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