The Gorilla Spirit Animal
Meeting my last spirit animal, a gorilla, was no fun at first. No fun at all.
The above cartoon serves as an illustration of how it went down. And for anyone with doubts, please note in those first moments of meeting the gorilla spirit animal, I played the part of the lady getting a smack down, not the part of the gorilla.
Note the caption: “But the gorilla thinks otherwise.”
It wasn’t too long ago that I alluded to a pain-in-the-ass slog of a Shamanic San Pedro ceremony.
I haven’t written about that night’s ceremony in full yet for several reasons, although I’ve let some of the collected wisdom leak into the odd blog post or two. It was a heavy night, and perhaps unexpectedly so for me. I had cha-cha’d with Señor San Pedro only a few months before this ceremony, where I had a divine experience connecting with the pleasures of being in a body.
While others slept or drifted between states of consciousness, I was fully awake, dancing sporadically to my Shaman’s rattle and listening in awe to the horses cantering around the ceremony grounds. Midway through the night I went out for a jog in my flip-flops, only stopping to look at the Big Dipper stretching across the sky. From our setting deep in the Spanish countryside the night stars seemed to be super-sized.
On top of the sense of joy and peace I felt, I also met an important new spirit guide: Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian lion-headed goddess. Sekhmet is pretty intense as far as goddesses go: the daughter of the Sun god Ra, she was known for nearly killing all of humanity – and not by accident either. Sekhmet is the goddess of destruction, warfare and plagues, as well as healing. It has been said that her breath created the deserts. Her name means “power”.
I walked away from that week feeling might fine and feline:
POWERFUL. Sensual. Solid.
Fast forward a few months, and a lot in my life had changed.
First, I was called to start studying with my Shaman.
Second, I quit my job and decided to dedicate myself wholly to the Shamanic path and Straight Woo (this blog).
I thought that my last few ebullient experiences with San Pedro ‘meant’ something. I thought that I had passed some kind of Shamanic path barrier, and now all of my plant medicine ceremonies would be joyous and peaceful. I was done with all the debbie-downer, uncomfortable stuff. I had been called to the Shamanic path; now San Pedro would treat me all the more kind for my dedication.
And so I arrived at the next ceremony feeling pretty sure of myself.
In the six times that I’ve worked with Huachuma, I’ve never before had such a vivid experience of ‘seeing’. From time to time when I’m working deeply with clients I’ll see a lot of energy movement, but not usually in the plant medicine ceremony itself. This time I saw the visual articulation of energies and entities right from the outset; within 20 minutes of drinking, I saw a light grid of energetic specks descend over the room.
Looking over to the lady to my right, an elfin character with an ageless face, I saw her momentarily transform into a lion, mane and all. The beauty of it was stunning.
A little later, I heard another ceremony participant getting her ‘cat’ on: in the darkness I could hear the beginnings of feline noises emerging from deep within her, combined with the rustle of body movements that suggested a powerful cat slinking about in the corner.
Internally, I rejoiced. It was “cat time”.
Cats are possibly the most potent of spirit animals in Shamanism. For many Shamans, cats are their primary spirit animals and an important indicator of a Shaman’s strength. My Shaman’s cat is a black panther, one of the most feared animals in the jungle and a super-powerful animal totem.
I couldn’t wait to become a cat again. I ached to find out which cat could be the next spirit guide for me on my journey down the Shamanic path.
Instead, I became a gorilla. A fucking gorilla.
I know there are probably those among you that are veritable Jane-Goodall types that dream about the mists of Africa. I am not that person. My immediate feeling was repulsion. I hated gorillas.
Ugly, fat, hairy. The mammalian embodiment of the word nadir: the lowest point. ACTUAL knuckle-draggers.
I was more than pissed off. I was completely dejected. As I heard others around the room engaging in varying degrees of cat behaviour, I became more depressed and found myself in a deep, dark place.
I hated that gorilla. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling – I literally wanted to peel my skin off and crawl into a hole. I thought about just walking out and leaving the ceremony entirely. Anger pulsed through my body. I fought back tears of shame and humiliation. Why was everyone else a cat while I was this piece of shit gorilla? What did this mean about my Shamanic skill – was I not ready to be a cat??
Time moved on, slowly. I struggled with my gorilla. It kept on coming, and I kept on turning away.
And then I went ape-shit.
We’ve all heard and probably used the expression, ‘going ape-shit’, but let me tell you now: talking about and actually going ape-shit are two very, very different things.
Before when I have seen spirit animals, the meeting was almost always innocuous: I could definitely ‘see’ and ‘feel’ them, but it was essentially just a momentary acknowledgment of the animal. This time, I totally merged with the gorilla spirit animal.
My Shaman started to rattle and I felt myself widen inexplicably. I was broad and strong, just like a gorilla. Unconsciously, I stepped into being the gorilla and started to breath like one – using strong, stacatto out-breaths to release my anger and frustration. I felt myself loosen and expand with each breath. Quietly, I started to beat on my chest just like a gorilla. It was completely surreal.
I began to comprehend the beauty of the gorilla spirit animal. My Shaman came over and told me more about them: gorillas are incredibly intelligent animals; they live in intricate, dynamic communities (hello, blog followers); they are powerful yet serene; they are deeply protective of their inner circle; they are noble animals. Gorillas don’t lead by fear or control – they are quietly impactful leaders.
I had an intense vision of how any monkeys don’t have to engage in jungle-floor showdowns with big cats – in a few seconds they can shimmy up a tree and save themselves from pointless fighting.
And so it is that I became a gorilla, just in time for the Chinese Year of the Monkey.
Now I love my gorilla. I see him in my meditations and feel myself beginning to reflect his values.
There I was, wishing so hard to be a cat. Praying to be like everyone else. Dying to get a totem-sized affirmation of my baby-Shaman powers.
But the gorilla, he thinks otherwise.
To read more about the gorilla totem and its meaning, go here.
What have been your spirit animal experiences?