An Experiential Look at Animals and the Psyche

“By encouraging the soul’s interest in animals, we can embrace what animals have: resilience, pleasure, and a link to the elemental forms that sustain and renew us all.”Neil Russack, MD

Most of us have encountered animals as pets, wild creatures, or dream animals. Connecting with animals often helps us break through barriers we create as humans and opens the door to new ways of living.

As you read this article, I hope your imagination is stirred with the hope of reconnecting you to your animal life. Animals (other than the human variety) bring a healing presence into our lives and offer us their wisdom.

A woman dreams of an illuminated stag. Frequently she sees deer nearby her home. Each encounter of woman-deer brings a sense of reverie and awe. She is being called to notice what is dear (deer) to her.

A squirrel darts in front of a man’s car. The man swerves the car and nearly misses the squirrel. The quick movements of squirrel remind him to slow down, breathe, and even to take time to stop and notice. What is making him so frantic these days?

A single mother with small children who is taking classes and working as a full-time employee for a demanding employer takes her dog for a walk. They find a bench with a view of the water and sit down enjoying the view together. She talks to her dog and tells him her life story and her hopes for the future. He listens without comment.

A doctoral student takes a break from his studies and visits the local zoo. He has been in over-drive and is looking to visit with the slow Lori in the nocturnal house as a way of exploring his own pace and need to find stillness. Once at the zoological gardens he notices a family of river otters. What a different personality from what he imagines a slow Lori to be. The student wanders between the two, the slow Lori and the otter, reminded of the tension of the opposites. How can he slow down? How is he racing through life? Playing?

Dragon Fire
An exhibit displays purses made with the skins of alligators, crocodiles, and snakes. Some visitors are intrigued and others put off by these containers made of the remains of snakes (dragons).

A Tyrannosaurus Rex peeks into the window of the house. No matter where Terry travels in her dreamscapes over the course of a year T-Rex follows always glaring through one window or another. Terry buys herself a necklace with a picture of T-Rex and wears it everywhere she goes. Wearing her necklace is a way of honoring her instinctual nature, very BIG.

A tsunami is coming in without warning. A pod of killer whales, orcas are behind the breakers. When the dreamer awakes she feels calm and goes back to sleep without difficulty after writing down the dream in her journal.

Baptized by water, water invites change. What is hidden below the surface?

There are as many as 19 herons in the wetlands. They come when it rains and they disappear during the summer dry months. Herons are a study in tenacity and focus. Near the shore they wait, standing guardian over a ground squirrel tunnel exit.

A red-tail hawk flies overhead; in its talons a successful kill.

Two eagles fly overhead and swoop toward each other stopping traffic below them. Everyone who notices this air dance watches with mouths gapping, fingers pointing toward the sky. Awe.

The snowy owl migrates back to the farm every winter. This morning he is curious and hovers by a kitchen window nearby so that the resident inside can see all the detailed markings in her face which help her to hear.

You can encourage your soul’s interest in animals by:

  • Honoring your animal dreams and visitations.
  • Reading about animals of land, sea, and air and their behaviors.
  • Caring for and creating a playful, trusting relationship with your pets.
  • Developing curiosity and noticing animals and writing a poem or short story about them.
  • Sharing what you learn with children through outdoor playgroups.
  • Picking an animal card (see references) and meditating on its usefulness in your own life path.

“A pervasive feeling of disconnection is one of the great casualties of modern culture. A hundred years ago, we walked on dirt roads; we road animals that sweated, grunted, who flesh touched our flesh. We looked into the eyes of animals and into our own souls.”-Neil Russack from Animal Guides: In Life, Myth, and Dreams (2002)

Related Resources:

  1. Leonard, Linda, Following the Reindeer Woman
  2. Jamie Sams, David Carson, and Angela C. Werneke, Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals
  3. A.R.A.S Collection, Archetypal Symbolism & Images, (animal images and commentary)

© Copyright 2011 by Mary Alice Long, PhD, therapist in Langley, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • hector


    January 19th, 2011 at 4:22 PM

    animals can really be better than humans sometimes…and this is especially true when it comes to relationships…an animal does not make any demands or has any expectations…it just thinks of you as a friend and is always loyal to you…unlike what most people are!

  • Jane


    January 20th, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    I was one of those people who never realized how much of a difference a pet could play in my life until Murphy came along. I tell you that doggie just makes my day! She is always happy when I get home, take her for a walk, pay any attention to her at all. And at night when I am tired and just want to wind down, she is there for me to give me the same comfort. I am blessed to have had this dog wander into my life, and I know that there are others out there that animals could help through a difficult period in life too.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    Mary Alice Long, PhD

    January 20th, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    Thank you for your comments. My dog Shadow is getting older, he’s now 10, and he’s limping a bit after long walks (we have been accustomed to 3.5 mile walks every day). It breaks my heart to have to pull back a bit from our daily ritual, however, the truth is we all get older and loving adjustments have to be made and a different rhythm created. and so we continue to walk together–I share stories and sing songs as we walk/hike together and know that Shadow is not going to jump as many fences or bark quite as loud….he’s undoubtedly frustrated at times with my changes and never complains.

    Animals in my dreams and those who consistently show up call me to view the world through multiple lenses–hawk’s sight, owl’s hearing, otter’s playfulness,…

  • Star


    January 21st, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    That was absolutely fascinating, Mary. Thank you! For several years I’ve dreamed of a white tiger, particularly when I’m in one of my “life’s a quest” phases as my husband calls them. :) After having done some reading I think this is an animal totem for me. Do you have any thoughts on animal totems? The thinking you expressed there sounds similar.

  • Belle


    January 22nd, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    Mary, on what you said about picking an animal card and meditating on its usefulness in your own life path. Apart from the deck you covered, you may also be interested in Pathfinder’s animal totem deck. The cards represent animal symbolism too and are beautifully drawn. The deck was created for the very same purpose. I’m not affiliated with it or anything. I just saw the deck once and was impressed by its style and reason for being.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    Mary Alice Long, PhD

    January 22nd, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I love your “life’s a quest” Star. I often take out my medicine cards/animal cards deck as a way to meditate on the animals that frequent my dreams and day-to-day dream. One way to embellish and re-search your the animals in your life, those that are calling you, such as white tiger is to explore that animal and its energy further. Tiger, Tiger is a very well known poem for instance….who knows what you will discover if you peek under the bush.

  • Star


    January 24th, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    Thank you Mary! Tiger, tiger burning bright. I vaguely recall that. William Blake, wasn’t it? :)I shall look into the white tiger more as you suggest.

    It’s so spooky that you talked about peeking under bushes. I dreamed last night I was doing that very thing! I was down on my hands and knees hiding behind one (from what I don’t remember) and I could see a white dove was entangled inside the bush. I lay down on my side trying to reach in underneath it to rescue it, but it was too thorny and my hands were getting all scratched and bloody. I had to give up and got so upset that my husband woke me up because I was crying in my sleep LOL. I digress. :) Thanks again!

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    Mary Alice Long, PhD

    January 25th, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Star, yes, Blake.
    and, synchronicities are so wonderful aren’t they? Those meaningful coincidences that we can nurture and have many more of when we notice and pay attention. Thank you for sharing your dream.

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