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Friday, September 9, 2011

My Spirit Animal: The Mammoth


A spirit or power animal is an animal that represents one’s personality, physical traits, and lifestyle. On a mystical level, they act as guardians, sharing wisdom and providing guidance. The practice of having spirit animals is found in shamanic cultures, though similar practices can be found in Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and other religions. Many people today have a spirit animal that they feel represents them, and interest in spirit animals ranges from a serious spiritual belief to a fun way to define yourself with a particularly cool animal.
            For years I was frustrated that I had never been able to decide on a spirit animal. Was I a cobra, full of coiled power, potency, and precision? A shark, the relentless and capable king of his realm? A gorilla, strong and responsible while gentle and loving toward family and community?
            The answer dawned on me earlier this month; my spirit animal is the mammoth.
            On my recent trip to South Africa, I had the amazing opportunity to observe elephants in the wild. Their physical appearance, demeanor, and behavior were striking.
After returning home I thought back to a dream that I had several years ago. It was a lucid dream where I had unlimited power to create. A wave of my hand lit up the night sky with fireworks spelling my name. I made a city of people, characters of all kinds who would inhabit the realm. A mammoth appeared beneath me, a mighty, enormous mount covered in shaggy brown fur with huge tusks. At breakneck speeds we rode as one through this shining city of my design, triumphant heroes to the thousands of people I had created. . A mammoth makes a perfect animal spirit companion, a faithful steed, a chariot, a vahana, and a stalwart sidekick. In the dream I drew on the mammoth’s power, and we became greater than the sum of our parts.
My experience in Africa and the memory of my dream sparked a realization that I shared many characteristics with mammoths. Mammoths shared many qualities with their elephant relatives. I find parallels between these characteristics and my own personality and life. Elephants have complex social structures: my interest in politics and the systems that society operates within. Elephants exhibit cooperation and altruism: my political values are rooted in collective action for solving problems, and concern for all people and nature. Elephants are intelligent and known for memory: I pride myself on mental capabilities and prioritize learning and discussions to improve my mind. Elephants engage in complex communication that utilizes all five senses: communication is one of my strong points and relates to my professional work and goals as an advocate and conveyer of information to the people. Elephants are peaceful herbivores but have the ability to fiercely defend themselves: I am also peaceful but value strength, courage, and the ability to defend myself and those I love, physically but also in the context of an advocate for progressive social issues.
            Although I am elephant-like in the previously discussed ways, my spirit animal is specifically the mammoth. Mammoths were hardy creatures that lived in cold windy plains regions; I’ve lived most of my life in North Dakota and Minnesota. Mammoths are even awesome and huger than elephants, so of course I’d choose mammoth the mammoth any day.
But perhaps most importantly, the extinction of the mammoth contains a lesson about climate change and sustainability, two issues I’m deeply concerned with. Mammoths are believed to have gone extinct because of two factors: an increase in global temperatures and overhunting by humans. Mammoths were pushed to the brink by massive climate-related losses of habitat and food; current climate change threatens up to a third of all animal species with extinction while putting strain on food systems through lower crop yields, less fresh water, and more pests. Excessive hunting by humans was the final straw; current unsustainable methods of production like over-fishing of our oceans threaten animal species and the food that they provide. Thus, the tale of the mammoth’s extinction reminds us that our world is at risk of collapse if we don’t work to protect it.
            In my dream, I was able to do great things when in touch with my mammoth spirit animal. In life, the idea of the mammoth inspires me to do great things and embrace the qualities that make these ancient beasts so inspiring. As I live my life, I’ll draw on the mammoth’s complexity and power, while remembering their tragic end and working to prevent a repetition of history.

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