What are Spirit Animals?
The term “spirit animal” is used by western society to describe an animal presence that acts as a guide, protector or teacher of a living human being. While historically totem animals are associated with Native Americans, Chinese, Greek, Buddhist, Aztec and Egyptians cultures, they have recently made a resurgence in modern Western consciousness. These older cultures recognized their dependency upon animals and showed great respect for their natural instincts. In many cultures animals are held sacred, and temples and rituals are constructed to pay them full and proper respect.
Essentially, having a spirit animal is developing an internal relationship with someone with your best interests at heart. Animals have well-developed social skills and do not suffer from jealousy, avarice or malice, so it’s a relationship people instinctively trust.
Often an animal guide will make its presence known at a difficult time of someone’s life – when they have a life-changing decision to make or find themselves with few options. If the person has allowed himself to bond with his or her totem animal (and trusts it as much as he trusts himself) - then decisions are easier to make and generally more accurate. And if someone happens to lose themselves along the way, their guide will always be there to show them the way back.
Finding Your Spirit Animal
The first thing to know is that your spirit animal chooses you, not the other way around. You don’t suddenly decide on what animal you’d like to connect with and demand a relationship with it, but with proper preparation your spirit animal will choose you sooner rather than later. Your job is to recognize its presence and nurture the relationship so that both of you get the most out of your connection. In the hubbub of daily life, however, it’s easy to miss the signals that your power animal is there, which is why when your conscious mind is quiet (through meditation, altered states of consciousness and day dreaming) you’re much more likely to feel its presence.
Pay attention to nature. Spend some time alone in the desert. The first few hours may seem excruciatingly dull because there seems to be no activity, but when your mind reaches equilibrium you’ll be amazed at how much activity is actually going on. If an animal appears in your life (or maybe in a dream) exhibiting unusual behavior, pay attention; there’s a reason it showed up and you don’t want to miss an opportunity.
Meditation, relaxation and visualization are keys to beginning your inward journey. These are pre-dream states when your mind is very sensitive to subtle cues. It’s as if your brain takes on a mind of its own and you’ll find images popping into you head without conscious direction. If an animal happens to enter your thoughts, pay attention and spend time considering its qualities. Is it an aggressive animal? Is it ethereal? Is it social? If you feel a connection, invite it into your life and begin fostering a relationship.
Getting to Know Your Spirit Animal
Once you’ve bonded with your spirit animal it becomes part of you, but maintaining a meaningful relationship with your animal spirit is key. Your totem is part of you, whether you like it or not, but whether it plays a positive or negative role is up to you. It’s like having a friend who, while they’ll never abandon you, is not always a positive influence.
Spend some time learning about the nature of your spirit animal. If it happens to be a species that you’re able to observe in the real word, so much the better. Otherwise read books and watch videos. Ask questions. Do you feel bonded to this animal personality? Does it represent your personality or is it at odds with it? If you don't know what animal you are yet, take the Animal In You personality test and find out.
Your totem spirt may be a mirror of your feelings, or it may simply be there to support your weaknesses. Does it make you happy to be in its presence? If not, this is NOT a bad thing. Perhaps it’s there to teach you how to deepen your relationships and find ways to compromise. Either way, it will help you in your interactions with your real-world relationships.
Don’t be alarmed if your totem animal is generally looked down upon by society, if say you bonded with a crocodile or a weasel guide. Those who’ve formed connections with traditionally feared animals report that they’ve been strengthened by the realization that there is no such thing as a bad animal, for just as different people have different approaches to life, animals will instinctively adapt to their environment with no misgivings or ulterior motives. As you go through life you might develop relationships with other spirit animals to guide you through particularly difficult challenges. Do not ignore them. They also need to be nurtured and valued.
The Power of Totems and Spirit Animals
While modern western society doesn’t place as much emphasis on animal guides as has historically been the case, the connection to totem animals has not been lost. Many cultures still retain their connection to the animal world, with the best known example being that of Native Americans who consider the connection as essential to being "One with Nature".
Inarguably, those who have formed a connection with an animal guide are emotionally and spiritually strengthened. They have healthier relationships and a deeper understanding of how the world really works. The reason becomes clear when you consider that wild animals rarely suffer from the same kinds of neurosis and reactions to stress experienced by modern humans. They are balanced, social and are capable of feeling the full range of human emotions without anxiety, greed and hate. This is why children are instinctively attracted to animals, and also why there is such a huge amount of folklore and myth associated with animal behavior.
There’s no doubt that we can learn from our animal spirit. Not about science or mathematics of course, but about living in harmony with nature, forming unbreakable social bonds and receive the kind of wisdom that comes from being at peace with the world.
Animal Familiar Spirits
Many medieval Europeans believed in familiar spirits (“familiars” or “animal guides”) and considered them to be supernatural beings that helped witches and warlocks cast spells, place curses and otherwise create mischief.
There is much data regarding familiars that come from transcripts of 16th Century English witch trials, where testimony asserts that spirit animals would suddenly materialize in front of people during their daily activities, or were given to people by someone who already had a relationship with a spirit guide. One woman described how she could summon her familiars by reading books, but at other times they showed up completely uninvited. Often pacts were made between the practitioner and their familiar spirit that lasted from a few weeks to a few decades.
These spirit animals would disguise themselves – often appearing in animal form but sometimes as humans -- and were distinctly different from ghosts and apparitions because they were three-dimensional and solidly material.
Because of their association with witches, familiars were considered to be malevolent and indistinguishable from demons. But when they worked for people of benevolence and were considered to be fairies.
Familiar spirits were usually small creatures, like rats, birds, amphibians and dogs but there is also historical record of spirit insects and spirit horses. These spirit animals were carefully tended and housed in expensive baskets with a ready supply of milk, meat and blood.
Familiar spirits were often given affectionate names and people formed complex relationships with them. Even today, follows of Wicca and other neopagan religions incorporate the idea of familiars, and believe that spirit versions of pets and wildlife can benefit them in their lives and daily rituals. These personal spirit guides and spirit companions have no resemblance to the person to whom they are bonded and maintain their own personality and independent lives.
The belief in familiar spirits is also prevalent among many aboriginal peoples, including Australian Aborigines whose animal spirits survey the spirit world and report back to the medicine men. The Goldi people in Siberia even differentiate between animal spirits that choose the shaman and those that the shaman himself summons and there is often a sexual bond between the shaman and animal familiar.