The bond between animals and indigenous people is as long and strong a relationship as any on earth. Animals have provided for the physical needs of humans throughout history. Their roles as companions and guardians are accepted as essential. But the evidence of animals as spiritual partners with humanity hasn’t been as well documented. It always seems to come as a surprise to scientists when they find that animals have played vital roles in the religious traditions and spiritual lives of ancient peoples.
Why would remains of dogs be buried in tombs with people? Dody Fugate, assistant curator of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Sante Fe, New Mexico, says she thinks it is because animals’ and ancient Native Americans’ lives were inextricably intertwined. In an article by Stefan Anitei of softpedia.com, Fugate is quoted as telling National Geographic News, “I’m suggesting that dogs in the New World in the Southwest were used to escort people into the next world.”
A Native American legend portrays dogs as freely choosing to become companions to people. About 12,000 years ago, friendlier wolves who were shunned by their pack, began to wander into Native American camps. Because dogs welcome pack leadership, they fit in well with the indigenous people’s hierarchy.
Soon Native Americans were breeding dogs to fulfill roles as loyal protectors, hunters, finders of missing people, and pack animals who pulled heavy loads. Along the way dogs became children’s playmates and family members with names to fit their personalities, talents, and personalities. (“The History of Dogs and Native Americans,” www.petplace.com)
Dogs and other animals took on spiritual roles in Native American culture when shamanism, an ancient healing religion, began teaching about power animals or totems. Tamara Warta writes in “Find Your Power Animal and Change Your Life” (June 16, 2008, www.lifescript.com), “The animals are truly believed to be a help and healer to anyone who seeks them out and are considered to be a major path toward spiritual and emotional success.”
Shamanism explains that everyone is thought to have power animals, or animal spirits, that live in the soul and protect and imbue us with their wisdom. Two of the most powerful totems are the horse and the owl.
To find your power animals you must meditate for as long as it takes in order to grasp which ones have a special purpose in your life. You don’t choose your totem, though. Warta says, “Shamanism teaches that power animals actually select you, meaning you can’t pick a bear simply because you like bears.”
Animals In Africa
Animals have always been part of the indigenous African experience. They’re often viewed as mysterious creatures to be feared and conquered for their power. Although modern cities make Africa a continent of contrasts, tribal customs continue to hold sway over even the most sophisticated citizens. Some of these traditions involve longheld beliefs about animals.
Years ago, we received the story below “God’s Love and the Snake” from Samuel Dufu of Tema, Ghana, West Africa. It is included in our book “Angel Animals: Divine Messengers of Miracles,” New World Library.
“I was born in 1939 and lived in a farming community township in the then Gold Coast, now Ghana. When I was three years old, I remember my grandmother carried me on her back everywhere she went. One day, she set me down under an orange tree on her farm. She plucked some oranges, cut them up, and put them in a bowl. I played with the fruit while Grandmother worked 30 feet away, weeding the patches of plantain, cassava, and corn.
“As I sucked on the juicy oranges, I threw the peels away a few feet from me. With a child’s curiosity my eyes scanned the tufts of nearby vegetation until I noticed something moving in the brush. As if out for a leisurely stroll, a long, yellowish snake came toward me and stopped where I’d thrown the peels.
I was fascinated by my visitor and tossed more slices to him. The snake reciprocated my friendship by staying around and sucking on the sweet fruit. This interaction went on for about 10 minutes before my grandmother overheard me jabbering to my new playmate.
“Grandmother approached me stealthily. She was astounded to see a deadly snake, slowly sucking on oranges, within biting distance of her precious grandchild. At lightning speed, she screamed and whisked me away. My new friend bolted, probably wondering, as I did, what had caused all this commotion.
“All the way home, my grandmother’s scolding made it clear that snakes are one of our deadliest enemies. Because I had known no natural fear and even made friends with the fruit-loving snake, a rumor started and spread throughout my family that I was endowed with special powers as a snake charmer. A few years later, I was taught at school and through the oral tradition of our tribe that snakes are dangerous. I then realized the grave danger I’d been in as a toddler and developed a great fear of snakes.
“Because of the special spiritual education I’ve had over the last 20 years, I now understand that divine love was at play between two souls — the snake and me. This love left no space for fear. The snake advanced, knowing that I had no intention of harming him but that I only offered love by sharing what I ate.
I entertained and encouraged the snake to stay because I had no fear he would bite me. We both enjoyed a friendly moment until my grandmother introduced fear into the harmonious atmosphere. This led to my replacing love with mistrust and hate. My experience with the snake has taught me that indeed, love conquers all. So it also is with the human family.”
Whether it is the study of Native American, African, or any other indigenous tradition,a common thread emerges: people throughout the world look to animals for the wisdom to replace fear with love.
Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of the Angel Animals Network and authors of a series of books published by New World Library about the spiritual connection between people and animals. The Angel Animals Network 2010 True Story Contest is now accepting true stories of animals helping children, parents, & families deal with difficult situations and circumstances. Enter the new contest and subscribe to the free, online “Angel Animals Story of the Week” newsletter at www.angelanimals.net. Become fans of Angel Animals on Facebook and follow @angelanimals on Twitter.