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Lions and Griffins and Bears, oh my!

This was not planned as a “Part III,” but sometimes things work out in strange ways.

I imagine you’re thinking, “Are you really going to write three emails in a row about animals?!?” 

Why, yes. Yes I am.

Either I’m not done with animals, or animals aren’t done with me!

As it happens, I’m in the middle of completing a certification that pertains to symbols, and we’re currently focusing on animals that have been chosen to symbolize various issues clients are grappling with. Animals can be amazing metaphors.

I discovered that Jung had a little something to say on the matter. His trusty assistant, Aniela Jaffé, wrote in “Man and His Symbols” that “In the religions and religious art of practically every race, animal attributes are ascribed to the supreme gods, or the gods are represented as animals.”

Later on she states: 

In itself, an animal is neither good nor evil; it is a piece of nature. It cannot desire anything that is not in its nature. To put this another way, it obeys its instincts. These instincts often seem mysterious to us, but they have their parallel in human life: The foundation of human nature is instinct. 

Eventually she declares: “Civilized man must heal the animal in himself and make it his friend.” 

From the 12th century on, it was common practice to place animal statues at the feet of recumbent effigies in churches. These beasts were viewed as protectors of the deceased in the afterlife. As symbols, they might bear different meanings, sometimes representing a quality or a vice. Some are animals of the real world and some are animals of the imagination.

The lion and the dog are the most common foot supporters—lions are equated in the bestiaries with virtue and with Christ while dogs are symbols of fidelity—although today I saw a magnificent griffin and a bear posed at the feet of a magnificent effigy. These creatures were representations from the heraldry on the deceased’s family coat of arms.

Bears showed up several times in various ways inside this church—there’s a local legend about a bear in this county of Warwickshire….

So you find bears all over the place! Again, this one above is resting at the foot of an effigy.

Now in this case, the bear symbolizes a real bear and a real event that was immortalized and emblazoned on a heraldic coat of arms. But other creatures reveal an entirely different story—often one that may be at odds with the contemporary stories we tell today…

But I’ll save that information for another time.

It looks like the animals are going to be around for a while longer.

In the meantime, here’s a fun coaching visualization: if you were to commission an effigy for yourself, where would you place it? How would you be posed? What would you be wearing? What animal, if any, would support your feet? And what mourners would you immortalize in statues surrounding you?

I’ll bet you’ve never thought about such a thing before!


-Dr. Vicky Jo

PS: Are you trying to sort out your career? I have a career coaching program that might help you. Get in touch with me as soon as you can! Let’s get you on the right track.

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