Working with Totems Part 3

Working with Totems

Author: Robert Oakes

Totems animal spirits are an invaluable ally not only when dealing with spirit realms, but also when trying to understand life lessons.

Understanding that animal spirits choose to work with humans both in spiritual and mundane matters can be highly beneficial.

Part 1 of this article looked at recognizing the various types of totems, while part 2 addressed 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.

Greatest Strength, Greatest Challenge

A primary totem can point out the greatest strengths someone carries, as well as their areas of greatest challenge. Often this is two sides of the same coin, as the weakest area can turn into their strength if they do their work. For example, let’s say someone’s primary totem is elk. One of the aspects of elk medicine is stamina and strength. Now this person just so happens to have a chronic health condition that causes fatigue and exhaustion. By turning to elk medicine in times of greatest challenge, they will come to develop deep wells of inner strength and resiliency. By working through this issue they will not only come out much stronger than they started, but also will be able to go on much longer than anyone around them. Their greatest challenge became their greatest strength.

Animal Behavior

Ethology is the study of animal behavior. By learning about animal behavior, a person can get great insight into the medicine of a totem. Knowledge about animal behavior not only develops insight into the totem, but into the person working with that totem as well. How the animal behaves in the wild relates to how the person will work with that totem medicine in terms of interpersonal relations, adversity and daily life routines.

Diet

Although it is a generalization, people do tend to eat according to the active totem in their life. If the animal is a carnivore, then they will probably need to eat meat at least from time to time. Hoof clans tend to be grazers and will snack throughout the day. Wolves will gorge themselves at one sitting and might not eat for a long while. Bears will eat everything in sight and still look in the fridge for more.

Power Times and Environment

The totem’s natural energy cycle will influence the holder of that medicine. What time of day or year is the totem most active? What type of climate do they like? When is their mating time? When is their birthing time? What part of the year represents their greatest challenge? These are all things that come into play in a person’s life when working with a primary totem.

Interactions

Totems influence daily interpersonal interactions. This can be in intimate relationships, business transactions and family life. Understanding how the primary totem acts socially will give clues to how the person carrying that medicine will behave. This is covered in greater detail in the article on totems and relationships.

Protection

One of the most powerful ways a totem can assist is in the form of protection. Just simply asking the totem for protection is recognized as a powerful defense in most pagan cultures. This might be protection from spirit based forces, or from more immediate physical threats.

Life Path

The type of totem gives interesting clues to life path and purpose. As mentioned in part 1, totems can be indicative of a certain type of medicine. Some basic examples of this would be:

  • Wolf – teacher, pathfinder
  • Bear – healer
  • Cougar – leadership
  • Elk – spirit messengers
  • Eagle or Buffalo – prayer work
  • Coyote – trickster teacher

Overall a totem will point to major work that person has come into this life to fulfill. Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak, Jamie Sams’Medicine Cards, or Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s Druid Animal Oracle would all be good places to start learning about specific totem medicines.

References

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

Types of Totems Part 2

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.

Totem Protectors

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.

Relationship Totems

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.

Primary Totem

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.

References

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

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.

References

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

DO YOU KNOW YOUR ANIMAL TOTEMS?

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 us.)

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.)

DO YOU KNOW YOUR ANIMAL TOTEMS?

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
us.)                                                     
                                                                            
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.)

 

How to Discover Your Guide:

How to Discover Your Guide:

One way of starting to discover your animal guides by examining the animals you
have been most interested in and the times of your life that interest was
piqued. Also examine the animals that have appeared in your dreams or in your
everyday life, especially the ones that have appeared over and over and at odd
times. The following questions can help you determine which animals might be
guides in your life. Has a specific creature or specific creatures, be it
animal, bird, reptile, Amphibian, insect or mythological beast, always
fascinated you? We are drawn to that which most resonates with us. Those
animals, which fascinate us or the ones that we fear the most, have something to
teach us. Animal guides are not always those that we have the most similarities
with. Often they are in our lives to help us learn what we are lacking. When you
visit the zoo, which animal do you wish to visit first? This is especially true
with children and this question is easy for them to answer since they are often
more receptive than teens or adults. What animal or animals do you see most
frequently when you are out in nature? The animals we encounter in their city or
wild environments have significance for us. We can learn from them about
survival within their environment and often much more. Of all the creatures,
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 in our lives when there is something of importance to learn from them.
Do any animals frighten you? That which we fear is often something we must learn
to come to terms with. When we do that, the fears then become 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 then becomes a shadow totem. Have you ever been
attacked or badly wounded 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 understand and
handle its power. 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 a specific animal image keeps popping up in your dreams.
Children often dream of animals and attention should be given to these animals.
They will often reflect specific animal guides of the child or areas of weakness
where the parents can help in their child’s growth.