A Native View on Spirit Animals and Animal Medicine
Spirit Animal, Animal Guide, Spirit Helper. These terms are used among different cultures to describe spirits of benevolent nature, usually helping someone during a hard time. These spirits can bring strength, insight, and even a sense or feeling to someone who needs it.
In pop culture, however, the concept is interpreted loosely and often references something one identifies with or traits they need or possess. In fact, many online sources today will help you identify your spirit animal or find it within yourself. Unfortunately, sites like these often perpetuate the misunderstandings of a Spirit Helper and how various indigenous cultures perceive them.
This is my personal opinion on the topic, and I can only speak to it from what I’ve been taught. However, it is one more viewpoint you can build upon, and I hope it will increase understanding and encourage more learning about indigenous cultures before trying to find an animal spirit through a journey of self-discovery.
In my teachings, a Spirit Helper isn’t something you choose or identify with but rather something that comes to you in your time of need. Perhaps the animal represents something that holds a certain value, such as strength in a bull or agility in a dragonfly. Lakota culture, it’s from these spirits that we tend to associate values with certain animals. However, that’s not all they bring.
Spirit Helpers are not a novelty. They hold a special place and represent a larger spiritual culture within a tribe. Many people don’t take the time to really understand this, and the adapted understanding and misappropriation is concerning and often offensive to Native cultures.
Spirituality in many indigenous cultures is about a relationship to everything around you – the plants and animals that provide food, the land that provides a home, and the weather that makes living possible. These elements are highly respected because they enable us to live. Our spirituality is strongly tied to the value and respect we hold for the earth. Adapting a concept such as spirits to personalization is like cherry-picking indigenous beliefs, although most likely unintentional.
For many tribes, all creatures are viewed as sacred, and certain animals often appear in stories and legends. For more information, you can check out several articles published by tribes that mention how animals are generally regarded:
- Cherokee Nation – The Traditional Belief System
- Seminole Tribe of Florida – Who We Are: Medicine
- First People of North America and Canada – Turtle Island
- Nanticoke and Lenape Confederation – Creation Stories