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The wisdom of sloth: Embracing the lesser-known spirit animals

Michelle Gruben opinion pagan spirit animals

Sloth

“Are you going to want the wolf refill package?” she asks me over the phone. I’m buying an assortment of pewter animal charms for my shop. “It’s by far our best-seller.” I can believe it. Wolves are superstars.

I imagine the disappointment of my customers as they rifle through a bin for their cherished wolf totems, only to find a bunch of swans and ladybugs. I get two wolf refill packages. The skunk and manatee charms, I learn, have been discontinued—probably melted down and recast into more wolves. I decide right then and there to keep my mouth shut if anyone ever tells me their spirit animal is the Skunk.

But the conversation got me thinking about Pagans and our spirit animals—the animals we choose, or that choose us. Our special animal that guides us and inspires us, who reflects our character, whose appearance we view as a friendly omen.

Wolf. Bear. Spider. Owl. And of course, Raven. There are more Pagans named “Raven,” it seems, than Irish Catholics named Mary. And yet, actual ravens are quite rare. Here in North Texas, we mostly get big-ass crows. The only place I’m certain I’ve seen ravens was on the lido deck of a cruise ship anchored in Juneau, as they grabbed entire hot dogs off the lunch trays of astonished passengers. Truly a noble and magickal bird. I’ll have to talk to my supplier about getting a raven refill package.

Clearly, something strange is going on here. In nature, top-level predators exist in very limited numbers. Their lives are sustained by a horde of less fabled (but quite edible) herbivores and scavengers. Yet you rarely meet a person whose acknowledged spirit animal is Musk Deer, Vole, or Shrimp. There are, I believe, two possible explanations: 1) The spirit animal ecosystem works differently from the earthly ecosystem, or 2) Some of you people are cheating on your guided meditations.

So what if your real spirit animal is lower on the totem pole, so to speak? I completely sympathize. I can’t blame you for wanting to shrink from the fact that your kindred creature is underwhelming. The price of honesty here is stiff. Your animal never plays a starring role in Greek myths or Loki stories. You risk condescension—and even predation—from all your Wolf- and Raven-kin friends. And good luck shopping for animal-themed accessories and altar swag. You’re forever doomed to wander New Age bookstores and museum gift shops feeling like the kid whose name is Kandace with a “K.”

And yet, all of Gaia’s creatures have something to teach us. Not every bird is an eagle, as they say. (And why would they want to be? What’s so great about eagles? What are you saying about the other birds, huh?) While I can’t get to all of the neglected spirit animals, here are five earthly denizens who are chafing for their moment in the spotlight.

Real quick: I’ve heard the opinion that any discussion of spirit animals constitutes cultural appropriation and is offensive to Native Americans. I’d just like to point out that animals do, in fact, reside on all seven continents. And that Pagans of all persuasions take inspiration from nature, including our closest kin, the kingdom Animalia. If you think that tribal affiliation is required in order to have a sacred bond with a favorite creature, then your spirit animal is a stick in the mud. You’re welcome.

Still reading? Cool! Let’s begin with our poor discontinued friend, the Manatee:

Manatee

Is it possible to get fat eating only lettuce? For Manatee, anything is possible! If your spirit animal is Manatee, you are a master of joy, charm and magickal glamour. Tilt your head just right, and people might even believe you’re a mermaid. These cows of the sea are always smiling as if they carry a precious secret. And they do—Manatees are one of the only creatures to benefit from climate change, as melting ice caps enlarge their coastal habitats. People may laugh at you now, Manatee, but they won’t be laughing when you take over Miami.

Parakeet

Birds of prey scour the skies, eking out a living from prairie and tundra. Hummingbirds hover patiently, sipping the smallest drops from countless flowers. But certain cleverer birds have trained humans to get their meals for them. The Parakeet spirit teaches us that hard work and individuality are totally overrated. People who are drawn to Parakeet energy know when to sit still, look pretty, and let the birdseed roll on in. Call on Parakeet for domestic happiness and the great blessing of caring less.

Sloth

Sloth wisdom is all about doing your own thing in your own time. What’s the hurry? The worst that could happen is someone naming a deadly sin after you. People with Sloth energy tend to be above it all—and better yet, behind it all. Fun fact: Sloth’s sluggish metabolism means it only evacuates once every ten days. This makes it arguably the least crappy spirit animal.

Squirrel

These industrious rodents spend much of their time burying nuts for the winter and digging them up again. Once upon a time, people marveled at Squirrel’s memory for retrieving its hoard. Now we know that the critters don’t actually remember where they buried anything—they’re just finding food buried by other Squirrels. The Squirrel spirit teaches us forethought and perseverance. But it also reminds us that our best-laid plans are at the mercy of other forgetful vagrants. Like many foragers, Squirrel is specially attuned to the movement of the seasons (but less attuned, sadly, to the movement of cars).

Clownfish

The stinging arms of the sea anemone are no problem for the Clownfish, who gleefully darts where other fish fear to go. As a Clownfish-spirited person, you have a super-heroic tolerance for unpleasant situations. Your thick skin means you can go anywhere and do anything. The downside for Clownfish? Nobody likes your friends. You’re also kind of silly-looking, and you have the word “clown” in your name. Meditating on Clownfish will help you to appreciate the marvelous interconnectedness of all beings (and feel less bad that your spirit animal isn’t the Salmon).

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