Exercise 6: Power animals
In this exercise we use the Rorschach inkblot test as a starting point to connect with our personal power. What does this mean?
As a person goes through different stages of life, he/she faces a range of psychological challenges. Perhaps the biggest one of all, at each stage is to engage with the 'shadow' which is the unknown and unowned part of ourselves. Joseph Campbell suggested that myths could serve as maps for the journey as they did for our ancestors. In all human societies, the, rituals are used to help engage with the deeper meaning behind myths. In time, some of these practises were formalised into religious structures.
During the early stages of evolution ie in hunter-gatherer societies, religion was animistic, everything in nature was seen as being infused with spirit or divine presence. At the heart of such religions was the main hunting animal of the culture, for instance the buffalo in Native America, the eland in South Africa. At this stage, the spiritual challenge was to reconcile the need to kill against the perceived divinity of the animal. This was achieved by thinking of the animal as arising from an eternal archetypal source, entering the world as a "willing victim" with the implicit understanding that once their lives were over they would be returned to Mother Earth for restoration. In this belief system, slaughter became a ritual in which both man and his prey were equal participants. (1)(2)
In Shamanic traditions, these spirit animals were viewed as spirit guides or guardian spirits who shared certain characteristics with the person to whom they were associated and also acted as protectors. In time, these archetypal animal symbols were associated with specific clans and came to be regarded as totems (a word which is believed to come from the Ojibway word dodaem which means "brother/sister kin). Association with one's clan totem animal came to be hereditary. The best known totemic traditions today are those of Native American cultures, but totemic traditions also existed in China, Korea, the Himalayas and Poland.
Today, depth psychologists use animal metaphors to help people understand themselves - dogs, to examine faithfulness, coyotes as tricksters, horses as hero representations etc. These animals have become vessels for our projections. A range of meanings have also been attributed to different species in popular culture, literature, art. These can act as tools in helping us understand ourselves.
So, where do we start? Well we start by using the Rorschach inkblot test. This is a method of personal psychological evaluation that has been in use since it was first elaborated in 1921 by Hermann Rorschach. Basically, what we will do, is create an 'inkblot', develop it into a 'power animal' symbol relevant to us and then study this animal for 'clues' to our own synergies with it and as a way of empowering ourselves.
Materials you will need
1. A paper (A4 will do)
2. Ink or paint tubes of various colours and a bowl of water
3. Your note book
(Ensure that you will be undisturbed for at least 45 minutes)
1. Randomly dab paint or ink blots on your paper
2. Sprinkle a few drops of water over it.
3. Fold the paper in quarters and spread out the paint at random
4. Unfold the paper and allow it to dry
5. While it is drying, look at it critically. Do you see an animal of some shape or description trying to emerge from your work? If so what is this animal? If not, think of an animal you like or identify with and try and superimpose it's outline over your image.
6. Draw in the outline of your animal
7. Now paste the drawing in your notebook and answer the following questions:
(a) Does this animal seem to be telling you something? If so, what?
(b) If not, why do you think it 'appeared' for you?
(c) Do you identify with this animal in any way?
(d) What does it represent for you?
(e) What emotions does it evoke in you?
(f) Does it bring to mind any stories or anecdotes or experiences or images?
(g) What could it teach you ie what could you learn from it?
Should you need more resources on how to use animal totems in self analysis/development, see Temple Illuminatus' animal archetype page or Spirit Animal info or Totem animal quiz , these are fun exercises, that could be the starting point for self knowlege.
To know more about Native American totem animal traditions, try Emily Gems, or Legends of America's totem page
There are several other resources on the web on different traditions as well as Evolve now's resources
Please note that this list is NOT an endorsement of any of the sites or the information they contain, it is merely a very abbreviated list of some of the resources available on the web, which could act as prompts to start your own research.
8. Now write a story on any one or all or the following:
(a) When your animal looks at you, what does he/she see? Tell it from the animal's point of view.
(b) If your animal had a story to tell you - what would it be?
(c) If you were to go on a journey with your animal, where would it be?
(d) If your animal was 'magical' - what 'magic' could it do/make you aware of?
1. The Power of Myth (1987-88) - Joseph Campbell interviewed by Bill Moyers (book and DVD) and editor Betty Sue Flowers, Doubleday, hardcover: ISBN 0-385-24773-7
2. Mythos (DVD collection) - Joseph Campbell - See The Joseph Campbell Foundation for more information
3. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (1980) Dan Millman
4. Re-visioning Psychology (1975) - James Hillman
5. URL: http://mythsdreamssymbols.com/majorarchetypes.html