Totem Animals and Spirit Guides
Totem Animals, Power Animals, Creature-teachers, Elders, Ancient Ones, and Spirit Guides are all terms used to describe different spiritual entities that will work with us as teachers, protectors, and companions. They are there to assist us as we discover ourselves and other realms of dimension where we learn the true teachings of our spirituality and path work. In meeting our Guides we may experience entities, voices, physical encounters, or shamanic journeys to which we can relate on an intimate level. How do these Guides contact us? Spirit sends them with a message to convey and they have to reach us in any way they can.
Perhaps they will nudge you to turn on the TV only to find a program that catches your eye on the subject they need to address, as a response to something you have on your mind, or as a topic you need to focus on. This program will point out to you the message they want you to embrace. Now that may not be enough for you to accept it as a truth and another method may well be used to strengthen the first. It is taught by many of the world’s traditions that such messages need to come in sets of three. They can come in the same form or three different ones. As you become adept at reading the situations and speaking with these Guides the repetitions are not quite as necessary to judge by since you know how to recognize when the moment arises and contact is being made. Until then, they may direct your attention to a place where you will find the same message being presented. This could be a newspaper article, a conversation between strangers overheard in a public place, a phone call and flippant remark by the caller, or a chance event out of context in a given situation will stand out in some way. Whatever form this message takes, it will come and it will impress you with its relevance to your own life. As you progress these basic rules change only slightly and according to the way in which you have chosen to work with them.
Once we learn to recognize these signs passing in our life things begin to take on a new clarity. The subtle voices we come to hear as we develop a sense of humor about their methods will guide us well. People often ask me how to recognize the signs and omens when they come. I tell them to pay attention to everything and when things start standing out to them they will definitely know something is taking place. We have to look and listen with our hearts, hearing the whispers and seeing the shadows that move. It can come as an experience in the wild, in dreams, visions, on TV, through an elemental force of nature, or anywhere your attention can be focused. If you want an answer to appear in a specific place you can focus your attention there and it will come. Spirit uses every medium available to reach us all the time. We just have to remain open to it. This does not mean that all day long we are being given critical signs of things, we do have to apply some common sense.
When we are troubled, when we are struggling with an issue, feel lost, or are being warned of a risk, we can call out for answers. It is also a time when we usually are best at blinding ourselves to them because of preoccupation with the situation itself. Sort of like not seeing the forest for the trees. For this reason, it takes a conscious effort to be aware and look for them. The rest of the time we will usually pick up on these methods of receiving information quite naturally if we simply trust our own instincts and intuitive natures. We know when we are in the flow of life and energy currents are broken by something. It grabs our attention and speaks to us in a variety of ways. Now, as you learn how to see through the eyes of the shaman it will appear that these messages or lessons are coming at much more frequent intervals. The truth is that they have always been there, you are just now becoming aware of it.
Your Guides have always been sending you signs that signal you to pay attention, and you will come to realize how many times you have chosen to ignore them. Hindsight is a beautiful teacher. Our Guardian Spirits seem to have some very challenging jobs, don’t they? It makes me wonder about the people who go through life ignoring their Guides and how frustrated those Guides must be. It’s up to each of us to choose to be aware, to become enlightened, and to listen when they present us with valuable information. Some of us never do learn to listen and I’m pretty sure those Guides just have to be content with having a deaf mule in their care. Imagine the frustration of having to turn to nudging those individuals around in the right direction. Their job is clear, your charge is to help yourself and them by opening to that guidance. It’s got to be an exhausting process when working with those who wear blinders all the time.
Our Guides will speak to us when we learn to let them be themselves and observe their actions. Do not expect them to change to your standards, but you can ask them to clarify issues you can’t understand. They will not change who they are, but they will do all they can to get a message across to you. By understanding their natures we can learn to behave as they would…to shapeshift. By practicing this art and mimicking their acts, thinking as they would think, responding as they would respond, we grow to know them, to blend and meld as we develop an ear for their method of communication. Their voices grow louder in our ears and we end up speaking their language a new language but a powerful one.
In understanding the animal’s characteristics we learn much about it. It’s environment or habitat will teach us many things. The two combine to demonstrate its vulnerabilities and its strengths. How it hunts, explores, discovers, fights, defends, feeds, lives and its foundations are all important aspects that point out critical issues that are a part of the honing process. The element they abide in may be dry, wet, hot, cold, or any combination that will be a clue to its presence when you are being approached. These approaches come on all levels be they physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Remember it is the spiritual essence, not the animal itself that is your guide though that animal may physically appear as a representative of the essence to lead you somewhere or demonstrate something to you.
A study of the animal, in all its environs and within the context of its character traits will tell us much more than just the universal interpretations of, say, Lion representing courage, Bear symbolizing introspection, Eagle bringing a message to or from Spirit, or Crow telling of change that is on the way. There is more definition than just that. The direction it comes from and heads into will speak as well. Understanding the traits of the four elemental forces will help to interpret even more. The environment not only dictates the lifestyle of the animal but its hazards and vulnerability. These dangers tell us of its ability to adapt to a given terrain or situation that will speak of its prowess or survival skills. What the animal hunts and feeds on will tell us what we should seek to gain. All aspects tie into our understanding of what the essence of its spirit really represents and how it pertains to our life. We can learn from these issues many of the things about our own natures and lives that have remained hidden from us in the past. We start to grow. In the process, we learn to assimilate those traits in our own pathway. Evolution becomes a second nature to us and we come to know ourselves very well.
When Totems, Guides, or Messengers come to us they are speaking volumes, a subtle language of life begins to unfold…that of the shaman who has the eyes and ears to see and listen, who understands the way of Spirit, life, and of living it. Once you understand the Seven Sacred Directions (See the article on this subject here in the Knowledge Center) and how these creature-teachers utilize them you begin to see so much symbology surrounding the events that take place. To interpret what is being said by any given spirit or Teacher all this will come into play. While it may seem overwhelming initially you simply need to let it all simmer and rise to the surface as it begins making sense. It’s quite logical to apply the teachings of the Seven Sacred Directions and the Medicine Wheel to this symbology as it all ties together…the wheels within wheels of the spiritual realms become visible. It brings additional insight as to what is being gifted to you.
To see two messengers of the same species at the same time would indicate that a balance of masculine and feminine energies (if they are male and female) was required. If it is not gender oriented then it becomes double the emphasis on the issue at hand…which is the first thing that comes to mind that is relative to your life when you see them. Seeing them repeatedly three times or more is a definite sign that Spirit or a creature-teacher has come to you for a specific purpose…IF they are going out of their way to get your attention, behaving abnormally, or using their normal behavior patterns to pantomime a message for you.
Some examples of what might be being offered to you through the Feathered Ones are:
Eagle, a creature-teacher who carries our prayers to Spirit and the answers back to us. It teaches us how to fly high so we can see the bigger picture and see our place in the world, or the places others have as well. We learn to honor all positions and be tolerant. We learn to see what catches our eye and then dive deep and swiftly to grasp its wisdom.
Goose would come to address the issue of shamanic flight or journeys, of entering Otherworlds and seeing enlightenment. It addresses new beginnings, a happy marriage, children, wisdom, and inspiration.
Sea Gull is a messenger to humans from Otherworlds urging you to open yourself to the communication with Spirit. These creatures are scavengers and will eat almost anything as well as make a lot of noise calling out their actions. They may be telling you that the issue at hand should be looked at deeply rather than accepting just anything that comes along and calling out about it too soon may draw too much attention to you before you are ready. They also appear when you are nearing your goals.
Blue Jay addresses courage, shouts a warning, or encourages eloquence. It points out trouble areas in your life. Woodpecker warns of trouble that is approaching, so it is considered good luck since it forewarns. They are also associated with prophecy and divining methods that should be used to verify areas of concern.
The Messengers are representatives from every species that walks, crawls, swims, or flies. Just seeing them or hearing them is not enough. They need to be distinctively interacting with you in some fashion. The behavior patterns need to stand out. While they do speak out in life’s daily activities, not all their conversations are meant for or directed toward us. Knowing how to recognize when they are is something that comes with experience, and some serious common sense is required. Otherwise, you fall into the trap of depending on your own false flattery to direct your life and then generally end up paying some very foolish prices along the way. Study of totemic interpretations is vast and fascinating, but the foundations to actually glean wisdom from these Messengers comes with a lot of practice. Learning what the animals represent will tell you of their essence and you will begin to see how to apply the teachings.
Worlds within worlds begin to open up when we learn how to listen and work with our Guides. The doors just seem to swing wide open and realms reveal themselves. One such realm is that of the lucid dream and it can be a very powerful tool. In Native American terms, this is the context of the Dream Lodge. Everyone works just a little differently there but the fundamental issues remain the same. While many books on the market tell of various techniques to achieve success, we each have to experiment and find out what works best for us. The simple reality is a shift in awareness during the dream state does take place. Being aware that you are dreaming and seeing through the eyes of your inner spirit allows you to literally dwell inside yourself and see the vastness of that microcosm. You can act on your own will to learn or change things simply by thinking about them. You can plant seeds that will manifest later in the physical reality. You can meet and study with your Totems, Guides, and Teachers. You can explore other realms of reality and grow beyond what the physical world presents to you. I tend to keep my changes to a minimum, preferring to receive information, request something specific be addressed, seek out an answer, or to know a proper tool I wish to work with. I might seek a portal to enter or any number of other issues relative to my path. Often these things just appear and serve to expedite the journey and its exploration.
Your Guides are always there in these instances and if you are new to this you should be looking for them. They will stand out in a crowd in some way. Perhaps with glowing eyelids, as animals that speak, or having some distinctive character trait enhanced through their appearance. Whatever the case may be, they will come and you can practice entering the Dream Lodge meanwhile. Begin with the simple technique of seeing the back of your hands or your feet while you are dreaming. As you get better you can begin to move things around, change your location instantly, alter events that are taking place, and much more. Initially, you will want to explore these options just to see how they work and what benefits they may hold for you. In this realm actions, settings, and events are literally thoughtforms comprised of spiritual energies be it our own or that of our Guides. Understanding this helps to perceive things a bit differently and allows the subconscious to work without competing with the logical mind.
The settings and entities we encounter appear just as solid and real as they would in the mundane world because we are equal in form or density when sharing the spiritual realms with them. It is a bit more fluid as the density varies depending on the level we are working at, it is somewhat thinner and we can easily weave with it as we choose. I choose not to change a lot of events I experience in the Dream Lodge as it truly is a classroom for me and I allow my teachers control over the situations so I can remain focused on following their instructions. I tend to learn more that way than I do when I play around with things. Initially, I think everyone likes to test their ability to shift things around, but once you see you can do it you tend not to need to. You simply know that you can and if a situation should arise where you feel the need to do so it’s there for you. My Teachers have always provided safe settings that compliment the issue I’m faced with. If there are no Teachers present and it is simply an exploration then you have an excellent arena in which to practice that art. That is where the fun of shifting lots of things around comes in. Your personal preferences and what you choose to do are up to you.
Whether you are on a shamanic journey or working within the Dream Lodge your senses become very keen at these times. To practice focusing on each one and honing your abilities with them will allow you to combine them later as a comprehensive tool to work with. By honing your ability to use them at this level you explore new facets of each sense and begin to recognize that they are capable of speaking to you, of expressing things in a new language or voice you can trust. Feeling your emotions, seeing colors, smelling odors, feeling textures, hearing sounds, sensing temperatures-all your senses need to be honed just as they are in the mundane world.
It is possible to request a specific Teacher or Guide come to instruct you, a specific issue to be addressed, a certain setting or location of choice, or to continue with a past session before going to sleep. Announcing that you will be entering the Dream Lodge opens that door for your Guides to appear or the results to come. At other times they may present themselves to you on their own and you will simply realize that you are in the Dream Lodge as the clarity begins to take its place in your sphere of knowing. While we are not likely to dream in this fashion every night it is frequent enough to keep us quite busy with lessons. I find that the cycle of Grandmother Moon enhances these dreams well, usually strengthening them during the waxing phase and reaching a peak in the second quarter. This is a general rule of thumb for me specifically and yours may differ. If the Teachers want to show up they will come when they feel it is necessary. My idea of control is control over my own actions, not those of others who may choose to teach me things. It is a dream journey, a bit different from those that stem from our meditative and imaging sessions, but just as valid.
When our Guides come to us in dreams it is usually because they can take up a voice and use it there, they can transfer thoughts, and they can act in ways they might normally be restricted from in the physical reality. By entering our Dream Lodge they can shapeshift into the world that meets their needs and ours. We have a tendency because we are in a dream state and have already accepted its flexibility, to accept them there as the easiest of all places initially and so it is often one of our first classrooms to explore.
Animal environments do figure into their interpretations just as the universal meanings of the essence of these animals will play a part. We look into these when we have a Sacred Dream or encounter with our Guides, but our own symbology and meanings carry greater weight when deciphering what has taken place. These events are meant for our benefit and what we see as symbolic of something may differ from what someone else would choose. Our Guides know how we think and perceive and they use the thought patterns in our minds to create the events that will make the most sense to us. It’s our job to learn to listen to them and be One with them so we know their thought processes too. When an Animal Spirit takes the form of our Totem or Power Animal we have a much deeper look at the particular importance it blesses us with and to know it at a much deeper level. We start to see they reflect our own nature in some way and thus begin understanding ourselves better as well.
A study of the creature-teachers is fascinating and there are many good reference books out on the market today. I encourage my students to begin with those of Sams and Carson’s Medicine Cards/Book set. This is a fundamental and charming introduction to Totems and creature-teachers. It is presented in a format that allows you to open to any page and explore their teachings. It is simple to use and can be read and re-read time and again. Another book on the top of my list is by Ted Andrews entitled Animal-Speak; oh yes, and his book Animal-Wise too. These reference books are in-depth and filled with some very valuable information. They are resources guide that you will want to keep by your side at all times. Some other sources are Spirits of the Earth by Bobby Lake-Thom; Totems by Brad Steiger; The Once Unknown Familiar by Timothy Roderick; and Animal Magick by D. J. Conway.
In working with Guides there are also other elements that come into play. A study of the Seven Sacred Directions will allow you to apply that knowledge to the animal and suddenly a whole new visual begins to open up to you as well as another language or voice. Out of the Seven Sacred Directions, there are three worlds. The Above World of our Guides, Protectors, Guardians, or our advanced Teachers. These spirits are sent to us for a purpose. If a spirit comes to you from the Above World it will be for the purpose of higher learning or spiritual evolution. These are the Sky People who know our future path and help us to walk it and grow. From the Below, World comes the Ancestors, Elders, Ancient Ones, Totems, and Power Animals. They hold the old mysteries, the old teachings, the magicks both lost and hidden, and they guide us in the discovery of applying them to our own work. They teach us about us, about why we are here, about the ways of the world we live in and ceremony. They accompany us as we journey into other realms of dimension and as we bring the Above and Below Worlds together we exist in the Middle World-the present-the Now. It is in the Middle World that we work within the context of the nature spirits that inhabit that realm. Here we find creatures of all shapes and sizes, the minerals, plants, Standing People (trees), the Winged-Ones, Two-Leggeds and Four-Leggeds, the Crawlers, the Finned-Ones and much more. We walk between these worlds understanding their principles and we walk as one.
From the four quarters, the Totems or Spirit Guides come to us too. The type of spirit that comes addresses what you are to learn about as far as subject matter goes. An Ancestor will teach you of heritage, of bloodlines, of culture, of spirituality as it pertains to you or your family. An Elder will teach you of the ceremony, of mysteries, or magicks that are ancient and lost to any other way of discovery for you. A Totem will teach you about yourself and your life on any level. Each of the Four Sacred Directions addresses an elemental force and the entities that dwell in that dimension so you can have an entity from there approach you as well. In other traditions, the elemental forces are seen to hold entities that are either of that realm or angelic with attributes that compliment the essence of the elemental force being confronted. From Air we have the Sylphs (Faeries), Fire brings us Salamanders (lizards), Water has the Undines (Mer-People both male and female, or mermaids), and from Earth, we have the Gnomes. Now, these are terms that are relative to the Old Religion, witchcraft, folklore, pages of myth and dimension, but they exist and are very real.
Shamanically we have the Spirit Keepers who represent the qualities of each element and the essence of that manifestation. The East brings Eagle. As the Messenger to and from Spirit, it represents the higher mind, higher psychic abilities, philosophies, conceptual and new beginnings of the Spring season all without the constraints of emotions. It speaks to pure truth, pure logic, and pure intent while addressing new beginnings, seeds being planted, the concepts we have seen but not yet acted on. The ideas we hold in our minds come to fruition or are born here seeded by the enlightenment we have received out of chaos. This is the quarter of birth, the newborn that needs to be tended until it can stand on its own, so the lessons relate to getting to that point. The element is Air.
In the South, we have Mouse who teaches us the scrutiny of life, the examination of even the smallest details and trust in Spirit to provide all that we need. We learn there that as we explore we do face dangers and we have to rely on our senses and passions to see us through. Here our lofty ideals become faced with the reality of the moment and falsehoods as well as illusions shatter. Coyote is there too, to teach us the humor as well as the lesson and to distract us when we are being tested or to offer us a much-needed crash course. Our ideas now begin their manifestation and we explore them to find our realities. This is the season of Summer, growth, adolescence, and the youthful exploration of life knowing no fears for there is no prior experience to base them on. Coyote teaches that experience, the vulnerability lays in the passions that drive us forward (sometimes blindly), and the consequences purge us through the explorations. We learn through trials-by-fire, by being blind-sided by our passions, and not seeing the dangers that exist. It’s the growing season. The element is Fire.
From the West comes Bear. Here we learn of nurturing, protection of those we love, introspection to understand ourselves, and deeper psychic abilities such as the shamanic journey and Dream Lodge work. We also learn how to heal ourselves and others through the soul-searching or soul retrieval practices. We learn to examine our wounds, embrace them as lessons, and cleanse them of the infections they carried. In that process, we are renewed and enlightened and we learn to share this with others. This is the home of the emotions and maintaining them with the strength and love that Bear brings to the perspective. It is the season of Autumn, of harvesting the things we have sewn and tended, the coming to know the self as the self. The element is Water.
In the North, we have Buffalo as a Spirit Keeper. The teachings pertain to the foundation and sustenance of our lives. Buffalo provided food, clothing, shelter, tools, and all with a gentle giving nature. As a gentle giant, it is non-aggressive unless threatened so it also teaches that the heart is important. It shows us the proper way to give of oneself and that it must come from the heart as a desire. In that lays the key to proper prayer as well. What we give is not a valid gift if there are strings attached to it. It must be given freely and the rewards for doing so coming in the fulfillment of the heart’s desires. The North is the season of Winter, of sleep, a reflection of the past year, the ending of a cycle and starting a new one. It addresses the transformation that comes about as a result of the cyclic patterns in our lives and it addresses old age along with its wisdom. It teaches us that death is not to be feared, that it is not an ending but a transition into yet another cycle our spirits must experience. In the lesson of the cycles, we see their birth, fullness, and the culmination of the transformation into the next phase can take place. It is where we store our life’s lessons and the wisdom we have gleaned from them. All that we have learned culminates there as we come back to the East and the beginning of yet another cycle as it renews our pattern. In this, we have the promise of eternity as our foundation and sustenance being held close to our heart. The element is Earth.
When a creature-teacher or Guide comes to you from one of these directions what you need to do is pay attention to the direction it appears from. Is it an elemental direction or from one of the Three Worlds? What does that tell you about the way you are to approach the most immediate issue in your life? Can you see where it will give you the topic matter of the message? The direction it comes from or the quarter it presents itself in will tell you about that perspective. East relates to the mind, South relates to passion, West represents emotion, and North brings the culminated wisdom present in our heart. The direction the spirit departs to will tell you what you must seek or explore within that context.
Coyote shows up in the South and heads North. Coyote is the Great Trickster. She is telling you that there is humor here if you can find it. She nudges you to see yourself through the situation with that humor as you have allowed your passions to blind you to some risk. Heading North she is telling you to draw on your life experiences, wisdom, and to follow your heart in that matter to bring an end to it and move ahead. You have to look to the most immediate issue in your life at that time, the first thing that comes to your mind, and see what she is addressing specifically. It has to match the passion you feel and what she is addressing. If you are blocked from a spiritual ability and trying to explore why she would tell you to look at your life, see the moments that made you smile as you learned something and draw upon those lessons to find your answer. You have to do that with caution because she is tricking you into seeing this and you need that life’s wisdom to guide you.
Buffalo comes from the North and heads East. Buffalo is the sustenance and foundation of your life. The culmination of your heartfelt wisdom and treasures reminding you to share them from your heart and not be selfish or they will be lost to you. These are the fundamental issues that can be the focus and whatever stands out in your life at the moment is what is being relatively addressed. Heading East he is telling you to think about those things, through the eyes of the heart, through your own experiences, and plan to look for new ways of applying them as you give birth to your plans. To do what needs doing. You are being told to plan carefully, securely, and with compassion for others…to wait to put those plans into perspective at the proper time.
The timeline for the actions we are to take depends on the direction the spirit is taking you into. Everything we do needs to follow the cycle of seasons. What is to grow and become manifest is begun in the spring, the foundation begins in the summer as new growth fills out, and rewards are achieved in the fall. Winter is the time to store those rewards and lay plans for the next cycle of transformation or growth. You can’t buck the seasonal cycle. By doing this you maintain clarity, work with the energies of the universe, and follow the flow of life so things remain positive. If you break the cycle and try to do it any other way it becomes a struggle to maintain, the pattern works against you, and success tends to be minimal if there is any at all. When our Guides appear to us they are speaking volumes, they speak a language of life, the language of the shaman who has the eyes to see, the ears to hear, who understands the way of Spirit, of life, of living it.
Once you understand the Seven Sacred Directions you begin to see so much in their symbology. Each time you face a direction it will hold that knowledge for you. If you look to the East it begins to speak to you of new horizons, the break of day and all that the East represents. The South is relaxed or playful, the noontime hour, the lazy days of summer where work is mixed with enjoyment. The West is the twilight hour, the end of the day, the border that shifts us into adulthood and it’s realities. It is the storing of things for the time being or the reflection of the events we have undergone. North is the midnight hour, the bitter winds that force us indoors during Winter to slow down and think about what needs doing, and then laying of plans to do it. We can clock the day, year, or our lives this way when we understand what we are being presented with.
To interpret what is being said by any given spirit all this comes into play. Added to it are the essence and the lesson that Spirit uses to teach us. While it may seem overwhelming to you at first, let it simmer and you will find it starts to make a whole lot of sense, it’s quite logical, and you will begin to understand the power behind this Medicine. You will come to know the language of Spirit. While we don’t always get a sense of direction when we are in different dimensions, we can occasionally pick up on it anyway through our senses and what they are attuned to. When you allow your senses to independently explore the elemental quarters you also begin to recognize their energy signatures…what they feel like. You might be in another dimension but suddenly the light there is like dawn. You may feel a breeze that is like the breath of spring…the elemental force of Air is speaking to you. It may be a blinding light, heat…the South. It may be a darkening or moist air…the West. It may be darkness all around, cold…the North.
You may be in the physical world and these sensations may call upon you in their own way to draw your attention to the presence of an elemental force or entity. Somehow you will be touched and shown so you can relate to it. It could be that a Spirit Keeper will appear or more than one allowing you to explore various perspectives on the same issue. If they do not move in another direction they are telling you to look at the immediacy of the Middle World, the Now, and what is immediate to you…the oneness with Spirit and the wholeness unto yourself…your life on all its levels.
Whatever direction is to our back is the view we are taking and the direction we face is what we examine from that perspective as it relates to our most immediate issue and the spiritual essence that is addressing it. Everything cues us to what we need to do when we understand the language. Life speaks. When the creature teachers and spirits come they address these things. If you look at the West with emotion to the East you add emotion to the unemotional logic for a sense of balance. Sometimes it is needed to soften an approach.
Through what is being presented here a pattern of interpretive skills has also emerged. To understand our Guides we need to first know what they are about and the areas of our own self-being relative to them. In other words, in what capacity do their teachings apply to our personal life? Then we need to see where they are coming from so we can recognize the immediate issue we are being faced with. Once we know where they are “coming from” we can see where they are going. That tells us the focus we need to apply. Who they are and what they do speaks loudly when you understand the pattern they use. You will find the actions they take often demonstrate to us what we are to do about the issue. Whether the Guides come as Messengers or Teachers, as Protectors or Guardians, as Totems or some other Spirit Helper it is serious business when they appear. We need to know how to work with them and the foundations of the classrooms we enter. In the spiritual realms, nothing is trivial. No Guide comes for the fun of it. They all have something to impart to us on some level. Learning to work with them is an amazing experience and one that everyone has the ability to achieve.