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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Spirit Animals: The Wisdom of Nature

Review: Spirit Animals: The Wisdom Of Nature
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)

When I first picked up the book “Spirit Animals: The Wisdom of Nature.” a million and one thoughts went through my head. Thoughts like

“Mmm….. Who wrote this, and what wisdom are they going to impart on me about animals?” and

Ah! Here we go again, someone purporting to explain why animals are important to First Nations people, and they’re probably not Native to begin with.”

This last thought may sound a little harsh, and I apologize if it does but if you are First Nations/Inuit/Metis then you will more than likely understand why this thought popped into my head, and understand the context in which I say this.

For Indigenous peoples all across Turtle Island, life on Mother Earth encompasses everything. We don’t see any entity as being above another, or below another-we see each other and everyone around us as equal, and this includes our animal friends.

I have to admit that when I first picked up this book, I was a bit leery of its contents because one I didn’t recognize the author’s name, and second, as a creature of habit, I often pick up the books that I know or have heard a certain author write. I think we’ re all guilty of that, but the problem I had upon seeing this book and then reading it was

“Is the author going to go into too much detail of why animals are important to First Nations peoples, is he going to give away the sacred meaning of these animals, why they are considered our totems, and how we know that these animals are our totems?”

In a sense, I wasn’t too far off with the above assumption. I liked reading the introduction because in part it explained why animals are a vital part of First Nations people’s lives. It explains what it meant for us pre-contact, to rely on animals for food and to ensure the physical continuation of our society by “using the hides, fur and skin for clothing, shelter, footwear and blankets. The bones, horns or shell of an animal could be used to make tools, weapons and medicines etc.”

It also briefly explained some of the folklore behind these animals. The book is divided into the three elements-air, earth and water, and does a good job of explaining the meaning behind various
animals, and gives brief creation stories, but then the author, Wayne Arthurson goes into “how to call out” an animal spirit.

As a First Nations woman, I love to pick up books that will further my knowledge around my culture, traditions and language, but if you are speaking about animals and what they mean in the Indigenous worldview, I ask “why bring attention to something like how to call out an animal spirit,” when this information is largely considered sacred.

The line between what is sacred and what can be considered public knowledge is a thin one.  I asked an individual the other day,

 “When speaking about animals and what their totems mean, Is it okay to also ask how to call this spirit out?”

The person’s reply was “It’s best to go to your Elder, because everyone’s viewpoint and/or teachings are different.”

So with that being said, “Spirit Animals: The Wisdom of Nature” is a good beginner book for those just learning about their animal totem, but I feel the explaining of how to ‘call out a spirit animal’ is problematic because this is what I would consider sacred knowledge. This is knowledge that we can go to an Elder for, and not have to read because for every nation, the meanings behind animals and their totems are different and the sacred needs to be protected.

“Spirit Animals: The Wisdom of Nature” is published by Eschia Books Inc and written by Wayne Arthurson. It is 279 pages.

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