Types of Totems
Author: Robert Oakes
Totems form an integral part of most pagan and shamanic paths. Learning how to recognize these different types of animal spirits is highly beneficial.
Totems are animal spirits and energies that protect, guide, heal, and teach. Although the terminology changes from teacher to teacher, there are similarities. Totems can be any number of animals, extinct species, or even mythical creatures. When talking about totems, it is in reference to the animal’s energy in spirit, as well as the physical form it may take on.
Part 1 of this article will look at recognizing the 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.
Types of Totems
The number of totems active is variable depending on the individual and circumstances. In general though, everyone will have a primary totem. Some people might also call this a clan, power animal, or animal guide. Names do change with different systems, but this is the main totem active from their birth until their death.
In addition to this main totem, the average person will have another half a dozen or so throughout their life. These situational totems come in to teach or protect during a time of challenge or change. A shaman may work with many more totems than this, and it is not uncommon for someone on the shamanic path to work with 20 or 30 totems.
The main totem might also form part of the individual’s defense, or there might be specific totems that come to their aid in times of danger. In general, predator totems such as cougar, tiger, wolf, bear, badger, and wolverine would be aggressive protectors to call upon. Some totems that people wouldn’t consider to be aggressive are actually strong fighters; dolphins are known to attack sharks, and elk have been known to kill or injure an attacking wolf.
Healer, Teacher, and Leadership Totems
If an individual is involved in healing work, they will usually attract specific totems to assist them. Most common to this type of work are bears, although many other totems do this work.
Teaching is another level that totems work on. This might be a personal teaching that the individual needs to learn, or it might be that teaching work is a life path. Wolf is an example of a teacher totem.
Leadership brings it own challenges, and a totem might be attracted to assist. Learning the appropriate use of power is a difficult skill, so a totem such as cougar might be brought in to teach these lessons. This would double as a protector when the position of leadership creates a target out of the individual.
Even a relationship with a spouse or family might have its own totem. This totem might be a protector, or it might be there to teach about patterns. Wolf and goose are both relationship type totems.
Totems Dealing with Transformation
During difficult times of change, totems can be an important guide. This might be through a death, divorce, change in life path, or shamanic death rebirth cycle. Common transformational totems would be bats, owls, snakes, and butterflies.
Of course there is also traditional role of a totem in that they can be a guide through the spirit realms. Common totems for traveling work are horses, birds, turtles, and anything that flies or swims.
As mentioned, the primary totem is active throughout life. This totem tends to sum up the general traits of the person as well. It will give an overview on their personality, strengths, challenges, and the way they deal with success and adversity.
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