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Author Topic: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?  (Read 3423 times)

Katefox

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Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« on: December 18, 2011, 09:38:20 pm »
I see these phrases thrown around quite a bit, and I really only have the vaguest idea what they are supposed to be.  Nevermind that alot of the internet explanations (and the one book I skimmed on the subject; it was the one the library happened to have) seem rather fluffy and not terribly enlightening.  I also understand the word "totem" specifically is problematic because of its Native American origins.  So I was wondering if someone here could enlighten me, or point me to some good resources.

Are "animal guide", "power animal" and "totem" interchangeable, or are they different things?  Does everyone have one, or only some people (e.g. people of a given culture)?  If one doesn't have one, can one be acquired?  Or, well, I've heard of guided meditations and things to learn what your animal totem/guide is, so I guess the answer to this question is "yes"?  What is their purpose?  And any other useful bits of information would be most welcome.

SatAset

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2011, 09:46:47 pm »
Quote from: Katefox;35319
I see these phrases thrown around quite a bit, and I really only have the vaguest idea what they are supposed to be.  Nevermind that alot of the internet explanations (and the one book I skimmed on the subject; it was the one the library happened to have) seem rather fluffy and not terribly enlightening.  I also understand the word "totem" specifically is problematic because of its Native American origins.  So I was wondering if someone here could enlighten me, or point me to some good resources.

Are "animal guide", "power animal" and "totem" interchangeable, or are they different things?  Does everyone have one, or only some people (e.g. people of a given culture)?  If one doesn't have one, can one be acquired?  Or, well, I've heard of guided meditations and things to learn what your animal totem/guide is, so I guess the answer to this question is "yes"?  What is their purpose?  And any other useful bits of information would be most welcome.

 
Those are all pretty much interchangeable terms.  Here is a website about animal totems: http://www.wildspeak.com

And here is a website about a shaman who works with totems and also has a few books on the subject: http://www.thegreenwolf.com
I am the Goddess of Who I can Become. I mix the magic of the sorceress with the blade of a warrior. I walk the liminal pathways to see the face of the Goddess, both terrible and kind. As She stares back at me, I tremble in awe and ecstasy.  --SatAset

Nyktipolos

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2011, 10:25:11 pm »
Quote from: SatAset;35320
Those are all pretty much interchangeable terms.  Here is a website about animal totems: http://www.wildspeak.com

And here is a website about a shaman who works with totems and also has a few books on the subject: http://www.thegreenwolf.com

Totem is not really interchangeable with animal guides/power animals, since those imply personal relationships.

The idea of totems as we know it today were appropriated from the Ojibwe people, but within that culture doodems were animals who represented, guided, etc. the clan. The concept of totems do appear in other cultures, and it's certainly not a novel idea, but using the word totem without any idea of how and why that term is used is cultural appropriation.

I'd just really like it if people found a different term to use, but that's unlikely to happen.

While it's Wikipedia, it still has a decent overview of the different clan doodems and how they work: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doodem

/steps off her soap-box

Sorry, this is just one of my pet peeves. :)
« Last Edit: December 18, 2011, 10:27:02 pm by Nyktipolos »
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monsnoleedra

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2011, 10:55:04 pm »
Quote from: Nyktipolos;35328
Totem is not really interchangeable with animal guides/power animals, since those imply personal relationships.

The idea of totems as we know it today were appropriated from the Ojibwe people, but within that culture doodems were animals who represented, guided, etc. the clan. The concept of totems do appear in other cultures, and it's certainly not a novel idea, but using the word totem without any idea of how and why that term is used is cultural appropriation.

I'd just really like it if people found a different term to use, but that's unlikely to happen.

While it's Wikipedia, it still has a decent overview of the different clan doodems and how they work: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doodem

/steps off her soap-box

Sorry, this is just one of my pet peeves. :)


It's nice to see I am not the only one who thinks they are different.

My thoughs so they may vary or differ from others but presented for the OP

All that follows is my opinion only so other's may differ greatly from that.

I think what many are discovering is the confusion that has developed about the notion of Power Animal, Spirit Animal, Spirit Animal Guide, Totem Animal and Guides in general.  The influx of new age notions and a certain amount of revamping of pagan notions and ideals have changed the face of these items.  That coupled to a certain amount of liberty with the definitions as they have been lifted from other systems of beliefs and practices.

The Totem Animal is perhaps the most corrupted to my point of view. The totem is an animal that was associated with a clan, tribe, family, etc. It was seldom associated to an individual except to the extent that a member of the group claimed it as their ______ Totem. This is most well known when one looks to the Totem Poles of the Northwestern US. Those are Totems that are associated with the tribe (group) not individuals. I will admit I am divided in reference to whether one can have a totem from their respective parent’s lines, I.e. different totem from mother's side and father's side.  In this perspective it might be possible to possess two totems.

There is an individual totem on occasion though they are far more difficult to discover.  Usually the individual who has done or underwent a quest and vision to discover them discovers these types.  They then become the markers for that person and are a guide upon their pathwalk and serve as both totem, spirit guide and power animal all rolled into one.  While possible it is my experience that not all will discover this type of totem creature, even if they do quest for it.

Some totems become clan or Spiritual Clan emblems and houses.  For instance, Once I was in a trance state and had a woman in white come up to me and led me into a ring of dancing spirits in animal form. As she brought me to the ring she introduced me to the dancers as "Wolf" and introduced the dancers as simply "Dancers". Yet as I danced the dance I changed from human form to that of a wolf and watched as the other dancers did so as well, yet they were of other forms.  Later I joined a second dance that was composed of people that changed to Wolf form only and we danced again. Of course there is a lot more to it than just what I have spoken of but that is for me only.

Totems are also assigned to clan’s based upon the Medicine Wheel.  Each quarter of the wheel marked as being under the influence of a specific creature.  For instance under one variant I am of the Turtle Clan as that is the house in charge of the quadrant that covers the month of March.  Yet on that same wheel I have a totem animal of the Puma, as it is the totem that governs that month.  Yet these clan totems may very from nation to nation or from continent to continent.  One may also find totems in the form of clan or family heralds in the shape of family crests or banners.

Individuals were (are) associated with Power Animals. The Power Animal is one that guide's and influences the individual but is also a source of power and inspiration for the individual. For instance one of my Power Animals is the Heron. All I have to do is see it and my mind takes off, yet not each sighting is a lesson though the bird inspires me never the less in how I view the world and see myself in it.

The Power Animal may also show as what is called a Shadow Totem or Shadow Power Animal. That is a creature that instills a great fear or hesitation in us. It is some facet of its power that undermines us until we face that fear and learn to overcome or accept it. It's like Wolf is associated with family and group yet inversely it is also associated with individualism and self-purpose. Both that are seen as a detriment to the family / group when they take precedent in action and purpose.

The Spirit Animal Guide is usually a form that is taken that we initially find a connection to. Many times the initial contact the front door to discovering the more terrifying and darker forms that will follow. Some will hold a singular form the whole time we know them, other's will change and evolve or simply one will leave and another come. Many times the Spirit Animal Guide leads us and encourages us within dreamtime or journeywork.

At times the Spirit version may hold the properties of the physical version though that is not always true. At times one may find that to discover the spirit realm one must become the Spirit Animal Guide.  By becoming the guide we see it's lessons or come to understand the area we are traversing.  Yes, sometimes it also allows us to move unseen or survive in the area we are being taken to.

We also have Divine Spirit Guides I believe. For me mine are Deer (Artemis) and Cat (Bast). My parents have told me cats have come to me since I first crawled from my crib while Deer appear in dreams and walk up to me at times. Granted the Stag is the sign of Artemis and those appear as well but the deer is an unobtrusive messenger that appears in the real world of man.  Guides or a messenger that serve to remind us or connect us to the divine presence in our lives if that is a component of our pathwalk.

I do believe there are spirit animals that are life long guides and influences. For me that animal has always been the Dragon. I have seen them in everything since I can recall and know when they show up something is about to happen. In many instances I have carried on conversations with various dragons in dreamtime.

I think Spirit animals may also be seen as primary and secondary. The primary is always with us but the secondary is of such importance that they are also present at all times but not quite as vocal. For me the secondary has always been the Snow Leopard, yet it is also the primary for my wife.  I'll admit I have wondered if hers was so large in my life as it was guiding me to her.

In the physical sense the assumption of its shape is a form of Shape Shifting. In this instance it's the process of connecting to our Power Animal or Spirit Guide by trying to imitate it's actions and movements. For instance for me with Heron it's a process of stepping into the water and moving and trying to act like Heron in the way it interacts with its environment. Yet not just trying to act like it but to actually feel like it and understand it.

Where I may differ is that I also believe we receive guides from all the kingdoms of life. Certain trees and plants are used as guides within the kingdom of the Green People; certain minerals or stones may call to us as representatives of the stone people. For me the winged people have sent Heron and Dragonfly. The four legs have used Deer and Cats as guides.  The two legs have used many guides. Even the water people have sent guides in the form of fish (Carp) and newts and salamanders.

The thing about guides is that I believe that a guide may only be with us as long as necessary to teach its lesson.  SO we may have guides that are present for a day, a month, a year however long it takes to teach us the lesson it has been sent to convey to us.  As such it also implies that a guide may come and go forever, a guide may appear then disappear from your lives multiple times.  It implies that one may have any number of guides present at and given moment of time to teach you Spirit’s lesson.

As I stated at the top these are my beliefs and opinions so may vary greater from what other’s have to say on the subject.

Below are two articles and links from another person that some may recognize from another site.  Yet I find that I agree greatly with much that she has said.  As such I include them here that you may have other resources to read and discover from.


http://www.spiralnature.com/magick/tradvsneopagantotemism.html

Animal totemism is a hot topic among magical folk, in particular pagans and shamans. This, of course, has spawned a growing number of books about totems which vary in quality from excellent to appalling, as books are wont to do. Many of them attempt to be an improvement on Ted Andrews’ works, which spawned the “totem dictionary with some extra stuff” trend. In addition, there are numerous websites about totems, again of varying quality. It’s laughably easy to find the information you seek.

http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usor&c=words&id=12039

Nyktipolos

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2011, 06:20:56 pm »
Quote from: monsnoleedra;35333
It's nice to see I am not the only one who thinks they are different.

 
No, you're definitely not the only one here who has these thoughts. :)

Thank you for the post though. It was really informative!
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Shawnee

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2011, 07:31:42 pm »
Quote from: monsnoleedra;35333



 
It was very interesting to read your thoughts...thank you.

Katefox

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2011, 07:57:51 pm »
Quote from: Nyktipolos;35328
Totem is not really interchangeable with animal guides/power animals, since those imply personal relationships.

The idea of totems as we know it today were appropriated from the Ojibwe people, but within that culture doodems were animals who represented, guided, etc. the clan. The concept of totems do appear in other cultures, and it's certainly not a novel idea, but using the word totem without any idea of how and why that term is used is cultural appropriation.

I'd just really like it if people found a different term to use, but that's unlikely to happen.

While it's Wikipedia, it still has a decent overview of the different clan doodems and how they work: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doodem

/steps off her soap-box

Sorry, this is just one of my pet peeves. :)

 
Quite unrelated to my question, I've been doing alot of research on the Ojibwe language for a couple of my class papers.  I'm also intending on writing my Master's thesis (well, major research paper, technically, seeing as it's not going to be as long as a typical thesis) on the language.  I had no idea totem came from an Ojibwe word (I figured, rather, it came from one of the more western Native languages, from one of the peoples who carved totem poles), so that's kind of a nifty coincidence.

Everyone's answers look very informative.  I need to come back and reread them when I have more time, and am not in the middle of writing papers.  But I just wanted to say thank you for the information.  It looks like just the sort of thing to clear up my confusion.  I'll probably be back with a better response when I have had time to read through, and digest, everything properly.

dragonfaerie

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #7 on: December 25, 2011, 05:33:00 pm »
Quote from: Katefox;35319
Are "animal guide", "power animal" and "totem" interchangeable, or are they different things?  Does everyone have one, or only some people (e.g. people of a given culture)?  If one doesn't have one, can one be acquired?  Or, well, I've heard of guided meditations and things to learn what your animal totem/guide is, so I guess the answer to this question is "yes"?  What is their purpose?  And any other useful bits of information would be most welcome.


The terms seem to be pretty interchangeable in today's Pagan community. In my coven, we work with the idea of a "Totem Shield" based on a specific set of oracle cards and a book.

In my own practice, I don't know how much I buy in to the concepts. There's animals I have an affinity for, and sometimes I see animals in nature that seem to be giving me signs or advice. I've done some research on various sorts of sites about power animals.

I know that wasn't quite the answer you were looking for. Really, there's no one standard... even within my coven, some of us approach the concept differently than others. Other posters have given some good research jump-off points for you, and then ultimately you'll have to decide how you feel about the whole thing and how to (or if to) incorporate it into your own work.

Karen

corvid04

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2012, 11:50:56 pm »
Quote from: monsnoleedra;35333

I think what many are discovering is the confusion that has developed about the notion of Power Animal, Spirit Animal, Spirit Animal Guide, Totem Animal and Guides in general.  The influx of new age notions and a certain amount of revamping of pagan notions and ideals have changed the face of these items.  That coupled to a certain amount of liberty with the definitions as they have been lifted from other systems of beliefs and practices.

 
All of what you said is as well informed as anyone can be with this topic. Now let me through more mud in the water. As gods and goddesses can be viewed as arch types, so to can animals. The obvious strong as an ox or wise as an owl draw many to try to set there live by the examples of our animal brethren.

This is where my own "totem" and magical name came from, though back when i was a teen it was the OH SO original raven. I later adopted the whole family as they represent the many varied aspects I aspire to.

monsnoleedra

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #9 on: January 09, 2012, 05:04:39 am »
Quote from: corvid04;38127
All of what you said is as well informed as anyone can be with this topic. Now let me through more mud in the water. As gods and goddesses can be viewed as arch types, so to can animals. The obvious strong as an ox or wise as an owl draw many to try to set there live by the examples of our animal brethren.

This is where my own "totem" and magical name came from, though back when i was a teen it was the OH SO original raven. I later adopted the whole family as they represent the many varied aspects I aspire to.


But what your refering to here is anamorphing of human concepts and ideals upon an animals actions.  In many ways to see it anamorphed into a human like creature or the human into an anamorphed copy of the creature desired.

In some ways not dis-similiar to the notion of making a brave man eat a rabbit's heart so he becomes fearful and flee's.  Inversely the eating of a bears heart to gain its strength and ferosity in battle, a wolf's heart for similar type gains.

Yet the key facet there in my opinion is we project upon them those things we find desirable or deplorable in humanity.  Yet it is not about the creature's strengths or weaknesses or even what the prime or great creature's spirit medicine is when it pertains to the whole of the group and not just an individual within it.

I suppose for me its that the creature's teach us how to survive and adapt to our environment and utilize ones strengths, even overcome thier weaknesses.  To call upon thier strengths but ignore their weaknesses seem's to be the way many view them today.  They call upon bear's great strength but forget his strength is a weakness when he is outnumbered or forced to fight upon another's ground.  Wolf's medicine is corrupted when its focused upon the individual and not the pack's survival and he will be driven away, usually to die because of it.

corvid04

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2012, 12:47:01 pm »
Quote from: monsnoleedra;38161

Yet the key facet there in my opinion is we project upon them those things we find desirable or deplorable in humanity.  Yet it is not about the creature's strengths or weaknesses or even what the prime or great creature's spirit medicine is when it pertains to the whole of the group and not just an individual within it.

 
True, I think we should all study the animals which we find appealing to us. As we consciously strive for the observed strengths we my well be projecting subconscious weaknesses. All to often in the pagan community you will find that people want to believe that all of the mothers creations are peace loving and unambiguously good. The truth is many of the thing we find as being bad about our selves is repeated in nature.

NatureMade

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2012, 01:05:32 pm »
Quote from: Katefox;35319
I see these phrases thrown around quite a bit, and I really only have the vaguest idea what they are supposed to be.  Nevermind that alot of the internet explanations (and the one book I skimmed on the subject; it was the one the library happened to have) seem rather fluffy and not terribly enlightening.  I also understand the word "totem" specifically is problematic because of its Native American origins.  So I was wondering if someone here could enlighten me, or point me to some good resources.

Are "animal guide", "power animal" and "totem" interchangeable, or are they different things?  Does everyone have one, or only some people (e.g. people of a given culture)?  If one doesn't have one, can one be acquired?  Or, well, I've heard of guided meditations and things to learn what your animal totem/guide is, so I guess the answer to this question is "yes"?  What is their purpose?  And any other useful bits of information would be most welcome.

 
I just found this thread as I was looking for more information on the idea of totem animals or animal guides. I admit, I am both curious and confused about it, and so would like to answer this question with a story and a question of my own.

Since I can remember (and I am talking about age 2 or 3 here) I have dreamed about bears and bulls. Since, as an artist and naturalist, I am probably not going to make it big on Wall Street, I doubt that has any connection to finance. The literature I have come across stresses that a  totem animal (or power animal, shadow totem, spiritual guide, whatever it technically may be) tends to come to us in dreams or occupy us in other ways, so that we recognize it as having more significance to us than other animals. We can't just choose an animal we like and want to be like, but that it (or they) choose us. If that is so, then these two are definitely associated in my mind in that way.

The dreams are almost never positive, however, and I would go so far as to call them nightmares. When I was very young, I always woke up scared from dreams where I was being chased by a huge black bull (think bullfight type bull) or a black bear. Later, the dreams still remained scary, but usually the animal involved was not actively chasing me or trying to harm me, though I was still frightened by the dreams. Now, at age 56, the dreams are still scary, but I never seem to be able to remember what happens in them except that there is a bear involved. (I almost never dream about the bull any more, though he does occasionally appear.)

The funny thing is that I was a zookeeper for awhile back in my 30s, and I took care of large animals and big cats. Among my charges was a huge Cape Buffallo (think bull on steroids! His name was Idi Amin, and well-deserved, as he had a violent temper  and the power to kill) and a pair of grizzlies. I was so scared of those animals that when I had to clean their enclosures -- a complicated process of opening one set of doors and coaxing them into a separate space, then closing those doors and opening another set to access the area to be cleaned -- I would have mental pictures of accidentally forgetting to close a door or opening the wrong set and being face to face with one of them. I even began to wonder if my childhood dreams had been premonitions of my death somehow.

This began to wear on me to the extent that I actually did open the door one day and walk into the enclosure with Idi Amin. I stood face to face with him for all of about a full minute -- during which time it was a toss up who was the most startled by that meeting. :) I think he was so surprised to see me there that he forgot to charge, and I had time to quietly back out the door. It shook me up a lot, but after that, I was never quite so frightened by him. I did still worry about doing the same thing with the grizzlies though, and it was becoming so stressful, I finally went to a psychiatrist about it. I won't go into those sessions here, but suffice it to say, it didn't help.

I still greatly fear bears, though I actually love and admire them a great deal. I live in an area with black bears (not many, but I have seen one huge male, and at least 2 different bears have visited my parent's house about 30 miles away). The conservation department says they are becoming more numerous in our area as well.

My question is, are these totem animals (or whichever is the correct term) for me? If so, why do I fear them, and how can I find out what they want, if anything, with me? This has plagued me for too many years.

DancesWithHorses

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Re: Animal guides, power animals, totems, what?
« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2012, 09:34:08 am »
Quote from: NatureMade;60986
I just found this thread as I was looking for more information on the idea of totem animals or animal guides. I admit, I am both curious and confused about it, and so would like to answer this question with a story and a question of my own.


Just found this thread too. Highly informative.

I understood the totem connection to clans but the explanations here were really great. I'm very curious about the Power Animals.  Taking me away from animals (the domestic barnyard kind) really is not good for my mental state, I become severely depressed within days. Take me away from horses and I go a little crazy. I think the longest I've gone my entire life without being near a horse is three days.

I never understood why, I don't dream often (and if I do its nightmares, the "failed-exam" version) and I very rarely see horses in my dreams if I do.  They seem to draw out the emotional turmoil I can be consumed by at times and make it manageable. I could be having the worst day, go visit my horse, have a bad ride but still walk away feeling lighter in the end. Unlike many other horse-people I know, I don't really care much for showing, fancy pedigrees or anything like that, I'm just drawn to the horses themselves and I adapt to their needs and habits.

Is there a more in-depth explanation of Power Animals?
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