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Working With Your Shadow Animal

Updated on June 27, 2012
Many people have an exaggerated fear of spiders, even though most are harmless
Many people have an exaggerated fear of spiders, even though most are harmless | Source
Some people have magical animals, like the werewolf, for their shadow
Some people have magical animals, like the werewolf, for their shadow | Source

The Shadow is a Jungian archetype made up of parts of each person that are shoved away from consciousness.

However, one common misunderstanding about the Shadow archetype is the notion that it holds only negative qualities like rage, deceptiveness, the capacity for violence, etc.

The truth is that people react negatively to parts of themselves that are valuable as well.

The reasons for pushing positive traits away are many and are often unique to each person.

Working with these buried parts of oneself can be challenging, since confronting them brings up feelings and fears from the days when those qualities were first pushed into the unconscious.

When we think about our spirit animal or totem, we usually think first of an animal to which we have a special positive connection. This is fine, and connecting with any animal positively can lead to significant changes in awareness, increased respect for the Earth, and welcome personal growth and insight.

Yet every person also has a powerful totem that is avoided at all costs: the shadow animal.

Your shadow animal is almost always a creature that triggers a special revulsion or fear that is unique to you and is way out of proportion to any serious danger that animal might pose.

Common shadow animals include spiders, snakes, sharks, rats, and vultures, but some people have intense negative reactions to animals others like, such as dogs, wolves, crows, or frogs. You may also have an 'imaginary' or fantastic animal as your shadow animal: a dragon, werewolf, yeti, or other cryptid.

If you can name a specific animal that causes you to freak out or avoid it at any cost, whether it be flesh and blood or magical in nature, the chances are good that you have just identified your shadow animal.

If you can't think of an animal like that, you might not be ready to confront your shadow. Shadow work is difficult, painful work that involves real emotional risks. Put simply, shadow work can dredge up feelings that were buried for good reason, and because of this painful reality, no one needs to push themselves into this work.

If you are ready, however, you probably already know. You are probably encountering your shadow animal more often than you think you would like, as your unconscious self gives you opportunity after opportunity to reclaim your personal buried treasure--the valuable qualities that have been pushed away from consciousness along with the frightening ones.

Bessie Pease Guttman illustration from Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland
Bessie Pease Guttman illustration from Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland | Source

My Shadow Animal Encounter

I first became interested in shadow animasl when I discovered Pia Ravenari's totem artwork. When she is not producing knockout imagery, Pia also keeps a blog that details her process and how she came to be a totem artist.

Before beginning a new piece, she induces a light trance that enables her to tailor the work to the person commissioning it. By anyone's definition this is a form of shamanic practice.

Pia goes into the matter of shadow animals in one of her posted articles, and provides a meditative exercise for finding out if you are ready to confront your shadow animal, and if so, for listening to what it has to say to you.

I already knew what my shadow animal was and how I reacted to it, but I wanted to do the exercise because I felt very strongly that it was time.

Just that week I'd had an encounter with my shadow animal that made me stop and laugh.

I was mowing our property with a small tractor. In order to go from the wooded back to the front part with the fruit trees and garden, you have to get off the tractor and open a ranch-type latch gate to let you in.

It was a gorgeous day and I was enjoying myself, but when I opened the gate I put my hand on something soft and furry, and immediately recoiled and screamed.

There, on top of the gate, was a furry little caterpillar.

Yes, I am afraid of caterpillars. Deathly afraid of them.

I caught my breath and just looked at it, then laughed. What was wrong with me? It actually felt nice, like petting a kitten, and it was no more than an inch or two in length.

What was that caterpillar going to do to me anyway?

In doing Pia's meditative exercise I realized that when I was a young child, I walked past a field every day on the way home from school that was filled with caterpillars. Often they would be swarming on the sidewalk or nearby trees.

I was a small and sickly child until I got to be about 10 years old, and sometimes some of the kids would taunt me and throw things at me or chase me around with these bugs. But even much later, when I was as big as everyone else (or bigger), I still associated caterpillars with weakness and vulnerability.

Caterpillars are soft and easy to spot on a sidewalk. They are a favorite food for birds and small mammals. Sadistic little boys enjoy squashing them underfoot, and there are so many of them that even if 80% of them get smashed or gobbled up there are still enough left to make some butterflies, who will then make more caterpillars, and so on and so forth.

I was a caterpillar!

And in my childhood neighborhood, that, my friend, would not do!

I spent much of my youth learning to be tough and street smart, learning not to show my true feelings, not to let anyone close. And while these coping skills have real value, they are very much like a form of cocoon.

Habitually shielding oneself in this way causes deep internal changes over time.


My Shadow Animal's Gifts

I did not feel safe enough to spread my wings and show my true colors, so to speak, until fairly late in life, but by the time that did happen, I experienced a freedom and a lightness unconnected to anything going on around me.

It was worth waiting for.

But those poor little caterpillars--I was way too hard on them.

The vulnerability I recoiled from as a child is a rare gift in a strong adult. The more I can open myself to others, the greater the chance for mutual transformation. Of course, with that openness comes the chance that I will be hurt or rejected. And sometimes that happens. As an adult, I can take it.

A caterpillar is on the beginning side of a life cycle that has fascinated children and adults for generations. Caterpillars, cocoons, and butterflies are emblematic of transformation, a process that can be beautiful but also terrifying.

In the Tarot, the Death card is sometimes referred to as Transformation. That's because Death scares people, but Transformation sounds nice and full of butterflies and sweet little caterpillars and so forth.

It isn't quite that easy.

Every butterfly was once a lowly worm, and the worm is a transitional creature, born to die so something else can emerge. What's more, segmented worms especially are connected to Death, the eating up of decay and rot and transforming it into something useful for a garden or a forest.

Not everything about this life cycle is palatable to humans, or to me. (See, I just admitted to being a human, sort of... that's openness for you!)

In fact I do have a strong connection to Death and what lies just beyond this life, a connection I'm just beginning to fully understand. My mediumistic abilities are not all sunshine and wonder by any means, and more than once I have found myself in a spot I could not handle alone and so had to open myself to a guide and/or the Creator.

More and more I do that routinely, BEFORE I get into a jam.

Why wait?

Gertrude Kay Alice In Wonderland Illustration
Gertrude Kay Alice In Wonderland Illustration | Source

Your Shadow Animal & Its Gifts

I'm sure by now you get the general idea here.

I know that some of you have already done much of this work and discovered how powerful the shadow can be. Others may be put off, and please don't worry if that is the case. There's no reason to dive head first into anything when it comes to the spirit realm. Slow and steady wins the race.

While I'm not exactly running around my backyard now kissing caterpillars on the lips (do they have lips?), I am grateful for what my fears are teaching me, slow and steady.

If you have had encounters with shadow animals that helped you, please feel free to share them in comments or post links to your hubs.


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    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      6 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Maybe it is just telling you that are stronger and fiercer than you think. :)

      Thank you for sharing your dream. Next time, try to remember to ask (before you fall asleep) for the answer to your question. Often if you do this for several nights in a row you will dream the answer. Good luck!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am 14 years old, and some nights I have these "dreams". I have been having them ever since I was very young, around 3 or 4 years old. This "dream" was about a bear coming in and out of my room.. It was very frightening, but the weird thing is is that there are two of them a good one and a more scary and aggressive one. I ha e just found out from one of my relatives that is was a shadow totem. After a while the nice bear had left and the mean one got more aggressive it would jump in my bed and start growling... Well I am feeling that it wants to tell me something , I just don't no how to come to it.:(

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      6 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thanks ponder!

    • ponder profile image

      Irma Cowthern 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

      This is a great article that made me think about my shadow too.

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thank you WiccanSage! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. :)

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      7 years ago

      This is fascinating, what a great story, too. It's always hard to face the shadows but we always come out better for it.

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Each year more animals come to visit us. I think it's because we have all these trees instead of a stupid lawn, and the two acres next door is full of trees too. This year so far I've seen more animals right here than ever I even saw a red tailed hawk up really close. But where these inchworms are coming from I have no clue.

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Hi Mr Happy! Although I am embarrassed to admit it, I screamed because I realized it was a caterpillar and I'm afraid of them. Then, I realized, it didn't feel bad at all--soft and furry and kind of nice. So then I felt like an idiot.

      I'm still irrationally afraid of worms, especially segmented worms. This year, for some weird reason, we occasionally get a sort of blackish inchworm in the house. I found one on the livingroom wall, one in the shower, and one on the kitchen counter. OK, that's only three for the whole year so far (the weather here has been really really strange) but every time I see one I freak out. My spouse picks it up for me and puts it back outside. Honestly, I think I'm sort of nuts, but it's who I am--at this age I don't think I'm going to change much.

      On the up side, we have wild turkeys and their chicks hanging out by our house this year, which is too cool, and maybe they'll eat the inchworms! So good to hear from you, Mr. Happy. Thanks for your comment!

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I put my hand on something soft and furry, and immediately recoiled and screamed. - Haha!! That was funny. I have a question though, did You scream when You knew that what You touched was a caterpillar or did You scream when You realized that what You touched was not what You expected to touch?

      I have a clearer example actually. I drink a lot of liquids, always. So, even right now, in front of me is a cup with orange juice and water and another cup with coffee. I can interchange them. Coffee dehydrates me so, I may drink some water or juice or milk ... anything to counter that dryness of coffee.

      Sometimes, when I am typing like now and not fully paying attention to other things around me, I will grab the juice cup thinking it is the coffee cup (or vice versa) and when I take a sip thinking I am drinking coffee but it turns out to be something else, I find myself jerking away. It seems as if my mind has been made-up to expect a certain taste or feel when sipping and when I get something different, my body seems confused and it does momentarily jolt as if it does not longer know what to expect. This happens very fast as I obviously realize very soon that I just grabbed the wrong cup. But I am wondering if it was the same thing that happened to You. Did You recoil because You were not expecting the furry little thing or because You realized it was a caterpillar and You were scared of it?

      Very interesting write. I never knew anything about shadow animals. I think I might have the weasel as my shadow animal ... LOL I can't think of anything else ... maybe as Aviannovice said, "humans"... I do have many issues with them ...

      Fun read! Thank You for putting it together.


    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      I'm so glad you enjoyed this, aviannovice. I would say human beings are definitely fit to be shadow animals, sadly. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, I am like you, always searching!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      7 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I adore all animals and all life forms. Do I have a shadow animal? Can it be human? By the way, I greatly enjoyed this piece and am looking forward to reading more. I have this insatiable thirst for knowledge, you see...

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      That is way cool, ramerican! Wild boars are pretty kick ass animals, aggressive and also associated with the goddess Kali. Thanks for sharing that, and for visiting and commenting!

    • ramerican profile image


      7 years ago

      this is good. i remember one night, probably about 12 years ago, in a trance state, i was lying down closed my eyes and a wild boar burrowed its way down my lower chakras, then we were on a mound and he was burrowing a hole into the earth and pulling me down with it as I descended into the lower world. then i had the thought, "this is really awesome! this is like shamans do! i'm really cool!" --and just like that, i lost the vision, my eyes opened back in my room, and i've never had any experience like that again.

      thanks for refreshing me with all this stuff CR!

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thank you lipnancy! And thank you for sharing your story. :)

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      7 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Very interesting hub. I must say that my Shadow animal was a horse for many years. I had a very bad experience with a horse at a very young age. But since then I have had two different girlfriends take the time with me and allow me to be around there horses. Now I am not petrified of these beautiful animals. Voted up and Shared.

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      That's an awesome movie CWB! Leslie Nielsen as a young man in a space suit! Doesn't get any better than that. Thanks for coming by and voting up! ;)

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 

      7 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      CR...good hub...voted up, useful, interesting. If you have never seen the 1956 move "Forbidden Planet," I think you'd enjoy it. Monsters from the Id is one of its themes, with an interesting twist that your second paragraph brought to mind.

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Kitty, I feel the same about roaches. If I ever find a roach in here, I'm pulling out the big guns, spirit animal or not! Thanks for your comment. The whole shadow thing isn't for everyone, but it can be powerful if it resonates. ;)

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      7 years ago from Summerland

      CR - I have to be honest and admit my naivete here, as I never even thought of a "shadow animal" before! I meet animal spirit guides (the positive kind) all of the time, but never thought to look at an animal that I fear as another type of totem. Most likely it would be a shark or roach. Though it is VERY difficult for me to consider the roach as anything other than vermin...I know, I'll get to know it in time...but I don't plan on having on as a pet or even being happy at the site of one anytime soon.

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Old Witchcraft, wow, what a story! Here the only poisonous snake we have is the Massasauga rattler. It's pretty hard to rile, thank goodness, but I've never seen one. I love snakes too. Found a shed snakeskin on a rock in our yard last year .Very cool! Thanks for commenting. :)

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Hi Sandra. Yes, it is interesting. I took the Myers-Briggs once. I came out as INFP. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • OldWitchcraft profile image


      7 years ago from The Atmosphere

      Interesting concept! Possibly I did this without really knowing what I was doing years ago. Where I grew up we were surrounded by deadly poisonous snakes in the hills. If you went far from the house you had to take a hoe or a pistol with you in case you encountered a rattlesnake or some other deadly poisonous snake.

      A friend gave me boa constrictor. He was beautiful and I had him for a couple of years until he got loose from his cage and was lost. I wouldn't keep a snake as a pet, again, because I think it is wrong - they're not like cats or dogs. They are wild creatures who really long to be free and hate captivity. But, I learned a love for snakes. Although, I'd still chop off the head of one that threatened me in a heartbeat - instinctively - but, I don't have the fear that a lot of people who grew up around poisonous snakes have. And, I really like them, if they're the friendly kind.

      Incidentally, I do feel a very strong relationship to the serpent - the ancient ob.

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 

      7 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Very interesting, this shadow thing. In Jungian psychology, the shadow is also accessed by looking at the inferior function in the Myers-Briggs.

    • CR Rookwood profile imageAUTHOR

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thanks Daughter of Maat! I thought about you will I was writing this. I was thinking about your encounter with Anubis, which I know is not the same at all, but it has some shadow-ish elements. I've been having recurring dreams for months that your hub helped me understand better. I think they are somewhat connected. ;)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image

      Melissa Flagg COA OSC 

      7 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I think mine is the wasp. I'm scared to death of those things and I will run indoors the second I see one. Oh I get the heebee geebees just thinking about them... Ick!!

      Great hub, I would not have thought to consider the one thing I feared the most to be my shadow totem... very cool! Voted up and awesome!!


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