Power Animals, Totem Animals and Spirit Animals

Power Animals, Totem Animals and Spirit Animals

By Patti Wigington

Some Pagans connect to a power animal, but it’s not necessary for most spiritual paths.

The use of a totem animal is not part of traditional Wiccan practice. However, as Wicca and other modern Pagan practices evolve and blend together, many people who follow non-mainstream spiritual paths find themselves working with a mix of many different belief systems. Because of this, someone following a Native American or Indo-European shamanic path might find themselves working with totem animals. While totem animals or power animals have nothing to do with the Wiccan religion, some people do incorporate them into non-Wiccan shamanic practices as well as Neowiccan eclecticism.

It should be pointed out that sometimes, the use of totem animals and other Native American practices is sometimes seen as cultural appropriation when it’s done by non-Native American individuals. Some European shamanic systems do connect with animal spirits, but the use of the specific word “totem” implies a Native American connection. It has a very specific, anthropological meaning, and chances are that if you have made a spiritual connection with an animal entity, it does not qualify as a true “totem.” Be cautious what you call your beliefs, because you may find yourself taking ownership of a heritage that’s not actually yours to claim. If you’re not Native American, but are practicing some other form of shamanism, you may want to consider using the term “power animal” or even “spirit animal” instead.

A power animal is a spiritual guardian that some people connect with. However, much like other spiritual entities, there’s no rule or guideline that says you must have one. If you happen to connect with an animal entity while meditating or performing astral travel, then that may be your power animal… or it may just be curious about what you’re up to. Our Guide to Healing, Phylameana lila Desy, has a great piece on different types of animal totems and what they mean: Animal Totems.

Unfortunately, as often is seen in the Pagan community, many times the connection to a power animal is simply the result of wishful thinking. When someone tells you they have a spirit animal, they’ll almost always tell you it’s the bear, the eagle, or the wolf. Why? Because these are animals that exemplify the characteristics we’d really like to see in ourselves — we want to be strong and formidable like Bear, independent and mysterious like Wolf, or all-seeing like Eagle. No one will every tell you their “totem animal” is the wombat, the hedgehog, or the three-toed sloth.

There are a number of books available that discuss the spiritual nature of animals. Nearly all will tell you to “choose” your spirit animal based upon which animals you want to see first at the zoo or which ones you just find really interesting. Generally, in true shamanic practice, one meets their power animal through meditation or a vision quest. Often, it’s an animal you never expected to encounter. If you are fortunate enough to have this take place, do some research on the animal you’ve connected with, and find out why that particular creature has attached itself to you. Animals have different symbolism in different cultures and societies. Take the time to do some research, and you may end up learning something new about yourself.

Your Animal Spirit for Sept. 3rd is Opossum

Your Animal Spirit for Today
September 3, 2011

your daily animal spirit for today


You’ve heard the expression “playing possum”? It means to play dead and is derived from Opossum’s ability to act in whatever way the situation demands. If it’s practical to play dead, so be it; if it’s to Opossum’s advantage to be aggressive, watch out! Take your cue from this master actor today—and play the role that will serve you best.


DO YOU KNOW YOUR ANIMAL TOTEMS?                                             

The following is from Animal Speak by Ted Andrews                           

Begin the process of discovering your animal totems by examining the animals you
have been most interested in & the times of your life that interest was piqued.
Use the following questions to help determine which animals are probably totems
to you in your life.                            
1. Which animal or bird has always fascinated you? (We are drawn to that which
most resonates with us. Those animals which fascinate us have something to teach
2. When you visit the zoo, which animal do you wish to visit the most or first?
(esp. children)                                                      
3. What animal(s) do you see most frequently when you are out in nature? Have
you had encounters with animals in the wild? (The animals we encounter, in their
city environments or in the wild, have significance for us. We can learn from
them, even if only about survival within that environment.)                                                               
4. Of all the animals in the world, which are you most interested in now?  (Our
interests in animals change. Yes, we usually have one or two that are lifetime,
power animals, but others become prominent when there is something importance or
specific to teach us.)                              
5. What animal most frightens you? (That which we fear the most is often
something we must learn to come to terms with. When we do that, it then becomes
a power. Some shamans believe that fears will take the shape of  animals, and
only when we confront them without fear do their powers/medicine work for us
instead of against us. Such an animal become a shadow totem.)                                                              
6. Have you ever been bitten or attacked by an animal? (Historically, if a
shaman survived an attack, it was believed that the animal was the shaman’s
spirit totem and the attack was the totem’s way of testing the shaman’s ability
to handle the power.)                                               
7. Do you have dreams with animals in them or are there animal dreams you have
never forgotten? (This is especially important if the dreams are recurring or if
at least the animal image in the dream is a recurring one. Children often dream
of animals, & attention should be given to these animals. They will often
reflect specific spirit totems of the child.)