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About Animal Totems and Familiars

Updated on August 26, 2014
relache profile image

Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

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.

Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small
Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small

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

Associated Qualities
industry, hard work, community
agility, sacrifice
rebirth, secrets, initiation, long life
power, protection, healing
organization, industrial
peace, abundance
trickster, hunter, cleverness
longevity, solitude
loyalty, teamwork
family, grace
peace, love
change, carefree
divine spirit
passion, stamina
swiftness, soul healing
cunning, agility
water, transformation
sure-footedness, endurance
reliable, demanding
rising above, all-seeing
stamina, mobility
ancient, patience
vision, conservation
nobility, guardian, pride
family, health
organizer, stealth
wisdom, insight
beauty, self-confidence
grace, power
humility, fertility
trickster, omens
intelligence, endurance, stealth
wisdom, confidence
presence, reputation
fate, creator/spinner
energy, power, strength
steadfastness, shyness
efficient use of energy, purification
ingenuity, stealth
loyalty, strength

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.

What's Your Totem Animal?

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    • whalefeather2 profile image

      whalefeather2 5 years ago

      Hummingbirds and whales for me along with bears and eagles!!!

    • Carole Anzolletti profile image

      Carole Anzolletti 6 years ago from The Phantom Queen's Labyrinth

      I thought I was on my Hubpages for a moment, and now I HAVE to follow you! INCREDIBLE, nice to meet you, and happy to have found you!

      My totem(s) are the Scorpion,Snake, Eagle, Raven/Crow, Spider and of the list ones...I have others that come and go, like Squirrel and Cardinal and Sparrow...LOVE THIS HUB THANK YOU!!!

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

      Voted up, useful and beautiful! I don't know if it's possible to have two totem animals but I have had many dreams of becoming a wolf and also dreams involving bees. Wonderful hub. Thank you for sharing this.

    • profile image

      scofeide 7 years ago

      Great hub!I thoroughly enjoyed your writing, thank you again.

    • profile image

      AuthorLMS 8 years ago

      I am confused there could be a few, I dont know mine and I truly would love to know what mine is. I guess I will have to ask and wait for a response.

    • profile image

      walker 8 years ago

      i find that the lion guides me through life and concousness whereas the wolf guides me duing the night hours and along my spiritual quest...lately been wondering whether you could be guided by two animals but thanks to this hub i feel sure that im correct

    • pddm67 profile image

      pddm67 8 years ago from Queens, New York

      Interesting hub. A fascinating subject for me as well. I do believe in animal totems and feel that both the lion and wolf have provided me with guidance ove the years. Kudos!

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 8 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Thanks for such a well-researched and deeply felt Hub. I find this topic fascinating, and have finally found my 'specific' familiar, embodied in a cat I own. I don't consider myself a witch, though! :o)

      I thoroughly enjoyed your writing, thank you again.

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 8 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      I might be a bee, still thinking about it.

    • relache profile image

      Raye 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Julie-Ann, I'm sure you can type "swan totem" in a search engine and find out.

    • Philipo profile image

      Philipo 8 years ago from Nigeria

      Very interesting and informative. Thanks.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      Hmmm, a butterfly has always been a part of me. Great hub!

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 8 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      Do you know what a swan is (in meaning) by any chance?

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Um, polar bear?

    • RiaMorrison profile image

      Ria Bridges 8 years ago from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

      Very interesting Hub! Totem animals and familiar spirits have always been a source of fascination to me, and it's nice to see more information on the subject.

    • emohealer profile image

      Sioux Ramos 8 years ago from South Carolina

      Mine is the eagle, I am American Indian and totem assignment is part of the culture. Very interesting hub!