Friday, July 12, 2013

Animal Totems As A Spiritual Tool

Chief Seattle of the Suwamish Tribe said, "Whatever happens to the beast also happens to the man. All things are connected."  He was saying that we are not above nature; instead, we are one with it. Animals are our brothers and sisters; they are our guides and our teachers.

Nature has long been a part of my life. As a child I spent a lot of my time exploring ponds, creeks, and woods. Whenever I encountered animals, I instinctually knew that I was in the presence of something special and magical. I believed (and still believe) that each animal that showed up during my adventures was sent as a sign especially for me.  Later I would learn that those animals were my totems, spiritual beings sent to guide me, and it was my job to stop, listen, and heed their messages.

A totem, as defined in the dictionary, "is any natural object, being, or animal believed to have spiritual significance."

An animal totem is an animal to which you feel an affinity or a deep connection; it is a symbol of a specific kind of energy that we manifest and align with in life. People use animal totems to get in touch with specific qualities or personality traits found within the animal. Animal totems help us to learn about ourselves and the invisible world. They offer spiritual guidance. Their behaviors and habitats give us clues as to what message is being offered, and they help us to absorb any challenging or complex lessons. They also help us to realize wisdom and inner peace, especially when important cycles of change unfold in our lives.

Animals are some of the most powerful symbols in our spiritual toolbox, but animal totem awareness is by no means worship of any animal. It's not about deifying them. Instead, we are to use them as spiritual tools along our personal path, guiding us ever inward. When we acknowledge an animal totem, we are honoring the essence -- the spiritual force -- that lies behind it.

You can have several animal guides throughout your lifetime. Sometimes a guide will come only for a short time and then be replaced by another as your journey evolves or changes direction. When this happens, give thanks to your animal guide for instructing and protecting you, and then welcome your new guide into your space.  But to do this you need to know what your animal totem is.

There are a number of ways to discover your animal totem. Start by asking yourself some questions to get you thinking about a prominent animal in your life.

1.  Animals that fascinate us have something to teach us. To what animal, bird, reptile, or insect have you been drawn or felt connected?

2.  Our dreams are powerful spiritual resources. What animals have repeatedly shown up in your dreams?

3.  Nature preserves and zoos allow us to get up close and personal with animals. What is the first animal you want to see when you go?

4.  What animal do you fear the most? This animal can help you to confront the shadow side of yourself.

5.  What animal frequently presents itself when you are out in your surroundings or out in nature?

6.  Over time, our interests in animals change. What animal interests you the most at this moment?

7.  What positive encounter have you had with an animal?

8.  What negative encounter have you had with an animal?

If you're still uncertain as to what your animal totem is, don't despair.  It's important to have an open mind and to release any preconceived notions. It's also important to be patient in this process. Just let the animal present itself naturally to you.

You may want to start keeping a journal to record the animals that show up in your dreams.  Begin paying attention to which ones show up repeatedly. Do this for the next couple of weeks to discover any patterns or links.  In addition, keep track of animals that randomly pop up in your mind and that you encounter during your day.  Note your reaction. What feelings, emotions, or sensations arose? Did you feel pulled toward it? Did it make eye contact with you? What did your gut tell you?

You may also want to do a meditation. Find a place where you can be alone and free of distractions and technology. Relax by doing some deep breathing. When ready, ask your animal to make its nature known to you. Give thanks to it for making itself known.

Once you discover your animal totem, ask it for confirmation in the next week so that it is truly your totem. These confirmations will come in many ways. Spirit communicates in diverse ways. You may dream about it, read about it, see it on TV, hear about it on the radio, or encounter it in art or in pictures. You may even encounter someone who is attuned to the invisible world who can see your animal totem and tell you. Whatever the case, verify it, study it, learn about it to facilitate your being able to relate it to yourself. One thing you don't want to do is to brush it off because your ego didn't find it glamorous enough. Explore it; it may be quite appropriate to you.

Animal totems, as a spiritual tool, help us to understand ourselves, our lives, and the interconnectedness of all things. Connecting with the phenomena and energy of an animal gives us a new look at reality. As we learn about our totem, we identify, we grow, we learn, we rediscover the joy and mystery of the natural and spiritual world; we see all things as one.

Your comments are always welcome. What animal totems have you had or do you have?


  1. This is a beautiful article, Penny. Animals have such a union with people that largely goes unnoticed. I believe we can learn so much about ourselves, our true selves by learning more about the animals that guide us. Thank you so much for penning this!

    1. Thank you, Cheryl. The fact that most people have or have had pets demonstrates our deeper connection with animals and with the spiritual essence within them. Thank you for your comments!

  2. Great article Penny!
    I'm such an animal lover and I always have been!! When I was growing up (and even today) I spent (and do spend) a great deal of my time outdoors in nature. I have always been surrounded by animals such as - deer, wolves, bear, squirrels, hawks, birds, snakes, rabbits, coyote, owls, dogs, cats etc..- you name it!

    I have always considered animals to be an important part of my loving and extended family - they teach me so much every day! Thank God for the animals!!

    1. Gena, thank you! If someone were to offer me a trip to a major city or trip to the wilderness, I'd choose the wilderness hands down. I absolutely love nature and spending time in it. And your comment about animals being a part of our extended family certainly resonates with me.

  3. Penny thanks for your article. It has given me something to think about when I chant about my affinity with nature and animals. One of my Buddhist prayers that I do twice a day is for the happiness of all living beings. :)

    1. You are quite welcome, Liz. What a wonderful prayer. Everything is interconnected as you well know being a Buddhist. Our furry friends are our brothers and sisters in this world. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Great article. Enjoyed reading this. Lions show up in my dreams but I am very drawn to tigers and the eagle.

  5. Suzy, we can have more than one animal totem. We can have a power animal that stays with us for life, and other totems that show up to help or guide us through a particular situation. Thanks for commenting!