Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life – Hal Zina Bennett

Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life: Earth-Centered Practices for Daily Living
Hal Zina Bennett
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2000
176 pages

There are a lot of totemism/animal spirit 101 guides out there, and it can be tough to find one that isn’t the same old stuff. I am pleased to say that Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life is one that stands out. Based on the author’s personal spiritual practices formulated over several decades, and deeply rooted in ecospiritual practices, it adds a definite positive flavor to the corpus of literature on practical neopagan totemism.

At first glance, the book seems like just another rip-off of various Native American tribes’ practices. Some may suspect the wheel format, with animals at the four cardinal directions, up and down, and the center. However, the directions, the Earth and the Sky, and the self are more universal than that, and Bennett does a great job of keeping these concepts from being mock-ups of “Native American spirituality”. While he does talk a bit about indigenous practices, more often he speaks from his own personal background as a spiritual person as well as a psychologist.

The system that Bennett has created provides a structure for pathworking that bridges spirituality and psychology. Each position on the wheel represents a different developmental stage, and the animal associated with each position can help with its respective stage. While Bennett provides his animals for each direction, he does emphasize the fact that these are personal, particularly the power animal of the center. He also includes some examples of meditations and rituals that may be used within the structure of his wheel, which makes this a more usable system than those that simply approach the wheel from a symbolic perspective. This is wonderfully interactive material.

I think my only complaint is that he could have gone a lot deeper with the pathworking aspects of the system. He only briefly describes the stages at each point in the wheel, and I think he could have easily gone into more depth without losing the reader. The developmental aspects of his system are one of its strongest points, and I’d like to see them taken further.

However, even as it is this is a great book. It’s incredibly sensitive to ecological issues and the connection between neopagan totemism and the environment, as well as our role in the whole mess we’re in. It offers tools to help us reverse the damage, and emphasizes the need to connect ourselves–to ourselves, to other living beings, to our spirituality, and to draw all these together into one cohesive view of life. The reader who expects a simple introduction to animal totems will find instead a greater wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and tools to wield them for constructive change.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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