The Spirituality of Storytelling…with animals!


Do your stories have a spiritual message?

Or…perhaps we should ask ourselves what spiritual message do our stories tell?  Because all storytelling delivers a spiritual message.  The message may be spiritually rich or poor but it is there.  And it seems like spirituality has been at the core of storytelling from the beginning.  A recent article about newly discovered cave paintings in central Indonesia illustrates what is still a common trope – interpreting humanity through the lens of animal characteristics – from Aesop’s stories about the lion and the mouse to the three little pigs, animals have been recruited represent our values. Stories with animals tend to explore spiritual themes (compassion, courage, conservation) that illustrate the way we struggle to balance our lower and higher natures. Here is a quote from a Dec. 11, 2019 article:

Despite these unresolved mysteries, it is now abundantly clear that these humans were storytellers whose abstract paintings shed light into the origins of human cognition and spirituality.

Over forty thousand years ago the urge to tell a story represented far more than a desire for individual gain.  Newly discovered images of the earliest example of storytelling featured “therianthropes” – characters that embody a mix of human and animal characteristics. Our storytelling instincts were far less about individual profit and much more about collective wellbeing.  We risk a failure of the spirit when we forget this. (as well as a failure to address climate change and other global problems)

I first encountered ancient therianthropes in Museo del Oro in Bogata where solid gold characters blended the characteristics of humans and animal spirits. And more recently, when a friend who has a bad habit of suppressing his creative spirit to please others showed me a small brass tiger he carried in his pocket to remind him to act with courage. What animal spirit would improve the spiritual message in your storytelling?


5 thoughts on “The Spirituality of Storytelling…with animals!”

  1. Annette, as I read your piece, I was reminded of the stories told by Native Americans. I remember complaining that I was tired of the Parables and wanted to hear some new stories to inspire my spirit. Well, a few weeks later, I found myself in a retreat where the main speaker was a Native American who only told the stories from her tradition. I was struck by the response to my plea. Animals are so ‘relatable.’ –Madelyn

  2. Love the connection between moral values and animals, especially animals in family or pack whose selfless energies help the entire group.

    Not sure of the moral connection here, but Since suffering disabling spinal cord damage I have closely identified with animals, most recently my border collie whose indomitable spirit was on display whenever he bounded over rough terrain of the New Mexican arroyos. He effortlessly flew over mesquite and juniper scrub, and carried me with him when he did. Recently, I bonded with a 5 foot tall monkey in a dream, who lead me running through tall grasses in my dreamscape to escape some unnamed antagonists.

    Clearly, animals play or have played an important part of our lives, our development, and our stories.

    1. Thanks for your inspiration. I think of running as freedom. But it also delivers a healing theme in your dream. I looked up the monkey’s meaning in dreams and found this: Ta symbol for the more free-spirited, playful version of yourself. Perhaps you have wandered too far away from the inner child within you, and you sub-conscious mind is trying to awaken your playful, youthful spirit. I like the question they asked at the end: Are you chasing the monkey? Is it chasing you?

  3. Fantastic post however I was wanting to know if you could
    write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a
    little bit further. Bless you!

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