Spirit animal, totem animal, spirit guardian, familiar, spirit guide, animal helper, guardian spirit, power animal, animal medicine… these phrases are all ways of saying the same thing. These are all terms for animal spirits that lend us guidance on our journey through life and help us reach higher planes of spirituality and awareness about ourselves and the world around us.In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals. The Creator, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell man that he shows himself through the beasts and that from them and from the stars and the moon should man learn all things told of the Creator.
–Eagle Chief, West Coast, late 19th Century
For the purpose of this column, we will use “totem animal” to express this concept for the most part, and the others interchangeably.
According to the legends of many, if not all, indigenous tribes of the US, there was a time when people and animals on this Earth spoke the same language and could communicate across species lines. Some say people and animals could also change shapes in those days, taking on the physical form of either man or animal, rock or tree, as the whim dictated, or assuming whatever form best suited their purposes to obtain a particular goal.
Communication was even possible with the standing people, the trees, and inanimate (or are they?) objects like rocks. There was no pyramid of evolution in those days, no species was more important or more powerful than another.
The lowly ant or spider was no less valued than the mighty predators like wolf or man. Each animal, man included, contributed to the greater good of all and balance and harmony was kept.
Unlike the beliefs of Christianity and the teachings of Genesis in the Bible, man did NOT have dominion over the animals or over the Earth, but rather shared responsibility and wisdom equally with all.
Modern maintstream practices and teachings in the present day United States usually consider such ideas as “pagan” or “heathen” and children are taught to ignore the possibilities of spirit beings as helpers and teachers. This closed mind attitude is a sad thing, for the very power of these helpmates lies in having an open mind and willingness to listen and be observant to our own long buried instincts.
Animal totems enrich our lives and spiritual growth. They are present whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. However, the lessons they have to teach can be learned much quicker and recognized more easily by an open-minded individual who actively seeks out their lessons. Many Bible stories, as well as cultural legends, and fairy tales use analogies of animals as teachers.
Often the animal’s actions demonstrate a balance of good and evil, friend and enemy, wisdom and foolishness. In the end, each of these tales has a moral or lesson to impart. Totem animals function in much the same way.
In our mainstream society, few people believe in shape-shifting or aligning with the spirits of animals, yet there are those who have not lost these abilities. This metamorphosis is not always phsyical. It can be a mental shifting or a spiritual one.
A common exercise in the training of martial arts students is to mimic the physical, mental and spiritual attitudes and movements of animals for developing self confidence, physical development such as balance, mental balance like courage,and self awareness of strength. Many traditional American Indian people have witnessed and/or experienced such things for themselves, not in the ancient past, but in the here and now.
Monks and other such religious persons do it. So can you. Communication with a totem animal can occur during astral projection, meditation, during the dream state, or with ordinary senses you use every day like sight, sounds, smells. Animals have been present since the birth of mankind.
On one hand, they are nothing mysterious or new. On the other, they remember the things we have forgotten or buried. We think they are mysterious simply because of that loss of conscious knowledge. We are not superior to all else simply because we have digits on our limbs that enable us to use tools. We are not better because we walk upright. We are not always smarter.
Even though we have the largest brain, scientists still don’t know what we use most of it for, or if we even do use it all. We are not the only animal that feels pain or remorse or joy or sorrow. We should recognize all creatures have special abilities, all just as awesome as our own. The ant can lift fifty times his body weight.
The wolf can hear sounds ten miles away and can cover fifty miles on foot in a single night . The cheetah can run and the sailfish can swim at speeds of up to seventy miles an hour. The eagle and hawk can see a mouse on the ground from several thousand feet in the air.
The owl can see in the dark. Some bats don’t need to see at all. The giraffe and elephant can reach high places. The spider can spin silk webs from her own saliva. Animals with digits less flexible than ours, like the bear, have the coordination and speed to catch a fish with their bare hands and the strength to fell a horse with a single blow.
Birds and some insects can fly. Fish can breath under water. Marsupials have built in pockets to protect their young. Geese and homing pidgeons can find their way home over thousands of miles without a compass. Salmon know exactly where they were born. Some turtles live to be three or four hundred years old.
None of these abilities are less impressive than our own special skills, only different. All you have to do is open your mind, quiet your inner self, and observe, listen, watch. Each animal has its own rhythm, its own qualities, its own ways, its own lessons. Each animal shares characteristics that are universal to all.
Learn to recognize the differences. By studying the animals around us in nature, we can better understand ourselves and our environment and our responsibilities to preserve it for future generations.
Introduction | Respect and Honor | New Age Spirituality | Finding Your Totem
The Conscious Mind | Life Totems & Power Animals | The Unconscious Mind
Directional Totems | Tantra Totem | The Totem Animals