Spirit Animals: How to Understand?

I had a bear visit my birdfeeders this week, and my interest in Bear as a symbol was piqued. Like most, I follow a tendency to assign meaning to animals, but animals are not symbolic, according to author Hal Bennett. Bound by symbolic reasoning, we think of Owl as a symbol of wisdom, or Coyote as a symbol of buffoonery and trickery.

If not symbols, or at least archetypes, what are the animals?

The most direct answer to what animals are for humans is that they are who they are-living, breathing creatures who have their own personalities and their own patterns of behavior. It is from our observation of these behaviors that we learn to connect with, and learn from, the natural world.

In other words, wolfness is manifest in the animal we call wolf. But it is also manifest in human actions, in the shapes of certain rocks, and in numerous other ways.

In traditional stories, in totemism, and in animal fetishism, the teachings of one animal or another only come to us by carefully observing the animals in their natural environment. To do this, we must empty our minds and think of them as expressions of spirit, that is, as manifestations of form out of formlessness.

The person living in the natural environment is asking questions such as: “What is spirit expressing through this animal?” “What is this animal all about?” If we pay attention, maybe we will find answers to come to a deeper understanding of our own spiritual nature, and our relationship to the planet.

Looking at the bear visit in this way, I realized that what I saw in the bear energy when I shined my flashlight at it from a safe porch, was incredibly sweet and feminine.

Adapted from Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life, by Hal Zina Bennett (Hampton Roads, 2000). Copyright (c) 2000 by Hal Zina Bennett. Reprinted by permission of Hampton Roads.
Adapted from Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life, by Hal Zina Bennett (Hampton Roads, 2000).

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Nils Lunde


Eric Luu
Eric Luu3 years ago

Humans just want and need everything. I think there are things to learn from every animal. I've just recently been fascinated by wolves. I think I'm spiritually connected to wolves. I can't be too sure, though. Too bad there are no wolves in my area...

Debbie L.
Debbie Lee3 years ago

I agree that animals are very special and should always be treated that way!!! I wish people would treat animals better because a lot of people think that they the animals are temporary or throwawy's in today's society...I save and rescue animals and know and understand the special bond you can have with an animal!!!

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B.3 years ago


Giana Peranio-paz

I feel the spirit in all animals!! I can even talk to owls and they answer me. I hoot of course...There is nothing like the cat's purr to make me feel warm inside - I am addicted to that sound. I feel animals and humans connect in a very special way as we are all part of nature, although man seems to forget this and views everything around him aloof, from above. The animals bring out the good in us.

Chris C.
Chris C.3 years ago

-Kristina G and Bruna C - you are so right! Animals have souls and are here to TRY to help teach us. Some of us love the learning...some choose not to!
-Animals are so pure, it feels they are on a plane higher than humans...with the misfortune to live in a world humans rule.
-Sorry colleen p - I am also drawn to the wolf. Sorry to throw a stick into your "negative nellie" opinion.

ay m.
g d c.3 years ago


ay m.
g d c.3 years ago


Abbe A.
Azaima A.3 years ago


Aimee A.
Aimee A.3 years ago

Thanks for posting!