About Animal Totems and Familiars
Animals in Spirituality
Many spiritual traditions honor a strong connection between animals and humans. Often seen as living closer and in more harmony with nature, animals were honored as helpers, teachers, messengers, ancestors and much more. A wide range of stories exist whereby animals passed sacred knowledge or teaching from the gods to man. To this day, many people continue to work consciously and unconsciously with animal energy.
Finding Your Totem Animal
A spirit guide or totem animal often finds the person rather than the other way around. Most often, a recurring sign arises, with the person coming across repeated references to a specific animal. Some people have a strong affinity at an early age, others see patterns that emerge over the years. Frequently, the animal has qualities or energies that the person would like to take on or incorporate into their own way of being.
The practice of killing an animal and wearing the skin not only served to provide warmth in ancient times, but let the hunter feel they were adopting some of the strengths and skills of their vanquished prey or foe. When you look at the modern practices of sports team having mascots, or people who get images of animals tattooed on themselves, you can see how humans often try to literally take on the characteristics of an animal.
In some Native American traditions, a person will have multiple animal spirits as guides and teachers. There is one for each direction (east, west, north, south, up, down and inside) and two who act in the roles of escorts, one each for the left and right sides.
Familiars and Fetishes
A “familiar” is most often defined as an attending animal spirit, but can also refer to a spirit that inhabits an everyday item, like a ring or a lamp. The famous genie in the lamp from the Arabian Nights tales qualifies as a familiar. These spirits are assistants, usually in attendance to a practitioner of magic, a sorcerer or witch. Their energies can be both benevolent or malevolent, and they are historically sent out to do the bidding of those that command them. Cats are a traditional familiar, perceived as the favored companion of witches, although dogs and birds are also commonly associated with the idea.
One culture which worked heavily with animal energies were the Zuni tribe of North America. They believed that all things were interconnected, with plants, animals and humans all being part of nature and the flow of seasons. Animal-shaped carvings were made, called “wemawe” which is translated as “fetish” in English. This object represented the spirit power of the animal which protected the owner. These sacred relics could be animals, birds or humanoid shapes, fashioned from stone, wood or any other natural materials. The fetish would be ceremonially fed and treated with respect, believed to be alive. The Zuni also believed that if you treated your fetish badly, it would bring you bad luck.
I attended one of Ted Andrews workshops several years before he passed. It was at a conference called PantheaCon, and was a completely packed room that held around two hundred attendees. He was knowledgeable and spoke from many decades of personal experiences with animals.
Totem Animal Chart
industry, hard work, community
rebirth, secrets, initiation, long life
power, protection, healing
trickster, hunter, cleverness
swiftness, soul healing
rising above, all-seeing
nobility, guardian, pride
intelligence, endurance, stealth
energy, power, strength
efficient use of energy, purification
Find Your Totem
Modern Animal Totems: The Team Mascot
A modern manifestation of the animal spirit guide can be seen in small towns and big cities through out the world: the sports team mascot. The word has roots in the French from mascoto meaning “charm or amulet.” That French word finds its roots in the Late Latin masca which translates as “witch.” Starting with school teams and going all the way up to professional sports, almost all teams have a mascot. This emblem becomes a symbol for the team as well as implying characteristics of their sports prowess. Ravens, bears, dolphins, jaguars, lions, falcons, eagles: do any of those make a sports team come to mind? If you live in Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, Jacksonville, Detroit, Atlanta, or Philadelphia, you probably just thought of the hometown team.
Presently there is a large debate and growing backlash on the use of Native American characters as team mascots. In the United States, there are a number of teams who have some sort of symbol, mascot or nickname that is a reference to indigenous people. Amidst growing pressure, many are choosing to reform the team image and change to something more generic so as to not offend Native Americans and others who object to the unflattering characters and stereotypes. Examples of large professional sports teams that continue to use American Indian mascots are the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. Despite the costs involved in altering the team logo and the attendant merchandise, these sports teams could adopt a new mascot that embodied the energies they desired without causing offense.