by Dr. Alberto Villoldo: Like many Native Americans, the Laika are so closely linked to the animal world that they often take an animal as their namesake…
In doing so, they’re seeking to be associated with the animal’s energies and to embody its powers. Four archetypal animals are particularly important to the Laika: the serpent, the jaguar, the eagle (or condor), and the hummingbird. (You may remember that we invoke these four spirit animals in our prayer to create sacred space.)
The serpent symbolizes knowledge, sexuality, and the healing power of nature. It is a universal archetype: When Moses led the Israelites through the desert, he carried a serpent staff that symbolized wisdom; a serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge; in the East, the snake symbolizes the sage Kundalini energy that lies coiled at the base of the spine and channels up through the chakras; and the physicians’ symbol, caduceus, which dates from ancient Greece, depicts two serpents intertwined around a staff.
The serpent represents the essential life force that seeks union and creation, and is therefore a symbol of fertility. In nature, fecundity is the creative principle associated with the feminine. When we engage the energies of the serpent archetype, we summon the feminine creative principle that can rekindle our passion and help us shed the past, as a snake sheds its skin.
The jaguar is the king of the Amazon rainforest—the most important animal for the jungle shaman because it represents the power of transformation. In the lore of the rainforest peoples, jaguars are seen as the caretakers of the jungle because they’re at the top of the food chain, with no predators other than man. By weeding out the weaker animals of the forest, the jaguar helps eliminate that which must die in order for the new to be born, and is therefore seen as a force of change.
Jaguars held such power for ancient peoples that entire civilizations identified with them. The Olmecs, who thrived 3,000 years ago in central Mexico, were known as the “jaguar people.” Their shamans were the “jaguar priests,” and nearly half of their recovered carvings and statuary are representations of humans and felines—many of adults and children with jaguar heads. The Mayoruna, a tribe in the Amazon rainforest, call themselves “people of the jaguar,” tattoo their faces to look like cats, and even insert boar whiskers into piercings on the sides of their noses to resemble the large felines.
The eagle is a powerful spirit animal that symbolizes foresight, clarity, and vision. The shaman understands that eagle energy helps us perceive the entire panorama of life without becoming bogged down in its myriad tiny details. Eagle energy can assist us in finding the guiding vision of our lives by looking into the past and the future, helping us understand both where we came from and who we’re becoming.
The eagle also represents the self-transcending principle of nature. Biologists have identified this principle as one of the prime agendas of nature. It guides the hand of evolution—that is, living molecules unite to become cells, which form tissues, then organs, and finally transcend a collection of organs and tissues to become complex beings such as whales and humans.
The same principle operates in our daily lives. The eagle shows us that we can’t satisfy our emotional needs with material things, and that there’s a spiritual solution to every problem. On the wings of the eagle, we rise above our day-to-day struggles, gain perspective, and see things as they really are.
Tiny, feisty, and courageous, the hummingbird shows us how to embark on an epic journey of evolution and growth. This is the most noble journey a person can undertake: the journey to one’s spirit. Every year, a certain species of hummingbird takes an incredible voyage, migrating from Brazil to Canada across the Caribbean Sea. At first glance, these little creatures wouldn’t seem suited for such a long flight—they don’t have a broad wingspan as eagles do, and their little bodies can’t store much food—still, they respond to an annual call to undertake this incredible journey.
When we’re touched by the energies of this archetype, we’re propelled on our own epic journey that leads us back to our source, where our spirit was spawned. When we don’t have enough time, money, or knowledge for what we’re attempting, hummingbird energy can provide the courage, strength, and guidance that we need to succeed. When we follow the example of the hummingbird and reawaken our natural instinct to learn and explore, our lives blossom into epic quests.