In college, my pagan friends and I went on a spirit animal vision quest.
If you want a really embarrassing story to tell when you get older, the best way to get it is to gather a bunch of white college kids with no training in meditation and throw some appropriated faux-Native spirituality at them. I don’t remember anything about my own vision quest, mainly because I thought it was dumb and I wasn’t into it, but my husband reminded me of a winning quote by a member of the group who, at the time, was obsessed with angels. “In my quest, I had wings,” he purportedly said. “I just knew I’d have wings!”
I feel like this is what “vision quests” look like for most Americans seeking alternative spiritualities. You decide ahead of time what idealized, romantic experience you want to have in your vision, and then you insert it. I’m guessing that “I just knew I…!” is a common refrain.
So when my teacher in Reclaiming led us through a power animal exercise, she began by explaining two things: 1) the idea of the power animal is not limited to Native culture, so we weren’t going to spend the next half hour playing Indian; and 2) the spirit world, like the real world, contains hucksters. In the real world, if you walk around convinced that you’re a seminar away from supreme enlightenment, then you’ll have no problem finding a “teacher” who will take your money and nurture your delusion. Same in the spirit world, my teacher said: if the animal that came to you was exactly the beautiful, shining creature you always! knew! you’d have as your guide, then that was a sign that someone was taking you for a ride.
Spiritual growth does a lot of things to you, but one thing it never does is massage your ego.
So, my teacher said, we needed to pay attention to surprises. Based on that, I expected my power animal–which, henceforth, I’ll call my fetch animal, in order to honor the European tradition I come from and avoid further damage to Native religions–to be some sort of ugly monster. Indeed, my teacher even used dripping fangs as an example of what an animal could look like. I was also afraid that I’d mess up the meditation and crowd out an authentic animal with one that I wanted.
When we got to the point in the meditation where the animal was supposed to appear, I was definitely surprised, but not because my animal was repulsive. In fact, it was pretty. Schlocky, actually. If you go into a knife store in a Republican area and look at the cringeworthy velvet paintings and porcelain figurines, you will see more than one reproduction of my fetch animal. (No, it’s not a wolf.)
When I googled fetch animals (I compulsively google everything I write about), I found this site. Look at that beautiful painting of familiars! Black cats and ravens and hares! If I could choose my fetches–I read one book that claims you can have more than one–I’d choose a red fox, a crow, and a stag, no contest. Then I’d sew myself the most beautiful witchy dress in the world and go wander the countryside with a stang and my familiars. Can you imagine? I would look so good!
I’d never intended to look for a fetch animal, and now that I guess I have one, I’m not sure what to do with it. I suppose the time will come to work with it. In the meantime: thank you, fetch animal, whether you’re a real being or an image I made up. You are the exact opposite of my personality, and you are exactly what I need in my spiritual work and my magic. I’m sorry your image has been schlockified. You are a beautiful, noble, inspiring creature.