Animal Spirit Guide

Riverdave Owen

February 10, 2015

       At 46 years old I had reached a point in my life where I wanted the certainty of knowing that an animal spirit guide was available to work with me in times of indecision or vulnerability.  This is a concept I had been familiar with for quite a long time through my graduate work in cultural anthropology as well as some limited first hand experiences. 

     Not having a human mentor to guide me through my quest, I set my intention on February 10, 1999.  I began a day of fasting and retreat in a natural area near my hometown of Durham.  I quieted myself, focusing my attention on animal observation so as to detect any unusual presentation, visitation or omen from the local fauna. 


       In my region of Piedmont North Carolina, the most likely candidates are hawk, deer, fox or beaver.  But of course, I was open to a rarer appearance from larger predators like eagle, otter, coyote or bobcat.  One likes to think that these charismatic megafauna would prove the best channels of cosmic guidance and protection.  Chipmunk and chickadee were not high on my wish list, but I tried to stay open to all beings without prejudice. Sometimes less is more.

     After a morning of slow and quiet walking through both field and forest, I decided to lay down on a rough hewn bench beside the path.  My reasoning was that perhaps I was working too hard searching and simply needed to surrender for my animal guide to instead find me.  I closed my eyes and rested, breathing deeply as I focused on more subtle, distant winter sounds.  

     At one point I detected the movement of what sounded like human feet coming in my direction along the path.  I felt awkward sprawled out on the bench, but decided to keep my eyes closed and give the impression I was sleeping.  The footsteps soon passed by without interruption and I continued my animal vigil.  Soon I heard a raspy "arrraaahhh!" cry out in the direction of the recent passerby.  This outburst tweaked my attention, sounding like a distress call from a large animal. 

     I returned to a meditative state but my curiosity eventually got the best of me. That unusual call needed immediate followup. Knowing the path looped in a large circle, I decided to head in the opposite direction of the recent walker and hope that I might encounter him/her/it - WHATEVER, on the way back.  

     Twenty minutes later around the corner appeared a man my age walking confidently with a large, brightly colored macaw perched on his shoulder!  I was jolted into a state of disbelief.  This exotic harlequin creature just could NOT be my animal spirit guide!  I cautiously approached the gentleman and inquired, "Sir, what are you doing out here today with this bird?" 

     He smiled and replied that he often used large birds in environmental educational programs with children. He adopted this macaw as an infant exactly one year before and was now giving the young bird its first outdoor airing.  I was dumbfounded.  This search for an animal spirit guide was taking a most unexpected shift.  On my very first day of deliberate intention setting and questing in my hometown natural area, why was I now confronted with such an incongruous member of the animal world!

     As I stood in front of this outrageous tropical bird, she reached down with her enormous bill and plucked two small feathers from her breast and dropped them on the ground between us.  The owner commented that this was unusual behavior which he had not noted before and further stated that there must be a unique connection between me and this bird he called "Belle."

     That was it, I'd seen and heard enough. I was now a believer!  Belle and I exchanged a long deep gaze and then parted in opposite directions along the forest path.  I did not bother to mention to the bird owner anything about my personal quest. Could I really be so lucky that on my first day out searching for an animal spirit guide, one found me so definitively?  So much for the Carolina native red-tailed hawk or the white-tailed deer. It turns out that I'm cosmically hitched to an super-sized Amazonian parrot!

     Some days later when all the excitement and novelty settled down, doubts about the authenticity of my animal spirit encounter began to creep into my mind.  After all, the macaw did not suddenly manifest out of the forest by herself, but was attached to a local animal trainer just out for an anniversary walk.  It could have happened to anyone!

     Several weeks later I was driving my daughter Saliima back to college after a weekend visit home.  It was late at night on the road and I decided to share with her my recent encounter with the macaw.  She listened attentively, but then burst out, "Dad, I had a recent dream that you and I were in the car backing out of the driveway.  I looked up at our house and saw the roof and yard covered with hundreds of brightly colored parrots! I pointed to them saying, 'Look dad,' but you could not see them!"

     If my original encounter with the macaw was not pure grace, having an independent, lucid confirmation from the dream world by a family member certainly was!  From that day onward I began to confidently seek enlightenment from my animal spirit guide in those daily moments when we all need special guidance or protection. But it would be nine months later before I would actually encounter a macaw again.  

     I am often asked by others about how they might go about finding, or perhaps more precisely be found, by an animal spirit guide.  My counsel is simple.  Choose a nearby natural area where you can set your intention and make yourself available. Begin to watch for unusual appearances of animals.  Preferably this will be outdoors, but also pay attention to your dreams, meditations, and if need be even books and modern media.  Drumming or the use of other percussion instruments may prove helpful as well.

     Most importantly one must be patient.  The very process of making yourself available for such an auspicious encounter may turn out to be highly beneficial and exactly what you need.  You will discover that aligning yourself with the natural world is the most important step you will ever take in your life.  As you proceed further in your quest, you may find that you have many spirit guides including other animals, trees, rivers, mountains, stones, planets, stars, wise human sages and even your own ancestors!

     Nine months after my encounter with Belle, I was paddling a kayak with a friend down the Orinoco River in southern Venezuela.   A pair of blue and yellow macaws suddenly emerged from the riverine forest canopy and flashed directly in front of us, passing from left to right over the river.  Exactly one year later to that very day, my paddling friend became my wife …  

Photo:  Riverdave consults with his spirit guides