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APA Book of Shadows: Animal Totems

Begin the process of discovering your animal totems by examining the animals you have been most interested in and the times of your life that interest was piqued. Use the following questions to help determine which animals are probably totems to you in your life.

  1. Which animal or bird has always fascinated you? We are drawn to that which most resonates with us. Those animals which fascinate us, or the ones we fear the most have something to teach us.
  2. When you visit the zoo, which animal do you wish to visit first? This is especially true with children and this question is easy to answered for them since they are often more receptive than teens or adults.
  3. What animal or animals do you see most frequently when you are out in nature? The animals we encounter in their city or wild environments have significance for us. We can learn from them, even if only about survival within that environment.
  4. Of all the animals in the world, which are you most interested in now? Our interests in animals change. Yes, we usually have one or two that are lifetime power animals, but others become prominent when there is something of importance to learn.
  5. What animal frightens you? That which we fear is often something we must learn to come to terms with. When we do that, those fears then become a power. Some Shamans believe that fears will take the shape of animals, and only when we confront them without fear do their powers/medicine work for us instead of against us. Such an animal then becomes a shadow totem.
  6. Have you ever been bitten or attacked by an animal? Historically, if a Shaman survived an attack, it was believed that the animal was the Shaman's spirit totem and the attack was the totem's way of testing the Shaman's ability to understand and handle the power.
  7. Do you have dreams with animals in them or are there animal dreams you have never forgotten? This is especially important if the dreams are recurring or if a specific animal image keeps popping up in your dreams. Children often dream of animals and attention should be given to these animals. They will often reflect specific spirit totems of the child or areas of weakness where the parent can assist in their child's growth. Power animals are not limited to mammals. The reptilian and insect kingdoms can be just as helpful. Children can also be taught to work with animals and have a great ideal of success with them. The act of honoring an animal is not an act of worship, but is the acknowledgment of their power and their being as brothers and sisters of the entire universe. The energy of the animals, birds and other creatures that assist us should be honored. For too long, we have subjugated these creatures who are our equals in the system of the Universe. Native Americans often leave tobacco scattered on the ground as a gift. You could also burn incense in honor of the animal. When honoring animal wisdom and energy, always leave a gift of some sort. Or...
    Have you ever had an animal encounter that has stuck in your mind? If you have visited zoos several times, which animal do you usually want to see first? Have you ever had reoccurring dreams (or a single powerful dream) containing a certain type of animal? Has your home environment always been populated with a particular type of animal? Have you ever been attacked by a wild animal? (Some shamans believe that if you survive a wild animal attack, that animal becomes your ally.)


An image of your power animal may belong on your altar (or somewhere in your house), either in picture or statue form, and it's also a nice idea to have pictures on your wall. Animal calendars, for example, are easy to find, and the photographs are often lovely and frame-able. Since one of the purposes of our power animals is to remind us of who we really are, wearing or carrying images of them can be a particularly effective form of reminder.


  • Alligator: Aggression, survival, adaptability
  • Ant: Group minded, perseverance, step by step. The ant represents self discipline and a group effort. Teamwork.
  • Bat: Guardian of the night, cleaner.
  • Bear: Power, mother cunning, healer, gentle strength, dreaming. In the Zuni tradition, the bear symbolizes the direction West.
  • Bear Paw: Power, direction, connection to creator.
  • Beaver: Builder, gatherer.
  • Buffalo: Sacredness, life builder. The buffalo provides all good things for living, and bestows great curing powers.
  • Butterfly: Metamorphosis, carefree, transformer.
  • Cougar: Leadership, courage, power, swiftness and balance.
  • Coyote: Prankster, insight, playful. The coyote symbolizes duality and the ability to present both sides of an issue. Clowning and humor, perhaps sarcastic.
  • Crane: Solitude, independence.
  • Deer: Love, gentleness, kindness, gracefulness and sensitivity. Deer carries the message of purity of purpose, and of walking in the light.
  • Dolphin: Kindness, play, bridge man to ocean. Dolphin brings us teachings from the water. Breath control and the awareness of tone is also Dolphin power.
  • Dragonfly: Flighty, carefree. Dragonflies symbolize whirlwind, swiftness and activity. The dragonfly is an important insect in Zuni legend, where they are shamanistic creatures with supernatural powers. In Hopi rock art, the dragonfly is symbolized by a vertical line with two or sometimes one, horizontal cross lines.
  • Eagle: Divine spirit, chief of all the creatures in the air, the primary servant of the sun. Powerful in battle, the eagle protects the people from evil. Eagle medicine attributes include clear vision and soaring spirit. The eagle is associated with success, prosperity and wealth. In the Zuni Tradition, the Eagle symbolizes the direction Up.
  • Elk: Strength, agility, freedom, power and nobility.
  • Fox: Cunning, provider, intelligence. Fox represents twilight and feminine magic.
  • Frog: Connection with water element.
  • Grizzly Bear: Mother, nature's pharmacist.
  • Hawk: Messenger of the sky, observer.
  • Horse: Stamina, mobility, strength and power. The horse was introduced to the plains tribes by the Spanish. Shamans are often pictured flying on mythical horses. Horses can symbolize coping under difficult circumstances. Horse is love and devotion, loyalty.
  • Hummingbird: Messenger, stopper of time. Hummingbird represents optimism and sweetness. Being able to roll with the punches is an attribute of Hummingbird.
  • Lizard: Conservation, agility. Lizard promotes dreaming.
  • Moose: Headstrong, unstoppable longevity. Moose represents value and integrity.
  • Otter: Laughter, curiosity, mischievous. Otter is a feminine power, and the symbol of grace and empathy.
  • Owl: Wisdom, truth, patience. The Mescalero believe that Owl carries the souls of the recently deceased, a death messenger. Owl is the totem of clairvoyants and mystics.
  • Rabbit: Alertness, nurturing.
  • Raven: Trickster, teacher, hoarder. To Pacific Northwest Coast tribes, Raven represented the shaman's powers and a belief in transformation between human and animal spirits. Raven symbolizes change in consciousness and is the mark of a shape shifter.
  • Salmon: Instinct, persistence, determination.
  • Seahorse: Confidence, grace.
  • Shark: Hunter, survival, adaptability.
  • Snake: Shrewdness, transformation. Life, death and rebirth are represented by the shedding of skin. Among the Pueblo Indians snakes and lightning are equated with rain and fertility.
  • Spider: Creative, pattern of life. Spider connects the past with the future, creating possibilities. Spider-woman is a major Pueblo goddess.
  • Swan: Grace, balance, innocence.
  • Turtle: Self contained, creative source. Turtle represents Mother Earth. Informed decisions, planning and adaptability are attributes of Turtle.
  • Wolf: Loyalty, success, perseverance, stability and thought. Wolves are also regarded as pathfinders and teachers. Wolf is represented by the constellation Sirius, the Dog. In the Zuni tradition the Wolf symbolizes the direction East.

For more information, visit Shamanism Animal Spirit Guides Core

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