Animal kindred in the spiritual communities are known as totem animals, animal guides, and totem animals. It is likely you have heard these terms and met others who claim the power of animals as aides in their sacred matters and every day lives. What you may not know as well is the stories behind these helpful creatures and the number of people who believe in them. Take a tour around the world to learn how different cultures view the animal guides in the past and today.
The term totem comes from the indigenous Ojibwe tribe who speak of a time when seven beings called migis showed them a sacred way of life. These migis established dodem which was translated to totem in English. It means ancestral family clans as represented by animals. One clan is the bear clan and quite large. People in the bear clan were often police officers, warriors, and protectors of the tribe. In the mid-90s, members of this clan blocked a train shipment of sulfuric acid and showed concern about mining on tribal property. This was all based on a vision tribal members had. The Justice Department got involved and the mine was shut down. The bear clan drew upon the power of their ancestors who taught them of protection, strength, and power that comes from working together. Modern guides in books and online, have lists of Native American power animals and how those not part of these tribes can harness the totem animal’s strength, but this is cultural misappropriation. While it is fine for non-indigenous people to learn about totem animals, the practices are not for anyone, but tribe members.
Much like the indigenous tribes of North America, the Celts were separated into tribes and clans. Each group had their own beliefs and we know some of those beliefs today. One such story is that of Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni tribe, who revolted against Romans who were invading. As the story goes, she was said to release a hare from her cloak before entering battle and after watching the way in which it ran, she shouted Andraste, meaning victory. The hare was believed to have the ability to see the future. Another story is about Gauls who held the boar as a sacred animal. The boar was revered for ferocity and strength which the warriors wanted to possess. Some warriors styled their hair as boar bristles, coins and temple carvings bore the boar image, and when it was hunted for food, hunters had to be careful to avoid injury. The Celts believes hares could give them answers and boars strength and nourishment.
Though many of the Norse people are believers in animal spirit guides, few are as strong as the elite warriors known as the Berserkers. These warriors were impossible to defeat and entered battle in the skins of bears. Another group of warriors wore the skin of wolves. They were called the Ulfhedner. For these groups of warriors, the wolf and bear were representative of tireless strength and unconquerable power. Also for the Norse in general, ravens were considered the extra eyes and ears of their god Odin. Raven wings were also thought to be used to carry the dead into the afterlife. The power of ravens was transportation into the afterlife and knowledge. Finally, the letter M represented the horse because the Rune Ehwaz looked like the letter. The horse’s power was transportation and a forward movement to better things. The horse represented wealth and an opportunity to move to better things.
South Americans also had lore around the power of animals. The Mayans were well known for believing that jaguars could move between earth and the underworld. Royalty and warriors wanted to emulate the stealth, winning nature, and safety of jaguars. Priests wore jaguar skin to protect them when navigating the spirit realm and return safely. Jaguars are represented in much South American art, as are snakes that are believed to reference the lifeforce. Along the same lines, the Aztec goddess Coatlique is drawn as having a double snake head and said to be the mother of over 400 other gods and goddesses. Without Coatlique, nothing would exist as she is said to be the mother of the god of the sun and the god of the moon. To the Aztecs, the snake is the bringer of life, birth, and rejuvenation.
Today, people are often knowledgeable about many belief systems. Many feel a type of kinship with animals and can draw energy from them for wellbeing, guidance, and healing. Whether you believe the ancient myths or not, there are specific strengths that can be inspired. To draw on the power of spirit animals, first figure out which you are most drawn to in life. Observe this animal closely and decide which characteristics you want to share or adapt to, even if other people see it differently. Then, find a physical representation of the animal and absorb the energy, using it to meditate.