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:

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.


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 :)