Awakening to Your Spirit Totems
The reality of spirit beings and their assistance to those in the physical has been a part of every major religion. The Greeks spoke to spirits and gods through oracles. The Bushmen of Africa developed ritual and myth from the movements and activities of animals such as the eland and mantis. The Native Americans imitated animals in dance and ritual to establish links with the spirit realm. Belief in the spiritual realms of life and all of its varied manifestations is universal. The most common belief in many societies is that spiritual guides often use animals or animal imagery to communicate their purpose and roles to humans. In our modern, rational society there is a tendency to scoff at such possibilities. Spirit beings-whether in the form of saints, angels, ancestral contact, fairies and elves, demons, and even animal totems-fill our ancient myths and scriptures. When beliefs are as universal as these, some credence should be given them. Their descriptions show them to be as diverse as the humans we meet on a daily basis. They serve many functions upon the planet. They help us to recognize our own innate abilities. They help empower us and protect us.
Their energies can be used to help heal, inspire, and grow. One of the most common forms spirit guides take are in the form of animals. Most ancient societies studied the natural world in order to understand the supernatural. Gods and goddesses were often depicted as animals. Throughout this book we will examine how nature-in the guise of animals-is a means by which the spiritual links with the physical. We will examine the symbolic and mythical aspects attributed to animals and how that should speak to us personally. A totem is any natural object, animal, or being to whose phenomena and energy you feel closely associated with during your life. In this book we will be focusing predominantly upon spirit totems in the guise of animals. The study of animal totems is essential for understanding how the spiritual realm is manifesting within your natural life. We can use animal totems and their images to learn about ourselves and the invisible world.
We do not have to believe that these images and totems are beings of great intelligence, but there is an archetypal power that resides behind, oversees, and manifests through these creatures. These archetypes have their own qualities and characteristics which are reflected in the behaviors and activities of the animals. A shaman works to reconnect conscious human life with nature and spirit through animal totems. The image of the animal helps the shaman to transcend the normal, waking consciousness so that he or she can more easily attune to the more ethereal realms and beings. By discovering your animal totem, studying it and then learning to merge with it, you will be able to call its energy forth whenever needed. You will be able to connect with specific archetypal forces and patterns through the animal and understand the patterns of your own life more effectively.
When you honor the totem, you honor the essence that lies behind it be it an actual force or a specific spirit being who uses the image and form of the animal to communicate with you. Ancient priests and priestesses used animals totems to assist them in coming face to face with the spirit world. They would imitate the animals in posture, dress, and dance, creating rituals around it so as to invoke and share in the energy manifesting in the world through that animal. The animal became a totem-a power or medicine. It became a symbol of a specific kind of energy. When they awakened to that totem and honored it, they released the archetypal energies behind it into their lives. You can learn to access that same energy. By doing so, you begin to learn the language of nature and open yourself to her secrets. The first step, though, is to determine what your animal totem(s) might be. There are techniques to help you identify your personal animal totems. Most are simple and require little more than increased observation and the application of your own creative imagination. That is what this book will help teach you. Most people equate the imagination with unreality. Nothing could be further from the truth. The imagination is a power of the mind to create and work with images.
It is this ability which can open us to other realms, assist us in healing, help us to discover lost knowledge and to open to higher vision and even prophecy. Through creative imagination we begin to see the spiritual energies surrounding and interplaying with the physical world. What we consider imagination is a reality in some form on levels beyond the normal sensory world. With creative imagination, we create a new kind of awareness, a new kind of experience in color and form. This triggers higher forms of inspiration and intuition, giving us a higher understanding of the conditions of our lives and the spiritual energies affecting it. Images are the tools to link with the spiritually creative world. It is what helps you to identify your spirit totems and awaken their energies in your life.
As you begin to identify and recognize your animal totems, you will begin to understand your life more effectively. You will be able to develop a more unique view of yourself, along with a new look at reality. You will find yourself filled with new inspiration, and you will find yourself more creative within your life. The more you understand your totem, the more you will understand yourself.
Do You Know Your Animal Totems?
(Begin the process of discovering your animal totems by examining the animals you have been most interested in and the times of your life that interest was piqued. Use the following questionnaire to help you determine which animals are probably totems to you in your life.):
1. Which animal or bird has always fascinated you? (We are drawn to that which most resonates with us. Those animals which fascinate us have something to teach us.)
2. When you visit the zoo, which animal do you wish to visit the most or first? (As a child, this is especially important. Children are more naturally open and thus are able to more easily recognize the animal that will be important to them.)
3. What animal(s) do you see most frequently when you are out in nature? Have you had encounters with animals in the wild? (The animals we encounter, in the city environment or in the wild, have significance for us. We can learn from them, even if only about survival within that environment.)
4. Of all the animals in the world, which are you most interested in now? (Our interests in animals change. Yes, we usually have one or two that are lifetime, power animals, but others become prominent when there is something important or specific to teach us.)
5. What animal most frightens you? (That which we fear the most is often something we must learn to come to terms with. When we do that, it then becomes a power. Some shamans believe that fears will take the shape of animals, and only when we confront them without fear do their powers/medicine work for us instead of against us. Such an animal becomes a shadow totem.)
6. Have you ever been bitten or attacked by an animal? (Historically, if a shaman survived an attack, it was believed that the animal was the shaman’s spirit totem and the attack was the totem’s way of testing the shaman’s ability to handle the power.)
7. Do you have dreams with animals in them or are there animal dreams you have never forgotten? (This is especially important if the dreams are recurring or if at least the animal image in the dream is a recurring one. Children often dream of animals, and attention should be given to these animals. They will often reflect specific spirit totems of the child.)
The Basics of Animal Totems
Animal totems go by a variety of names. They are called spirit animals, power animals, totem helpers and others. Regardless of how people refer to them, certain beliefs are common:
1. Every animal has a powerful spirit.
2. This spirit may be its own, or that of a being who uses the animal image to communicate messages of the world to humans.
3. Every animal has its own talents. A study of its talents will reveal the kind of medicine, magic, and power it can help you to develop within your own life. Remember, every animal has a specialty.
4. Lifelong power animals are usually wild, not domesticated, animals. There are a few exceptions, but even these exceptions are often just links to the true power animal. For example, people may have dogs or cats as totems. These have their own medicine and power, but the domesticated animal may only be a softened form of its wild counterpart. A dog may be a link to the wolf, coyote, or any of the wild canine family. A cat may be a link to a member of the wild feline family, such as panthers, lions, tigers, and such. For many, beginning with the domesticated form of the totem is a way of laying a foundation so that some day they will be able to handle and work more effectively with its true power form.
5. The animal chooses the person, not the other way around. Many believe that they can just choose an animal and start communicating with it. Usually ego gets in the way at these times. The individual chooses the animal he or she believes to be most glamorous and powerful, rather than what is harmonious to the individual. The results are ineffectual and often frustrating. No animal is better or worse than any other. Every animal’s medicine is unique. It is always much better to be powerful in mouse medicine than to be clumsy and ineffectual in eagle medicine. You will find your greatest success in the animal that comes to you. You must develop a relationship with your totem. To communicate with them demands respect. You must learn their point of view. Animals won’t just warm up to you immediately. They must learn to trust you and your limitations, and you must learn to trust them and their limitations. This takes time, patience and practice.
6. You must develop a relationship with your totem. To communicate with them demands respect. You must learn their point of view. Animals won’t just warm up to you immediately. They must learn to trust you and your limitations, and you must learn to trust them and their limitations. This takes time, patience and practice.
7. You must honor your totem for its medicine to be effective in your life. The more you honor them-the more significance you give them within your life-the more powerful and effective they become. Some of the ways you can honor them and draw them closer into your life is by: Hanging pictures of them, Drawing pictures of them, Reading and learning as much about them as possible, Buying figurines of your totem for yourself or purchasing small tokens and images of your totem and giving them to friends as gifts. These fetishes are a reminder of the power and spirit of your animal totem. Donating to wildlife organizations with time and/ or money. Dancing to honor your totem is a powerful link. Learn to mimic its behaviors. If it’s a turtle, learn to creep like a turtle. If it’s a lion, learn to crouch like a lion. If it’s a bird, imitate its hopping or flying. And most importantly, keeping the animal alive within your imagination. See yourself as the animal totem using its qualities in appropriate places within your life. Remember that the imagination is a real link to your totem.
8. Once you learn to work with the medicine of your power animal, it then becomes a doorway to connecting with others of the animal realm. You are not limited to just one totem. Each can teach or add something to your life that the others can’t. Working with your power animal will help teach you how to align with others. This way if you need greater strength, you can call up the image and draw upon the energy of a bear. If you need speed, you can connect with the energy of cheetah. Through your power animal, you learn to align with and shapeshift to the energies of other animals and beings.
9. Although there are one or even several totems that are strongest in your life and remain with you through most of it, others do playa role. You may have a totem for a day. You may have a totem that assists you through a particularly rough period in your life. One may come to you and stay with you through a cycle of several years. Another may be present when you do creative work. You are likely to have different totems for different areas of your life. There’s no limit to the totems you can work with. The key though is to connect strongly and fully with at least one. This expands the consciousness and opens the bridge to others more easily.
10. More than one person can have the same totem. There are common factors in the way each works, but there are also differences. The archetypal energies and spirit reflected in the wolf will manifest for each uniquely, because each person is unique. The role the totem plays will be specific in many ways to the individual. Individuals who are in close relationships may share a totem. That totem becomes a guide to making the relationship stronger and more productive. The totem may watch over the couple. Totem sharing is not limited to couples. Healing and meditation groups often share a totem animal, to oversee the activities.
Meeting Your Animal Totem
The exercise that follows is one that will assist you in meeting your animal totem. We will be using the creative imagination to help open the animal realm to you more effectively. Don’t worry that you might be making it up. You would not be imagining it if it did not have some significance to you. It is important to be relaxed and to not perform the exercise with any preconceived notions. Let the animal totem present itself to you. Let it choose you, rather than you choose it. Keep in mind that the totem will have symbolic significance to you. The more you learn about it and meditate on how it might reflect your own life, the easier it will become to access its energies. In exercises such as these, most people get into trouble with the interpretation of the images encountered. Your nature totem may be a bird, a mammal, or even an insect or reptile.
Read, study, and learn about your nature totem to facilitate your being able to relate it to yourself. Don’t just accept the totem without question. The imagination is a wonderful tool, but if not used properly, it can mislead. Put your totem through a simple verification process:
- How does it feel?
- What emotions/sensations does it arouse in you?
- Is it an animal you that interested you in the past?
- What does it make you think of?
- What is your heartfelt response?
Do not haphazardly discard it, simply because it is not as glamorous as what your ego may have wanted. The totem may be quite appropriate to you, but you will not know until you study and explore more closely the qualities and characteristics of it. Do your own exploration. Searching out the significance of the totem and its application to you and your life circumstances is a way of honoring it. It is the first step in opening a communication that can lead to true animal-speak. If after your studying and exploration you cannot find its application to you, perform the exercise again. If you have a totem appear with fangs showing or it is in any way frightening, simply come out of the exercise. There will be no harm. You can end wherever you wish. You can experience as much as you wish.
Totems teach that there is but one moment and you are in charge of that moment. Keep in mind too that frightening images are more often than not projections of your own fears. They may also be expressions of resistance. It is amazing sometimes how programmed we are not to accept anything that can’t be rationally explained in the moment. Most people have some degree of programming of the idea-”Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.” When you start exploring the inner realms and their play upon the outer world through nature, it can be a little disturbing. There is often a sense of being vulnerable and unprotected, of having no control. If you find yourself encountering fear and resistance, think about your favorite pet, and imagine taking it along with you in the exercise.
This will calm you, and its energy is always loving and protective to you on the inner realms. With exercises such as those that follow, individuals often wonder if they are experiencing a true shamanic journey. The difference is simply in the depth of experience. In a true shamanic journey, you are actually in it, feeling it and experiencing it first hand. It will not always follow a prescribed pattern. In meditation exercises, such as the following, you often observe yourself experiencing the situation or imagining how it would be experienced. With time and practice the meditation can become a doorway to a true journey.
Most exercises to discover one’s totem can follow a basic pattern:
2. Entering a cave or tree.
3. Leaving the cave or tree to enter a meadow or natural area.
4. Experiencing peacefulness of nature.
5. Allowing the totem to enter the scene.
6. Allowing the animal to speak to you-its movement, sounds, form, color, etc, will give you a message about its power. You may even hear its thoughts in your own. Allow it to tell you or show you how it has helped you in the past and how it will do so in the future.
7. Give thanks to it for making itself known, and ask it for some tangible confirmation in the next week or so that it is truly your animal totem. Such confirmations can come in many ways. You may see its face in the markings of a stone. It may come to you in a dream. You may encounter figurines, pictures or television programs on it, but if it is truly your totem, there will come some confirmation of its presence in tangible form, in a quantity that is more than coincidence.
8. Move back to the cave or tree and step back through it to its other entrance point. Then step out from it.
9. Take four or five slow, deep breaths and allow yourself to feel grounded and connected.
10. Begin your verification process. Research and study the totem and its qualities. Meditate and contemplate on its qualities as they apply to you and your life circumstances.
Drums and rattles are effective instruments to use, although they are not crucial. If drums and rattles are used, the rhythm should be slow and steady. You should allow the drum beat to lead you. I recommend you not do any imaging, but simply sit and feel the drumbeat for at least five minutes. This relaxes you and brings your body rhythms into synchronization with the drum. If you do not have drums or a rattle, you may use some soft music that is repetitive and nonintrusive. Make sure you will not be disturbed. Take the phone off the hook, lock the door, and/ or do whatever is necessary so that you will not be interrupted. Make yourself comfortable. Sit or lie down, whichever is easiest for you, but make sure your back is straight so that the blood can flow freely up the spine. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Then begin to perform a progressive relaxation. Focus on each part of your body, sending warm, soothing sensations through it. Begin at the feet and work your way to the top of your head. Take your time with this. The more relaxed you are, the more effective the exercise will be. Don’t worry if your mind wanders. Just bring it back to where you left off and continue. Then simply imagine the scenes that follow.
As you relax, you find yourself growing lighter and lighter. The surroundings seem to fade, and you are wrapped in the warm dark cloak of your own energy and mind. It is safe, warm and comfortable. In your mind’s eye you begin to see soft light, and slowly the view opens. You find yourself at the edge of a crystalline pool of water. The sky above is blue, and there is a soft haze on the distant horizon. Above you, the sun and the moon can be seen together in the sky. You are not sure if it is dusk or dawn, but you know it is one of those powerful “Between Times,” a time in which there is a thinning of the veils between the physical and the spiritual. To your right, at the end of the pool, is a waterfall. The spray from it is cool and misty, and where it touches the pool, water ripples outward, distorting all reflections. It gives the area a surreal appearance. You look about you at the green grasses and the distant trees, and all is silent. It is as if nature is in a state of quiet anticipation.
You look back to the waterfall and you notice a dark area behind it. You move toward it, and as you stand close to the waterfall, you see a cave half-concealed behind it. You step carefully behind the waters and into the muted darkness of the inner cave. You are surprised, for it is illuminated with soft torches. The light given off from them give the open chamber a warmth. Somehow it looks familiar, and it makes you feel as if you were expected. To the back of that chamber is a tunnel that is also lit with torches. You glance over your shoulder to the area beyond the waterfall, and then walk further into the cave. It is as warm and comfortable as it first appeared, and as you step further in toward that back tunnel, you feel a slight giddiness, and a soft childlike laugh slips out. For the first time in a long time, you feel like a child, about to open and explore wondrous treasures of the world.
You step from the chamber onto the path of the tunnel and begin to follow it slowly. It is well lit, and you are not at all uncomfortable. You reach out and touch the walls with your hands, and you are surprised at their warmth. It is as if you could feel the life blood of the earth itself flowing through its walls. As you move further along, the tunnel widens and grows taller. The torches are fewer and more distant, but you notice that it seems to be getting lighter still. Then you pass a couple of torches that are not even lit. You stop and touch them, just to confirm they have not recently gone out, and then as you look ahead, you see the reason. The tunnel has widened so greatly that the sun is able to penetrate almost fifty yards back. You can see beyond the end of the tunnel. There is a distant river and lush green grass. The sunlight sparkles off of it as it would the morning dew on a summer’s day.
Across the field is the edge of a rich, deep-green forest. You pause only a moment, and then you run the last fifty yards and burst from the tunnel into the warm sunlight of this beautiful meadow. The sun is warm upon your face, and the grass soft beneath your feet. Your nose is teased with the fragrance of honey and spring wildflowers. The air is sweet, and you tilt your head back and stretch your arms wide. You spin and swirl and laugh at the beauty and lightness of this meadow. Next to the river is a large, ancient oak tree. Surrounding it is the greenest and most lush grass you have ever seen. You run to it and sit down beneath it. You stretch out, and roll in its softness, and you inhale its sweetness. Then you sit up. Next to the tree is a stone, shaped as if carved into a chair. You sit down upon it, and as you do, you find that it fits your form perfectly. It makes you giggle with wonder. You breathe deeply, and from this chair you look about you. It is quiet and peaceful, and you know that this meadow is a place where wildlife must surely come, and for a moment you envy the animals and the birds for having such a place of beauty.
You sit upon that stone chair and you enjoy the beauty of nature. It is as if with each breath you become more and more a part of it, and it becomes more and more a part of you. Then suddenly your breath catches. You see a movement out of the corner of your eye at the edge of the forest. You hold your breath. Maybe you will get to see some wildlife. Then from among the trees comes movement. It may soar above you or it may step out into the meadow. You sit still, watching, as an animal appears in your vision. Don’t force it. Allow it to show itself to you. And as it does, its eyes seek you out and hold your gaze. Never have you seen anything so wonderful, so unique. Such animals have always seemed so wild and out of touch. There is no fear as it moves closer, only recognition and wonder. Surely this must be a dream! Then, as if in response to your thoughts, it makes a sound, a movement, a gesture and you fix your eyes upon it. In that moment you begin to understand. You catch glimpses of memories of how it may have helped you in the past. You now know why you have always been fascinated with it. And then it begins to move toward that tunnel. It pauses and turns to look back at you, as if telling you it is time to go on. You stand and begin to follow it. As you approach the mouth of the tunnel, it waits. It is so close; with a few steps you could touch it. Carefully, gently you extend your hand out to it, but before your hand gets close enough to actually touch it. It jumps and is heading back to the edge of the forest. It pauses, looking back at you once more and then disappears into the green. You understand. It will take time to develop a relationship.
There is much you have to learn from each other. Until then you must be patient. You smile a sweet sadness, and then move back into the tunnel following it back to the waterfall. As you step from the cave and behind the waterfall, you look into the crystal pool. You see your reflection rippling, and then behind your reflection you see the form of your animal totem. You catch your breath and you laugh, thanking it for opening to you. As you do, its image disappears, and the scene around you begins to fade. You are again in the warm darkness of your own mind. The image of your totem is strong within you, as you breathe deeply and allow yourself to come back to your surroundings.