Every now and then, a client or student will ask me what my favorite shamanic practice is. It’s an odd question in its way because my “liking” a particular practice is immaterial.
Of course, it’s always the spirits who create the treatment protocol, and direct what practices I do to treat the client.
Having said that, I have to admit I have special fondness for Power Animal Retrieval (PAR). You might think that because I have been fortunate to take so many advanced trainings with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies that a more rarified and complex practice might seem most interesting to me.
But the sheer sweetness and the time-tested efficacy of PAR means I always feel a small thrill when the spirits prescribe it. Clients always seem to like PAR as well. Often, when I tell them I am going to gift them the return of an animal spirit, they grin like kids at a birthday party.
In the PAR I did for a client last week, after altering my consciousness, I walked into a huge meadow in the Lowerworld of nonordinary reality. The sky hummed blue. There was a light breeze, ruffling wildflowers never seen on Earth, and grasses of many textures and colors. I scanned the field, then looked beyond the meadow to the forest to my north, the mountains to west, and the desert to the east.
Then I saw him running toward me. One blink later, and he was right in front of me. His paws were huge. His tail flicked. His black spotted coat looked glossy, sleek. He strode stealthy, and I shuddered feeling his power. He paced back and forth, examining me. Then his face came close, and I stared into his huge, radiant blue eyes. He reared up, and Snow Leopard rested his heavy front paws on my shoulders. I could smell and feel his breath.
As I brought my arms around him, he put his head on my shoulder, and moved his body nearer in an embrace. Slowly, with arms stretched wide to hold his body, I gathered him into my hands. His shape morphed from that powerful body into a black, white and blue swirling star. As I brought my hands together, I could feel the star shrinking in size, but growing in power and intensity.
I flew back into ordinary reality, my focus never wavering from the vibrating animal spirit in my hands. The power made my hands shake.
Once back in my shamanic studio, still holding the Leopard star, I cupped my hands over the client's chest. I saw flashes of the face, the tail, the long lean body running through snow, and blew Leopard’s spirit into her. The client made a small sound. Moving to the fontanel at the top of her head, I blew again, completing the retrieval.
My hands were empty now and I could feel the power of Snow Leopard pulsing from her body. Rattling four times over the client, the retrieval was complete, and I moved from a shamanic state of consciousness to an ordinary reality state of consciousness.
When I had finished my all of my shamanic work for my client, I told her who her power animal was. She started, and said, “You won’t believe this.
“Our uncle lives with us,” she said. “He’s old, and a little strange. Two days ago, he marched into our living room with a picture of a snow leopard he had cut out of a magazine. He tacked it above the mantle, and told us to ‘Pay attention to it.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said.
It’s not unbelievable to me, and it’s not even odd. I cannot be sure of the number, but I think that I have done at least 700 power animal retrievals over the past 25 years. I wish I had taken notes from the beginning about all of the amazing synchronicities for clients that have taken place over time before and after PAR.
The thirteen-year old girl who, before she came to see me, felt compelled to draw a fawn, and then received Fawn as her animal.
The woman who received Bear, and who said she had no relationship with Bear except for the fact that she made teddy bears for sick kids, and had just seen a medicine man who, rather than paying her for a massage, gave her a hand-carved bear.
The woman who received Leopard, and who opened a box from Nordstrom’s a week later to find a confused note from a friend accompanying the gift: “I’ve never seen you wear faux fur, but I felt compelled to get this for you.” The purse was made of faux leopard fur. Later, my client found out that her friend bought the gift on the same afternoon as the retrieval.
So in my practice, there often seems to be an ordinary reality nod from a Power Animal right to the client before or after the work. The Power Animals are generous in offering clients’ ordinary reality confirmations that, yes, the PAR was real.
It’s important to realize that when you receive a Power Animal, it is not abstract. I really do leave my body, change states of consciousness, and walk in the Lowerworld of nonordinary reality where your Power Animal appears to me. Not just any animal spirit shows up; it’s a Power Animal who wants to work with you compassionately because of the challenges you face in your life. Power Animals are made of love, compassion, and a unique kind of power. And when a Power Animal offers himself to be retrieved? He is coming forward to be captured so his power and spirit can be blown into your body. The power animal does this specifically to restore power to you. That is why a PAR is often prescribed by the spirits. Simply put, a power animal retrieval is a power retrieval. This is not metaphor.
If we were all living in tribal cultures, you would have no doubt in believing a Power Animal has decided to come to empower you, to make your life better in every way. That the curative practice of receiving a Power Animal is not symbolic, but real.
For a time when I was beginning this work, I would sometimes get calls from clients a month or two after their PARs. The clients were unsure that they were still connected, and this was not because an illness returned or a project they were committed to became blocked -- that could indicate the Power Animal’s spirit was gone. They just unfelt unsure, and, in some ways, disconnected.
When I would journey to see if the client still had her Power Animal, I would find that, yes, the animal was still there, although the connection might be getting weaker. So I asked the spirits why this was happening.
What the spirits told me was that people in our society had no way to understand or to relate to the power animals who came back to them. That they felt happy to receive the gift of the animal, but did not enter into a relationship with the animals’ spirits in any meaningful way. The spirits said that they related to their power animal like a kid receiving a Christmas present. Exciting in the moment, but as time went by, less so. And that, most importantly, they had no skills to build a relationship with their new helping spirits.
To me, this made great sense. In a culture that lives so abstractly, what real skill set do clients have to relate to a PAR? How can they enter into a relationship with their power animals if they do not practice shamanic journeying, the main spiritual practice in core shamanism that differentiates shamanism from all other spiritual practices? And how do they strengthen it in a culture that is not indigenous in cosmology.
For certain, a PAR signifies the beginning of both the return of power and a relationship. And that relationship is built on reciprocity.
The spirits told me that the clients who were not building relationships with their animals had fine intentions, but needed to be taught how to form a relationship with their new power animal.
And so the spirits gave me instructions to give people after they received a new power animal. I have been using this list of instructions for more than two decades, and now, rather than hearing that people cannot feel their power animals, I hear that they are in regular communication with the animals’ spirits. While I observe that these relationships may not go as deep as relationships between client and animal when the client knows how to journey, an affection and respect for the relationship and the need to tend it does grow. And the relationship, with its attendant gifts, deepens and sometimes continue to offer surprising gifts.
Here’s what I have been told to share with clients after a PAR. I offer this list to people who have – or are about to have – a power animal retrieval, and to practitioners who wish to use this list as a handout for their clients.
For the sake of illustration, let’s say that Bear is the animal who was retrieved for you:
1. Keep the identity of your power animal to yourself. This means don’t boast, brag or tell stories about receiving a power animal. It is easy to feel excited, and the desire to talk about your power animal can be strong, but resist the temptation. Keeping the power in you, and being humble and respectful about this remarkable gift is important.
2 Get a picture of your animal. It can be a computer printout from an image on the Internet. It doesn’t have to be expensive or a great work of art. Pin the picture near your bed, someplace you will see it when you get up in the morning. When you get up, look at the picture and say silently or aloud, “Good morning, Bear. Thank you for walking with me today.”
Also, in recent work doing Power Animal Retrievals for children, they ALL immediately draw a picture of their animal, and sometimes more than one. They put these drawings next to their bed. This is an even better way of communing with your animal. By creating art for your animal, you are honoring him or her. You may be more apt to attend to a painting you make rather than an internet picture. Your choice.
3. When you are out in nature, ask Bear to walk with you. Again, you can say this silently or aloud. “Please come and enjoy nature with me, Bear.” Of course, I caution the client to not speak aloud to their animal when someone might overhear them.
4. Go online and find out about the biology, habits and diet of the animal. DO NOT look at any shamanic encyclopedic reference like Animal Speak or any kind of “animal cards.” Why? Because as well intentioned as these resources might be, they are interpretations of someone else’s information about the gifts an animal returns. There is nothing generic about a PAR. That animal's spirit brings you unique, specific gifts that you need to walk your path with more imbued grace and power.
Choose to hold your power animal in ever-growing relationship. Look for signs in your life that the animal is with you, and if you are “reminded” (by a picture, a TV show, the appearance of your that animal in the wild) of the animal, this can be a sign that your Power Animal has information of gifts to impart. Pay attention.
5. Learn all about Bear’s biology -- habitat, food, and habits as well as what differentiates it from other animals. This, in turn, can help you begin to appreciate why Bear came back to help you with his gift of power.
6. If the nonordinary animal is on the endangered list, consider giving something to help support the animal in ordinary reality – even $1. This is reciprocity, a way to give back to the spirit of that species.
I started a whole three-year project international project with the Animals Asia Foundation in China to serve my animal; it was one way to thank him for all the miraculous curative work he had done for me and my clients, and for the ceaseless love I feel from him every day of my life.
7. Every few months, have a meal that is prepared and consumed solely for the animal’s pleasure. In the case of Bear, that might be salmon, berries and hot water with honey.
Of course, not all animals eat foods that are so delicious for us to consume. In the case of the retrieval of Ant Eater, one client searched online until she found a novelty large chocolate ant. Not a chocolate covered ant, but a 6-inch long ant-shaped chocolate treat. She nibbled on it regularly, offering the pleasure she felt to Ant Eater as she did so.
8. Call to Bear when you feel pain, doubt or if you are in danger. Ask for his help. Speak with the animal if you need counsel, and note if there is a literal response or if something happens in ordinary reality as response to the request. I know for certain that once in my life my Power Animal saved me from being attacked. If you have a strong relationship with your power animal, there is potent power that s/he will share with you.
9. When retiring in the evening, look at the picture of Bear and tell him you are thankful he walked with you today, and that you hope he feels free to either go wherever he wishes or to stay with you through the night.
10. Dance your animal. This is probably the most important thing to do. I suggest clients do it as soon as they get home, but sometimes, the client dances the animal for the first time in my shamanic studio.
If you do not know how to dance your animal, call the shamanic practitioner who did the Power Animal Retrieval, and tell her you need to learn how. This is something a good shamanic practitioner will teach you
When I share this information with my clients, I offer them a print out of these instructions, and I tell them that power animals can be with them for varying lengths of time.
I tell them that I have been told that one of my animals will be with me for life, and that I had an animal spirit once that came to me for only one week to help me with a specific project. And, I tell them, often if a power animal leaves a new one will come in to take its place; that is natural and normal.
I do not anthropomorphize the animals, and do not interpret why the power animal came back to them – unless the spirits tell me to offer their counsel for a specific reason.
My clients are always grateful for the tutelage on how to develop a relationship with their new animal. In our culture, we know little of reciprocity. We ask for blessings, for grace, for power, but do not understand that power moves in a circle. A tree spirit taught me about this during a journey.
The tree takes in our exhalations, and we breathe in the trees’ oxygen exhalations. It’s a symbiotic relationship that we may know about abstractly in ordinary reality, but when seeing it in nonordinary reality, it is an unforgettable experience.
And it teaches that the web of life is both empirical and practical (let alone lyrical). This is inter-dependence void of sentimentality, but full of love of the highest order. It has been one of the many things the spirits have shown me to understand that we live in mystery, in relationship all the time. And when we choose, we can go to the spirits to better delve and understand the mystery.
Finally, a Power Animal Retrieval can an introduction to understand what it is to live shamanically as opposed to practicing shamanism. When you decide to commit to the intention to know and appreciate your power animals, you begin to understand your relationship to other beings in the one tribe only.
And this can be a very powerful first step to understanding that species superiority is a kind of bigotry we can no longer afford to practice if our world is to survive and, just maybe, flourish.
Lora Jansson, former faculty for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies,. has been a full-time shamanic practitioner for 25 years, and a shamanic teacher for 18 years. She lives and works on Bainbridge Island, WA. Apart from working shamanically, her favorite hobby is sheep herding, with her six-month old bearded collie Star Gazer’s Lily.
She can be reaches through her website, www.onetribeonly.com.
A note about respect: I offer everyone the right to copy and distribute this article, but with one condition. Please do not edit this article or delete anything. Not only is it illegal to copy and then edit a writer’s work, it is very, very rude. Thank you.
 Please note a Power Animal is referred to a Bear, not “bear” or “a bear.” A Power Animal holds the spirit of the species.