What Meaning Can We Find in Numinous Encounters with Otherness?


blackbearLast week I wrote about an encounter with a rattlesnake on our forested mountain property.  The day before that I found a skeleton of the head of something that looked like a baby alligator.  Friends later confirmed that it was another snake. A bigger one.  I had my third wild animal encounter in as many days the day after the live rattler appeared. This time it was a very large, very alive black bear! I had just arrived at a friend’s house to meet with my Jungian summer study group and it walked into her garden, knocked over a bird feeder she had filled only fifteen minutes earlier, and sat down to enjoy the feast. It wasn’t 30 feet away from her porch.
Humankind has always found significance in threeness.  Three fairy tale brothers set out to win a princess, a wolf terrorizes three little pigs, a little girl explores the forest home of three bears, a hero receives three wishes. Christianity has its trinity and its three wise men. If two movie stars or old friends died within a few weeks of each other, my mother always waited for the third.
We also attach spiritual meaning to animals.  Native American warriors were visited by their power animals on vision quests and in dreams.  A stray dog appears out of nowhere to bring comfort and companionship to a grieving widower. A widow whose husband loved hummingbirds has never seen a hummingbird in her garden until one taps on her kitchen window the afternoon of his funeral.  When Lawrence Anthony—a legend in South Africa who bravely rescued wildlife and rehabilitated elephants all over the globe from human atrocities—died on March 7, 2012, 31 wild elephants showed up at his home two days later to pay their respects.
Perivale BearSo I ask myself, what meaning is there for me in these three  “truly numinous encounter(s) with Other-ness?” as Jungian therapist Melissa LaFlamme said  about the rattlesnake.  She continues, “Very auspicious…. [snakes] come as Teachers of the ancients.”  Writer Elaine Mansfield agrees, “Wow, Jean. A visitation. Respect and caution needed, but what a gift to mine.”
Snakes are at home on the ground, in water, in trees. They shed their old skins (or old lives) and grow new ones to emerge reborn, transformed. Two snakes entwine the Rod of the god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicinal arts in Greek mythology. A similar image, the caduceus of the Greek god Hermes, is still a symbol for medicine and healing.
And what about bears?  I’ve written about them many times in earlier posts:  here, and here, here, here, and here.  A symbol of spiritual introversion in Native American lore and of psychological transformation and rebirth in Jungian psychology—bears hibernate in the winter, as if dead, and emerge in the spring as if reborn, often with a cub or two—Bear has been one of my two animal totems (the other is Horse) ever since it asked to be included in my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness. When we remodeled our summer home in the Smoky Mountains, a large bronze bear was installed in a place of honor. Over the years I’ve had several Big dreams about serpents and bears, (Jung saw both as symbols of the Self), but this is the first time a live rattlesnake or bear has appeared in close proximitiy to me.
Three encounters with Snake and Bear in three days.  Synchronicity. Fairy tales and myths. Vision quests—I’ve been on one since I was 17 through forest and mountain, both physical and spiritual. Jungian psychology. Animal Teachers. Writing. Healing. Teaching. Comfort. Dreams.  Spiritual introversion. Psychological transformation. Growing respect and gratitude for the gift of physical life. Home. The Self. These are my primary associations with last week’s numinous visitations.  They speak to the themes of my spiritual journey and connect my outer and inner worlds.
They say:  You are on the journey you were meant to take:  finding the meaning of your myth, living your passion, sharing what you have learned. You are a valuable part of the whole, sacred interconnected web of life. You are seen. You are known. You are loved.
And I am grateful.
Jean Raffa’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks

Join 5,847 other subscribers


16 Responses

  1. Jean, Jean,…rattlesnakes and bears, oh my! Please be careful. Yes, these animals are our wild brothers but sometimes they don’t realize this. Sometimes they attack first, like 90% of the time. These
    wild critters, be they brethren or not, will BITE FIRST and ask questions later. So please do not literally reach out to Brother Rattlesnake or Br’er Bear. Communicate with them only with your thoughts. No

    1. Don’t worry! I’m as much in touch with physical reality as I am with the realities of my inner world. There’s no danger of me confusing them. Plus, I have a very strong sense of self- preservation! But thank you for your concern. You’re very sweet! 🙂

  2. Jeanie, you just continue to amaze me. I will soon meet Anthony Lawrence. Love , Sam and Eleanor

    1. Sam, I don’t understand. Do you mean Lawrence Anthony, the man the elephants went to honor? How can you meet him? He died in 2012. With love and confusion, Jeanie 🙂

    1. Thank you, Charlie. Insofar as a son might choose to honor his writer mother by choosing a name for his new puppy that he knew she would like, (if that is, indeed the case) it would not be a coincidence. Bear was Matt’s dog, but he lived with me in the summers until the last year of his life, when he was mine full time. By then Matt was the father of twin boys, with little time or energy left over to give Bear the attention and care he needed as an old and ailing dog. It brings tears to my eyes to write this; he was, indeed beloved. Now the cycle is repeating and I have Izzy for the summer. She fills the empty space in my heart and life that Bear left and is so much like Him that much of the time she IS Bear to me. 🙂

  3. I am honored to be included in this post and, of course, am always open to synchronicity. No animals so far in Maine but I will keep watching. xxxB
    Sent from my iPhone

    1. You and your hummingbirds were a natural for this post! Enjoy your honeymoon in Maine, and congratulations to you and your new love! Jeanie

  4. I like to find those numinous meanings in meetings with animals. We often get monk seals on our beach here in Hawaii. When I nearly stepped on one snoozing in the sand under the beach shrubs, it barked to let me know to be more careful!

    1. I’m with you when it comes to animals. They remind me of the mystery and magic of life. I saw a video a few years ago of an elephant seal who slowly moved closer to a woman on the beach until he was snuggling with her. It was beautiful. I had some amazing experiences with my horse. I KNOW he could read my emotions if not my mind.

  5. Wonderful post, Jeanie, and like Betsy, I am honored by your quote. Of course, I didn’t say anything you didn’t already know. Astonishing that these power symbols appeared in waking consciousness, one after the other. Fortunately, you have deep psychological and spiritual self-knowledge, so I know you won’t let those archetypes eat you up. I’m curious about what will happen next, and I imagine you are, too. I’m glad you have a companion in Izzy and before that Bear.

    1. Thanks, Elaine.Your quote was helpful; “what a gift to mine” is the phrase that spurred me to dig deeper and produce this post. No, I’m pretty sure Snake and Bear won’t gobble me up, literally or figuratively. These particular archetypes do have great power to play on the imagination, however! Which is one reason I’m so glad Izzy is with me. Her delight in this place and adoring (and adorable) loyalty are a comforting antidote to “Who knows what evil lurks within!” 🙂

  6. Jean I had a very powerful dream with snakes, that felt like it was important. I have it on an old blog.. I’ve had a lot of suffering in my life,but somehow feel connected in a way to..something…numinous?, I don’t know. Maybe just looking for meaning in the suffering. Here is the dream, it’s not a long read. I’ve included a long recurring bad theme dream and then the powerful, joyous one: http://younameit-x.blogspot.ca/2012/08/dreams-and-female-warrior.html If you have any time at all, I’d love any feedback.

    1. Hello, sublimewoman. I must be having problems with my computer again. I’ve tried to respond to your comment, which I see on my dashboard, but it doesn’t show up in the actual blog. Just want to say that I couldn’t access the dreams you mentioned so cannot comment on them. But I can say that dreams about snakes are always important and also that they are almost always about our connection to the “numinous.” It’s usually difficult to understand what they might mean other than, “You are connected!” but I’ve come to believe that maybe this is the message you’re meant to get.” All the best to you, Jeanie

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts