A frequently asked question is...
“What is the difference between a Spirit Animal and a Totem Animal?"
While in common practice the terms are used interchangeably
there is a difference.
A "Spirit Animal" is an animal spirit who will present life's lessons. The Spirit Animal is the one who comes to you in order to show you, through its own unique nature and skills, how to deal with the manifestations of your Spiritual Journey. Spirit Animals do not necessarily guide you, but they come to teach you that which you need to learn, in order to know how meet the challenges of your journey.
A "Totem Animal" is an animal spirit that you call upon or invoke, as an individual or a group, for its special powers and survival skills, to serve as a guardian or protector when facing adversity.
Each animal spirit has certain powers and skills to teach and certain knowledge to share, for each animal spirit has its own methods of overcoming the many challenges it must meet in order to survive.
In the case of the Spirit Animal, its appearance signals a time to connect with your true Self and your life's purpose. Pay attention to the repeated appearance of this animal and of repeated patterns or themes. Awakening to the recognition of these seemingly synchronistic occurrences teaches you to be aware of the hidden messages in everyday experiences.
There are many ways by which your Spirit Animal may make itself known to you and many ways by which by which it may pass on its message. Do not let your perceived image of the animal prejudice you as to the significance of its message. You will meet with the Spirit Animal whose lesson you need to learn.
And ... remember, you do not choose your Spirit Animal, it chooses you.
.And … do not try to “compel” your Spirit Animal to manifest itself just because you want it to. True Spirit Animals will appear only at the time and place in your life when you are ready to accept them and the wisdom they come to offer.
And … the right animal always turns up at exactly the right moment.
As the name implies, the animal messenger delivers messages from the spirit realm that you need to pay attention to in your current situation. They often appear in dreams and meditations or while you are on your spirit walk. Their visits are usually sudden and they often depart as quickly as they arrive, but they can also be quite persistent and repeatedly present themselves in a way that cannot be ignored. Look and listen carefully to what they have come to show you for you need to accept and understand the message they are attempting to impart.
The Shadow Animal
The Shadow Animal arrives because of lessons you have not learned. It will come to you repeatedly until there is change. It may come at the time of your greatest adversity and confusion.
The Journey Animal
The Journey Animal comes to you as a guide when you set forth on a new life path. It is there to help you find the path home should you loose the Way. The Journey Animal will travel along with you until you have completed this present challenge.
The Life Animal
The Life Animal reflects your deeper, spiritual self and is always with you. Life Animal may, at times, call upon other Animal Spirits to aid in your guardianship and this new Animal Spirit may come to awaken you to the abilities the two of you share or it may come to teach the life skills you need to learn.
The Medicine Animal
This type of animal spirit brings “medicine” to help heal and comfort you in times of illness and injury. These animal spirits only come when you call them and will stay only until you are well and are ready to let them go. These medicine animals have great wisdom and they will guide you through the process of healing.
Encountering a dead animal spirit is always a disturbing experience. These encounters can be even more disturbing if the dead animal is spirit you are deeply connected to.
While these encounters are traumatic and carry with them an air of ominous foreboding, it may not be that grave a situation. Still, this is a serious warning to be aware of this animal spirit’s meaning and attention needs to be paid to its message.
A spirit animal’s death could mean the death of some aspect of your life that defined you as a person and a new definition must be found. Or seeing dead animal spirits of a winged variety may mean that you see your dreams of the future flying away.
A turning point in life may be ahead and you are evolving, experiencing a metamorphosis and the old must die away phoenix like, for the new to emerge. Your innocence is dying.
Finding a dead spirit animal's head is especially traumatic and the message seems to be ominously dire. But, it may only trying to get your attention about some sort of impending transition that is coming your way or some dangerous situation coming up that you are going to have to deal with. Perhaps it may mean that you are only worried about the future, or it may mean you have a future you need to worry about.
Do not panic, just be very aware of the message.
Another type of Animal Spirit, (or Totem), little heard of outside of Shamanism and Witchcraft is called a "familiar". The familiar is a spiritual entity that will appear in animal form as a facilitator in the communion of the human with the spirit realms.
There are many who believe that a true shaman or witch does not just decide to walk the “Path”. They believe the potential "initiate" must first be chosen by and then accept a spirit being or deity as their mentor. Usually this mentor will send forth an animal spirit to guide the initiate to them, or in many cases, they themselves may take the form of an animal spirit, only later revealing their true nature.
One example, in the case of shamans and witches who come from the background of the European Celtic traditions, the Goddess Morrigan will often appear to the initiate in the form of a raven or crow as their familiar and she will reveal Herself only after the initiate has awakened to Her true nature and has accepted Her as a spiritual mentor.
The Totem Pole is an arrangement of symbols representing animal totems from the tribe's ancestral past. Totems were a form of communication for the Pacific Northwest Coast Native Americans as they had no written language and thus the Story Poles were used to convey their legends, stories and events. Totem poles may also be messages passed on by those that carve them. The pole's symbols may often tell a very personal story of the carver himself, as well as that of his own family, clan or tribe.
It is customary for many tribes (such as the Scots and American Indians) to be made up of smaller groups or "Clans" united by actual or perceived kinship and descent and formed around a founding member or "ancestor". Often this ancestor is an animal spirit which becomes the Clan Totem.
The tribal totems are often the animals that inhabit the local area and which have a unique realtionship to the tclan and its heritage. The "spiritual powers" of the various totems help each clan to carry out its own special duties and responsibilities within the tribe in accordance with the attributes of that totem.
Again, never let your perceived image of an animal affect your judgment of its ability to serve as a "Totem". Though it may seem incongruous for a firece warrior to invoke a bunny rabbit as a totem for battle, you need remember the cunning wisdom shown by “Bre’r Rabbit” in defeating an enemy.
. .. It is rather amazing to us at Spirit Walk Ministry that we should have to post this message, but as a result of far too many letters we receive from people regarding their attempts to encounter their “animal spirits” in the wild we feel it is necessary to say something.
It would seem that a lot of people, living in their modern, secure, climate controlled, urban homes are sitting there, in front of their big screen TV’s, watching Yogi Bear cartoons as if they were wild life documentaries.
If you ever do venture outside the safety of your little castle and you find yourself in a situation where you are confronted by a bear going after your “pic-a-nic basket”, you need to understand that bear is not Yogi and you are not Grizzly Adams.
No matter how much “bear spirit” you think you have in you and no matter how many choruses of Kumbaya you sing to it, if you get between a bear and what it wants, you are going to get hurt. Have no delusions about it ending any other way!
Whenever encountering any animal in the wild, remember that it is just that, a wild animal. Nature is a savage, unforgiving realm and every animal in Nature is fighting for its survival in a savage, unforgiving way and no matter how spiritual a motive you may have in approaching that animal, if you push that animal into a corner you will find yourself fighting for your own survival.
Don’t try to pet the skunk, don’t your fingers in the bee hive and don't try to poke the bear, no matter how powerful a shaman you think you are.
It is important for you to be aware that the portraiture given of each Animal Spirit is a "generality".
An Animal Spirit 's appearance is a special event and it comes as a personal teacher to help guide and protect you. Your Animal Spirit has come to introduce you to a new way of "Being".
Animal Spirits do not appear to bring you just one simple message. They come in order to awaken you to a new spiritual awareness and to reveal to you the purpose of your spiritual journey. See them as individuals and understand them for their animal nature.
Look not only at their “Totem Animal ” meaning, but study them to discover their habits and behavior in order to understand how they use their unique skills to survive within their environment. Learn how they respond to the challenges they face in their lives in order to be able to better respond to the challenges in yours.