King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon (literally, “dragon’s head”), also killed a dragon. The giant red dragon in the Bible gave rise to the use of the beast as symbolic of Satan in Christian art and literature. In ancient China, the dragon was associated with fertility and prosperity. Many of the beliefs connected with the dragon are echoed in snake worship.

What I have discovered about dragons for me personally is that dragon medicine is about sitting on top of treasure, being able to fly and the ability to burn away anything obstructing my way. It is ancestral wisdom and great knowledge, and knows just what to do. When dragon appears in a journey, I know that there is fantasy afoot. These journeys are deep in meaning, but light in nature.

The bear, as described in Animal Speak, is a symbol of power. It is also a shape-shifter; there are stories of bears turned into humans and humans into bears. It is associated with the huntress and the goddess Diana. Bears are ferocious carnivores and will eat almost anything. Their medicine is to go within (hibernation) to find the resources necessary for survival in order to make choices from a position of power. Bears are associated with trees. For myself personally, Bear is the ability to shape shift, to be the aggressor and to eat anything in my path. This is particularly helpful in extractions or de-possessions (removal of energy or entities from the client). The cunning and resources of bear allows for powerful shamanic work.

One of the wonderful things in journeying with your particular guide is that only he or she can truly teach you his/her particular medicine. This is for you to discover. There are many great stories told by students of shamanic journeying, such as the one that follows.

–Shiela Baker

Tale of a Shamanic Journey

I studied shamanic journeying with Shiela Baker, and was introduced to my power animal guides. My journeys are almost always presented to me as fully realized stories – with a plot, theme and characters, rich in vivid detail and colorful images. Because I am a writer, artist and storyteller, my guides have chosen to manifest their guidance and teachings as stories because it is the easiest and most natural way for a person of my inclinations to learn. These stories and images speak to current issues or problems in my life powerfully, yet gently. For instance, the following story, “How to Leap Like a Frog,” was presented to me in a journey when I was undergoing a difficult internal debate about whether or not to take a courageous (some may say foolhardy) step in my professional life. As you will see, in this story, my spirit guide, Frog, gives me (“Cronya” in the story) a metaphoric lesson on how to take a leap of faith.

How To Leap Like A Frog

Once, long ago or maybe only yesterday, there lived a woman named Cronya, who had many blessings, such as health and wealth and friends. Even so, she was bored with her life. “Nothing ever happens to me,” she thought.

It is dangerous to be bored with life on this good planet, because life is a mysterious gift from the gods, and the gods intend their gifts to be appreciated. The gods are not happy when people are bored.

And when the gods are not happy, interesting things are likely to happen.

Because the gods are kind (although their kindness is not always known for what it is) they sent Cronya a special gift, a gift that would make boredom impossible. They arranged that for one full year, on every seventh day, a magic chant would pour out of Cronya’s mouth, whether she willed it to or not.

As perhaps you know, magic chants open magic doorways into magic worlds. And magic worlds are never boring.

One evening, Cronya lay down on her bed and burrowed sleepily beneath the covers. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth in a big yawn. But instead of a yawn, what came out of her mouth was the following chant:

Allies and adversaries of the east
Spirits of air
Blow your breath into my wandering mind
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries of the south
Spirits of fire
Burn your light into my passionate heart
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries of the west
Spirits of water
Pour your libations into my receptive soul
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries of the north
Spirits of earth
Burrow deeply into my welcoming body
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries above and below
Sky Father, Earth Mother
Teach me, heal me, bring me into a place of one-ness
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.

Opening her eyes, Cronya finds herself seated in a canoe. The canoe is docked on the bank of a deep green river that flows through a deep green forest. The trees cluster thick along the banks of the river. The canoe slides off the bank and into the water.

The canoe is traveling toward the setting sun, whose rays are lighting the tops of the trees, turning them gold. “I am going west,” says Cronya in some alarm. Cronya has been west before. The west is the land of water, where the air itself is so moist that your face always feels damp, whether you are crying or not. The west is where wet creatures live. The west is where Old Trout lives, down in the deepest depths of the river, past the furthest western fork, near the mouth where the river empties into the Western Sea.

Cronya has met Old Trout before, and it has never been a pleasant experience. But those are other stories for other times, and today will be different because today is always different.

The canoe is heading downstream toward the sea, but the river is full of bends and twists, and Cronya cannot see what is coming next. Her experience with the west says that something will happen, probably a surprise. Cronya is not fond of surprises.

The canoe rolls and bobs with the current, and the shadows are lengthening over the river. Trees and water, water and trees, are all she sees. She stands on the seat of the canoe, teetering on tiptoes and craning her neck, trying to see over the tops of the trees. But no matter how hard she stretches and cranes, all she sees are trees and water, water and trees.

She sits down on the seat and peers into the river. There she sees Old Trout himself, swimming alongside the canoe. He is enormous, longer than the canoe itself. Cronya suddenly remembers the last time she met him, when he snapped her up and ate her. She does not want to repeat this adventure, for it was very uncomfortable. Old Trout teaches difficult lessons. But Cronya cannot take her eyes off Old Trout. She cannot stop looking at him. His rainbow scales shimmer pink and green, beautiful colors that make Cronya want to jump into the water.

Thump! Something jumps onto the canoe seat. It is a green frog with bulging orange eyes and long rubbery legs. “I am Frog! I am a good bug hunter!” announces the frog, as his long red tongue darts out and catches a fly unlucky enough to be going by. “Yum,” rumbles Frog, smiling at Cronya’s expression as if he would like to eat that, too.

“You worry too much,” Frog informs Cronya. “I have come to teach you how to leap like a frog.”

Frog pulls Cronya to her feet and they both stand on the seat of the canoe. “Hold hands,” Frog commands, and grabs Cronya’s hand with his long fingered green one. It feels cool and damp and sticky.

“Now stretch those toes,” he directs, and Cronya feels her toes stretching, stretching, until they are as long as frog toes. She splays them wide and presses them hard into the seat of the canoe, anchoring herself firmly.

“Bend your knees,” calls Frog, and they squat down low. Cronya’s bottom brushes the canoe seat. “Now thrust upward and stretch!” Frog says, and they stretch their legs out to the farthest length they can go, which to Cronya’s surprise is very far indeed. She can see the tops of the trees!

“Squat down low again,” says Frog, and they go down again. “Now up again,” he calls, and up they go, this time stretching even further. Now Cronya can see over the trees.

“Down!” says Frog, then “Up! We are getting ready to jump,” he says. “Practice! Practice!”

Up down, up down, up down, they go, practicing, practicing. Every time they go up, Cronya can see the course of the river, the whole river system going down to the sea. The sea is getting closer and closer. She can see that they are approaching the mouth of the river. She can see the waves of the Western Sea lapping the land. She can see Old Trout still swimming by the canoe, his tail fin moving back and forth, back and forth.

It is nearly dark by now, but on an upward stretch Cronya sees the expanse of the Western Sea, and on it a big, white, gleaming, cruise ship. The cruise ship is decorated with bright twinkling lights that are reflected on the waves. Sparkling dance music echoes over the water.

“Okay,” says Frog. “We have practiced, and now we are ready. We are going to jump! We are going to jump right onto that cruise ship.”

“Are you kidding?” says Cronya in alarm. “We can’t jump that far – over the trees, over the water, over the river mouth, high up onto the top deck of that huge ship!”

“Oh, I think we can,” says Frog. “In fact, we must. It’s the way home, you know.”

Cronya sees Old Trout give a shiver of delight from his position alongside the canoe. “Old Trout is there,” she tells Frog, pointing him out.

“Yes,” says Frog, nodding. “We must jump well. We must jump high and long. If we miss the cruise ship, we will fall into the river, and then Old Trout will gobble us, for sure. So it’s important not to miss.” He smiled at Cronya, wiggling his long red tongue at her.

“Grab hands!” orders Frog, catching hold of Cronya and pulling her to her feet. “Up!” he calls, and they stretch up; “Down,” he calls, and they squat low. “Up, down,” he calls again, and they stretch again. “Okay,” he says, “This is it. At the top of the up stretch, release your toes and leap!”

Her heart thumping in her mouth, Cronya holds tight to Frog’s hands, and they go up, stretch, stretch, stretch, and at the last possible moment, Cronya releases her toes and pushes off. They go sailing through the sky, over the trees, over the mouth of the river, up, up, up to the top deck of the cruise ship, and they land safely on deck.

There is a party going on at the cruise ship. People are dancing to salsa music, wearing flowers and ribbons, drinking party drinks, laughing and talking and making party noise. Cronya and Frog join a conga line, cha cha cha-ing around the deck. The party is ending, and soon all the people dance and laugh their way to bed, leaving Cronya and Frog alone on the top deck of the cruise ship.

It is completely dark now, and the vast moon rises, full and sweet, and hangs low over the deck. Cronya and Frog stretch out on some deck chairs, relaxing and gazing at the beautiful Moon.

Frog is totally entranced by the Moon. He gazes at her with love and longing. His eyes bulge even bigger, his mouth falls open, and his long red tongue lies limply on the deck. Suddenly he gives voice to a full, loud, throaty CROAK, which echoes over the Western Sea.

The Moon expands when she receives the Croak. She opens her mouth wide and responds with a croak of her own, which is so vast and booming it makes the deck chairs clatter on the deck and the glass windows shiver as if they were about to break.

Frog jumps out of his deck chair and leaps to the white railing of the ship. “Croak!” he calls, in a voice even louder than before. His croak streaks across the sky and the Moon swallows it with a gulp.

“CROAK!” she booms back, and this time the windows of the cruise ship do shatter, tinkly sounds harmonizing with the echoes in the croak’s wake.

Frog’s knees bend, and he squats down low, low. Then he stretches up high, high, his spatulate toes gripping the deck rail; and then down again, low, low.

He is practicing.

And then with his greatest and loudest croak yet, Frog springs high and releases his toes. He and his croak leap through the air toward Moon.

Moon expands until she seems to fill the Western sky.

“CROAK!” she thunders, and her mouth opens wide, showing her deep mysterious black inner self. In flies Frog triumphantly, and Moon shuts her mouth and swallows him.

Frog is gone. Perhaps, Cronya thinks, he is home.

The cruise ship sails on through the night. It is heading east toward morning, away from the west and the creatures of the water, where Old Trout is no doubt waiting still.

The End

The language of spirit is spoken in metaphors and parables. All spiritual teachers have known the teaching power of stories. “How to Leap Like a Frog,” although a simple, almost childish tale, has some profound lessons embedded within it.

At the beginning of the journey in which this story was given to me, I told spirit that my intention was to explore whether I should take a leap of faith in my professional life, and if so, how I should go about doing so. The answers I gleaned from the story were these: First, I am told to get a teacher, someone who knows how to leap. Frog appears and tells me not to worry, that he is here to teach me how to leap like a frog. The second lesson is to get an overview of the situation, to see beyond the immediate present. Frog teaches Cronya to stretch so she can see the entire river system and the Western Sea. Third, don’t minimize the dangers. Yes, Old Trout is really there, and he is probably hungry. Fourth, practice your new skills in a safe place. Frog and Cronya practice squatting and stretching many times, before actually jumping. Fifth, aim high, even if it seems to be impossible. Jump onto a cruise ship, or even to the Moon. And sixth, when you are ready and have done your preparatory work, let go and leap in spite of your fear.

Animal spirit guides do not play by human rules or live by human logic. But by journeying in their realms, we can bring back their wisdom and apply their gifts to our lives. We are then better able to heal our wounds and the wounds of Mother Earth.

–Kim Pearson

Shiela Baker hails from Canada and has a background in nursing and dance/movement therapy. She combines a passion for astrology, earth-based spirituality and shamanism with professional counseling for empowered growth. She facilitates monthly wolf abundance ceremonies, offers shamanic journey classes and is also available for soul retrieval and after care as well as counseling for individuals, couples, children and families. Visit her web site at, email her at or call

Kim Pearson is a writer, artist, storyteller and teacher. She is the owner of Primary Sources, a storytelling resource that helps people tell their stories through memoir, fiction, mask-making and drama. She is the author of Eating Mythos Soup: Poemstories for Laura, Common Disguises and Animal ABC. She has written over 20 personal memoirs for individuals and businesses. She teaches classes on writing and history at various venues around Puget Sound, including Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Finding Your Voice — Writing Your Stories, and You Are a Part of History. She also facilitates a monthly storytelling circle. Visit her Web site at, e-mail her at, or call 425-865-0409.