by Laura Green
I’ve always wanted a spirit animal, though I’ve never been clear on how they work. I used to think your spirit animal revealed your deep, secret self. Mine would be, probably, a wolf. Or, like, an eagle. Something sleek and cunning or brave or powerful - which, at first glance, I might not seem to be. Even to myself. But, what if I had a wild spirit falcon on my shoulder? I mean - you can’t argue with a falcon.
Which is why I felt disappointed when I found out my spirit animal is the earthworm.
Just pink and nothing. Blind. Slimy, naked; no defense but twisting, useless twisting. The earthworm.
A magic Eastern European woman told me a few years ago. I was with my cousin. My cousin got cheetah.
I got earthworm.
When I went to see this woman, things had been hard for a while. There had been much death and near-death. It was as though a rift had opened up and creatures I loved kept slipping away. And with them, so many versions of my self.
I’ve always known about death and feared it. I’m the only child of a single mother who almost died when I was one. Since then, I was death’s enemy. My earliest memories are crayon shavings ironed into something close to majesty between sheets of waxed paper, and a preoccupying terror that people I needed would be snatched away.
And then who would I be? How would I make my way? Pink and nothing. Twisting, useless twisting.
The earthworm. My first thought was – I’ll switch. Having wanted a spirit animal forever, I’ve tried many times to catch one - none stuck. I figured I’d decline the earthworm. She said a lot of things, this woman, I thought I would decline; about ties being severed, more and deeper death. It wasn’t what I had in mind.
I felt tired and weak. I had power in mind. Bravery.
I felt jealous of my cousin’s cheetah.
Looking back, I’d say I was a formidable enemy for death. I worked hard to vanquish her. I dragged my mom to churches, tried out an assortment of gods. I was threatening, logical, disdainful. Rude. Unrelenting. But it was a war waged entirely on my homeland. Death got to take breaks and go scuba diving, her territory was undisturbed. She never seemed tired - it was like she wasn’t even fighting. All my houses were in shambles. My trees were burnt stumps. So, in my early adulthood, I settled on a truce made from powerful ignoring. Death and I could share a space as long as I could keep her out of sight.
It was a flimsy truce.
Death won’t stay where you put her. I had to close my eyes so often, I was practically blind.
And then, years later, this period of copious dying. I was all unmoored. My identity seemed vaporous, ungrounded. I couldn’t keep my eyes closed anymore. I didn’t have the focus for it. Without my vigilance they opened up and, as I expected - she was the densest kind of darkness. I was so tired, though. Too tired even for twisting. I just stretched out, pink and blind and naked. Death, grief became almost physical; darkness like a wilderness I couldn’t map but in which I could be distinctly present. It felt vast and the vastness scared me. I felt afraid and my fear felt dangerous, but the place itself felt soft. Dark but not empty. I could breathe. I could move in it. I could imagine trusting it. But then again, I couldn’t. Where was I? My eyes were open but I couldn’t see anything at all. When I went to see this woman, I wanted something brighter. Something mapped. I asked for it explicitly; guidance. I asked for a guide. The earthworm.
I wanted anchoring, so I sought out a witch. Obviously. You can’t refute witch magic – by its nature it deflects rational attacks. But you can ignore it, it’s easy to ignore. I mean, witches? Come on. I planned to ignore whatever she said that I didn’t care for, but I had a feeling about the earthworm right away like: Oh, no – it’s you, isn’t it? It’s you. Like love at first sight but not jubilant love. A reckoning love.
Love like nothing you can do about it.
I planned to reject the earthworm, but, in my experience, you can’t boss things like death and spirits. At least I can’t.
The earthworm, then. Maybe it’s my secret inner self, or maybe it’s what’s missing. An animal to teach my spirit how to move this time around. Not what I am but what I’m meant to learn. Like, look: just do this - just follow along.
Okay. I’m game.
Earthworms burrow by eating the thing that’s blocking their way. They digest the obstacle in front of them, they open their mouths and swallow it. They move through solid earth by moving the earth through their bodies.
I want to say it over and over.
They’re soft, they have no bones, they move earth.
After them, there’s air where there was no air. Their labyrinths become microbe-lined, nutrient-rich veins through the ground. In this way they transform the planet we stand on.
They’re selective, their paths are intentional. They’re blind but they aren’t moving blindly; they use vibration. They’re photosensitive. They have no eyes but they understand light. They feel for the place that’s ready for them. Then take it in.
They know the darkness we think of as empty to be layered, complex. They draw the things on the surface down - small things like leaves but also big things like civilizations. Rome was buried by earthworms. Slowly, collectively, they pull things to the center.
They support much of the life we see on the surface.
Because the earthworm is my spirit animal I feel encouraged to make metaphors from her slick, pink tunneling. Okay, then - here’s what I think she means for me: I just need to feel carefully, open my mouth, take in the blackness in front of me. By passing it through me, I can make labyrinths, veins. I don’t need strength, I just need time. And community. There need to be many of us, there are many of us. The darkness might feel lonely but it’s full, it’s thriving. It feeds the surface like the surface feeds the darkness.
And the darkness is grief? The darkness is loss? The darkness is death? The darkness is me?
Yes. Probably yes to all of those, right? That seems right.
And that’s where I was with the earthworm until just recently - a few weeks ago. Accepting - fine then, an earthworm - but still envious of that cheetah. Something tangible, substantial, powerful. Something beautiful. I still felt shy about my earthworm spirit, my secret self. I wasn’t sure about telling people.
And then I told Alyna.
And then Alyna made me this:
The earthworm: my spirit animal. I’m proud of her. I’m grateful.