Looking through my four fairy-tale themed decks and picking out cards that can be seen to represent supernatural helpers, I find that in addition to such like genies and fairy godmothers, there are a good number of animal helpers. The animals fall into various categories, including ordinary animals who are helpful in some way, extraordinary animals (like Puss in Boots), and animals who are magical in some way or magical by nature. A few of the cards in Hunt’s deck feature animals who are elevated in terms of being god-like or especially powerful beings, (such as in her Magician, based on the Chinese story, “The Thunder Dragon”). I don’t count certain stories, such as the Golden Goose, where the animal is treated as an object rather than an actor. Remembering that my last post was about the Inner Child’s experience in the fairy tale world, it appears that in a majority of the stories, it is not a child but a young adult who interacts with the marvelous animals. However, I think there is something about the animal world that engages the inner child’s sense of wonder.
One way to look at animals in fairy tales is from the psychoanalytic view, where the symbolism is similar to what you might encounter in dreams. In dreams, as with the tarot, animals can represent the instinctive nature. When our instincts are expressed in a positive way, we are more intuitive, discerning about our personal needs, and better able to sense danger. We see this in the Fool card, where the Fool’s little dog is barking to prevent him from stepping off a cliff. However, the negative expression of the animal nature is when we are ruled by our appetites—a condition which is underscored in versions of the Devil card, where two chained human figures sport horns and tails. If you got a card illustrating a tale where a person is turned into an animal against his or her will, that could be a warning that you are getting into a situation where you are losing your grip, much like being spellbound. As Sibylle Birkhauser-Oeri points out in “The Mother: Archetypal Image in Fairy Tales,” “the phenomena of magic spells are caused by autonomous contents of the unconscious taking possession of the person” . On the other hand, tales where a person willfully shape-shifts into some type of animal, or accepts help from certain types of animals, can point to the ability to connect with certain instincts or animal qualities and use them to advantage. In all of these cases, the type of animal encountered or transformed into would be symbolically significant.
Cards illustrating animal transformations and animal helpers are most abundantly featured in the Lisa Hunt “Fairy Tale” deck, and Hunt is already well known for her “Shapeshifter Tarot.” (This deck is also similar to the Shapeshifter in that faces can be seen in some rocks and trees, suggesting the vivacious intelligence of the natural world.) I’m still familiarizing myself with these cards, because I don’t recognize all of the stories that are illustrated, but in the Hunt deck, I count a dozen cards that portray animal transformation, and a dozen that portray magical or other helper animals, though one of these also involves transformation. (One, “the Golden-headed Fish,” involves the transformation of a fish into a person in order to be helpful). The Mahony-Ukolov “Fairytale Tarot” has about ten cards with helping animals, and about ten cards where the story involves animal transformation. Of course, these different decks also have cards that feature animals in other roles such as “the Three Pigs” or “Country Mouse, City Mouse,” where the animals are characters, but not magical or helpers.
Whether with animal helpers or transformation into animals, one can’t help but wonder if some of these tales are echoes of old totemic relationships, or other types of guardian spirit relationships. When these images come up for you in a tarot reading, it certainly encourages you to explore these animal powers in relation to your inner and outer worlds.