I have been asked how one can recognize their animal totems and spirit guides. One might begin with any animal you feel drawn to work with, watching and learning from that animal’s characteristics and behaviors what it has to teach you. I certainly have learned from the horses, dogs, cats, cattle, and other farm animals things about patience, reading body language, and trust. Many positives can be said for these domestic animals, but there are qualities they have lost in years of domestication. Wild animals will have more to teach about survival and life in the wilderness, but watching these creatures will be harder to access for those who live in urban or suburban areas.
One of the things to consider whether an animal, bird, insect, or other being may carry a spiritual message or teaching for me is the frequency with which I sight it. It does not have to be in physical life – it might be the circumstance of receiving a post card, a movie, receiving a gift from a friend, or seeing it in a dream. One of the most telling things is that you keep seeing it. And whether the animal is to be a longtime guide or companion for you or has a message that is point to the moment is relevent too. An animal totem might also be sought by questing for a vision or you might have someone to drum for one for you while you go into trance.
My husband, who learned a ceremony for drumming for an animal totem by a Pomo trained shaman, believes that ceremony should be done once, and that the animal that comes to you is yours for life. Whether this is true for you will depend on your life circumstance. I have a couple of animal guides that have been with me for life: Hawk appeared because of my love for it, and Heron flew over my head in a figure-eight when I was young. I only figured her lessons out by looking at the patterns of my life, my independent and solitary nature, and the capacity to do multiple jobs well. Hawk helps me to stay on top of the details.
I obtained Barn Swallow in ceremony and she has taught me a lot about how I nurture my loved ones. I think too many people miss important opportunities for an applicable totem because they think the animal is too small or too unimportant, but all animals are important, and all have something special to teach. A biker I knew got Chipmunk, but he was too unimpressed with his totem to listen to its teachings about storing up to meet the needs of life. I knew one gal who had a Snail. Snail taught her to slow down and be in the moment.
Horses taught me about strength, trust, freedom, communication, and what I am capable of. Dogs, too. You come to understand the ways in which an animal thinks and behaves, and you can imitate its own body language in ordert to communicate with it. Ancient peoples from hunting cultures would have known these things about wild animals that they shared their world with. Even today you can go out and study the wild birds, imitate their whistles and songs, and have a kind of communication with them that way. Some people learn to be so still that they can induce these small creatures to come feed from their hands, with the incentive of a little bird seed.
Animals may appear with a message of the moment. How do you know? There are a couple of reference books that I like to use: Animal Speak by Ted Andrews and one by Stephen Farmer. Look up the animal and see whether the message is relevent for you. I dreamed one night that Odin was letting me pick a spirit animal, and Cougar ran by the tree we were standing behind. He had a message for me that I needed to act on at the moment. I did, and it solved a few problems before they happened.
If you have any questions about animal totems or spirit guides that I haven’t addressed, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.