I have taught an animal Totems class and I have billed myself as someone who can see animal Totems around people. This article is to explain why I have used the term Totem in the past and why I will be changing that in the future. And it is to educate all of us on how a very sacred term is used like wildfire today.
A Totem, by definition, is a natural object or an animate being, as an animal or bird, etc., assumed as the emblem of a clan, family, or group. An alternate definition is anything serving as a distinctive, often venerated, emblem or symbol. The first time the word was logged was by a traveler from the early 1770’s and it was from the Ojibway language. For many Native Americans the Totem is a symbol of their clan, much like a coat of arms in England would be a symbol of their family (which incidentally has animals on many of them also). A particular animal such as the turtle, bear, or eagle represent the group that they originate from. For some Native Americans, and many African tribes as well, it was a way, some believe, to determine who could marry whom in order to discourage procreation among family members. It has recently been discussed and observed that having a Totem for a group was also a form of early environmental protection, as it was and still is among some, bad luck or against the rules to hunt, kill, or eat the Totem for that group, thus supporting the protection of a species.
The Totem then is a sacred symbol of unity among a group or family, but many people use the term Totem interchangeably with what truly is Animal Essence or Animal Energies. This family symbol is very sacred for the Native Americans and for someone to say they have the turtle as a Totem or the Eagle as a Totem may be hurtful as it can seem as if we are choosing to steal a particular group’s identity. Only those that are from the turtle clan can claim the turtle as their Totem. How do we change this? We can change with time and practice. We begin by using different terms and there are a lot of them out there. I will use the term Power Animals now and I will use the term Heart or Soul Animals for the ones that I see.
There are many beliefs around the world, from many different cultures, that we receive help and guidance from the energy of our brothers and sisters, the animals. Some, as I do, see animals around people. It is called “Animal Dreaming” in Australia. Sometimes it is just a whisper of light, sometimes it is a feeling of the energy or movement of a type of animal, and sometimes it is a vision so clear it appears that the actual animal is sitting upon the shoulder of someone I am speaking with.
I do not claim to see a person’s Totem necessarily, although it could be a Totem, if they happen to be from that clan. I see what I call “Heart or Soul Animals” and it is the essence of the animal that I see and sometimes it takes the actual physical shape of that animal. This is my term and I call them this because I believe we may have one special or several special animal spirits or Power Animals that are with us our whole lives which guide and watch over us, but there are others that come and go that give us assistance and these are called by many names besides Heart or Soul Animals. Some call them Guides, Teachers, Familiars, or Power Animals as Steven Farmer calls them. And just recently someone told me that they are also considered Helpers from the Spirit Animal Realm, ok that is a mouthful! All animals teach us. We receive lessons or messages from animals all the time and we must learn to be aware of these lessons, signs or what some call Animal Omens.
To Be Continued in the Next Newsletter