The Care and Feeding of Your Totem Animal or Spirit Guide
Animals have always been a source of wonder. They can do things we only dream of: wolves can run for hours without tiring, tigers are immensely powerful, birds can fly, eagles can spot a mouse in a field hundreds of feet away, fish are blazing fast, whales are peaceful giants and owners of the depths, leopards are masters of stealth and camouflage, horses seem to be at one with the wind on the plains. The list goes on.
How to Choose Your Totem
Because animals have such amazing powers, it would be nice if we could attach some of their abilities to ourselves. Back in the day, your animal totem was often assigned to you by the village shaman, or you might go on a spirit quest. Later, we associated gods with animals, and might appeal to a specific deity depending on what we needed help with. Now, we have the Chinese and Western Zodiacs.
We can of course select our own animal totems too. There is nothing that says you must be given a totem. We tend to have a favorite animal, so that is a good place to start. You can also adopt a totem, based purely on what kind of inspiration you need at a given point in your life. On the other hand, it pays to be attentive; you never know when an animal spirit might present itself as your protector and guide.
As an example, I was recently wandering the forest as part of an assignment to find something in nature to talk to me (I was at a summer camp. This was a normal staff exercise...sort of). Without really taking the exercise seriously, I decided to wander. Soon, I heard the twittering of an eagle, which I followed to a massive white pine. When I arrived, the twittering stopped (probably to avoid drawing attention to the nest). Combined with the fact that an eagle feather had blown across a field right to my boots a few days prior, I thought this was pretty good evidence that the eagle spirit was my new totem. Considering I had just entered a new phase of life after graduating college, it seems appropriate.
Using Your Totem
There are a number of ways we can seek to draw inspiration from our animal spirit. We might wear the skin of an animal to draw power from its spirit, or we might simply paint our faces and wear costumes. Often, a simple talisman is enough to channel that animal’s energy. In my case, I simply draw upon the image of the eagle in my mind whenever I need focus.
Depending on what inspires you or what kind of support you need, you might pick a particular animal. Additionally, the traits you associate with an animal can be up to you, though it might be difficult to pass a rabbit off as fierce (though Watership Down has some pretty mean rabbits). Here are some popular ones, based on my experience and those of friends:
- Wolf: This was my original totem animal, simply because I identified strongly with it. Wolves are known for loyalty, perseverance, and endurance. They are caring, kind, and social, but also fiercely independent, as evidenced by existence of two wolf stereotypes: pack leader and the lone wolf. They will provide assistance when needed, but mostly leave others to their own devices.
- Eagle: My latest totem. The eagle is known for foresight and laser focus. I associate the eagle with lofty ambitions and the focus to carry them out. Soaring above the world, they can reach heights others only dream of, braving storms and harsh winds to perch on mountaintops and forest giants.
- Bear: A friend of mine identified with the black bear (specifically a mother bear). The bear, in her mind, is a fierce protector of those it loves. Generally caring and cuddly, the black bear can turn dangerous if you threaten its cubs. They are playful, curious, and open-minded (just watch them explore a garbage dump), but when push comes to shove, they know where they stand.
- Tiger: I used to be of the year of the Rabbit, then I learned the Chinese New Year was actually a month off ours, which made me a Tiger. When I thought I was a rabbit, I was pretty meek. When I thought I was a tiger, I slowly found myself being more assertive and sure of my power and independence. The tiger is passionate and powerful. Unlike the wolf, which is only alone out of necessity, the tiger prefers isolation, and is quite assured of its potency with or without friends. They exude raw power and confidence, but rarely do they actually have to demonstrate what force they are capable of; the promise (or threat) is usually more than sufficient.
- Dragon: My sister is a Dragon. Dragons are passionate, colorful, nearly magical individuals. You might say a dragon exists in its own world, but as soon as you meet one, you are drawn into its world too. They are extremely energetic and in touch with the spirit world. They tend to be difficult to grasp and understand, but are wondrous nonetheless.
- Horse: Horses are known for patience, quiet durability, and grace. They are masters of the plains and love to run. They will serve others willingly, but only if treated well, and they return caring in kind. Horses are also very social animals, preferring the company of others, and they get along with other animals and humans as well, making them comfortable in many situations.
- Dolphin: I would say the number one quality that characterizes the dolphin as a totem animal is its capriciousness. They are playful to the point of absurdity and impossible to pin down. Always looking for new adventures and new friends, they never hang out in one place for very long. As they are extremely intelligent, they learn quickly and love to experience new things.
Of course, there are many, many other animals to choose from. And of the ones I’ve described here, you can always apply your own interpretations to suit your needs.
Once you have picked a totem animal (or two), you can draw on their spirit whenever you need inspiration. I used to image a wolf running alongside me during cross country races. These days, as I question my direction and future, I look to the eagle for its foresight as I try to plan out my life.
I don’t know to what extent these things help, but sometimes remembering the traits of my animals helps get my mind in the right mode of thinking to tackle whatever problems are before me. As a Warrior Spirit, I am trying to be my best, so it makes sense to aspire to those animals who are the absolute best at what they do.
- Humans have used animals as inspiration throughout history: Animals have always represented powers beyond human grasp. Thus, we have frequently sought to embody those traits by worshiping or associating with those animals.
- Pick an animal totem, and be open-minded: You may be naturally drawn to a particular animal, or some signs and indications in your life might show you a new totem. Be open to your inclinations and pay attention.
- Having an animal totem is a good way to get yourself in the right mindset for a task: Pick an animal that has the traits you need to deal with your biggest challenges in life right now. Whenever you are feeling beaten down or need an extra boost of inspiration, find some way to draw on your totem animal.
Please share your animal totem, how you found it (or how it found you), and when you call on it to help you. Get a little New Age-y, have some fun :)