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Posts Tagged ‘Shamanism’

Visual Quest: An Online Shamanic Painting Exploration

I’ll be taking this course with Pixie Campbell this summer!

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I’ve always looked to nature for signs and messages.  Shamanic practitioners have utilized this practice for years, as have practitioners of most earth-based spiritual practices. Even the ancient Greeks turned to the natural world for messages and omens. From a spiritual perspective, we can view nature as a living force, full of actual spirit beings who collaborate to bring us messages and guide us on our paths. From a psychological perspective, our minds are responsible for the messages we receive, using natural symbolism to process our subconscious needs and emotions. Either way, I believe when nature speaks, we ought to listen.

This past Thanksgiving, I flew home to my parents house in Eastern Washington, and nature was practically shouting at me. We were lucky enough to have beautiful, mild weather, and we took advantage of the weather by going on daily hikes (which also had the benefit of helping us work off all Thanksgiving’s culinary indulgences).

On Thanksgiving Day, we took a long hike to a beautiful pond. I’d been to this pond a few times before, and it has always hosted a variety of bird life. This Thanksgiving, however, we saw more birds than ever before. Of course there were the usual tenants–Canadian geese, a variety of ducks, and a few hawks. But on this trip, we were also greeted by two bald eagles and over twenty white swans. Anytime I see a bald eagle in the wild, I feel gifted by nature, and seeing such a plethora of swans was so unusual that I felt it must be some sort of sign.

Eagle, as a spirit animal, traditionally represents a direct message or connection with the Divine. Eagles are so awe-inspiring that any culture that has had contact with eagles has created a mythology about them. In the United States, of course, we have chosen the eagle as our national bird. And our Mexican neighbors have an eagle on their flag, a symbol that dates back to the Aztec tradition that the people should settle where they see an eagle, eating a snake, on a cactus (now Mexico City).

image of eagle eating snake on cactus

Mexican flag: image of eagle eating snake on cactus

I find it interesting that the eagle was associated with Zeus, the god of thunder, in ancient Greece, and in many Native American cultures the Thunderbird is represented by an eagle. In all traditions, the eagle is a majestic bird, and its ability to soar to great heights reminds us to do the same. As Eagle soars to meet the spirit of the sky, we too may meet and strengthen our connections with the Divine.*

*When referring to an animal as a regular animal, I follow standard English and use an article followed by the name. In general, when referring to the spirit of the animal, or the animal as a spirit guide or more general symbol, the article is dropped, and the name is capitalized.

Bald Eagle in the Skagit valley, Washington, USA.

Bald Eagle in the Skagit valley, Washington, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the time of this Thanksgiving’s hike, I had just finished my first month at a new job in a new city. The work load had been more than I was prepared for, leaving me little time to nurture my creative pursuits or to meet many people in my new location. So, heading home to my parents house, exhausted, lonely, and feeling the seasonal sadness of still being single, I suppose I was need of a boost from the universe. When Eagle appeared, I was reminded to look beyond my small, human view of the present situation, reconnect with my spirit, and reinvigorate my approach to life–a perfect Thanksgiving message.

Leda and the Swan, by Leonardo Da Vinci

Leda and the Swan, by Leonardo Da Vinci

This message was further enhanced by the unusual presence of so many swans. I had never seen even one swan at this pond before, let alone more than twenty at once. Clearly, there was a message here, too. In general, Swan reminds us to move through life with grace and gratitude. While swan’s presence in Greek mythology is often associated with love and beauty, I like to turn to the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the ugly duckling, and Jamie Sams’s interpretation of it, to draw meaning (see below). As most will be familiar with, in this tale, the swan begins as an “ugly duckling”; the swan believes herself to be a duck, and wonders why she looks so different from her duck companions. In Sam’s version, Swan is asked to have faith in Great Spirit’s plan, to jump into the void and surrender her little swan body to whatever will come and trust in the workings of the universe. Little Swan does as she is asked, and she is rewarded with transformation into a creature with beauty and grace beyond any she could have imagined for herself.

baby swan--not ugly at all, if you ask me!image from fanpop.com

baby swan–not ugly at all, if you ask me!

As someone naturally inclined to stress, to worry, and to try to work out every detail of my life ahead of time, I often need a reminder to move through life with a bit more trust and grace. I am very grateful to Swan for appearing to me at such a transitional and stressful time in my life. I may not have every detail of where I’m headed worked out, but I can be grateful for all that I have in the present and trust that life will continue to bring more reasons to be thankful.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect sighting for my entire family on Thanksgiving Day: Eagle and Swan together, reminding us to connect with the Divine, to give thanks for the many gifts in our lives, and to move through life with grace.

I took a few pictures on our hike. We were enjoying views of the swans and eagles through binoculars, and my camera couldn’t quite capture a clear picture of either the eagles or swans (though I got some great shots of Canadian geese . . .). Still, here is one of the many swans, along with an overall view of the bird-sighting area.

Eagle, Swan, and Owl came to say hello

full view of the bird pondc 2012, Juniper Stokes

full view of the bird pond
© 2012, Juniper Stokes

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll discuss my encounter with Owl. On another hike at home the weekend after Thanksgiving, I had the most unusual encounter with a great horned owl. I can’t wait to write about this amazing experience, so please check back soon!

And for those who are interested, here are two of my favorite resources for animal wisdom:

Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews

The Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams and David Carson

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