Finding a Totem

Finding a Totem

Author: Robert Oakes

How does someone find their totem? Using both traditional and innovative techniques, anyone can find their totem animal spirits.

The first step in working with a totem is to find out which totem is present in the person’s life. It is usually best to start with the main totem or primary power animal. These are different words to describe basically the same thing, and will depend more on the teacher or tradition’s vocabulary.

Part 1 of this article looked at recognizing the various types of totems, while part 2 will address finding a personal totem. Part 3 will cover working with the totems in daily life, and part 4 will deal with interacting with the totem.

Traditional Method of Finding Totems

In traditional culture, the shaman would enter the spirit world to find someone’s totem animal. Some traditions use the clan system, where the major totem would be inherited or more commonly these days adopted into.

If access to a traditional shamanic culture is not possible, then either journey work or hypno-trance can be used to find the totem. This can be done with someone that is qualified to lead journey work (shamanic trance), or with the use of self guided visualization CDs or scripts.

Totem Dreams

It is common that a totem will make itself known through dreams, or even real life encounters. It is normal that these dreams and encounters can be scary or challenging. Often a totem will test the person to see if they are strong enough to carry their medicine. Being bitten, scratched, chased, attacked by an animal can often represent a test by the totem. This is especially true for predator totems. When the person is able to work past the fear, the totem accepts them and offers support.

Dreams can also be incubated by asking the totem to appear in the dream. It would be appropriate to make an offering to honor that totem and to set the intention. The offering could be as simple as a tobacco tie offering, lighting a candle, or making a feast.

Animal Connection

Affinity is another way to be aware of totems. Some people just have a natural attraction for an animal. They have pictures and sculptures of them around their house, and love observing them in the wild. Be aware of what animals draw the attention on a daily basis.

Honoring Totems

Once the totem has shown itself, it is a good idea to honor that in some way. Examples of honoring would be having a small altar or space dedicated to that totem. Pictures, sculpture, track casts, fur, bones, candles, and food are all common items, but bottom line is that it has to mean something to the person making the offering. Anything that comes from the heart is appropriate.

Feasts are a common way of honoring in traditional community. If bear is a totem, then having a feast when they hibernate in the fall and when they wake up in the spring is appropriate. Serving berries and fish would be a natural connection to the bear totem. Putting a small spirit plate of part of the feast outside for the animals, or offering it to the fire with a prayer is also part of many traditional feasts.

A more practical way to honor a totem is to support their physical incarnations. If eagles are the totem, consider helping an eagle rehab or conservation project. For a deer clan, maybe it is setting up a feeder to get them through the winter.

Part 3 will look at the teachings totems bring to everyday life.


Animal Speak; The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, Ted Andrews, Llewellyn Publications ,1996

The Once Unknown Familiar; Shamanic Paths to Unleash Your Animal Powers, Timothy Roderick, Llewellyn Publications ,1994

Medicine Cards; the Discovery of Power Animals through the Ways of Animals, Jamie Sams, St Martin Press, 1999

Druid Animal Oracle, Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, Fireside, 1995

2 thoughts on “Finding a Totem

  1. Merry meet
    45 years ago, in California, I went to bed. I was fully awake. I turned to my right in bed ,and in the open door way I saw a beautiful silver and grey wolf. From waist down ,dressed in denim jeans. Didn’t notice feet.
    I wasn’t afraid. I smiled at it, turned back onto my left side and went to sleep.
    I was looking into studying witch craft while I lived in California. I didn’t get too far.
    I’m back to studying now.
    I love wolves. Moreso now then even then.
    I’m wondering if this is my totem. Have always loved owls too. Very special to me.
    Anything come to your thoughts as you read this?
    Thank you for your time. I enjoyed your articles on totems.
    Blessed be.


    1. Most of the time when we are searching for a totem animal, that animal does come to us. The totem can come to you in meditation, dreams, visions, etc. So if a wolf appeared to you in your dreams, I would say more than likely the wolf is your totem. You love them, you apparently relate to them well and I believe the wolf has chosen you as your totem animal. The wolf is my totem animal also. Mine showed up a little differently than yours. Mine showed up on my front door as a 5 month old pup. Like you, I love wolves. Apparently the wolf sought me out and ended up on my doorstep. She made no attempt to bite me, growl or anything. Instead she took her head and nudge my hand. She wanted me to pet her. I did more than that I picked her up and brought her in my home. She stayed with me for 15 years. I loved her very dearly. Why am I telling you this story? Because our totems can appear to us in different ways. I believe you are very lucky to have your’s come to you also. A wolf as a totem will be your best friend and loyal than any human. You are very lucky, my dear.
      Blessings to your and yours,
      Lady A


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