Animals and the Elements

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Animals have played important roles in myth, legend, and spirituality in traditions throughout the world, and are considered sacred by many Witches and Wiccans. Some Witches work with animal “familiars,” which may be physical creatures actually living in their environments, or psychic connections with one or more animals on a purely spiritual level. Others may discover and work with what they describe as “power” or “totem” animals, borrowing from Native American and other shamanic traditions. In many Wiccan traditions, each of the Elements is associated with a variety of specific animals. Usually, these correspondences relate to habitat—so that most birds are considered Air animals, most sea creatures are Water animals, etc. But habitat is only one source of association. Myths, legends, and characteristics of the animal in question also come into play, particularly when it comes to the animals of Fire. For example, the lion has long been associated with solar deities, and embodies the qualities of strength, courage, and intensity. Therefore, the lion belongs to the Element of Fire. So does the red fox, associated with passion and desire, and known for its ability to think quickly and change course with agility. The praying mantis is another Fire animal, credited with creating fire among the San people of the Kalahari Desert. The mantis’ capacity for both stillness and swift, destructive action is also a source of this association. Earth animals include the wolf, known for its loyalty and generosity among its own kind; the bear, symbolizing both tranquility and great power; and even the ant, which uses its industrious and determined nature to build its home literally out of the Earth. Two obvious Air animals are the raven, associated with eloquence and self-knowledge, and the hummingbird, which reminds us of the importance of agility and playfulness. A less obvious correspondence with Air is the spider, which does not fly but spends much of its time suspended above the ground, and is associated with divine inspiration. Water animals include the dolphin, seen by the ancient Celts as “the watcher of the waters” and associated with playfulness and transcendence; the turtle, able to navigate both land and sea and so associated with adaptability as well as endurance; and the swan, seen as symbolic of grace and elegance. Often, the sudden or recurring appearance of an animal in one’s life is thought to be a message from the spirit world. You don’t have to be a Witch or a shaman for this to happen in your life. If a particular animal keeps crossing your path, whether literally or in the form of dreams or other seemingly significant references, it can be beneficial to do some research regarding the animal’s esoteric meanings, including its associated Element. You may be being asked to learn something new about yourself, or pay attention to an area of your life that you’ve been neglecting. As living, breathing embodiments of the Universal life force, animals have much in common with us, and much to teach us about the unseen realms of our magical existence.

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