Totem Animals Plain & Simple: The Only Book You'll Ever Need

Totem Animals Plain & Simple: The Only Book You'll Ever Need

by Celia M. Gunn


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"Animals are not only beholders of great beauty, but they are also beholders of ancient wisdom." --Molly Friedenfeld

The idea of spirit guides speaking through animals and birds dates back to ancient times. Today, if we're open to watching and listening to our totem animals, we can develop beneficial relationships withthem. We can also recognize that when a totem animal appears to us in a special way, it's offering insight into what's happening in our lives.

This helpful book will give you a greater understanding of more than 60 totem animals and their unique meanings in an A to Z encyclopedic listing, lead you through the steps for accessing a chosen spirit, and help you explore the role of animal spirits in cultures around the world.

Also included are chapters on:

  • Totem Animals Around the World
  • Your Totem Animal
  • Working with Your Totem Animal
  • Strengthening Your Connection to Your Totem Animal
  • Your Child's Totem Animal

This user-friendly guide is practical and accessible and offers insight and wisdom for daily life.

A color edition of this title was briefly available from Sterling in the North American market in 2010.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571747488
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/01/2016
Series: Plain & Simple Series
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 551,431
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Celia Gunn lived in British Columbia for 18 years studying Native American lore. She now lives in England.

Read an Excerpt

Totem Animals

Plain & Simple

By Celia M. Gunn

Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 Celia M. Gunn
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57174-748-8


Totem Animals Around the World

Long ago, our ancestors held all creation sacred. They understood that we are part of nature, that nature is part of us, and that we have an intimate relationship with the animals and plants with which we share the earth. Our ancestors drew no distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and the same holds for many indigenous cultures today. Reverence for the natural world is evident in most global traditions. Animals are beautifully and vividly portrayed in ancient cave paintings and petroglyphs all over the world, most famously in Lascaux and Chauvet, France. Sometimes people are portrayed as part animal; for example, a man with antlers. Many origin or creation myths tell of a time when the boundary between human and animal was thin, when an animal could become a human or a human could turn into an animal.

North American Indian creation stories describe animals and plants as the "First People." The First People jointly agreed to help humankind, whom they saw as weak and helpless beings, by sacrificing their lives to allow the humans to live. As part of this exchange, humans were endowed with the ability to communicate with the spirits of the plants and animals. According to these traditions, this capability brought Humans into the Order of Life.

It is believed that animal sounds are the origins of language, and many cultures have traditions that relate how animals taught us the skills we need for living. There are many tales of humans watching and learning from animal behavior. One of these tales explains that American Indians call the wolf "brother," since it was the wolf who taught them how to hunt. Native Americans understood that animals have wisdom to impart and can teach us; so to Native Americans, animals had status.

All over the world, ancient societies passed down legends, songs, and stories that prove the strong link that connects animals, gods or spirits, and humans. An inspiration to us all, they tell of a time when the spirits of animals communicated with humans, or the spirits or gods communicated with humans through animals. From Europe to Siberia, North America to China, this is part of a tradition that began during a magical time when humans were at peace with animals and when they understood each other's language.

Some ancient traditions named their tribes or clans after animals, birds, or fishes. The American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, for example, have a complex clan arrangement based on totem animals, represented by powerful woodcarvings, which closely associate them with the animals' symbolic power. Different traditions might have a tribal totem, another totem for the clan, and yet another for the family into which a person is born.

The Aborigines of Australia and the Bushmen of Africa have similar traditions of totems or power animals. Some Australian Aborigine clans believe that the extinction of a species brings us a step closer to human extinction. The ancient Egyptians had some gods that were part animal, part human being. Ancient priests and priestesses might wear an animal skin to link them to the god and to the essence of the animal and to allow them to take on the quality or power related to the animal.

In ancient Greece, Aesop's fables for the most part portrayed animals, and their abundance of wisdom and foolishness. These stories have given rise to sayings still used today, such as, "cunning as a fox" and "wise as an owl." In ancient Rome, the augur studied nature and learned to read signs by observing the movement and behavior of birds and later of animals. Worldwide, fairy tales are full of animals speaking and acting powerfully.

Like the American Indians and Australian Aborigines, the early inhabitants of Britain revered the natural world, viewing rivers, forests, hills, and trees as the dwelling places of spirits. Ancient Irish, Welsh, and Scottish texts often tell of how the father of a hero is a god who shape-shifts into an animal or bird, who then visits a woman. The newborn child is then usually linked with an animal. Celtic clan names were connected to animals, and Celtic art is magnificently intertwined with animals and birds.

The Druids of the British Isles and northern Europe also had animal guides, and many are the tales of magicians having animals as familiars. Merlin is said to have taken a wolf as a companion when he retired. The British goddess Brighid is often depicted as a wolf, one of the guardians of Britain.

A pagan inheritance from pre-Christian times has carried over into early indigenous British Christianity (previously known as Celtic Christianity) as a kind of nature mysticism. When monasteries were built over Druidic natural sacred sites, such as springs and groves, they were given the names of Christian saints and Christian rituals, but, reflecting a deep reverence for the land, believers celebrated God's creation, the natural world. Worship was often conducted outside under the heavens, in wooded areas or by a river. Brighid was Christianized as Saint Brigit, but was still depicted with a wolf by her side. Animals and birds were treated the same as human beings — with care, hospitality, and respect. Combining a sense of spirituality with love for nature and all its creatures, people frequently told stories about saints who worshipped in wild and remote places and who had animals and birds as companions. Saint Columba of Iona honored a crane as a pilgrim guest. Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne communed with seals and sea otters, and spoke with birds.

Norse sagas tell of shape-shifting and familiars, while Norse and medieval heraldry picked up on the tradition of totem animals. Animals, birds, and plants were painted onto shields, banners, and headgear, tattooed onto people's skin, and carved onto settlement entrances. More than mere pictures, the totem animals acted as guardian spirits.

Contemporary Animal Tokens

The Lions Club, a worldwide volunteer organization, provides a contemporary example of how a totem animal might be unconsciously adopted. Sports teams in the United States often have animals as mascots. Christianity uses the fish and the lamb as symbols. Perhaps a child cuddles a teddy bear for comfort and believes that it helps, unwittingly but instinctively calling on the spirit of a totem animal.

Anyone who has read or seen the world-famous Harry Potter stories will not have missed the owl that acts as the young wizard's messenger. Although the concept is not fully explored in the stories, it appears that the owl somehow watches over the hero. Tradition tells us that the owl is associated with the teaching of magic, a perfect fit for a young wizard. Perhaps the reported surge in interest in having an owl as a pet that followed the success of the Harry Potter novels was because a number of people were taken by the idea of having that particular kind of familiar.

In the movie The Golden Compass, released globally in December 2007 and based on Northern Lights (the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy), each character in that alternate world has a helpful bird or animal daimon. This creature appears to be part of the person's soul, yet it expires when the person is killed, and the outcome for both when the daimon and the person are separated is tragic. Fascinatingly, in this version of the totem animal, the form of the daimon is flexible and changing throughout childhood and becomes fixed into one form only during adolescence.

The expression "a little bird told me" is still used today, although perhaps most often by older people. Implicit in this saying is that the information came in some secret or magical way that cannot be explained.


Sensing that chasing after "the new" is causing a split between themselves and nature, more and more people are being drawn to the "old ways." The oldest-known form of spiritual practice is shamanism. Most ancient societies throughout the world were originally shamanic and believed in animal allies and helpers; in other words, they believed that spiritual guides used totem animals to direct and empower human beings. Each community, tribe, or clan had its own shamanic way, learned through practice and experience. In modern societies, shamans are usually chosen for some notable quality and then trained, or becomes one because of some powerful event, such as a near-death experience. Also known among American Indians as medicine men (or women), shamans work with the otherworld to guide and assist people, as well as deepen their own knowledge and inner power.

Shamans believe there is spirit in all things. Working with ritual items made of clay, stone, or pieces of wood, or with skin, hide, feathers, or claws, in ritual or dance, shamans call on their totem animals. This is not an act of worship but an acknowledgment of the totem animals' power. With their help and protection, shamans can journey through their totems' elements — air if the totem is Eagle, for example, or water if the totem is Salmon — as well as in the otherworld. Shamans can call on the totem animals' help to empower their spiritual work for themselves and for their communities. Before a hunt, for example, contact is made with the spirit of the prey animal to explain the need for the animal's flesh and to give thanks for the creature's sacrifice. Shamans can call on their totem animals to access assistance from other spirit guides and indeed might have any number of totem animals to help them in their work.

Shamans can take on their totem animals' natural attributes, so the keen sight of Eagle would be reflected in clear vision, which might be physical but which is essentially spiritual. Taking on the guise of the creature by wearing skins or other animal or bird parts during a ritual or dance, shamans honor their animals so that they continue to ally themselves with the shamans and protect them.

This is such an important act that even today, in a competitive American Indian powwow, if some part of a dancer's ceremonial dress (also known as regalia, and representative of the dancer's totem animal) becomes detached and falls to the ground, tradition decrees that the dancer must immediately give away his or her whole outfit randomly to others who are watching. I saw this happen myself on a couple of occasions. This tradition is taken so seriously that there is a special ceremonial chant to accompany the dance of the four elders who retrieve the fallen item, even if the item is as small and seemingly simple a thing as a feather. The teaching is that the dancer has not given his totem animal enough respect, care, and attention, so there is some part of his spiritual walk that he or she has neglected. Then the dancer must work at putting new regalia together and, by doing so, attempt to learn what he or she overlooked. Finally, the totem animal's identity is usually held secret so that no other person can obtain power over it and therefore over the dancer.

You don't have to be a shaman to access or benefit from having a relationship with a totem animal, as everyone has access to a guiding spirit in his or her life. Animals behave in ways that can speak to us all, teaching us about the world and ourselves if we are open to watching and listening.


Your Totem Animal

When some people get to a certain level of spiritual evolution, they reach out and try to make contact with a totem animal. The way to do this varies according to different traditions and beliefs. For instance, some sources claim that the zodiac is the basis for totem animal teachings. In addition, there are different opinions about when we gain or obtain our totem animals, and whether we have only one animal throughout our lives or different animals at different times, perhaps obtaining a new totem animal on a temporary basis during a difficult transition in our lives. Still others believe that we always have a number of totem animals to call upon. As you become more accustomed to the concept and you access your totem animal and begin to familiarize yourself with it through practice and experience, you may find any of these ideas to be true. Don't feel that you have to live up to what anyone else says, because it is important for you to believe in the concepts that feel right to you and that work for you.

If you are just starting out on this path, it is preferable, I feel, to begin by making contact with only one totem animal; once you have established that relationship, you can branch out if you wish and see what other totem animals want to be part of your life. Whichever way you choose, once you begin this journey, it will become obvious in some way when an animal or bird is trying to catch your attention or show itself in a special way. Keep in mind that all natural things communicate with us. Think about the way your cat might stare at you so that you know it needs food, or even how your houseplant lets you know that it needs water.

The first thing to be aware of is that you don't simply choose your totem animal; it's more accurate to say that you choose each other. It is also important to keep in mind that spiritual guides work in their own way and time, not according to any human agenda. Essentially, the first lesson is that openness, willingness, and patience are all you need to connect with your totem animal.

As you attempt to make contact, you should not necessarily accept the first creature that presents itself, especially if it doesn't feel quite right. It is also essential that you recognize that you may have a hidden, inner desire to connect with a creature that is glamorous or powerful. Because many of us have lost our natural link to nature, the process might be compromised by this kind of wish. Remember that this connection is not about the power or the intelligence of the animal but about what the animal represents, and what is known as the archetypal power behind it that manifests through it, and how that power resonates with you personally.

Every animal has a unique essence and specialty, and it's important to remember that all forms of life have value and can teach us something. From a spiritual perspective, no animal is more powerful than another. The eagle symbolizes being close to the Creator because it soars high in the heavens and sees everything, while in the European tradition, the tiny wren is known as "King of the Birds," and legend says that it was the wren that brought fire to humankind.

Your relationship with your totem animal is unique and highly personal. Once your totem animal appears in your life, you make a conscious choice to accept or reject it. Be aware that you are actually making a "soul agreement," so your finest relationship with a totem animal will be with the one that you feel is "right." Whether you want to share the knowledge of your totem animal with anyone else is entirely up to you. For some, it is a private relationship that is to be treated with the greatest respect and not lightly shared, lest its power become diminished or compromised.

The information about your totem animal may come to you because you have called out for it, as I did, or because you have set your intention and are quiet and receptive. It may appear in a totally unexpected way, although there are four recognized spiritual pathways to come to this kind of perception:

• If you have strong powers of visualization, you may use clairvoyance, or "clear seeing." Clairvoyance might actually allow you to see the creature, usually with your eyes closed but sometimes with your eyes open.

• Clairaudience, or "clear hearing," may enable you to hear the voice of your totem animal speaking inside your head, yet seeming to come from the outside. Be aware of a critical inner voice that may sound like a parent or teacher. Only accept the voice if what it says is helpful.

• A gut feeling and sense of your totem animal is known as clairsentience. It might come as a physical sensation or an emotional feeling, or a combination of the two, and it may be associated with an aroma or a scent.

• Finally, you may find your totem animal through insight or inspiration and just know that it is the one. This experience is known as claircognizance.

You may already be aware of where your greatest strength in these areas of acute perception lies, but if you are not, just spend a moment imagining your favorite place for a vacation. Is your immediate impression something you saw, a sound you heard, a smell you recall, or a thought about a place? Your need to find your primary spiritual pathway, although it is wise not to think you are limited to any one of them. To help you open up to your full potential, your totem animal may choose to appear through any of the others.


Excerpted from Totem Animals by Celia M. Gunn. Copyright © 2016 Celia M. Gunn. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: What is a Totem Animal?,
1 Totem Animals Around the World,
2 Your Totem Animal,
3 Working with Your Totem Animal,
4 Strengthening Your Connection,
5 Your Child's Totem Animal,
6 Totem Animals A through Z,
Index of Totem Animals,
About the Author,

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