Totem animals, spirit animals and animal guides are just a few of the things our animal kindred are called in spiritual communities. You have probably heard these terms, and met many people who claim the power of certain animals aides them in everyday life and sacred matters. What you may not know is the treasure trove of stories that these creatures help us, and how many people believe in them. A tour around the world teaches us how many different people have viewed the power of these animals in the past, and how we still can today.
The word “totem” comes to us from indigenous North American Ojibwe people. They speak of a time when seven great beings called migis came to show them the mide way, or a sacred way of life. The migis established dodem or odoodem, translated for English speakers as totem. This means ancestral family clans represented by animals.
One of these clans is the bear clan, which is quite large. Traditionally, people in the bear clan are warriors, police officers, and tribal protectors in general. In 1996, members of the bear clan at the Bad River Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin blocked a train shipment of sulfuric acid, and expressed concern about mining that was happening on tribal property. This was due to dreams and visions tribal members had of an environmental disaster triggered by a spill from a train wreck into their river. The Justice Department got involved, the mine was shut down, and train shipment through the property has all but stopped. The bear clan drew their power from all the things their ancestors taught them about strength, protection, and the power of working together.
Modern guides on the internet and in books will state they have conclusive lists of “Native American Power Animals” and how non-Native Americans can harness these totem animals' strength today. Not only does this disregard how many hundreds of different tribes there are, but also the fact that each tribal belief system is entirely different from the others. There is no unifying belief system, nor one tribe. This is also considered cultural misappropriation by indigenous tribal North American people. While non indigenous people are welcome to learn about indigenous Native Americans clans and totems, those ancestral traditions and practices are not for non-indigenous people.
Like indigenous North Americans, the Celts were in clans and tribes, and each group of people had their very own belief system. We have accounts that tell us what some Celtic people believed.
The first account is of Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe, who revolted against invading Romans. Before a battle, she was said to have released a hare from her cloak onto the battlefield, and after watching the way it ran, she shouted “ANDRASTE!” which was translated to mean victory, after a goddess with the same name. The hare was called upon for its power of seeing into the future.
Another Celtic people, the Gauls held the boar sacred. The boar was the animal sacred to their god Moccus, and it was revered for its strength and ferocity, which Gaulish warriors wanted to emulate. They sometimes styled their hair like boars bristles, and had coins and temple carvings decorated with the boars image. The boar was hunted for food, and individuals had to take great care to avoid injury when slaying the mighty creature. Celtic belief included reverence of hares as those who aided in getting answers and divination, and boars for aiding in strength, and nourishment of the people.
Perhaps the most famous belief in animals among the Norse can be found in the accounts of elite warriors called Berserkers. A mystery to all who did not belong to their ranks, they wore the skin of bears and were said to be impossible to defeat in battle. A similar group of warriors, called Ulfhedner wore the skin of wolves. Both the Berserkers and Ulfhedners bit their shields and fought with unequalled power. It was said no weapon would harm these warriors, and there was no stopping them. The wolf and bear for these people represented unconquerable power and tireless strength.
For the Norse, ravens were the extra eyes and ears of the father god, Odin. He couldn’t be in all places, so his ravens, Huginn and Munin went for him, and returned to his side, speaking all they had learned into his ear. Ravens wings may be the ones the Valkyries, or “choosers of the slain” flew on to carry the souls of the slain warriors from the battlefield to the halls of Valhalla. Ravens are carrion, or feed on found flesh, and this earned them the reputation of being associated with the dead. The power of the raven was of knowledge, and transportation to the afterlife.
For the Norse, the Rune Ehwaz, which looks like a capital M represented the horse. The horse’s power was of transportation, and movement forward to better things. Mobility as opposed to stagnation is the power of this, and the horse represents wealth. Like having access to good transportation today gives opportunities for jobs and getting places, so the horse did in ancient times.
The ancient South Americans were no less diverse than historic North Americans, and the South Americans had plenty of lore about the power of animals.
The Mayans believed jaguars could move safely between earth and the underworld, and saw their activity during daytime and night time as evidence of this. The spots on the jaguar’s coat allowed it to camouflage well and hide from predators as well as being able to sneak up on prey. Royalty and warriors sought to emulate the jaguars stealth, staying safe in battle, and winning against enemies. The priests wore the jaguar skin as protection navigating the spirit realm, and returning safely to the land of the living. Snakes, like jaguars, are seen in a lot of South American ancient art. Statues and paintings show snakes coming out of the body, and it is agreed they represent blood, or lifeforce.
The Aztec goddess Coatlique, whose name means “her skirt is snakes”, is depicted as having a double snake head, and she was the mother of over 400 gods and goddesses. One of her children was Huitzilopotchtli, who was the god of both the sun, which was the giver of life, and he was the one who created the moon. Without Coatlique, nothing would exist. Life literally poured out of her body, represented by her double serpents for her head. In nature, the snake sheds its old tattered skin, seeming to be reborn anew. The power of the snake brings life, birth, and rejuvenation.
Today’s people are knowledgeable about many belief systems. Many have felt kinship with animals, and understand we can draw energy from them for our own healing, wellbeing, and guidance. You don’t have to believe the ancient myths or follow any specific tradition to benefit from the power of spirit animals. As seen above, there are some established strengths we can harness:
- Hare - Divination, guidance, revealing hidden meanings.
- Boar - Royalty, or taking care of the people, power, strength, and nourishment.
- Bear and Wolf - Unconquerable strength, boundless stamina, unbeatable resolve.
- Raven - Diverse knowledge, the dead, and safe passage to the afterlife.
- Horse - Wealth, opportunity, positive forward movement, and progress.
- Jaguar - Moving between the realm of the living and the dead, and protection for this. Stealth, and surviving hardships.
- Serpent - Lifeforce, birth, and rejuvenation.
To begin your journey
To draw from the power of spirit animals, first ask yourself which animals you feel drawn to. Observe them, and decide what characteristics of theirs you want to adapt or what characteristics you feel you share in common. Remember you are not required to view your animal guides the same way other people do. You may feel kinship with the wolf due to their loyalty to their pack as opposed to their ferocity, for example. Then find some physical representation of them to absorb energy from, using it to meditate on the ways of this animal and how you can benefit from it. Some people will wear pendants with their animal’s image, or even a piece of them, like a feather, or pelt. Bones and pieces of your spirit animals can be had from dealers who harvest them ethically as opposed to poaching them. You can also donate money to charitable funds devoted to care of said animals instead of possessing a piece of them. Artwork depicting your spirit animal can be a focus point for meditation, and being in their presence safely, of course, are all ways to start feeling their energy and power.
We are not alone in our spirituality. Not only do we have other people, but our animal kin walk our paths with us, aiding us in our work. Your journey with your spirit animals starts as soon as you will It to, and listen to your own instincts and the voices of your animal kin.
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