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Nature Spirits

12 13 familieS and familiarS ancestors and animal spirits According to many traditions across the world, the spirits of ancestors and the totem animals of tribes walk alongside their people bestowing blessings and protection upon them. Befriended by prayers, dances and offerings, these spirit alliances formed the roots of the earliest societies, their images painted on cave walls and sacred objects. Everyday life was thus blended with the realms of spirit, the present with the past, and security was assured for the future, as their ranks grew with each successive generation. A common shamanic belief is that the ancestors congregate in an otherworld hall or cave, sometimes a tipee or yurt, depending on regional variations. Across the world, the 31st of October is traditionally a time sacred to them, known as the Day of the Dead in South America, the Celtic festival of Samhain and, of course, Halloween. Witches familiars, and the power animals of the Native Americans perform a similar role, teaching and supporting the survival of the tribe in relation to their environment. Hence the buffalo is sacred to the Lakota Sioux, and the tiger is sacred in Tibet. In Britain the stag signified kingship, as a personification of the hunter god. Perhaps the most sacred animal spirit in Celtic Britain was the white mare, personifying the goddess of the land, hence its image being carved so often upon the green English hills.
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