Popularity Contests

Why some animal teachers are more popular than others

Firstly, I don’t actually believe we choose our animal teachers, but I do think that one of the reasons some animals are more popular than others is very much because people are trying to choose the animals which are most culturally or physiologically impressive. Those reasons are incorporated into this article, even though I don’t believe that chosen or hand-picked animal teachers are as valid as those who choose you. (That being said, you can still learn from them. Interacting with any animal teacher is valid).

1. Cultural Prevalence.

Some cultures placed huge emphasis on a core set of animals that were to be available when defining family lineage, or that were sought after as the most powerful animal teachers. Jaguar in South America is an example, as is bear in Northern Russia (which has higher status in some cultures than wolf or raven teacher). Additionally, some contemporary cultures do not recognise the potential of insects, most fish and ‘smaller’ creatures as being teacher material.

My perspective is that all animals have the ability to be valid and powerful animal teachers, regardless of whether there is a great deal of cosmology already available for them (like coyote and raven), or whether there is almost none at all or it’s nearly impossible to find (like marsupial mole and Wallace’s standardwing).

2. Cultural cross-pollination.

The more culturally popular animals tend to be privileged in neopaganisms, especially if individuals have borrowed (or stolen) cosmologies from Indigenous cultures to lend their path credence through cultural appropriation. For this reason, popular teachers from Native American cultures or First Nations peoples of Canada have been further popularised by those people who wish to culturally appropriate other cosmologies and pathways on their search for wisdom. Be careful of this, and give a thought to where you actually live. If I had a dollar for every Australian who claimed a North American animal teacher, because they had never bothered to learn about their own country, Indigenous Aboriginal culture local to them and the animals around them, I’d not be rich, but I could afford some more crystals.

3. It’s big and impressive!

Apex predators are – let’s face it – mightily impressive! Bear, wolf, jaguar, tiger, lion, lynx, eagle and many other peak predators have all earned their place in many Indigenous cultures because they are powerful animals and often successful hunters. This was extremely important from a functional perspective to warriors and people of power in hunter-gatherer communities, and so these animals were celebrated.

In contemporary times, people who choose their teachers, tend to choose the animals which are either the biggest, the smartest, the baddest etc. It’s less functional these days than it was in the past, and can sometimes demonstrate that folks are choosing or selecting guides based on what will earn them status, reputation, appreciation or approval from others. It’s reflective of our modern cultural trend of the individual over community focus. The functionality of an animal teacher can sadly be less relevant than how ‘showy’ it is in a pagan community.

4. Limited resources, poor research, not enough information.

The fact is, it’s easier to encounter an animal teacher – if you’re choosing for yourself or not – if you’ve heard of it before. It once took me more than two months of fairly intensive research to figure out what an animal was that I saw in a journey. It was during an otherworld journey, and it may not have even been a real animal, but after enough research, I learnt that it was. But if I was lazier, or less experienced, or not as good at researching, I could have just accepted ‘mongoose-like creature,’ and assumed that it was ‘mongoose’ (which it wasn’t).

It is difficult and not easy to identify some animals, especially if they are rare, endangered, not in your locality, unidentified, extinct etc. Dhole may have been trying to contact you for years, and for years you may have found it easier to assume that the guide contacting you is ‘dog,’ or ‘dog-like thing,’ or another species of dog.

Even with great websites at your fingertips, good animal reference books, and other resources, it can still be a difficult and long journey to actually identify a animal teacher. For that reason, animals that are more well-known in our society are more often identified as guides or animal teachers.

5. Some animals are popularity-contest winners.

No, really. I firmly believe that some animals are popular guides not just because people have chosen them for their impressiveness, but because the animal teacher itself is inclined to stretch a wide net over people.

Take wolf for example. Wolf is a ridiculously, and I mean ridiculously common animal teacher (especially when you consider that in some traditional cultures, wolf was popular in folklore, but in some Indigenous cultures in Russia, conferred ‘lesser’ status to a shaman or spiritual elder than some other animals). Wolf is so common now that it is one of the majority animal teachers for people I know. It also seems to be the most common animal in therianthropy, and one of the most common animal teachers in general. I think some people have chosen wolf because of its romanticised mysticism or alternatively its (mistaken) ferocity. But I also genuinely believe that wolf as a teacher calls to more people than the reclusive but powerful energy of wombat. Just like some humans are better at teaching than others, some non-human animals are better at it than others.

I’ve written about this trend in my teacher file on wolf in general:

A lot of the students that choose or are chosen by wolf, will fail. By fail, I mean they will lose their way spiritually, fall off the path, ignore lessons, and superficially celebrate their connections until they eventually fade away. This is the choice of wolf, to teach a great deal in order to break through and share the true mysteries with a few who persevere and move past the beginning stages of their path. This is where wolf becomes a truly valuable teacher.
Wolf as guide can be found here.

Some animals seem to have a very accessible and open energy. And some animals don’t seem to mind being voluntarily chosen as animal teachers, (though whether they actually become teachers or companions over time – as opposed to a showy ‘badge’ to tell others about – remains to be seen).