My animal spirit is a porcupine -- not a dragon, but not a hermit crab, either

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When I called Lawrence Woodson to reschedule my animal spirit reading, I was hoping the local psychic would have anticipated my call. "I saw this coming," he would say, then cackle maniacally. Perhaps there would be a clap of thunder reflected in his crystal ball, perhaps a curl of incense. Or perhaps not.

But when I stopped by the Spirit Wise metaphysical center on South Broadway late last week, I quickly saw that my stereotypical thinking wouldn't hold true. (The place did, however, smell like incense.) "I am not in the business of predicting the future," Woodson told me. "I'm more about helping people to get in touch with their true nature."

I was mostly hoping to get in touch with my Christmas gift. One of my best friends (the copy chief at a sister paper, the Village Voice), had purchased a gift certificate for an animal spirit reading for me through PayPal, in large part because I enjoy trying new things, and in small part because she suspected it would be hilarious. And it was -- particularly in the moment when my animal spirit almost turned out to be a hermit crab. But it was also strangely soothing. It also happens to be a pretty great story for parties.

The reading began when Woodson escorted me into a small, faux-ivy-covered room in the back of the building. There we sat on either side of a small card table decorated with the tools for his analysis (crystal candle holder, incense, pendulum, Tarot cards, notepad, singing bowl) while he asked me my birthdate. Numerologically speaking, he says, I will find a big romantic interest before my next birthday.

Woodson, who provides a variety of readings, has been in the business of psychic guidance for sixteen years, and his tableside manner is that of a friendly psychologist. The interest travels through his family, and he started receiving readings himself as a child, "before I could even really understand the whole thing," he says. With animal spirit readings in particular, his goal is to pair people with their spiritual match in an attempt to help them develop a greater understanding of their combined nature.

The process varies depending on how much credence you give it, though Woodson believes that every person has at least one spirit animal. Some have multiples. Military people are often chimpanzees, he says. (His spirit animal is a coyote.)

As the reading progressed, Woodson read my Tarot cards and diagnosed me with good, if expectedly vague, news: This is a huge transitional period in my life, and I am nearing the upswing of it. He correctly gauged my personality and my master's degree before he handed me what looked like a keychain fob.

"This is a pendulum," Woodson said. "Have you ever used one before?" Outside of Charmed reruns, I don't know many people who have, so he taught me the basics. The goal is to hold the end while letting the pendulum swing on its own without forcing it. "Is it you moving it, or are you letting it move?" he asked. The answer was a little bit of both. Eventually this section concluded, though what end it served I still don't know.

From here, Woodson asked me to envision a realm in which I felt safe outdoors. This, he said, would help him to "read my vibes." Last March I traveled to Russia, where I walked in the snowy tundra of a partially frozen gulf of Finland. For some reason, this is what I chose, and I pictured myself walking through a sea of white.

"I see fire," Woodson told me, "but I don't think your spirit is a dragon." This, it should be noted, would have been awesome, though given the non-existence of the fire-breathing creatures, pretty tough to get in touch with. "No, I see a small creature with a sort of waddly quality."

Although I had few expectations when I cashed in my gift certificate, I'd have to say I wasn't hoping to be told that my animal spirit is "waddly." "It's small and awkward but gentle, protected," Woodson said, continuing to read my "vibes."

"It's a porcupine."

Let's be real here: When I said I had few expectations, what I really meant was that I was hoping for a narwhal. But as it turned out, not only was I not a narwhal, I wasn't even a hedgehog -- the more charming version of a porcupine.

No, I am small, awkward and waddly, and -- somehow -- I am still okay with that. It turns out there are spiritual perks to being a porcupine, which Woodson tasked me with meditating on. Since then, I have Googled the word "porcupine."

"You're independent, and your quills make you constantly protected from attack from the outside," Woodson said. This is a metaphor that could also encroach on intimacy issues and emotionally damaged territory, so I appreciated his interpretation. "You are smart and resourceful, and you're able to identify with people who have a really vulnerable energy. You're somewhere between vulnerable and strong yourself, like the best mix of both."

These are all good things, if not dragon things. They are fodder for thought and bar nights, if not first dates, and they have succeeded, at the very least, in making me more aware of what a porcupine actually is. (Apparently, they can climb trees.) Woodson's method of analysis, despite including a singing bowl, inspired a heavy amount of personal reflection. Had I been a hermit crab, I might be less satisfied -- but in the sixteen years that Woodson has held this job, I am his first porcupine.

I'll take that.

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