Gayle Nastasi, animal consultant and author
For as long as there has been human culture, that culture has had a strong association with the animals with which we share our world.
The Chinese and other Asian cultures revolve their traditional calendar around animals. This year, 2020, will be the Year of the Rat. The Rat is the first animal of a twelve-year cycle. It’s followed, in succession, by the rest of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac: Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. (Sorry, Al Stewart fans, there actually is no Year of the Cat.)
People born in the Year of the Rat are supposed to be witty, social, and well-loved. They draw friends around them and are known to be giving and supportive. They are adaptable and clever, though they can tend to hoard their belongings and be a bit on the possessive side.
Children who were born in 1924, ’36, ’48, ’60, ’72, ’84, ’96, and 2008 are all Year of the Rat babies. Were you born in one of those years? Do any of the above characteristics fit your personality?
The Asian lands, of course, are not the only ones who have associated important aspects of their culture with animals. Animals are an important part of our entire human-centered world. It’s only natural that people have attached spiritual wisdom and significance to them.
Native American nations are well known for their belief in totem and spirit animals, and their respect for animal beings as “people” of their own kinds. Traditionally, animals would bring messages from spirit and guidance on how to best live their lives. The dance of the hunt and the knowledge of how to survive in each unique environment all centered around the special relationship with animals and their spirits.
The ancient Celts had a strong affiliation with the animals around them. As with the indigenous American cultures, animals imparted unique magic and power to their lives. The devoted courage of the wolf, the far-sighted determination of the hawk, and the calm, comforting energy of the wren were all important to them. The Druids, as has been mentioned in a previous article on Gazehound.com, saw the Starling as sacred.
Many Greek and Roman myths, and the gods and goddesses with which they are associated, include important animal symbolism. The hounds of Diana/Artemis were indispensable to her hunt. Where would Bellerophon have been without Pegasus? That old Chimaera would certainly have gotten the upper hand.
Of course, we can’t forget the Egyptians. You can’t view a hieroglyphic frieze without running into animals everywhere. Many of their gods took the form of animals and animal-human hybrids, and there are depictions throughout Egyptian archaeology of hunting hounds, hawks, and cats. There have also been a large number of mummified animals discovered, proof that animals were of prime importance in this culture.
Even our western society puts important stress on animal symbolism. Just take a look at the idioms in the English language. She’s sly as a fox; he’s stubborn as a mule. It’s a three dog night. Who let the cat out of the bag?
Animals are as much a part of our human society as we are. Many people feel more drawn to some animals than others. There are those who would say that these species are our spirit animals, or our totems. Some seek out special guidance to help them connect with their animal spirit guides, though it is my belief that each of us has that talent within us. We are the best person to know where our inner self leads, after all. We just have to get quiet and listen.
What animals do you feel strongly connected to? The age old question comes to mind, “Are you a dog person, or a cat person?” Or a horse person? A bird person? A wildlife person?
Are you all of the above? Even if so, is there one specific species that just speaks to you more strongly than others? Is there one which you feel best describes your inner nature?
Are you as sly as a fox? Stubborn as a mule? Faithful as a hound? Farsighted as a hawk?
As we step into this Year of the Rat, I hope you’ll give some quiet thought to the wisdom and guidance your animal friends have brought into your life. They are truly a treasure, in so many ways.
Wishing you joy in 2020!
About the Photo: Jenny Hawkyard (aka Jezhawk), the wonderful artist who created the cover illustrations for my Junior Handler books, has a fabulous collection of Totem Animals available as prints and merchandise. Please visit her Etsy or RedBubble Store and see if any of them speak to you. My thanks to Jenny for her permission to use her beautiful image. Pictured: Wolf Totem