Did a butterfly come to rest on your shoulder? Wasn’t it strange when the woodpecker landed on your windowsill and seemed to make eye contact with you? Did you notice that you keep experiencing synchronistic encounters with a certain type of animal, everywhere you go?
While we all come across various animals in daily life, occasionally we have an odd encounter with one that alerts us to the present moment. When this happens, you might choose to dismiss the encounter as a coincidence. Or, you can choose to view the moment as a connection with an ally, sent from nature with a message just for you.
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What is a Totem?
A totem is an animal or creature whose energy resonates with your own in some way. It can be any object of nature, such as a tree, mineral, flower, insect or even a type of landscape. However, most people find it easier to recognize an animal as an ally, because an animal’s animate movement through our lives is obvious to spot. Many of us encounter at least one animal every day, making them a perfect vessel for nature to communicate with your spirit.
Throughout your life, you will have many different totems present themselves to you. Some of these may be brief visits, while others adopt you for longer cycles of time. Most people have at least one totem that serves as a protector, staying with the person throughout their entire lifespan.
The Five Totem Types
While an animal totem may have more than one reason for aligning with you, there are five main reasons you’ve attracted a particular animal:
- Power – The spirit of the animal is present to lend you a boost of energy in an area where you are otherwise lacking or weak. The unique abilities and life cycle of the animal represent a particular strength and/or a perspective that would serve you well in your own life. A power totem is the type that stays with a person through major periods of time, in order to enhance, protect and guide the person.
- Messenger – An animal whose visit is brief yet impactful is the most common type of totem. The purpose of it is to carry a message of awareness, whether it be about life direction, emotional release, decisions, situations, or even to carry a greeting from a departed loved-one. While it may be tricky at times to decipher the message, keep reading to find tips on how to do so below.
- Protector – In times of danger or distress, you may attract a particular animal to you that serves as a protector. This totem type most commonly shows up in dreams, as the animal is often a larger or more dangerous type. However, it is possible to attract a protector totem that does not appear ferocious at a glance. All creatures have a defense mechanism, and the one that presents itself to you as a protector most likely conveys a defense you need. The reason for this totem is to guard you, or to warn you of possible danger or illness.
- Teacher – There are lessons everywhere you look in life, but you might not always recognize them. A teacher totem serves to highlight a lesson for you – one that will aid your soul’s evolution through life. The lessons they teach are often uplifting, such as those of compassion, patience, self-love, joy, potential, resilience and hope. A teacher totem is one that is most often present in your life physically as a pet, or it might be one you have picked as a favorite, especially while in childhood.
- Healer – Whether is it physical, mental, emotional, or on a deep soul level, we all experience times in life when we are in need of healing. A totem that presents itself to you in one of these times can provide important clues on your path to healing. The raccoon, for example, washes its food before it eats. This may be an indication that food is the cause of your illness. Other animals present themselves to warn you that something is wrong with your body. A dream about bugs crawling on you may represent an infection that you didn’t know you had. Others may display a certain energy of presence that can help you recover from emotional distress, such as the joyful way a puppy plays, or the calm contentedness of a cat. Look to the animals that appear in your life in times of illness or distress, in order to find the best way to help yourself heal.
How to find your Totem
Although the concept of a totem may seem obscure to you at first, it isn’t as hard to discover your own totem as you might think. In many ways, these animals are already present in your life. Once you set your intention to discover them, they will appear to you in one of the following four ways: inner journeying, dreams, synchronicity, or through physical encounters in the natural world.
The most common way for a shaman to communicate with an animal ally is to meet it on the inner planes of awareness. A lifetime of instruction in mystical knowledge, and a disciplined practice of inner journeying, make them especially adept at navigating the ethereal planes. They do so in order to bring back messages from nature, such as instructions for healing and guidance for their people.
While most of us don’t have the knowledge or the ability to journey in this way, you don’t have to be a shaman to meditate or practice inner visioning.
To try it yourself, take some quiet time alone to meditate with the intention of meeting your animal totem. You might imagine a natural setting for your creature to present itself to you, like a quiet stream or a forested area. Or, simply quiet your mind and wait for something to show up.
To make your practice even stronger, try it while outside in a natural setting. Pay close attention to any thoughts, visions, sounds, or flashes of insight you receive.
If an animal doesn’t present itself the first time, don’t give up. The key is to be consistent and regular with your meditation. Practice it daily until you have the answer you are seeking.
A common way an animal totem might present itself to you is through your dreams. In fact, it is likely that your totem has already come to you in many dreams throughout your life. If this is not the case, go to sleep with the intention of meeting your spirit animal, and be sure to record what dreams you remember immediately upon awakening. This may take persistence, so be patient while maintaining your intention to meet your totem.
Dreams of a totem not only show you your animal ally, but they also convey a message from that spirit. Notice the mood of your dream and how it makes you feel. Examine where the animal is, what it is doing, and whether it seems to be aware of you or not. Each of these are important clues of its message for you.
When the same kind of animal crosses your path more than once in a short period of time, whether it be physically or through some sort of image or reference, see it is a synchronistic sign from your totem.
There are many ways synchronicity with a totem occurs. For example, maybe someone gives you jewelry or an image of the animal. Or, you might hear someone refer to the animal in casual conversation, or come across a picture or video of the animal while you are browsing social media. Maybe people have told you that you remind them of a particular animal. Pay attention to these signs. When these encounters occur more often than chance would dictate, this is your totem is making itself known to you.
Physical encounters with an animal, especially with one that has already crossed your awareness in one of the previous ways mentioned, is a common sign of an animal totem. These interactions usually take place in the out-of-doors, although you may come across your totem in some sort of exhibit, or as someone else’s pet.
While it is true that you are likely to see animals every time you go outside, a physical encounter with an animal ally will stand-out as unusual to you in some way. Maybe a bird lands close to you and looks you in the eye. Or, perhaps an animal crosses your path more than once, like a lizard slithering across the sidewalk, or a deer running near your car. If this happens to you, take note. Whether great or small, every unusual encounter in nature holds a message for you.
Physical interaction with an animal can take place within you as well. For example, you might have an unexpected emotional reaction to a picture of an animal. Or, you might find you have a new curiosity or fear about a certain animal, with no apparent prompting.
“Every animal is a gateway to the phenomenal world of spirit. And what most people fail to realize is that what they think of animals and nature reflects the way they think of themselves.” Ted Andrews
Deciphering the message
Once you have found your totem, it will begin showing up in your life to confirm its dedication to you. This is helpful if you are still questioning its validity, and it also serves as a way to remind you of its presence.
Shamans study the nature and behavior of the animals they encounter because they believe each animal carries an important message from spirit. To do the same, seek knowledge about the animal you’ve encountered, such as its habits, strengths, weaknesses and any symbolic significance associated with it.
Analyze the way the animal moves, eats, survives, how it interacts with its own species, and how it contends with its predators. Also, study any myths or legends about the creature and seek meaning through the various texts available about each animal. Then, examine your own life physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, in order to find a correlation between the strengths and/or weaknesses of the animal as opposed to your own.
Ask yourself these questions about your totem:
- What does the animal remind you of?
- What have you been struggling with lately?
- What are you currently seeking in your life?
- What are you questioning in your life?
- Are you facing any changes?
- What fear are you dealing with?
- What do you feel you need help with right now?
- What issues have you been ignoring?
- What do you need to heal?
- How does the animal demonstrate a quality that is familiar to you?
- How does the animal demonstrate a quality you admire or lack?
- How does the animal work, and how does it play?
- When you think about the animal, what emotions arise within you?
- What would it feel like for you to be that animal?
- How can you apply the knowledge of the animal to your own life?
To work with your totem, you can summon its spirit to aid you in your life endeavors. For example, if your animal is a bear, you can call upon the spirit of a bear to help you when you are in need of strength, stamina, and protection – as these are high qualities of that animal. Or maybe your animal is a fox, known for its stealthy hunting skills and its cunning to get what it needs. In this case, think about where in your life these qualities would be helpful to you. If your spirit animal is an eagle, you might want to emulate its lofty perspective and laser-sharp focus to examine your own life.
Respecting the power of nature
Nature holds the most powerful energies on Earth. Without its cycles and movement, life on this planet would not be possible. But in this modern world where technology holds much of our attention, we risk losing our connection to nature. Disconnection from nature is dangerous because it enables you to view yourself as separate from your environment, and as a result, you become detached, unbalanced and even ill. If this continues, you eventually begin to nurture a blind disregard for your natural environment and instead become destructive to it. In this way, it is in nature’s best interest to remind you of your natural heritage.
The creatures who share your environment with you often serve as reminders to revere your place in the natural world. If you can learn to read the signs and messages of the animals you encounter, you can learn to balance yourself, find your way through life’s many obstacles, and recall your connection to the vibrant power that is life.