There are some excellent books and oracle decks describing the basic meaning associated with different animals and plants, but, ultimately, reaching a real understanding of your encounter with one of nature’s messengers is a lot like dream interpretation. Knowledge of a symbol’s general meaning is just the beginning.
The full message to you lies in your own relationship to the animal (or plant), the context of the event, your surroundings, what you were thinking about at the time, and so on. Here are some questions to ask yourself, with links to detailed answers, to help you hone in on your messenger’s full meaning.
1. What’s your personal relationship to the messenger? Do you collect bears? Or dragonflies? Or daisies? Or slugs? Did you have a recent dream in which it was featured? Do you have a family affiliation with lions or elephants or cedar trees? Do you love to watch raptors (predatory birds) as they coast along watching for prey? Do scampering chipmunks turn you to mush? Does your cat or dog love to chase squirrels? Do you find stones with holes, or broken shells, or agates irresistible? Do you always pick up feathers?
These relationships are important to the interpretation for many reasons. If you always pick up feathers and stones, then your guides and angels know that’s a great way to get your attention, and it can be an important validation if you find one just before or after a message. Your relationship with the messenger, whether you think it’s amazing, or funny, or cute, or cozy, is also an important part of the message.
For example, suppose your family home is surrounded with cedar trees, and you’ve always loved their fragrance and graceful movement. One day you’re feeling lonely, and suddenly notice up ahead that a single cedar is dancing in a small eddy of wind, while the surrounding trees are still. Wouldn’t you rush back to your apartment and make plans for a visit home?
2. What’s the context? What were you thinking about when it happened? Were you alone or in a group? Were you walking down a sidewalk or hiking in nature? Was the landscape soft and friendly or hard and challenging? Was it largely silent, or full of nature’s music? Was your messenger out of context, and how does the style of the landscape add to the message?
3. In what direction were you heading? What direction did your messenger come from, and then move off toward? Shamans sometimes say that a messenger which circles you completely is introducing itself as a power animal.
4. How did the messenger behave? Was it going about its business normally? Did it seem healthy or ill? Was it courting? Or hunting? Or sleeping? Or obviously relating directly to you, like a ladybug landing on your hand?
5. Were there any colors which caught your attention? What about shapes which were out of the ordinary, such as a square or a triangle?
6. If there was more than one messenger, such as a group of crows or ravens making a racket, or a few ducks or geese flying overhead, how many were there? Had you seen other critters in similar numbers recently?
Here’s a fun example from my own life. One afternoon I was sitting in my car at a stop sign, silently mulling over whether it was time to get a divorce (idling away, not moving forward, and distracted from the task at hand). It was just after Valentine’s, and my preschool daughter (who couldn’t read yet) was eating candy hearts. She absent-mindedly handed me one which said “Do it.” Immediately afterward, a red-tail hawk (which I associate with important messages, and my power number is 1), streaked down out of the sky and pounced across the narrow road in front of us. It stood on its prey, looking directly at me, wings outspread, for what seemed a long time. Then, in case I hadn’t fully understood, it lifted off, prey in its claws, and flew to the North (the end of a cycle). You of course can guess what I decided to do…
To encourage nature’s messengers to speak to you, walk in woods or parks, take binoculars to the beach, and explore wetlands and small groves. And, above all, pay attention. Get familiar with what’s a normal part of the natural world surrounding you, and then you’ll quickly recognize the elements that make a visitation exceptional… and meaningful.