When you are on a vision fast or medicine walk, you enter into a mystical realm where all events and encounters take on a significance that is bigger than what most of us experience in ordinary waking life. During this time, an encounter with an animal is not just a coincidence. (If it ever is!) Usually a particular animal will appear to you with a message or lesson that only that animal can bring. And of course, the circumstances of the encounter will help you to understand more about the message or meaning. Also your own history, belief system, and connection with particular animals will help you to know what the animal is saying to you. Therefore, the information provided here about cougars is a possible starting point, but may not touch on the fullness of what a cougar means to you, or the gifts that your own encounter with a cougar may hold.
Ted Andrews, author of Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small and many other books, is my favourite source for reading about the significance of animals in different mythologies. Ted says that the cougar symbolizes coming into your own power. This is easy to see, given that the cougar has the many powers described in other postings: physical strength, leaping ability, power of hearing and sight, stealth, beauty. Ted writes, “If cougar has shown up in your life, it is time to learn about power. Test your own. Most young cougars learn how to use their power through trial and error. It strengthens them and hones their skills. When cougar shows up as a totem, much of the trial has been worked through. Now it is time to assert.”
One of the things I like about Ted’s writing and understanding of the animal world is the connection between predator and prey. Given that the main prey of the cougar is the deer, which symbolizes gentleness (including a gentle beckoning into new adventure), the deer is also significant in understanding the message of the cougar. Ted suggests that in learning to use our power, we can do so with the gentleness of a deer, when that is appropriate. This is a lesson I keep needing to learn! The cougar knows with decisiveness when to attack forcefully, but its prey teaches us that we can also exercise power with gentleness.
One thing that sometimes prevents us from showing, owning, and using our power, is the fear of loss of those who will not approve of or like it. I would suggest this might be especially challenging for women, who are socialized to appear weak and helpless. Cougar medicine can help all, male and female, to assert ourselves, show our capabilities, grow and stretch. And this means risking upsetting those around us, who may want us to stay the same. Are you willing to risk loss to realize and express your true nature? This is a question cougar asks.
Recently I was seeing a naturopath to learn to balance my power and weakness. My strength was distorted into outbursts of rage, which covered up feelings of helplessness. When we explored the animal that I identified with in these situations, it was the cougar. I felt that I had the wild, magnificent power of the cougar, but I was repressing it because I felt those around me would reject me if I showed this strength. I had a dream during this time, in which I was in a hospital room, awaiting surgery. The doctor came in, and pulled a limp cougar out of a dustbin, where it was covered with grey dirt and garbage. There was another similar bin in the room, containing another cougar. I knew the doctor was going to use some of the cougar’s life energy when she operated on me. The cougars were being kept in these bins for that purpose. I was shocked and horrified that this is what I was doing to my wild, fierce, free true nature; I was keeping it in a bin, covered with garbage, and just allowing the tiniest portion of it out to sustain my life. This dream made me wonder what it would be like to allow the cougar out of the dust bin. To allow her the fullness of her expression in my life. This question is intimately related to my spiritual journey of expressing the mystery of my true nature as I live in this world. How can I know this mystery, and learn to express it? The dream has only awakened questions, not answers. But it is clear to me that the cougar is speaking to me to set me on the path to exploring these questions.
If you are ever out on a vision fast and a cougar comes to visit you, know that it is a rare and remarkable gift. While remembering the information about how to survive a cougar attack, also try to open into communication with the cougar. Observe everything about the cougar’s physical relation to you: direction of approach and leaving; what the cougar does around you; whether you can sense a feeling-tone coming from the cougar; or even hear the words or thoughts of the cougar. In the sacred space of the vision fast, it is unlikely that the cougar has come to harm you. More likely it has come to teach and to give you a gift and a wonderful story for your people.