Book Review: Spirit Animals by Stephanie Iris Weiss

Handmade gifts are always meaningful, but infusing your gifts with symbolic meaning takes them to the next level. Enter a wonderful animal-filled resource in the form of Spirit Animals: Unlocking the Secrets of Our Animal Companions by Stephanie Iris Weiss (Chronicle Books). This delightful little 5×7 book is a veritable pocket companion of animal symbolism defined. There are 40 entries altogether, most of them animals with a few insects and reptiles thrown in for good measure. Each entry has a section on Personality, Spiritual Origins, and Guiding Powers. And each has its very own illustration, representing the text, drawn by one of nine talented contributing illustrators. This lends a lot of visual interest to the book since all of their styles are so unique and different from one another. Here’s the picture that accompanies the deer, drawn by Lisa Congdon:
I first checked out the book after coming back from a solo backpacking trip during which I was repeatedly visited by a hummingbird. Each animal is given a quick-reference description at top, and the hummingbird is “The Relentless Pleasure-Seeker.” Under Personality, Weiss writes, “The only bird that can hover and fly backward, forward, up, or down, the hummingbird is incredibly adaptable. …. This incredible stamina allows the hummingbird to tirelessly seek out nectar from every source. These spritelike creatures are a direct link to pure, unadulterated happiness.” Under Spiritual Origins, Weiss shares Mayan views of hummingbirds and also adds, “In Mexican folklore, the hummingbird symbolizes luck in love.” And finally, under Guiding Powers, Weiss suggests,

If you’re in need of some serious joy, consult with the hummingbird. This creature shows us how to find hidden happiness and to see the best in people. It’s the ideal spirit animal for those moments when you’re overwhelmed by darkness and focused on the negatives. The hummingbird will show you how to find your sweet spot again. It takes perseverance and ingenuity to find your bliss once you’ve lost it. The hummingbird has endless stores of both, so if someone you love is feeling blue, call upon the hummingbird to bring back his or her laughter.

Whatever level of importance you choose to give to these words, for me, it was intriguing and entertaining to read them. And incidentally, I do have a friend who is feeling quite blue. I will certainly try and weave a hummingbird or two into the next present I make for her. If you need some inspiration for your crafts, this book is great to get the wheels turning.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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