Illustration by Alan Lee for Merlin Dreams, © 1988

Art Inspired by Animal-Human Transformation Myths

ART BY • Alan Lee • Bill Worrell • Gene and Rebecca Tobey
• Mark Wagner • Virginia Lee • Brian Froud • Charles Vess
• Terri Windling • Helena Nelson-Reed • Nancy Warren
TEXT BY Terri Windling

According to ancient Celtic texts, Merlin (the wise and wily magician of King Arthur's court) goes mad after the disastrous Battle of Arderydd and flees into the forest. He lives like the wild boars and the wolves, eating roots and berries, sleeping in the rain. In the Welsh Black Book of Carmarthen he writes, "Ten years and two score have I been moving along through twenty bouts of madness with wild ones in the wild ... only lack keeps me company now." Through his madness, he learns the speech of animals and the secrets of wood and stone. When he emerges from the forest at last, he has come fully into his magical powers; his fits of madness are honed into trances and visions foretelling the future. The Irish tell a similar tale of Suibhne, a warrior cursed in battle, forced to flee to the wilderness. In the shape of a bird, he travels for many years in a state of anguish and madness—but by the time he returns home again, transformed back into his own human shape, he has gained certain magical powers and a strong rapport with the beasts of the wood.

The Shaman of Peace, by Bill Worrell

The Shaman of Peace, by Bill Worrell

These stories compare with countless tales to be found in cultures around the globe, and give us a glimpse into actual shamanistic practices of old (recorded by such scholars as Frazer, Campbell, and Eliades). Shamanism, according to Mircea Eliades (in his classic study Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy), a religious phenomenon characteristic of Siberian and Ural-Altaic peoples; the word shaman itself is of Tungus origin. But shamanism must not be considered as limited to those countries. It is encountered, for example, in southeast Asia, Oceania, and among many South and North American aboriginal tribes.
...A shaman [Eliades continues in Man, Myth and Magic, #91] is recognized as such only after having received two kinds of instruction. The first is ecstatic (for example, dreams, visions, trances); the second is traditional (shamanic techniques, names and functions of spirits, mythology and genealogy of the clan, secret language).

The role of shaman varies from culture to culture, but generally he or she is a sacred figure, a healer, prophet, and/or magician, whose powers awaken after an arduous process of initiation. Like Merlin or Suibhne, initiates may endure a long period of madness and deprivation, journeying into wilderness and living an elemental existence; or they might undergo a mystic death and resurrection, returning to the world with new flesh, blood, and bones as well as new knowledge.

Keeper of the Trust, by Gene and  Rebecca Tobey

Keeper of the Trust,
by Gene and Rebecca Tobey

In myths and ancient pictographs, the shaman is often characterized by the distinctive ability to change from human into animal shape. Sometimes this change is a literal one, human flesh transformed into animal flesh or covered over by animal skin; in other accounts, the soul leaves the shaman's unconscious body to enter into the body of an animal, fish, or bird. In T.H. White's Once and Future King, such shamanistic practices are evoked by Merlin's preparation of young Arthur for his role as King. The boy learns to take the shape of animals and to live as animals live. In White's story, published for children, these scenes are rendered with gentle wit and charm—yet they mirror older, darker mythic stories, where the lines are intentionally blurred between the human and animal states, between civilization and wilderness, between sanity and madness, and finally between madness and magic.

It is not only shamans who have such powers according to tales from around the globe. "Shape-shifting," transforming from human shape to one or many animal forms, is part of a mythic and story-telling tradition stretching back over thousands of years. The gods of various mythologies are credited with this ability, as are the heroes of the great epic sagas and humble oral fairy tales alike. In Nordic myth, Odin could change his shape into any beast or bird; in Greek myth, Zeus often assumed animal shape in his relentless pursuit of young women. There is evidence of a "bear cult" in ancient Greece; its initiates, all young girls, were allowed to roam wild and filthy, dressed only in bear skins and as playful as young cubs. Cave paintings dating from the Upper Paleolithic show winged men and women with long bird beaks; in the cave of Les Trois Freres, a dancing man has antlers rising from his brow. Cernunnos, the lord of animals in Celtic mythology, wore the shape of a stag, and also the shape of a man with a heavy rack of horns; one of the earliest depictions of this "Horned God" comes from a rock carving in northern Italy, approximately 4th century B.C. The dragons of China were shape-shifters who could take both male and female form; some married and bore children whose descendants still claim dragon ancestry.

The Shepherd Family, by Mark Wagner

The Shepherd Family, by Mark Wagner

In The Odyssey, Homer tells the tale of Proteus—a famous soothsayer who would not give away his knowledge unless forced to do so. Menelaus came upon him while he slept, and held onto him tightly as he shape-shifted into a lion, a snake, a leopard, a bear, etc. Defeated, Proteus returned to his own shape and Menelaus won the answers to his questions. This story is echoed in the magical Celtic tale of the resourceful Gwion Bach—a young man who went on to become the great Welsh poet Taliesin. Gwion Bach stole the gift of prophesy from the cauldron of the witch Ceridwen—and then he fled, with the furious old witch in hot pursuit. He transformed himself into a hare; the witch transformed into a hound. He turned into a fish, she turned into an otter, etc., etc., until Gwion Bach became a grain of wheat. The witch became a hen, gobbled him up, and gave birth to him (as the infant Taliesin) nine months later. A similar tale is told in the Scottish ballad Twa Magicians: one magician (female) is pursued by another (male) and seeks escape in the same fashion. The prize in this case is her maidenhead, which she is determined to keep. In the ballad Tam Lin, the hero undergoes a Protean series of transformations: he becomes a bear, a poisonous snake, a red-hot brand of iron ... but his lady love bravely stands her ground and holds tightly onto him. When Tam Lin regains his own true shape, she's won him from the Queen of Faery.

A Call in the Night, by Virginia Lee

A Call in the Night, by Virginia Lee

Not all shape-shifting is voluntary. The were-wolf of European folk-lore is a cursed and tragic figure—as were the were-tigers of India and the leopard and hyena men of Africa. In his Natural History, Pliny recounts (somewhat skeptically) this tale of the Antaei in Arcadia: Each year one man is chosen by lot and taken to the shores of a sacred lake. His clothes are removed, hung on an oak, and he swims to the woods on the lake's other side. He then runs wild with the wolves, half-forgetting his human kin. But if he manages to refrain from eating human flesh for a full nine years he may cross the lake, put on his clothes, and regain man-shape again.

Small Shapeshifter (Thumper),<br />by Brian Froud, 1994

Small Shapeshifter (Thumper),
by Brian Froud, 1994

In medieval Christian legendry, St. Natalis cursed the people of Ossory, who all became wolves for seven long years. A priest met one of the penitent sinners, a wolf who addressed him in human speech, imploring him to please come quickly and shrive his dying wolf-wife. In her medieval Lais, Marie de France tells of a female were-wolf in the forests of old Brittany: she was a noblewoman, an unfaithful wife cursed by her lover's touch. Another French tale concerns a woman who buys a green belt from a odd-looking peddler. Her husband forbids her to wear the thing, but she cannot resist the belt's strange appeal. Once on, it will not come off again, and the poor woman becomes a wolf every night for the next seven years.

The transformed husband, wife or lover is a common theme in old fairy tales. "Beauty and the Beast," from eighteenth century France, is probably the best known of the many "animal bridegroom" stories to be found around the world. The Beast of this tale has been depicted by countless illustrators over two-hundred-odd years: sometimes he is lion-like, bear-like, serpent-like, or even pig-like; and yet, curiously, whatever his shape the Beast remains far more compelling than the man that he later becomes.

The Sorcerer's Coat, by Gene and Rebecca Tobey

The Sorcerer's Coat,
by Gene and Rebecca Tobey

In "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" from Scandinavia, the heroine is actually married to the Beast (who is, in this case, a big white bear) at the beginning of the story, before he regains his human shape. Each night he comes to the marriage bed changed back into his human form. His wife is forbidden to see his face, but of course she soon breaks this taboo and must complete a series of arduous tasks before she wins him back again. In "Brother and Sister," from Germany, two siblings flee their wicked stepmother through a dark, fearsome, enchanted wood. The path of escape lies across three streams, and at each crossing the brother stops to drink. Each time the sister begs him not to, but at the third stream he cannot resist. He bends down to the water in the shape of a man, and rises again in the shape of a stag. Thereafter, the sister and her brother-stag live alone at the heart of the forest. A king comes to hunt the magnificent stag—but it's the sister he claims and carries from the wood. Eventually, with his sister's help, the boy resumes his true shape. In "The White Deer," found in Germany, Scandinavia, France and the Scottish highlands, a wellborn girl is cursed in her crib by a slighted fairy. She must not see the sun before her wedding day... or disaster will strike. As the girl travels to be wed, the sun penetrates her carriage; she turns into a deer and disappears through the wildwood. She is hunted and wounded by her own fiancée as she roams sadly through the forest.

Masquerade, by Charles Vess, 2001

Masquerade, by Charles Vess, 2001

Not all transformations are from human to animal shape—many tales recount the reverse. The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry, described in Scottish legends and ballads, is "a man upon dry land, a selkie [seal] in the sea," and he leaves a human maid sighing on the shore, pregnant with his child. Irish legends tell of men who marry seal or otter women, hiding their animal skins from them so that they cannot return to the water. Generally these women bear several sons, but pine away for their own true home. If they find the skin, they return to the sea with barely a thought for the ones left behind. In "The Otter Woman," Irish poet Mary O'Malley writes:

He never asked why she always walked
By the shore, what she craved
Why she never cried when every wave
Crescendoed like an orchestra of bones.
She stood again on the low bridge
The night of the full moon.
One sweet, deep breath and she slipped in
Where the river fills the sea.
She saw him clearly in the street light—his puzzlement.
Rid of him she let out one low, strange cry....
The Fox-wife of Rushford Wood, by Terri Windling

The Fox-wife of Rushford Wood, by Terri Windling

Japanese fairy tales warn of the danger of kitsune, the fox-wife. According to Kiyoshi Nozaki's extensive book on kitsune legends (Kitsune: Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance and Humor), the creature is a shape-shifter, a trickster, and highly dangerous; the fox takes the form of a beautiful woman, but to wed her brings madness and death. Ellen Steiber points out (in her story "The Fox Wife," from Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears) that the symptoms now attributed to mental illness were once thought of as fox possession in old Japan; a doctor in the Shimane Prefecture treated a number of such cases as late as 1892. In Africa we find lion-wives who are equally dangerous. In a Mbundu tale, a young lioness is dressed and groomed by her lion kin until she resembles a delectable young woman. She marries a wealthy man, intending to kill him as he sleeps and steal his cattle away, but a child witnesses her nightly transformations and blows the whistle. The cat-wives of English and Scottish tales are more benign and charming creatures. A man discovers his beautiful, silent young wife is actually a cat in disguise; at the urging of his mother or neighbors, he reluctantly gets rid of the girl—and then regrets the deed, missing her cheerful presence and affectionate nature. In Tibet, a frog-husband is an unexpected source of joy to a shy young bride. He is not a man disguised as a frog—he is a frog disguised as a man. When his young wife burns his frog skin to keep her lover in the shape she prefers, the frog-husband loses his magical powers, resigning himself to ordinary human life with a gentleman's grace.

Mr. Fox, West Coombe, by Terri Windling

Mr. Fox, West Coombe, by Terri Windling

In Native American legends, deer maidens, like fox- and lion-wives, are dangerous. In a Lakota version of the tale, a young man walking far from camp meets a beautiful woman alone in the woods. It is (he thinks) the very woman he's been courting, who has rejected him. Now she is talking to him with evident favor, looking lovely in her doe-skin robe. While they talk, he playfully threads the end of a rope through a hole in her robe—until a dog appears and barks at her. The young woman panics and turns to flee, returning to her own deer-shape ... but the rope holds the deer maiden fast around her foreleg. "Let me go!" she cries. "If you let me go, I'll give you magical power." The man releases her warily, and the deer maiden disappears through the wood. He vomits profusely, sick with the knowledge that if he'd made love to her he would have gone mad like other young men who'd encountered or hunted the deer. After this, the unfortunate man lives alone, plagued by sudden fits of wild, whistling, deer-like behavior. Yet the deer-woman keeps her promise and gives him this ability: his skill with horses and other four-footed creatures is unsurpassed.

Heh Pejuta: Elk Medicine, by Helena Nelson-Reed

Heh Pejuta: Elk Medicine, by Helena Nelson-Reed

The Elk Man is another dangerous and seductive animal shape-shifter. In a study of the story (The Lakota Narratives of Ella Deloria), Julian Rice writes: "Certain Lakota men had the power of the elk from a vision or dream. The Elk power was useful in war, but Elk power was most notable for its erotic influence on women." Clark Wissler (Some Dakota Myths) notes the use of elk charms as an aphrodisiac. "Another powerful charm was made from a mirror. In a small mirror was drawn the figure of an elk and around the edge a zigzag to represent lightening. Through the middle of the mirror a broken line was drawn to represent the trail of the elk. In use the mirror was flashed so that the beam would fall upon the girl. The trail in the drawing implies that the girl must follow the footsteps of the owner of the mirror."

Big Horn Shaman, by Gene and Rebecca Tobey

Big Horn Shaman,
by Gene and Rebecca Tobey

In a Pawnee version of the Elk Man tale, a certain man of a certain tribe has the ability to attract any woman. His amorous adventures are so plentiful that there are soon only a few women left with their reputations intact. The other men of the tribe decide the young man must be gotten rid of, and persuade his reluctant brother to help them, promising him riches in return. The Elk Man is killed, but his sister steals his head and an arm, and hides them in the forest. With these things, the Elk Man regenerates himself, and comes home to his brother's tepee. He is not angry with the brother but with the tribe, who have not fulfilled their side of the bargain. Elk Man goes to the council tent and demands the riches they promised his brother. Fearful now, the council produces many horses, tepees and fine blankets. The young man takes them home and the siblings live together in luxury. After that, the narrative concludes, the young man "fascinated all the women so much there was not a single good woman left in that tribe. And then it was clear the young man was really an elk, and it was beyond their power to kill him, and neither could they put a stop to his attraction for women. They finally gave in and said no more. That is all."

In this excerpt from her poem "Elk Man" (Prairie Schooner, Vol. 70, #4), Amy Breau writes of elk seduction from a woman's point of view:

All my family frowns when I step into the night to find you . . .
but Wapiti, strong heart, I hear you
the clearest midnights when I stand deer-still
and you sound the distance between us
all muscle and lung—
my heart's white rootthreads shiver
in the clearsoil dark
Medicine Road, by Charles Vess

Medicine Road, by Charles Vess

The story of the woman who marries a bear is found throughout North America. In a Nishga version recounted by Agnes Haldane of the Wolf clan of Gitkateen (Wisdom of the Myth Tellers, Sean Kane), a tribal princess picking berries in the forest steps on a bit of bear scat and mutters angry remarks about the bears. As the women head for home, her basket breaks; repairing it, she is left behind. Two handsome men appear and tell her they've come to fetch her and lead her from the forest. Instead of leading her home, they take her to the village of the Bear People. The princess tricks the People into believing she is a woman of great power, and as a result she ends up marrying the son of the Bear Chief. She lives with him rather happily, and gives birth to two fine bear sons. But during a period of hibernation, her own brothers find her husband's cave and kill the bear in a rescue attempt. Her husband has foreseen this event. "When they skin me," he'd instructed her, "tell them to burn my bones so that I may go on to help my children. At my death they shall take human form and become skillful hunters. Now listen as I sing my dirge song. This you must remember and take to your father. My cloak he shall don as his dancing garment. His crest shall be the Prince of Bears."

The Trojan Whale, by Mark Wagner

The Trojan Whale, by Mark Wagner

The bear's sacrifice of his life for the benefit of human beings is not an unusual theme. In many North American myths, the animals were the First People—stories recount how bear, or coyote, or eagle, or deer gave us the gift of fire, while in other stories the gifts of language, hunting skills, even love-making come from animal sources. While we've come to expect such respectfulness towards and from other species in Native lore, it can also be found on the other side of the world—in the stories of the Ainu of Japan. As Gary Snyder notes in his brilliant study, The Practice of the Wild:

In the Ainu world, a few human houses are in a valley by a little river. Food is often foraged in the local area, but some of the creatures come down from the inner mountains and up from the deeps of the sea. The animal or fish (or plant) that allows itself to be killed or gathered, and then enters the house to be consumed, is called a "visitor," marapto. Bear sends his friends the deer down to visit humans. Orca [the Killer Whale] sends his friends the salmon up the streams. When they arrive their "armor is broken"—they are killed—enabling them to shake off their fur or scale coats and step out as invisible spirit beings. They are then delighted by witnessing the human entertainments—sake and music. (They love music.) Having enjoyed their visit, they return to the deep sea or the inner mountains and report, "We had a wonderful time with the human beings." The others are then prompted themselves to go on visits. Thus if the humans do not neglect proper hospitality, the beings will be reborn and return over and over.
Path of the Shape Shifter, by Helena Nelson-Reed

Path of the Shape Shifter, by Helena Nelson-Reed

The Yaqui (Yoeme) people of the Sonoran desert divide themselves into two related groups: the Vato'im (Baptized Ones), who remain in this world and integrate seventeenth century Spanish Catholicism with the rites of their own aboriginal religion, and the Surem (the Enchanted People), who went away to the Wilderness World to preserve the ancient ways. In the extraordinary Deer Dance, still performed at Easter and other times in Arizona and northern Mexico, a dancer takes on the shape, the movements, the consciousness of the sacred deer on the borderline between these two worlds, blessing the ground he walks on. Yaqui Deer Songs by Larry Evers and Felipe S. Molina is a beautiful account of an animal-human mythology that is not buried in history but still living, still a vibrant part of everyday life for the modern Yoeme. "Flower-cover fawn went out, enchanted, from each enchanted flower wilderness world, he went out ... ," the singers sing as the deer dancer moves, gourd rattles in his hands and strings of rattles bound around his shins. A deer head rises over his own, antlers decorated with flowers. " ... So this now is the deer person, so he is the deer person, so he is the real deer person ...." The drummers drum, the dancer leaps, and it is the real deer person indeed.

Golden Days, by Nancy Warren

Golden Days, by Nancy Warren

Stories of shape-shifters, animal people, fox wives, cat brides and bear husbands let us cross the borders between many worlds, at least in imagination. Through the power of story and fantasy, we wear many shapes and inhabit many skins, reminded that we are all living beings beneath the fur, the feathers, the scales.

Long ago [writes Native storyteller Johnny Moses]
the trees thought they were people.
Long ago the mountains thought they were people.
Long ago the animals thought they were people.
Someday they will say, long ago the humans thought they were people.

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Extinction, by Mark Wagner

Extinction, by Mark Wagner

About the Artists

The art featured on this page comes from contemporary painters and sculptors who make deft use of mythic themes and symbols to explore the subject of animal-human metamorphosis. Please visit their Web sites and on-line exhibitions to learn more about these artists and to view a wider range of their work.

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Brian Froud is an English painter who has spent his life exploring the folk tales and faery lore of his native land, including images of metamorphosis between human, animal, bird, and vegetative shapes. His internationally best-selling books include Faeries (with Alan Lee), Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, Lady Cottington's Fairy Album, and The Runes of Elfland. He also designed two feature films for director Jim Henson: The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Brian and his wife, doll-maker Wendy Froud, live on Dartmoor in Devon, England, a deeply mythic landscape that provides the inspiration for their work. Brian's paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. To see more of his work, visit the World of Froud Web site created by Robert Gould.

Brian Froud's contribution to this page depicts a small "rabbit girl" shape-shifter from The Wood Wife (a novel by Terri Windling). "Myth surrounds us," Brian says, "not only in a landscape as soaked in history and old stories as Dartmoor, where I live, but in all landscapes, including the Arizona desert [where The Wood Wife is set]. If I do my job well, not only does myth become visible within a painting, but that painting becomes a doorway into a new way of looking at the world. You turn and look at the land around you, and you begin to see the faces in the trees and odd creatures flitting through the shadows."

Alan Lee

Alan Lee is one of the most acclaimed book illustrators in England and America today, a winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and other honors. His many fine books include Faeries (with Brian Froud), The Mabinogion, Black Ships Before Troy, The Wanderings of Odysseus, and a lavishly produced anniversary edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. More recently, Alan was the principal designer/art-director for the three Lord of the Rings films directed by Peter Jackson, filmed in New Zealand. When he's not on a film set, Alan lives on Dartmoor in Devon, England, where he is also a landscape painter and an avid reader of myth and mythic literature. His watercolor paintings, drawings, and prints have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. To see more of his work, visit Enchanted Lands in the Endicott gallery.

Alan Lee's contributions to this page are two images of shape-shifters: Merlin and the Brown Man of the Muir. The first image is an illustration from Merlin Dreams by English writer Peter Dickinson; the second image comes from Faeries. Alan notes that "there have always been mythic tales of figures whose function it is to act as an intermediary between humanity and nature—the shaman, the shape-shifter, the trickster ... an embodiment of creative powers who appears in myths, fairy tales and medieval legends all around the world. Often they have a touch of 'divine madness,' like Merlin, during his years in the wilderness through which he gained his divinatory powers. It is interesting to me that in our time it is often artists who fulfill this function."

Virginia Lee

Virginia Lee's paintings and sculptures are rooted in myth, folklore, surrealism, and archetypal symbolism, depicting the deep connections between human life, animal life, and nature's cycles. Virginia grew up in the Devon countryside, then studied Art and Design at Exeter College and Illustration at Kingston University in London, receiving her degree from the latter in 1999. She then worked as a sculptor on the New Zealand set of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, and she's currently back in England creating art for publication and exhibition. Virginia's work has been exhibited and avidly collected in England and the United States. To see more of her art, visit Inner Seasons in the Endicott gallery.

Virginia Lee's contributions to this page are two images exploring women's stories and women's transformation. She says, "I'm fascinated by the symbolic transformations between women and animals in folk and fairy tales worldwide. A woman's link with the animal world can reveal the nature of her pysche; her transformations sometimes occur by choice, but often they are forced upon her. The Owl Maiden, once the goddess of flowers, was imprisoned in the form of an owl for her sins, bound to the night and segregated from all other birds. By contrast, the Lioness disguises herself as human so she can freely enter the human world, seduce a wealthy farmer, and claim his cattle to feed her animal kin. The merging of characteristics between different species creates a very powerful language, one that I love to explore through my art, enabling me to tap into the unconcious."


Helena Nelson-Reed is an American painter who has long been fascinated by art, myth, fairy tales, legends, and mysticism, as well as by cultures, religions, spiritual paths and societies different from her own. Born in Seattle, Washington, she grew up in Marin County and Napa Valley, California. "My mother," she says, "used to work in pastels when I was a child. She encouraged my efforts as I experimented with different media, and she took me to art exhibits and museums, sharing her books and insight." Although Helena attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago for two years, she's a largely self-taught artist. Her educational emphasis has been on abnormal pyschology (cult/occult duo diagnosis) and on art history, primarily focused on historical, devotional folk and fine art traditions of Southeast Asia and Japan. She writes that she prefers "natural surroundings and the company of animals to that of most people. I crave the wild beauty of lonely rocky shorelines, mountains, rivers, lush forests and wide open plains. And I cherish my family, close friends, animal companions, and privacy." To see more of Helena's work, please visit the Lapizmoon Studio Web site.

Helena Nelson-Reed's contributions to this page were inspired by Native American and Celtic legends. About her art, she says: "I'm a simple person. I believe my art communicates to viewers what is truly important about myself and who I am. All else is irrelevant—it's the work that matters. My art flows from the heart, often almost creating itself as I move into and through the painting. Even when the painting appears to be an illustrative piece rather than 'fine' art, there are hidden dimensions not readily apparent. At the same time, the manner by which each viewer interprets my art is a reflection of that individual."

The Tobeys

Gene and Rebecca Tobey are American artists who create paintings in watercolor, and sculptures in ceramics and bronze—the latter ranging in size from three inches to over eight feet tall. Gene grew up in Utah, Rebecca in Tennessee; the two met in Santa Fe and currently live on a 488-acre ranch in the Texas Hill Country. The Tobeys' work, created collaboratively, is inspired by the myths, symbols, and traditions of many cultures, including aboriginal art, tribal art from South American and Africa, and the ancient imagery found in petroglyphs and pictographs. "We truly collaborate," Gene explains. "She responds to my shapes and drawings and I respond to hers. We realize that some people find this difficult, but we don't. It isn't limiting—just the opposite. Our interpretation of space and our colors may be different, but the collaboration opens us up to a realm of creativity that might not be achieved alone." To see more of the Tobeys' work, visit the Tobey Studios and the Big Horn Galleries Web sites.

The photographs that Gene and Rebecca Tobey contributed to this page depict three of their stunning bronze sculptures of animals in process of metamorphosis, and the bond between animals and humans. "I'm intrigued with taking an animal form," says Gene, "and letting it slide into another dimension, act another part, maybe taking on a human aspect." Rebecca notes that, "A lot of our imagery has to do with the [American] west and its wilderness and freedom."


Charles Vess is an internationally acclaimed painter, book illustrator, and comic book artist. His illustrated books include A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint, and (most recently) A Circle of Cats by Charles de Lint and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. Since 1974 his work has appeared in numerous publications including National Lampoon, Heavy Metal, and DC and Marvel Comics. He has been honored with two World Fantasy Awards, two Eisner Comic Industry Awards, and he is a director of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. In 1995 Charles co-curated the DreamWeavers exhibition of contemporary fantasy art that traveled to museums across the U.S.; and he and his wife, Karen Shaffer are currently curating an exhibition of international mythic art: Ancient Spirit: Modern Voice, for the Mythic Journeys conference in Atlanta in 2004. Charles and his wife Karen live in an old farmhouse amidst the rolling hillsides and mountains of southwestern Virginia. To see more of his art, visit his Green Man Press Web site, and A Dream of Apples in the Endicott gallery.

Charles Vess's contribution to this page includes a personal image ("Masquerade") and art from his next collaboration with Charles de Lint, Medicine Road—an illustrated novella chock-full of animal spirits and shape-shifters. About this work, he says, "I believe that the human being is just one small element in the world that surrounds us. In my work I try to transform all those visual elements that make up that world into one coherent mythic landscape. I am not particularly interested in literal, visual realism but in depicting an emotional landscape that resonates with the viewer of that work and brings them into close contact with the 'unseen' forces that surround us all."


Mark Wagneris an American artist who works in a variety of forms from traditional painting to digital mediums, creating imagery rooted in global mythology, visionary storytelling, the healing arts, and the world of nature. Mark grew up in Pennsylvania and studied art at Kutztown State University (Pennsylvania), Pratt Institute (New York), and John F. Kennedy University (California), receiving his Masters Degree from the latter in 1996. He exhibits his work in the U.S. and abroad; he is also an illustrator, film designer, and teacher; and he serves on the Advisory Board of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. His publications include numerous book and magazine covers, and he has worked on a variety of films including Dreamkeeper, Taking the Wheel, Terminator 3, The Book of Stars, and The Face. Mark lives on an island off the coast of Oakland in northern California, along with his wife, the writer Laurie Wagner, and their two daughters. To see more of his work, visit the Hearts and Bones Studio Web site, and Mark's two exhibitions in the Endicott gallery: Mythic Paintings and The Spirit of the Land.

Mark Wagner's contribution to this page are images based on shamanic symbolism and environmentalism. About his work, he says simply that his mission statement is "to re-enchant the world through art."


Nancy Warren is an American artist who works with themes of myth and transformation, particularly those inspired by Greek mythology. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nancy studied with a landscape painter in her youth, but then painting was put on hold for some years while she married, raised four children, and became an internationally trained gourmet cook. In 1988 she returned to school in order to continue her art training, earning a BFA from The San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA from Johnson State College, Vermont. Currently she lives in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California and pursues a full-time art career. To see more of her work, visit the Nancy Warren Web site and Greek Myths Today in the Endicott Gallery.

Nancy Warren's contribution to this page comes from her MFA Thesis Exhibition, Figurative Transformations. About her work, she says, "Each of my paintings begins with a veiled, amorphous concept, usually about a personal relationship with nature. Over time, the idea clarifies and condenses, while the canvas builds up with paint. Change and reworking are part of this process, resulting in a complex composition and an intense surface of paint. To me, a work is complete when it speaks with a voice of its own in a language I understand and has all the formalistic qualities I find interesting."


Terri Windling is an American painter, writer, and folklorist who divides her time between homes in Devon, England and Tucson, Arizona. Both these landscapes, and their traditional stories, provide the inspiration for her work. Terri's art has been exhibited in museums and galleries in America, England, and France, most recently at Les Fées, an exhibition of fairy tale art from the twelfth to twenty-first centuries at Abbaye Daoulas Museum in Brittany. She is the founder of The Endicott Studio, and the Journal of Mythic Arts. To see more of her imagery on the theme of animal-human transformations, visit her website.

Terri Windling's art contributions to this page include two fox paintings inspired by English folklore: one based on tales of animal brides, and one depicting the trickster figure Mr. Fox, who is less benign than he seems. "I've always been fascinated by myths, folk tales and images of animal-human metamorphosis. They remind us of our connection to the natural world, where we are just one animal among many ... cousin to the fox, the bear, the antelope, no less wild, and no more precious, then they are."


Bill Worrell is an American sculptor, painter, poet, and teacher whose work is inspired by the ancient art of the Freemont, Anasazi, Mongollon, Mimbres, and Lower Pecos River Indian cultures, as well as by his own personal and spiritual connection to the land of the American southwest. Worrell studied at Texas Tech University and the University of North Texas; he taught at various colleges and universities for eighteen years; and his work can now be found in galleries, museums, and collections all around the world. He divides his time between studios in Santa Fe and on the banks of the Llano River in the Texas Hill Country. To see more of his work, visit his Web site,, where you can also find information on his two gorgeous books—Voices From the Caves: The Shamans Speak and Journeys Through The Winds Of Time—featuring photos of his art, writings that accompany them, and personal stories.

Bill Worrell's contribution to this page is a photograph of his bronze sculpture "The Shaman of Peace." "I can't pretend to know what these ancient images really mean," says Worrell. "I don't know that anyone can. Please, give me more mysteries in life and fewer answers and I'll be very happy."

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The Lioness, by Virginia Lee

The Lioness, by Virginia Lee

In addition to exploring the work of the artists featured above, we also recommend you visit the following Web sites to view paintings and sculptures by three other artists who have done fascinating work with animal imagery:

The Susan Seddon Boulet Web site, featuring the well-known mythic paintings of this English-born artist;

The Edelman Gallery, featuring the work of the American photographer/painter Holly Roberts; the William Morris Web site, featuring the work of the American sculptor, William Morris; and

"Myth, Object, and the Animal," an exhibition by William Morris at the Philbrook Museum of Art.

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Brown Man of the Muirs... Alan Lee

“Brown Man of the Muirs, protector of wild beasts,” (from Faeries) © 1978 by Alan Lee

Further Reading


  • Medieval Menagerie: Animals in the Art of the Middle Ages by Janetta Rebold Benton.
  • The Way of the Animal Powers by Joseph Campbell
  • Symbolic and Mythological Animals by J.C. Cooper
  • Lost Beasts of Britain by Anthony Dent
  • Shamanism by Mircea Eliades
  • Yaqui Deer Songs by Larry Evers and Felipe S. Molina
  • Shaman: The Wounded Healer by Joan Halifax
  • Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals edited by Linda Hogan, Deena Metzger, and Brenda Peterson
  • Deerdancer: The Shapeshifter Archetype in Story and in Trance by Michele Jamal
  • Lady of the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals by Buffe Johnson
  • Deer Women and Elk Men: The Lakota Narratives of Ella Doria by Julian Rice
  • The Serpent and the Swan: The Animal Bride in Folklore and Literature by Boria Sax
  • The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder


  • Coyote Cowgirl by Kim Antieau
  • Swim The Moon by Paul Brandon
  • Through the Eye of the Deer edited by Carol Comfort and Carolyn Dunn
  • More Than Human edited by Bruce Coville
  • Someplace to Be Flying by Charles de Lint
  • Medicine Road by Charles de Lint and Charles Vess
  • Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson and Alan Lee
  • The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich
  • Second Nature by Alice Hoffman
  • The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson
  • Fudoki by Kij Johnson
  • One Good Story That One by Thomas King
  • When Fox Was a Thousand by Larissa Lai
  • Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold
  • Nadya by Pat Murphy
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • The Wood Wife by Terri Windling


  • Outfoxing Coyote by Carolyn Dunn

Online Reading

Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Terri Windling

This article first appeared in Realms of Fantasy magazine. Artwork on this page is used with permission. Neither the article nor the artwork may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author or artist(s).