Animal Spirits and Spirit Animals - Totem Animals

Spirit Animals and Animal Spirits

What are the animals trying to tell you?

Animals are significant in the Shamanic tradition. They are seen as guides, guardians, and teachers.

In Shamanism, it is believed that both physical animals and spiritual animals are an essential part of health and wellbeing.

In the physical world, animals act as teachers. When a person comes across an animal, primarily if it should occur on three separate occasions, it is believed that the animal has a message or is attempting to teach something.

Separate from this is the idea of animal medicine and animal totems.

Animal Totems in the Shamanic tradition

It is believed that every person has a totem animal or animal guardian. This animal guardian is a spirit animal that stays with and around a person. This is frequently referred to as a totem animal.

It is crucial that a person honors, respects, and consciously attempt to work with this animal’s energy. To ignore it or disrespect it may cause it to leave. Once the animal guardian leaves, illness or misfortune occurs because there is no guardian to protect from it.

Likewise, in some rare cases, an animal spirit can be stolen or killed. These are dire situations, and immediate action is necessary should they occur. In the case of a spirit animal’s death, a new animal guardian will need to be sought out. Likewise, when an animal is stolen, it must be freed and returned as soon as possible.

In all cases, this is typically done by a power retrieval.

What is power retrieval?

In Shamanism, a great deal of illness and/or misfortune is thought to occur when a person loses, has stolen, or disrespects their animal totem. To get the animal back is to retrieve it and its power.

Retrieving spiritual animals requires training and is not something that can be covered entirely in a single article. Instead, here is an overview of the process.

Whenever you hear a Shaman or shamanic practitioner say medicine, they refer to the powers associated with a particular animal, plant, or stone. When a person allies with one of these, they take on, merge with, or use the medicine.

To retrieve or bring back an animal is called power retrieval. Power retrieval can also occur when someone needs a particular animal’s energy and gifts for a short time. Regardless, the method of retrieving the power is typically the same.

While in a trance state, usually induced by drumming, rattling, and or dancing, the Shaman or shamanic practitioner travels to the Underworld, which is where most animal spirits are thought to reside.

The Underworld, as I explained in the Overview of a Shamanic World View, is a primal place and has nothing to do with the Judea-Christian concept of hell.

Here in the Underworld, the Shaman or shamanic practitioner seeks out the animal to be brought back. A good rule of thumb was always if you see the animal three times, it is likely the animal you want. Many times, however, the animal will approach and talk to you.

A conversation follows why the animal left, what the person can do to show the animal honor and respect, and what the animal promises to do in return for being shown this honor and respect.

The Shaman then typically inhales/sucks up the animal and returns to the ordinary world, and breaths this animal spirit into the body (sometimes mouth, sometimes heart, sometimes head) of the person in need of healing.

How to meet your totem animal

Unlike retrieving an animal, meeting a totem animal is a pretty straightforward process. There are three main methods for discovering a totem animal.

First, ask a Shaman or shamanic practitioner to make a journey to the other side to introduce you to them. They will go into a trance and then return to tell you about your spirit animal.

Second, pay attention to animals in the physical world. If you are attacked by one or find yourself coming across one repeatedly, there is a good chance it is an animal totem.

Finally, you can do a simple guided meditation to find and speak with your totem animal. There are many available and on the market in CD or MP3 format. Many books, such as Ted Andrews Animal Speak, also provide instructions for doing the meditation. You can also take a class on the topic, and it will usually include such a meditation.

Animal Symbolism

The animal world is continually trying to speak to and teach us. Whenever you come across an animal, pay attention to it and watch it. Consider looking the meaning of the animal up. Some great books are Ted Andrews Animal Speak and Animal Wise. Don’t just look the animal up to understand their spiritual essence. Considering checking sources like encyclopedias and nature magazines/books to discover more about the animal’s habits. All of this information may have significance for you if you pay attention.

Below are some of the more common animals and the spiritual symbolism that is many times associated with them. This is by no means an extensive list. Think of it as a starting place. Each animal has a question associated with it to help you ponder its more profound meaning in your life.


Alligator: How can you best get in touch with the primal energies of birth?

Ant: How can you discipline and organize yourself more in your quest for success?

Bat: What needs to change so you no longer feel in the dark?

Bear: What is your subconscious mind telling you about your inner strength?

Beaver: What can you do to work on making a dream a reality?

Bee: Who can you carry or bring sweetness to?

Black Bird:  How can you best focus your time and energy on Mother Nature?

Blue Bird: Where in life can you show more modesty, and where can you be more confident?

Blue Jay: How can you best constructively use your power? Is it time to fight for what you want?

Bobcat: What do you need to be silent about? Who can you watch to learn more about what you’re working on?

Butterfly: How can you share your joy with others?

Cardinal: What can you do to help yourself? Where in life do you need to be more selfish?

Cat: When was the last time you studied magick or connected to the old earth-based religions? Where in life do you need to be more independent?

Chicken: Do you need to sacrifice, and who do you need to sacrifice for? What is it you need to sacrifice to get what you desire?

Cow: Who are you being called to “mother” and provide unconditional love to?

Coyote: What playful thing can you do to help you gain more wisdom?

Crab: Who in your life is vulnerable, and what can you do to help protect them? What vulnerabilities do you need to keep to yourself right now?

Crow: What are you trying to create in your life, and who can help you with that creation?

Dog: Who do you need to be more loyal to? What in your life needs more faith?

Dolphin: How can you use the power of breath and sound to heal yourself or another?

Donkey: What area of your life do you need to be more humble about?

Dove: How can you help spread peace?

Deer: Where in life do you need to show or demonstrate more gentleness?

Duck: Who in your life needs more emotional comfort or support? Where can you turn for that same emotional comfort and support?

DragonFly: How can you bring the power of light into your life or the situation?

Eagle: What inner work do you currently need to do to help facilitate healing?

Elephant: What about your family dynamic have you been ignoring that you need to give more attention and energy?

Falcon: Are you listening to your Higher Self? What is it trying to tell you right this moment?

Ferret: How can you take more time for yourself, and what work can you do alone for the time being?

Fox: What’s the best way to blend in and become invisible?

Frog: How can you use water and sound to heal?

Giraffe: What’s the bigger picture that you’re not yet seeing?

Goat: How can you slow down and enjoy the climb to the top?

Grasshopper: How can you take a leap of faith forward?

Hawk: What’s your vision?

Horse: How can you enjoy more freedom in your life?

Humming Bird: Where can you find the nectar of life? What do you need to do right now to bring the greatest joy into your life?

Leopard:  How can you work on reclaiming your real power? What is your true passion?

Lion: How can you be more assertive but less aggressive?

Lizard: What are you not paying attention to? Which sense do you need to work on developing?

Mouse: How can you give more attention to detail?

Otter: What can be done to enjoy work and life more?

Owl: Who can you talk to gain more wisdom and insight?

Parrot: How can you bring color healing into the life of yourself and others?

Pelican: What’s your key to being unselfish? 

Quail: What group can you get involved with and be nourished by?

Rabbit: What are you trying to multiple or give birth to? It’s likely closer than you realize.

Raccoon: How can you be more flexible with the situation or people? Is it possible you are wearing a disguise and not allowing your true self to be seen?

Ram: What new beginnings do you want to pursue?

Rat: Are you feeling restless? If so, it may be because you’re not taking the right actions.

Raven: Who can you teach, and what can you teach them?

Robin: How can you help another grow and expand?

Rooster: How is your sex life? There may be a need for more sexuality and passion. How can you explore your “passions” more?

Salmon: Who can you share your wisdom with, and where can you develop better knowledge of yourself and your inner world?

Sawn: How can you demonstrate your true beauty to others? What do you find “ugly” about yourself that you can transform, and how can you change it?

Scorpion: What is your poison? How can you use your poison to transform? 

Seagull: How can you improve communication with others? How can you be more responsible?

Skunk: Who do you need to show more respect to? How can you get more respect?

Snake: What do you need to “shed” right now? How can you resurrect and be a better person?

Spider: What creative outlet do you currently need to invest more time in? How can you be the weaver of your own life?

Squirrel: What must be done to be better prepared? What actions do you need to take right now to ensure you are prepared for the future?

Tiger: Who or what do you need to give more devotion to? How can you be more passionate about your beliefs?

Turkey: Who do you need to share with? What needs to be shared? Who can you say a blessing for right now?

Turtle: What do you need to “take slow, and let grow?”

Vulture: How can you purify? What needs to be sanctified? What opportunity could you take but are refusing to?

Whale: How can you use the power of song to heal?

Wolf: Who are you called to be a guardian for? Who are you called to be loyal to? What rituals do you need to take part in or create to feel more comfortable in life?

Woodpecker: How can you better discriminate the useful from the unuseful? What dance can you do to bring healing into your soul?

Closing Remarks

Animals can play a critical role in developing spiritually. Even if you have no desire to follow a shamanic path, the idea of animals as teachers can help build a deeper understanding of yourself. It can also help you understand the world around you, and of course, your inner self.

Those who are not opposed to trying the shamanic path, the quest to connect with the totem animal, or guardian animal spirit, can be a vital one for improving health and wellbeing across all spectrums of life.

For those who feel a deeper calling to the shamanic path, seeking out a qualified shamanic practitioner or teacher is key to developing healthy rituals and techniques for working with animal spirits and the world beyond.

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