Animal Wisdom: Connecting People and Animals

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Earth and Fire Elements: MAMMALS

Earth Element:
With its bounty, the land sustains life. The plants and trees that grow on the earth nourish us and replenish our air. The earth provides the structure by giving us a firm foundation for our lives. The rocks are the bones that we build our homes on.

Brown Bear:
Brown bears are one of the oldest recorded totemic beings. Ancient legends tell of people sharing caves with bears. (People were contemporaries of cave bears (Ursus speleus) in Eurasia.) Early people often sought permission from the elders and from the bears themselves, before hunting a bear. Brown bears are powerful shamanic beings that connect people with Mother Earth through their caves.

European Rabbit:
The ancestral species for domestic rabbits, the European rabbit is the only rabbit of her kind. Originally living only in the Western Mediterranean area, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus (which means “hare-like digger”)) was introduced throughout Europe by the Romans. Unlike other rabbits and hares, the European rabbit is quite sociable, living in large colonies. Her colony (warren) is a network of tunnels, dens, bolt holes, and entrances to live in. The European rabbit reconnects people to the earth with her living.

This small, barrel-shaped animal is one of two of the world’s only egg-laying (Monotreme) mammals. Resembling a pale brown porcupine, the echidna lives a solitary life in woodlands. With her powerful claws, the echidna turns over rocks in search of food. She is quite good at defending herself. When in danger, she curls herself into a ball, to be protected by her spines. Sometimes, the echidna will wedge herself beneath rocks. She can also swiftly dig vertically to get below the surface soil. For the echidna, the earth is protection.


Fire Element:
Heat in the form of our sun warms Earth, and allows life to flourish there. Cold tends to retard the growth of needed plants for animals to feed on. Moreover, the animals that live in the Polar region are fewer and more dependent on the seas than the land. During the summer’s thaw, only does life explode in profusion.

Peccary (Javelina):
Fierce and tenacious, the peccary was called by the Spanish: “Javelina” - the spear. This New World relative of the pig has tusks that grow downwards like daggers. Her canine teeth are normally used for cutting and slashing. When confronted, the peccary will click her teeth and charge. (Mistaken for a pig by Europeans, she is a member of the Tayassuidae (Peccary) Family instead of the Suidae (Pig) Family.) Highly social, the peccary travels with her herd through the deserts and rainforests of the New World. The Tupi of Brazil called Her, “Pecary” meaning “many paths through the woods.” With her herd, the peccary ranges far and wide for food. Her herd will even challenge jaguars and coyotes. Like fire, the peccary roams at will.

Tree Shrews (Scandentia):
With their long, bushy tails and black button noses, tree shrews resemble squirrels. However, they are neither squirrels nor shrews. As the subject of intense scientific controversy, tree shrews were thought first to be insectivores, and then early primates. Finally zoologists placed them in their own order: Scandentia. Not much is known about these fast-moving, elusive animals.

Extremely active, tree shrews forage all day, resting every hour for a few minutes. In their forests in Southeast Asia, these nervous and inquisitive animals bounce around like pinballs from branch to branch. Tree shrews live hard and fast lives. As Louise Simmons who studies them says, “They work 12 hours a day, 365 days a year. They live on the edge.” Like fire, tree shrews offer vitality.

One-Humped Camel (Dromedary):
The dromedary camel is well adapted for extreme climates and harsh terrains. His hairy ears and heavy eyebrows with long eyelashes protect the dromedary camel’s face from the sun and blowing sand. He eats vegetation that other desert animals cannot tolerate. Since he sweats very little, the dromedary camel can go long periods without drinking.

The dromedary camel’s hump stores fat for times when food is scarce. When food is plentiful, he overeats and stores the excess in his hump. Full of excess fat, his hump is erect and plump. When food is scarce, the dromedary camel lives off the stored fat in his hump. Like the alchemy of fire, the dromedary camel can transform solids into liquids.

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Virginia Carper, a Roman Polytheist, lives in the Washington D.C. area with her family. She navigates life with a traumatic brain injury which gives her a different view on life. An avid naturalist since childhood, she has a blog called “Nature’s Observations.” Having experienced the animals directly, she teaches on-line classes about the spiritual and natural aspect of animals. She has published articles on her brain injury, Roman polytheism, and working with extinct animals. In addition her writings on animals (including dragons and other mythic creatures) can be purchased her book site, Animal Teachers.  


  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Thursday, 25 October 2018

    Fun fact, the specific term for bear worship is "arctolatry", which literally means just that. Came across it recently in my research of Finnish mythology and native spirituality. When a hunter killed a bear, a feast was held in which the bear was the guest of honor, and its flesh was eaten in the belief that its strength would be consumed, after which its skull would be placed on top of a pine tree. How's that for a Yule/Christmas tree topper?!

    Also, the dromedary has an interesting link to the element of water as well, apart from what is famously stored in its hump. I read a translation of a cuneiform tablet which refers to the dromedary being an animal sacred to or otherwise associated with the sea goddess Tiamat, or that she somehow became the dromedary, something like that. It was an obscure but very interesting reference.

  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper Friday, 26 October 2018

    Thanks for both.

    Interesting about Finnish Bear beliefs. The bear seems to be an universal animal for many cultures. The Ainu of Japan have similar customs with the bear.

    I am going to look into the Tiamat reference. Some animals do have links to other elements.

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