Introduction: Gardens for Animal Allies

Animal allies or totems have probably been with us for millions of years. Animals were our first teachers; they taught us how to survive and how to behave. It is thought that we learned to hunt from the canine family, wolves, dogs, and their early ancestors; we learned to hunt in a pack. Boars are thought to have taught us to dig edible roots and eat acorns, not the most pleasant food to eat but one that guaranteed our survival when all else failed. Animals brought the realm of mysticism to our cave walls and talismans. Simply, we would have never made it as a species nor would have our early ancestors had it not been for animals. We watch them still, continue to learn from them, and in the 21st century very much need them in our lives.

Clan systems are extremely old and most include animal clans. This is how I put it in Ancestral Airs:

“Animal clans were not difficult to understand. They lived, ate, hunted, sired, prayed, and died according to the dictates of their animal ancestors. Every part of an animal held a secret teaching. Skins, bones, organs, teeth, hooves, and antlers had been given to our people for food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Rituals were born out of the intimate knowledge of these things. Spirit Handlers dressed in their relatives’ skins and antlers, and prophesied from their bones or made them into whistles. They wore their claws and teeth, and sang with hoof rattles. From the organs came medicine bags and divination. An animal’s hide was tanned with its own brain, kidney, or liver. A creature could be watched and the observer could learn the workings of the world by how an animal moved or in what direction. The flick of an ear held inestimable wisdom or that of a tail might hold the privity of Creation.”

All clans, including animal clans handle specific plant medicine. Each of these plants has a spirit and a specific intent relevant to a particular clan and its practitioners. Even in the absence of a clan structure, medicine women and men devote their lives learning the connection between plants and animals for ritual purposes. This group is about that connection.

I feel I must share something I learned from a near thirty year apprenticeship with a native elder. She emphasized over and over that it is not we who pick an animal for a talisman or guide; the animal picks us. To that she always added that it was essential to not only know our own inherent nature but learn the traits and behaviors of the animals most like ourselves. That was how we found a teacher. For example, I had always been loner who dug deeply into the mystery. I wasn’t at all sociable and much preferred working alone. These and numerous other traits in my personality made this badger medicine. The badger was the ultimate teacher for me and about the world as I perceived it.

To fully understand the lists presented here you will need to read the material in Thou Nature Art My Goddess and Spirit Gardens.  There are essays published in Magic Makers that include references to animal medicine. The discussion entitled The Sanctity of Ancient Hunters comes to mind.

The lists presented here and in all my work are in botanical Latin. In The Compendium for Spirit Handling you will find a botanical cross reference in The Compendium’s top menu. The Compendium is a book that includes the ritual properties of about 420 species. If a particular animal and its garden appeals to you I suggest you read more about each plant; all are listed in The Compendium. Each entry has been posted first by its common name; they aren’t alphabetized. But the Latin names in parenthesis are alphabetized.

Essays about our early ancestors including the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras are published in Sacred First Foods. I really recommend familiarizing yourself with proto-human and human evolution to fully grasp our intimate connection to animals.

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Responses to “Introduction: Gardens for Animal Allies”

  1. Thank you Verda!
    This was the perfect day to read this…I asked for help understanding this very subject this very morning…and voila! here you are teaching me.
    I am looking forward to reading the others recommended here – once I give all this information a place to settle in.