Our fosterling squeals with glee as I lower her onto Bella’s chest. She immediately latches on to the thick black fur, clutching fistfuls and pulling her head in tight for a big snuzzle. She rubs and rubs her nose back and forth, coming up for air only when she must – a blissed out smile filling her tea-cup face.
Bella is every bit the delighted mother. I have to monitor them closely though, our fosterling is not as agile as a puppy, and Bella can barely contain her mothering instincts. She knows her work though, her ancestors have warmed our newborns for thousands of years, carrying many of us through “three dog nights.”
It was not so long ago that my Irish ancestors shared their home with livestock, especially during the cold times. No barn, no out building, just one home for all. Sickness was staved off by corralling little ones with four legged mothers, bedding everyone down to share warmth. When my son was young and fighting sickness he would sleep on my chest, consuming my warmth through the night so his own body could focus more energy on healing.
|From Huffington Post Piece (see link below)|
Eventually Christianity taught us that sleeping with our animals was unclean. We had to choose between going to heaven or ensuring that our youngest made it through hard winters. Many of us think that science first taught us to keep clear of our livestock, but that followed in the wake of a Christian sentiment of elevating us far above the animals we depended on for life. In the process of separating us from nature, science and religion have been bedfellows – albeit uncomfortable ones.
Could this have been part and parcel of separating us from the Animal Spirits that protected us throughout our days? The Picts (from the Roman “painted ones”) were said to have covered their bodies with images of animals, sometimes disappearing into the forest costumed as one of their protectors to connect more deeply with their spirits. For so many of our ancestors animal kinship equaled survival, both in terms of physical nourishment as well as health and protection. Honoring a human god was likely unnatural to most.
When I was a child I spent a lot of time staying home sick, much of that time I was alone with our two dogs. They became my closest companions, stalwart friends I could always rely on to keep me warm and distract me when everything seemed to hurt. I became so attached to their company, so worried they might die young, I asked God to take a year from my life and give it to each of them. I don’t know if that prayer was answered, I still miss them both sorely. They seemed to know what their job was, that I was sick and I needed their support to survive.
Our kinship with animals extends to the very origins of culture. Animal bonds predate all the worlds religions, which is perhaps part of why Power Animals are so readily available to so many of us. From our modern vantage point, the distance we need to travel to be connected to the consciousness of animals must seem like a vast canyon, but this is a fairly recent lie thats been passed to us. The truth is we have always walked together, our time of conjured separateness is brief, not even amounting to a blink when viewed through the lens of ancient history.
She knows this, when she breaths in, inhaling Bella’s scent as if its food and she’s not eaten for weeks. She knows that throughout her life she might dream with animal spirits, be they compassionate helping spirits who have moved on, or the animals she knows in her daily life. She knows she is with family. She nuzzles in deeper, moving to the place where her body melts into the great wild warmth.
This post was inspired in part by a Huffington Post photo essay on children sleeping with their dogs – click here for that . When I passed that on to friends I wrote: “This must be what heaven looks like.” Perhaps it would have been truer to say – this is what all our lives can be like!