Home > Books, paganism, shamanism, Spirituality, The Natural World > “Spirit animal”, or innocent victim?

“Spirit animal”, or innocent victim?

Just recently I read something I can only describe as incredibly stupid, written by (surprise, surprise) a Popular Pagan Author(tm).

In this account, the author was describing how it had been suggested to him that he take with him an animal familiar or “spirit animal” on his pathwalking/vision-quest he was preparing for. The next day, a friend shows up at his door with an orphaned baby crow. Now, one would consider the responsible action in this case would be to contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator or rescue group or, failing that, the local Department of Natural Resources who will dispatch an animal control officer to take the animal to a rehab facility. I have done volunteer work in this field before, namely with raptors. They are good, reliable people, at least in my area. But no. Oh no. Instead of putting the orphaned nestling’s best interests in mind…he does a divination to determine it’s gender. According to the divination, it is female. Then, he gives it a special-mystical pagan name, and considers “her” a gift from the Wild God, to be taken on his vision quest.

Honestly, my stomach turned a bit when reading this. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be so damn boneheaded. The bird, according to what was written, still had to be hand-fed. Imprinting is a tragic thing to have happen to a wild bird. Many wild birds who are taken in by unwitting humans and raised as “pets” and are later released starve to death in the wild because they have no skills to look for food, or are killed by humans, because they are raised not to fear them. One owl I worked with was rescued and lived permanently at the facility I volunteered at because she would spend her time stealing hotdogs from cook-outs to survive. All because some selfish humans thought they wanted some glamorous “pet”, and stole her from her nest when she was young.

What is even more stunning is the fact that this person wrote about this illegal activity in a published book. Keeping a wild native songbird is illegal in the U.S. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act states this, and it should be common sense to anyone who keeps or raises animals within proximity to wildlife. This sort of basic information can easily be obtained by contacting the Department of Natural Resources in one’s local area.

Now, I haven’t finished reading the whole book that this was written in yet. Maybe this person surrendered the bird when he was done…I don’t know. No mention of it has been made since then, and I am still reading. Am I over-reacting? Well, I could be–but shouldn’t it have been common sense to put the needs of a helpless critter first, however lofty or super-special-spiritual the needs of the caretaker may be? Wouldn’t the Wild God find the keeping of his critters of utmost importance, the very act of being able to secure the safety of a helpless baby bird an important message or omen in and of itself?

Actually, this whole topic would feed back nicely into a response I made to my friend Raven’s post here and probably another rant in and of itself. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen people with precious little grasp on reality (and by “reality” I mean the physical one, and not just the others that might be out there!) and with next to no understanding of animal biology and behavior making lofty claims and projections on an unwitting creature who wants only to be itself. The racist “bald eagle and wolf medicine” couple that I witnessed while visiting Wolf Park come firmly to mind here.

There is so much more I could write on this and related topics, but chores need doing, and personal projects need attending to. This sort of thing will likely crop up in later posts, I’m sure.

  1. February 11, 2010 at 6:00 pm


    *insert screaming and flailing here*

    THANK YOU for summing up the fifteen separate and distinct flavours of STUPID involved here (and in part why I tend not to read mainstream pagan lit unless it’s HIGHLY recommended)…

    Another thing to throw in to this to emphasize just how Wrong and Dumb this is–corvids are, on the low end, regarded as being at least as smart as chimpanzees (and on the high end, possibly quite close to humans–arguably corvids and dolphins are the closest to “human level sophonce” of any species). Some crows in fact are among the few non-primates to ever have been documented to make and use tools.

    Raising up a crow like this (keeping in mind that crows in particular are quite intelligent and possibly sentient in the human sense, and live in flocks) and raising it in a human home–knowing birds imprint even more strongly than humans–as some “spirit guardian”…

    …well, it’s roughly equivalent to taking a human infant and deliberately having it raised by great apes or wolves so you can have a “human-animal ambassador”. (For those unaware–no, it doesn’t work like that. Let’s just say that feral kids tend NOT to adjust to human society at all and at best–even nowadays–tend to end up in group homes or permanent foster homes. One of the few cases where a feral child has ever been documented as learning how to speak is with Oxana (who was raised by wild dogs in Ukraine)–and even with this, she cannot count and is pretty much permanently nonfunctional in the human world. :()

    Congrats, Anonymous Pagan Author–you just created a corvid feral child for the sake of your own ego-masturbation. 😛

    (And for the record, yeah, the “wolf medicine/eagle feather” idiots…pretty much I was shaking my head at them. Probably had that stuff fed to them by a plastic shaman or whatnot)

  2. February 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    I think the better choice here would have been to see to its rehabilitation by a professional. Had that been done, I could see it (most likely nonphysically) joining the author on a later pathworking on its own, out of gratitude. This… seems to have missed the point.

  3. Dver
    February 11, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    It seems they really missed the point there. Sure, the encounter with the baby crow might have been a sign related to the upcoming spirit journey – such as that some spirit form of Crow would be willing to accompany the person. But that doesn’t mean that *this crow itself in the flesh* has anything to do with it. Especially when this crow is in need of a level of care or assistance that the person is not equipped to provide. In fact, I would think that being responsible and seeing to the crow’s needs by giving it over to the proper caregivers would be the best way to procure the help of Crow. Instead, the author just takes, rather than gives and asks. Typical, unfortunately, of the sort of pagan that likes the sound of things like spirit animals but doesn’t have any real idea how to navigate the world of spirit relationships.

  4. February 12, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Gah. This makes me want to cry. Just….*shakes head* And now you have me wondering which book it was in.

    Sometimes a bird is just a bird. Not an omen, not some mystical symbol. Just a feathery critter with a not-mammalian brain.

  5. February 12, 2010 at 12:35 am

    I have no words for how epically wrong and unethical this is. I don’t even like taking long-term, domesticated animals with me on things like that. I keep them well out of my shamanic business.

    Moet is my cat who needs food, shelter, stimulation, love, vet bills, and to not be used as a shamanic vehicle without his consent. And if I can’t get his consent in a concrete way, then that’s that. Domestic Cat can approach me hirself, and I can take the totem with me, but Moet? No.

    That poor bird. 😦

  6. Dawn
    February 12, 2010 at 12:42 am

    When someone encourages one to take a familiar/spirit animal with her/him on a vision quest, that person does not mean it LITERALLY, as in an ACTUAL ANIMAL.


  7. Paleo
    February 12, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I came here via Lupa’s livejournal. I used to intern at Wolf Park and your remark about the “bald eagle and wolf medice couple” sounds very familiar. While working for the Park I saw many people who claimed to be spiritually connected to wolves without knowing the first damn thing about them. We had people swear up and down that we should let them in with the least visitor-friendly wolves because their spiritual connection would protect them. Others would ask how they could get a wolf pup, claiming it was a religious need. Sadly, some of the worst “animal lovers” come from the pagan or New Age camps.

  8. February 13, 2010 at 5:25 am

    …and now one of the friends of the author is essentially taking it as a personal insult when people have brought up (in a non confrontational manner, incidentially) their ethical concerns regarding what is being done.

    And this, in a word, is generally why I don’t get involved with Big Name Pagan communities. 😛

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