Religion & Culture | The animal kingdom - Gaining wisdom from nature's creatures
"You can learn more from animals than you can from a guru (religious teacher) or any (religious) book."
- Jane Roberts
"When you practice the animals, do not imitate the animals, become them!"
- Kenneth Cohen
I lifted my right leg, knees high and stepped forward, a decisive pounding step. Slowly, I swayed back in a semi-circular fashion and repeated the movements.
For a moment I was a bear ... minutes later, I hopped ever so gingerly to my left, almost frivolously, knees bent with arms in a defensive posture. My head shimmied from left to right while my eyes darted in both directions. I became the monkey.
Later, with hands raised gracefully and standing on one leg I became the crane. And so it went, assuming the movements, postures and idiosyncrasies of animals.
This was all part of an ancient Chinese practice called the Five Animal Frolics or Wu Qin Xi that imitates the bear, dear, tiger, monkey and crane. It is a practice that increases longevity, promotes overall good health and even induces psychic abilities.
Animals have always played a key role in Chinese folklore. In fact, a one thousand-year-old legend speaks of goats carrying food in their mouth to save a village ravaged by drought.
Imitating the grace, balance, coordination, strength, intuition and agility of animals is not only particular to Chinese culture.
In Native American culture animals are afforded respect. Some tribes held that animals were at one time humans, and as such they share a common heritage.
In Egypt, animals were domesticated and revered as gods and goddesses in some cases. For example, the sheep and goat were associated with fertility and strength; the snake with justice, royalty and fertility; the crocodiles with power and respect; the monkey with resurrection and the falcon with royalty and protection.
In Inca culture, the snake, puma and condor held mystic attributes and were associated with gods. Raiment of the ancients bore animal motifs.
Unlike today, the ancients held that humankind are inextricably bound to nature and that animals in particular were spiritual guides and even gods. They were messenger guides, able to deliver warnings, and shadow guides who enhanced the spiritual experience through dreams.
The ancients believed that every person has an animal spirit guide throughout his or her lifetime. The animal guide also has a grounding effect, connecting the person to nature.
We can identify our animal spirit guide through the divinatory act of a shaman or through a series of meditative steps. Either way, the animal spirit guide is with a person whether made known or not.
It would be misleading to dismiss the ancients' belief as mere superstition. Animals have proved to be more intuitive, familial, peaceful, loyal and endearing that humans. They are emotionally balanced and wise.
Unlike humans, they don't kill for sport or out of envy and greed.
Humans can learn so much from the selfless behaviour of animals. The ancients understood the august position of animals; they understood that in many ways, animals were superior to them; they understood that the ways of animals could only be understood though religion, rituals and prayer.
In regard to their intuitive, almost magical acumen we should look no further that the 2004 tsunami. Telling are the words of Alan Rabiowitz, director for science and exploration at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society in New York:
"Earthquakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water while storms cause electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere. Some animals have acute sense of hearing and smell that allow them to determine something coming towards them long before humans might know that something is there."
Joyce Poole, director of the Savanna Elephant Vocalisation Project, added, "I have been with elephants during two small tremors, and on both occasions the elephants ran in alarm several seconds before I felt the tremor." Animals are also able to detect emotions in humans and act accordingly.
Unquestionably, animals have a high sense of telepathic ability that humans cannot fathom. Interestingly, tens of millions of dollars spent on Psi research in the United States and the Soviet Union have produced nought.
The uncanny, godlike gifts of animals are not lost when they die. In the spirit world they are still there to teach us, to be our guides. The ancients recognised this and deferred to their wisdom.
The resurgence of the Five Animal Frolics is one indication that the wisdom of the ancients is still alive.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity and The Mystical Qigong Handbook for Good Health.