Maia Toll
Before there were plants, there were animals.

Okay, that statement is totally false in the cosmic sense, but ridiculously true in my personal experience.

Family myth has it that the first word out of my mouth was “horsey.” For years I thought my love of horses was a weird genetic anomaly, maybe harkening back to some long lost ancestor who rode with the Mongolian horde (my mother’s side of the family immigrated from the Russian side of the Mongolian border, which was close enough to Mongolia for my teenage imagination).

But it turned out that our horse-loving lineage was closer than any of us thought: as a girl, my grandmother would steal her dad’s work horse which pulled the ice cart he used to deliver blocks of ice (back when ice boxes really were boxes that held a huge chunk of ice to keep your food cool). When great-granddad came home for lunch, my grandmother would unhitch the horse, hop up bareback, and ride unhindered through the streets of Philadelphia. When lunch break was over, my grandmother’s brothers would run through the streets calling her name; she’d give the horse back, and with it, give up her few moments of freedom.

Horse for me was never about freedom. Horse was power and love and fear… bone deep fear (yes, I also told myself that I probably died falling off a horse in a past life. Then I’d have a whole long dialogue with myself about whether I believed in reincarnation… which, for a few minutes, distracted me from the nausea building in my gut as we drove to the barn). My trainers asked my parents why they were making me ride; it was obviously torturous for me and I had little talent for it. My mother, over the years, had to explain to countless people— trainers, school teachers, and concerned parents of other riders— that she’d love nothing more than for me to stop riding and take up violin or ballet (if you’ve met me, you probably just snorted your tea. My ballet teachers were quite possibly more aggrieved than my riding coaches). But despite both my nausea and my mother’s…

Horse was my first life lesson; it was the Medicine my spirit needed to learn how to do this human thing.

In ancient days there were three medicine kingdoms: animal, vegetable, and mineral. The medicine of plants is fairly easy for us to understand: plants provide the basic building blocks of nutrition and health. Some part of us subconsciously comprehends their symbolic language, translating scent and taste into meaning and magic.

It’s much the same with the animal kingdom. If you eat meat, you take this medicine in physically (which is part of why it’s important to be mindful of what you’re ingesting!),  but we also take it in spiritually and emotionally when we pause and listen to what the animal kingdom is telling us. Working with animal medicine is about opening your mind and heart and then gently asking what that animal has to teach you. We share this world with so many creatures, each holding a place not only in the physical world but also in the ecosystem of spirit.

Working on The Illustrated Bestiary gave me space for that pause and that ask. What’s the difference between the medicine of Snake and Butterfly? Butterfly and Frog? They’re all about evolution and change and leaving the old behind to become something new. But what are the nuances? Writing these entries side by side helped me understand the subtleties, helped me see how Butterfly teaches us to let go of everything and create ourselves anew from our component parts, while Frog shows us how to evolve and shift our form. Snake is a surface shedding while the core remains the same. These patterns are related to each other but each is nuanced and needed at different times in our own lives. Each animal has its own energy in the world and a specific Medicine to deliver. Working with animal medicine is about opening your mind and heart and then gently asking what that animal has to teach you. Click To Tweet

This book was birthed in Autumn, my favorite time of year. I’ve so enjoyed curling up on the couch with a cup of tea to ogle the evocative illustrations by Kate O’Hara (who also did The Illustrated Herbiary). I love picturing you getting your book in the mail, grabbing a cuppa and your favorite wrap, and sitting down to drink it in. Click here to order your copy of The Illustrated Bestiary!

Thanks so much for being a supportive member of my little tribe. I couldn’t do the work I do in the world without you.

Big hugs—

Maia Signature