This article was originally written in 2009 and appeared on my old website as a series of three. It feels like the time is right to publish again.
What do wolves, chimpanzees, and trees all have in common?
It is not a riddle, not exactly. It was the challenge presented to me recently as an animal shaman and as a writer.
Traditionally, the role of a shaman is multi-faceted: to be a bridge between the “real’ world and the spirit world on behalf of the community; to act as a liaison between the human community and All Our Relations—the Animal People, Tree People and Stone People; to assist in physical/emotional/spiritual healing of the members of the human community—and in my case, the animal community as well.
In these modern times there are times when I feel a bit overwhelmed because the need for so many is so great. Climate change is a paramount threat; animal abuse still abounds in so many forms; community and family structures are fragmenting; and so on.
When I feel particularly challenged I often retreat to my sure place of solace—the company of animals and nature. Except this time no solace was to be found, only needs greater than my own.
It began with a visit to the Woodland Park Zoo here in Seattle, to celebrate a friend’s birthday. As was my usual habit before the visit I sent a message to all the animals that I would be there, and added that if there was anyone who needed energetic assistance I was willing to do what I could. Since it is difficult to cover the entire zoo in one day I asked if there was an specific area or particular animals that I should visit. I received very clear guidance that I was to go to the Northwest exhibit, and that I should visit the wolves in particular.
I found this message interesting since in past visits I had only seen a single wolf on two occasions, however the last of those two encounters was quite memorable.
It was dusk and late in the day, the zoo was preparing to close. Some friends and I were standing by the wolf enclosure hoping for a glimpse, but seeing no one. We walked on a little further, talking. Then suddenly, a wolf appeared. One minute it was not there, the next it was. It was looking right at us, and it was close. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, not from fear, but from awe at its beauty, intelligence and ability to move unseen.
Since the zoo was closing we hurried on (although I personally can think of many worse fates than being in the zoo overnight with all the animals). Walking alongside the railing, we neared the section of the wolf enclosure that has a small forest of trees. And there was the same wolf, seemingly materializing out of thin air. No sound heralded its appearance—no warning of its presence. And again, it was looking right at us. The wolf held eye contact with me, the zoo slipped away, and the wolf and I were in the wilderness—just the two of us, communing, spirit to spirit.
Regretfully, I shook off the spell and we hurried along. When we rounded the bend of the wolf enclosure, once again the wolf was there—staring directly at us, quietly radiating calmness and confidence in its ability to appear and disappear. It was stalking us, not with intent to hunt, but to be with us. At the time I did not know why. I speculated that perhaps the wolf had wanted to be seen and acknowledged. For me it was enough to simply be in the presence of a wild animal—one who seemed to want to be in ours.
As I prepared for my present day visit to the wolves, I wondered what was needed, and what would happen this time when I answered the call of the wild.
Arriving at the enclosure, it appeared that two wolves were out, but they were on the far side, and not easily seen. My friend and I continued on, hoping to see them better from the other side.
They did not seem inclined to leave the upper reaches of the enclosure, so I started taking some long distance shots. Shooting was difficult—too many trees—when the wolves did move focusing became problematic. I developed a healthier respect for wildlife photographers who worked in the field, but was not sensing any messages from the wolves, nor any apparent desire for them to interact with me.
We decided to continue on to the other exhibits and return.
I sometimes wonder if the universe just waits for me to arrive before dropping the spiritual equivalent of a bomb on me. I was standing in front of the elk enclosure, admiring a beautiful young male elk who was attempting to take a nap. Suddenly a woman to my left bellowed at him, “You are a DISGRACE to elk, you should be ashamed of those antlers!” My jaw practically hit the ground in sheer amazement, and still in shock I heard the man standing with her add loudly, “It’s probably why he’s in a zoo.”
I was literally speechless, I wanted to speak up and ask them if they would berate a young man entering adolescence whose voice was changing. Didn’t they realize that male elk shed their antlers every year, and with each year of maturity the rack becomes greater and more magnificent? This beautiful elk was a teenager. (I later learned that the bull elk was an adult who had a genetic abnormality which caused his antlers to not progress in the usual fashion.)
The couple moved away before I could recover my powers of speech, perhaps for the best, as I was very angry.
As I have noted in past articles such as New Year’s Revolutions, it is for situations like the one I had just witnessed that I make visits to the zoos when I can to see what the animals need. This elk needed clearing of the heavy, negative energy that had just been directed straight at him.
Anger gave way to despair and sadness, and a lot of questions.
How could I, one person, hope to change the attitudes that most of the world seemed to share about animals? How could I hope to build bridges of understanding, care and compassion between the human species and the animals that now were so desperately dependent on our goodwill?
In my years of practice I have learned ways to prevent the deadly build-up of hucha (heavy energy) that clings to the zoo enclosures, ultimately affecting the emotional and physical well-being of the animals who live there and who have no escape from the daily onslaught. How would I be able to find a way to pass along what I had learned to the keepers who work with the zoo animals daily? I have no scientific background, no credentials of the kind they respect, perhaps another bridge would have to be built between the ancient healing traditions and modern science before such a momentous event could take place.
Why did our species not understand that the zoo was the home of the animals, that we are the guests, and therefore we should treat our hosts with respect? For me the answer seemed to lie in that we see animals as separate and different, not as similar or same. We don’t seem to treat other human beings who fit the same criteria any differently. And we do not view the entire earth as our home, where all of us are guests.
Completely discouraged, and out of sorts, I headed back to the wolves—perhaps I could find peace or answers there.
I could feel a pull to the wolves, but because of my own turmoil I could not be sure whether it originated in my need or from theirs. One wolf headed down toward me, and pausing at the fence, looked directly at me—holding eye contact, striving to communicate. I failed to get anything more than that, my emotions were in too much turmoil.
My friend and I headed back to the upper portion of the enclosure, and the wolves gifted the onlookers there with clear glimpses of them. I began taking pictures hoping that in that way I might better connect and understand why I had been asked to visit.
One wolf was shyer than the other, not making himself fully visible most of the time. I drifted off to the right side of the enclosure to make way for other people so that they could see. Just when I had given up trying to discover why I was there, the shyer wolf appeared through the trees, and looking straight into my camera lens he held my gaze (see photo above).
I detected a plea, I could feel the call, but could not put words to it. What was he trying to say to me?
Photo “Wolf Eyes” is available as wall art, yoga mat, notebook, card, fleece blanket under Animal Art.
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A WILD WAY TO HEAL
Rose De Dan, Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing LLC, is an animal communicator, Reiki Master Teacher, shamanic energy healer, and author. Her classes, sessions and ceremonial work are inspired by wild and domestic animals who have issued a call to action for personal and global healing.
Her book Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism features heartwarming stories about animals and their role in her evolution as an energy worker and shamanic healer.