Victoria Covell (illustrated by Noah Buchanan)
Dawn Publications, 2000
At first glance, this is Just Another Totem Animal Dictionary. Most of the book is taken up by entries on various animals, all of which are North American birds and mammals. I wasn’t expecting all that much, to be honest, because of that. But then i began to actually read it.
First, it’s not so much about animal totems as it is about interpreting spiritual encounters with wildlife. The author thankfully acknowledges that these are subjective experiences, that the wonder is generally in the mind of the beholder, and that sometimes a crow is just a crow. So you can think of it somewhat as a book on divination based on noteworthy sightings of wild critters.
The other things that makes it stand out is the fact that the main portion of each animal’s entry is written by a different guest essayist talking about their own experience with that animal. It’s a nice infusion of nature writing into what could otherwise have been a rote dictionary text. And there are breakout boxes with actual biological and behavioral information on the animals, which I appreciated seeing.
It’s not an ideal book. It talks about “choosing a spirit animal guardian”, when most sources agree that it’s the other way around–the animals choose you. And it’s also a fairly optimistic, lightweight look at nature, ignoring the “red in tooth and claw” aspects of the animals beyond that which can be romanticized for our benefit. (This could also, of course, be reframed as highlighting the wondrous aspects of nature, but even that’s subjectively slanted away from the more violent portions, which can be wondrous in and of themselves.)
In short, this is a good book and a surprising find amid the herd of dictionary-style animal spirituality/magic books. It’d be a good choice for a non-pagan person who’s interested in the more spiritual aspects of nature, as it provides a gentle segue. However, pagans shouldn’t ignore it either, even with my qualms. Oh, and it’s also got some of the most spectacular illustrations–it’s quite the aesthetically pleasing book! Kudos to the artist as much as the author!
Four pawprints out of five.