A power animal, is a broadly animistic and shamanic concept that has entered the English language from Anthropology, Ethnography and Sociology. A tutelary spirit guides, helps or protects individuals, lineages and nations. In the shamanic worldview, everything is alive, bearing an inherent virtue, power and wisdom. Power animals represent a person’s connection to all life, their qualities of character, and their power.
Power animals are endemic to shamanic practice in both Eurasia and the Americas. They are the helping or ministering spirit or familiar which empowers individuals and is essential for success in any venture undertaken.
In the shamanic worldview, everyone has power animals or tutelary spirits which empower and protect them from harm, like guardian spirits or angels in the Abrahamic Traditions. The power animal may also lend its ward or charge the wisdom or attributes of its kind. For example, a hawk power animal provides hawk attributes, such as hawk-eye.
Power animals most often come to us in dreams, meditations, initiations, and visions. You can have more than one power animal. Your power animal at a given time can change depending on your life-path at that time. Power animals are often attracted by one’s emotional needs of the person – viewed as protectors who help overcome fears and empower us.
The concept of a Power Animal is universal to all cultures. Tribal cultures will recognize a Totem for the tribe, one for the clan one belongs to, and one for the family that one is born into. In the United States, and in other countries, the Tribal and Clan Totem still exists, although it is thought of in a slightly different manner.
There are also totems for our adopted cultures, such as clubs or societies which we may belong to, such as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Loyal Order of Moose, and the Lions Club.
Even Christianity, the prevalent religion of this country, has maintained two Totem animals, these being the Fish and the Lamb. Specialized Totems are also seen in organized sports, their names being reflected in the team names. Example: Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Falcons
The next type of Power Animal or Totem is that which is personal for the individual. These Totems are protective spirits which help us in our everyday life. Everyone has such a Totem. Even today most parents give a special protective Power Animal to their children and tell the child that it will be protected over night by that Power Animal. They don’t realize that is what they are doing when they give a teddy bear to their little one.
We often unconsciously recognize the Power Animal affecting someone, and use terms which give away our unconscious recognition.
In the shamanic belief every thing is alive and carries with it power and wisdom. Power animals are an essential component of shamanic practice. They are the helping spirit which add to the power of the shaman and are essential for success in any venture undertaken by the shaman.
Shamans believe that everyone has power animals – animal spirits which reside with each individual adding to their power and protecting them from illness, acting similarly to a guardian angel. Each power animal that you have increases your power so that illnesses or negative energy cannot enter your body. The spirit also lends you the wisdom of its kind. A hawk spirit will give you hawk wisdom, and lend you some of the attributes of hawk.
Everyone is thought to have a few of these guardian power animals or it is thought that the individual could not survive childhood. Over the course of her or his life the person may have several. If a power animal leaves and one does not come to take its place the individual is considered, by the shaman, to be disempowered and therefore vulnerable to illness and bad luck.
Power animals do not have to be mammals and can be reptiles, insects or sea creatures. Any living creature can serve as a power animal. (Plants and trees can serve as plant spirit guides.) Domesticated animals are generally not considered power animals because they already in service to human beings. It is possible to have a domesticated animal, but it is more likely to have a wild untamed animal serve in the capacity of a power animal.
The gifts that a particular animal is thought to give an individual varies depending on the culture. Although there are certain consistencies for certain animals. A particular power animal can come to help you with an issue that is very specific for you. It is important not to lock each animal into a category, and be open to the gifts it may be coming to share with you.
It is important to honor your power animal. In many western cultures we are not taught to value animals or the gifts that they add to our life and the world around us. In shamanic work the power animal is essential, for a shaman who has no power – is not going to have very good results.
On a personal level by honoring your power animal you let it know that its assistance is appreciated. The spirit of the animal is giving up its mobility in order to spend its time with you and assist you with your life. Also, by honoring the power animal we make a deeper connection with it. Honoring it can be as simple a saying a thank you inside yourself, or getting an object which represents it and putting it where you can see it as you go about your day.
Shamanic practice honors and acknowledges the life and wisdom that exists in all things. Everything is believed to have something to teach you and animals are thought to have a wealth of wisdom and protection to offer you.
If you would like to find out who your power animal is, consulting a shamanic practitioner is an option. But to discover this on you own, you can ask for a dream and see if anything comes up. You can ask the power animal to show itself to you and if you start seeing one or another animal frequently that would be its way of revealing itself to you.
Power Animals are usually a reflection of your deepest self and also represent qualities which you need in this world, but which are often hidden or obscured. A mistake that people often make is to be dissatisfied when they find that their Power Animal is some non-ferocious animal like a mouse. We tend to think that a mouse is not very powerful – that it is meek and afraid. What they forget is that spirits are not limited to physical reality and that size is irrelevant. Your Power Animal may be a tiny mouse, but in times of need this mouse can and will change its size and deportment to that which is appropriate to the occasion.