Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Each Other

Sam Block posted about “being chosen” and the appropriative quality of talking about “spirit animals” unless you’re actually from an indigenous culture that actually has spirit animals, let alone culturally-specific concepts like “totems.” As he puts it, most folks who claim to “be chosen” actually did the choosing, and to claim otherwise is a kind of “false modesty” that sidesteps the actual agency in making that choice in the first place:

There is no harm in saying that you chose a connection, relationship, or patronage with some spiritual entity.  While it may be an honor to have been chosen, it is also exceedingly honorable to willingly make that choice yourself, if not even more honorable, because it’s you who’s forming the connection, doing the work, making the sacrifices, and going above and beyond the normal level of devotion one might have into something truly special, rare, and powerful.  To do something of one’s own free will and unbidden by the gods that pleases them is almost always a sweeter sacrifice than any fumigation or libation or festival than they demand.  There’s no shame in saying that you chose this animal, this saint, this deity as your patron; if you’re earnest about it, and actually dedicate (literally giving over) yourself, I would say that you’re doing both you, the spirit themselves, and the world an honor by it.

So be honest with yourself.  Did the spirit you claim chose you actually choose you, or did you choose the spirit and choose to form that relationship with them?

Of course, if you were chosen, then I’m sure that’s absolutely what happened. I myself have felt chosen—An Morrigan and corvids, am I right?—and I can trace different trajectories in my relationships with several spirits and beings.

I have come to believe that I and these beings had already got each other’s attention in the first place because of how we already aligned to each other. There was already something raven-like within my person that resonated with Herself and the Raven. There is that which is already Athena-like within me. And so on. In some cases, I can also see how my Deeper Self (however you want to term such a Self, whether something HGA-like or a Corbin “Angel” or “Higher Self”) was already cooperating with my various allies, it’s just Me Here who’s getting caught up. For example, I can look back upon my early experiences with An Morrigan as instigative, perhaps seeming like being chosen or something like that, but on reflection, it was a milestone, a moment of impelling me to move forward, towards whatever came next.[1]

In a similar mode, in making the acquaintance of St. Cyprian of Antioch, it seems we both had enough in common—and I think he’d shown up in a dream a long while back that he’s not disagreed about. I remember when I did a guided meditation, and he grinned at me. He got my attention, and I chose to see where that went.[2]

Icons & Intentionality, Images, and Spirit in the West

In regards to animals and similarly archetypal images/beings, before Block’s post, I’d already been pondering mounts and animals from my own UPG perspective—you deal with Chnoubis and Leonine things, and you deal with lions, let alone my own existing corvid associations—but I’ve also pondered them from broader perspectives, especially in regards to image.

Now, in talking about image, I want to keep in mind that images are magic, are enchanted, or certainly can be, and the choice and framing of images has profound importance in magical, mystical, and religious practice. And in thinking about how a western tradition with animal spirits and their associated images might have worked, I considered the tradition of iconography in the west.

The icons of saints and other religious figures in the Church once had several operative rules for fashioning icons. For example, Brant Pelphrey describes how

In the East the holy icons, finally, are said to be non-spacial depictions of the reality of Christ and the saints. The icons do not depict depth or ordinary perspective but seem to reverse the rules of realistic drawing and painting to follow the rules of “heavenly space.” Objects and saints are shown larger or smaller depending upon their role or importance, not upon distance; all things are equally distant; the saints are never inside any enclosure; light comes from “inside” the icon itself. And the icons draw the viewer into the reality of the event or saint depicted, actually in some sense making the view present to them and vice-versa.[3]

Once again, in regards to the Eastern Church,

In the fourteenth century, icons began to be arranged in tiers, according to strict iconographical and theological rules. At the bottom, directly accessible to the faithful, are icons of Christ, the Virgin, the archangel Michael, and the patron saint of the church. The second tier includes large-format individual icons, with Saint Joseph the Baptist, the Virgin, and various saints, in a composition known as the Deesis, as intercessors on either side of the enthroned Christ. The third register features icons of the twelve great Byzantine liturgical feats…The two upper registers are devoted to the patriarchs and prophets and are centered, respectively, on icons of the Trinity and of the Virgin.[4]

Similarly, iconography demanded very particular attention to theological and representational guidelines:

In accordance with the ancient and medieval Christian notion of what constitutes a “copy,” the authenticity of each image depends on its resemblance to the original. The authenticity of the icon as a copy (or a copy of a copy) proves the truth of the Incarnation, as derived from the written testimony of the Gospels, but also from the tradition of the icons themselves, which faithfully reproduce the physical features of Jesus Christ: eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones, and hair. For this reason, the icon is not merely the product of artistic activity: the painting manuals used by iconographers point out, through specific drawings, the true features of the faces of Christ, Mary, and the saints. The icon painter, usually a monk, is supposed to faithfully copy these models. Every attitude of the body, every movement of the hand, every color used for the clothing, every building or fold of drapery has a precise meaning in icons. Icons do not merely depict a holy personage or event; they interpret them in a symbolic light…The very materials out of which the icons are made are important…They all appear as elements of the sacred ritual.[5]

The theological justification of icons in Christianity emerged around the eighth century, and St. John of Damascus outlined the Christian justification for icons in his First and Second Apology for Images. John argues that Christ is “the image of the unseen God,” and “in Christ we see God ‘through a glass darkly,’ and so an icon is a dark glass, fashioned according to the limitations of human nature.”[6] Icons are inspirited images, designed to facilitate contact and presence with specific otherworldly beings.

Heraldry & Intentionality

I’ve gone on this extended iconic tangent to establish that image-making in Europe already participated within a context where intention mattered greatly, with religious (and by extension magical) import. Let me connect the icon and images back to the animal by way of heraldry.

Early heraldry had supposedly only “utilitarian” value: to distinguish warriors on the battlefield. While battlefield friend-or-foe identification has always been important, I think such a view belies the existing semiotic significance of the animals associated with heraldry. Bestiaries patently demonstrate that animals long had symbolic, medicinal, theological, and by our standards “supernatural” associations, but I’d note that those divisions are primarily our own artifacts. Take a look at the several bestiary accounts of lions. You can find not only the personality of lions, but also survival tips, mating information, Christian allegory, and the classical mythology.

Having such a wealth of operative images (we might call them mythology and folklore), royals probably weren’t chosen by Lion to be leonine. No, they probably chose lions and other beasts to communicate particular personas to others (i.e., branding) and probably to get some of the beasts’ qualities for themselves. If you want to be royal, bedeck yourself in royal images. Become the image of royalty. Of course, those chosen heraldic (magical, really) animals were reserved in different forms, colors, and combinations to different dynasties and families. The royal coat of arms of the UK features lions and a Scottish unicorn, but it’s not as if Richard I was approached by two lions who told him they were his “spirit animals.” He chose to adopt the lions as his royal arms, even as he’d been dubbed “the Lion” and “lion-hearted.”

That intentional image magic would only grow more pervasive with the coming of the early modern period.

Magical Animal Images

I want to bridge what I was just saying about choosing the forms we “work with” to western, historical modes of thinking about animals and more. I’d thought a while back about the Four Kings/Regents’ mounts—why an elephant or lion? And I’d wondered about Leo and Corvus and Draco and Hydra and my own recent adventures in and reflections on celestial entanglement.

Something related to these cultural lines are probably associated with the depictions of spirits in the Spirit Lists, including their mounts and associated animals. For example, included in what’s published as The Book of Oberon, the Book of Offices includes descriptions of the Four Kings/Regents:

[Oriens] rideth upon an elephant, having before him trumpets, shawms, and much minstrelsy, of diverse instruments…

Amaymon the king…hath a bright crown on his head and rideth upon a fierce lion roaring, and he shaketh a rod in his hand and his ministers go before him with all manner of instruments and music…


Paymon from Dictionnaire infernal. She always seems to ride briskly ahead of her retinue, practically trampling you before turning back around.

Paymon the king…rideth upon a dromedary or a camel, and is crowned with a bright crown, and hath the countenance of a woman, and before him goeth a band of men, and that with trumpets and all kinds of instruments…

Egyn the king…rideth upon a dragon, and he is crowned with a crown of precious stones, and in his cheeks he beareth two tusks, and he beareth on his right side two hissing serpents shining, and he cometh with a great noise and clamour before him go sundry kinds of musical instruments and sweet organs…[7]

From my perspective, it occurs to me that descriptions like those for the Regents and other spirits are visualization aids, or they can be. And just as Europeans developed a language of heraldry, iconography, and more for representing the imaginal and spiritual, so too do the spirits seem to have a related or parallel language.

For example, we can try to understand what Oriens’s elephant conveys or expresses or enacts about Oriens. We can consider the image of a shining king upon an elephant. We can consider the elephant through the lens of the bestiaries. Elephants have long been associated with the east, so it makes sense for Oriens (“east”) to ride an elephant.

But while we can wonder why we chose to describe Oriens as riding an elephant, we should also consider how Oriens probably chose the elephant hirself. Or the elephant chose Oriens. And just as humans can use images of beings to wield them, as powers, as allies, as tools—depending on the human and what images they’re working with—one way we can think with the descriptions of spirits (or even the depictions of saints or gods or other beings) are as elements of an heraldic, imaginal language to convey or express powers or qualities of the spirit. Oriens expresses hirself in part through the elephant, through hir countenance, through the other kings who follow in hir procession, and so on. I think there’s something to think with there as well if we consider the more therianthropic spirits like Naberius or Malphas or Orobas.

I also want to caution against relying on bestiaries and similar human catalogues. The catalogues of the Otherworld are not the catalogues of humans.

And that’s before you consider the personhood of the elephant Oriens rides upon—or whether that elephant exists apart from Oriens. If you visualize and betrachten[8] an image of Oriens with the elephant, do you establish contact with Oriens in the same way as if you had visualized and betrachten Oriens with his retinue and steed?

Images, Animals, and You

To bring this back again, I’ve had several UPG instances of me upon a lion’s back, an image that has brought to my mind not only the tarot Strength trump but also many depictions of Babalon and Babylon, or of Ishtar-Inanna, or of the Burney Relief, or of even Virgo and Leo. And more. Okay, I will admit that it tends to be a bit more San and Moro’s wolves than fantasy babe on a lion.

Does this mean that Lion chose me? No.

Does this mean that I am actually Babalon or Ishtar-Inanna—or chosen by them? No.

Does this mean that I am somehow aligning with some archetypal images/beings/forms? Yes. To what end?

If my previous experience tells me anything, it’s that I’m still moving on to whatever comes next. And I may also be participating in a chorus of persons/forms/images relating to women and lions—amongst others. But I very much have the choice of whether to lean into these happenings and see where they lead me—or not. I think the sense of compulsion for some people can be a matter of imaginal “gravity”—something can resonate or be so alluring to draw you into its orbit. And occultists should know that obsession can occur, and that you want to cultivate your chosen obsessions while recognizing when you may be obsessing over something else.

And I think it’s also important to consider ourselves as images, too. I mean, you could start actively imagining, say, Slender Man[9] standing in the doorway—visualizing him standing there, and imagining the mood, ambience, quality of the air, lighting, presence were he there with you—betrachten Slender Man into the room—and you could probably get some kind of result. Hell, people have apparently gotten results that way.

But here’s an experiment for you: instead of Slender Man, imagine yourself standing there in the doorway, watching you, about to step in, to tell you something. Imagine what it would feel like for such a thing, such a double-presence to happen. I didn’t do quite that visualization, but I found it quite stimulating and something to think with. If you get paranoid and start imagining evil doppelganger you, well, that’s you. For me, I had a wonderful and curious sense of double-vision and presence.

If you haunt yourself, well, ask yourself for super-powers or something.

But be a witch or magician or wizard and choose the forms you associate with and through which you seek enchantment. You don’t need to “be chosen” or have a “spirit animal” or “totem.” Go find your own thing, and see what happens.

Featured Image: Momentmal | Pixabay

[1] I could use initiatory, and they are initiatory in many senses, but the term is so loaded in craft and tradition senses that I’ll just use the OED to give me instigate’s adjectival form.

[2] It’s interesting to me that since Cyprian and I started hanging, Odin’s been pretty quiet in my life.

[3] Brant Pelphrey, “Leaving the Womb of Christ: Love, Doomsday, and Space/Time in Julian of Norwich and Eastern Orthodox Mysticism,” in Julian of Norwich: A Book of Essays, edited by Sandra J. McEntire (New York: Routledge, 2012), 312.

[4] Alfredo Tradigo, Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Los Angeles: J Paul Getty Museum, 2006), 10.

[5] Tradigo, 7.

[6] Robin Cormack, Icons (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007), 22 (emphasis mine).

[7] Daniel Harms, James R. Clark, and Joseph H. Peterson, editors, The Book of Oberon: A Sourcebook of Elizabethan Magic (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2016), 192-5 (emphases mine).

[8] For more on betrachten, see “Royal Roads,” but I’ll quote Chodorow here again:

Another way to begin is to choose an image from a dream, vision or fantasy and concentrate on it. It might be a visual image, an inner voice, even a psychosomatic symptom. You can also choose a photo, picture or other object and concentrate on it until it comes alive. In German there is a word betrachten that means making something pregnant by giving it your attention. This special way of looking is reminiscent of a child’s experience when absorbed in symbolic play:

“looking, psychologically, brings about the activation of the object; it is as if something were emanating from one’s spiritual eye that evokes or activates the object of one’s vision…”

Joan Chodorow, introduction to Jung on Active Imagination, edited by Joan Chodorow (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997), 7. She then begins quoting Jung (Jung 1930-4a, Vol. 6, Lecture 1, May 4, 1932, p. 3).

[9] Feel free to substitute some other figure if you choose. Not a fan of Slender Man? Try Moth Man, Hastur, or perhaps your grandmother. The cool one, who made you French toast as a kid.

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