Another excerpt from Linda Hogan's essay "First People":
"[T]he old stories of human relationships with animals can't be discounted. They are not primitive; they are primal. They reflect insights that came from considerable and elaborate systems of knowledge, intellectual traditions and ways of living that were tried, tested, and found true over many thousands of years and on all continents.
"But perhaps the truest story is with the animals themselves because we have found our exemplary ways through them, both in the older world and in the present time, both physically and spiritually. According to the traditions of the Seneca animal society, there were medicine animals in ancient times that entered into relationships with people. The animals themselves taught ceremonies that were to be performed in their names, saying they would provide help for humans if this relationship was kept. We have followed them, not only in the way the early European voyagers and prenavigators did, by following the migrations of whales in order to know their location, or by releasing birds from cages on their sailing vessels and following them towards land, but in ways more subtle and even more sustaining. In a discussion of the Wolf Dance of the Northwest, artists Bill Holm and William Reid said that 'It is often done by a woman or a group of women. The dance is supposed to come from the wolves. There are different versions of its origin and different songs, but the words say something like, 'Your name is widely known among the wolves. You are honored by the wolves.'
"In another recent account, a Northern Cheyenne ceremonialist said that after years spent recovering from removals and genocide, indigenous peoples are learning their lost songs back from the wolves who retained them during the grief-filled times, as thought the wolves, even though threatened in their own numbers, have had compassion for the people....
"It seems we have always found our way across unknown lands, physical and spiritual, with the assistance of the animals. Our cultures are shaped around them and we are judged by the ways in which we treat them. For us, the animals are understood to be our equals. They are still our teachers. They are our helpers and healers. They have been our guardians and we have been theirs. We have asked for, and sometimes been given, if we've lived well enough, carefully enough, their extraordinary powers of endurance and vision, which we have added to our own knowledge, powers and gifts when we are not strong enough for the tasks required of us. We have deep obligations to them. Without other animals, we are made less."
Sacred stories about the relationship between humans and animals can be found not only in North America but in mythic traditions all around the world. For further reading, I recommend Lady and the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals by Buffie Johnson, Animals in Celtic Myth and Life by Miranda Green, and the Animal Series from Reaktion Books.
The gorgeous pictures above are by Rachel Lauren, an artist in central Ohio who specializes in photographing canines, both wild and domestic. The photographs here feature Lucian (Rachel's North American Wolfdog) and Grace Nuth (mythic artist and author of The Beautiful Necessity and Domythic Bliss blogs). Visit Rachel's website and blog to see more of her beautiful work, and Lucian's Facebook page to learn more about Wolfdogs.
"First People" was published in Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, edited by Linda Hogan, Deena Metzger, and Brenda Peterson (Fawcett Columbine/Ballatine, 1998).