Do you remember the song “Talk to the animals and they will talk to you”? This song first appeared in Dolittle’s residence, when the Doctor fully realised from his interactions with his parrot, Polly, that intelligently communicating with animals is an acquirable skill.
It is true that totem animals and the capacity to speak with them is the work of a Shaman and the province of our ancestors. I am neither of these – I am simply a person who wants to tune in more closely to animals and their nature.
When did you last have a chat with a Robin or a Spider? Have you ever wondered if these creatures could potentially be our guides, supporting us along our life paths – or have you even believed this yourself? All animals speak to those that listen and have so much to offer us – if only we could find a way to hear their messages. So may I suggest we develop Dr. Dolittle’s work?
Each animal has its own set of lessons for survival from which we can learn, helping us to understand our inner wilderness.
The Bear is a solitary animal capable of ferocity, and as a totem animal, it signifies the importance of taking command and leading with a certain aloof aggressiveness. Bear also represents the need for time spent in reflection alone, and it is a symbol to lean on when individual, lone courage is required.
The Raven, fast and wary, is a bird who is not intimidated by others, making it far from easy prey for other birds or animals. This implies the ability to teach you how to stir the magic of life without fear. Ravens are also known for their amorous behaviour, reflecting the strong creative life force to which they have access. Raven, therefore, has the potential to activate the power of manifestation, linking in with your will and intentions.
So, what is a totem? Totems are sacred objects or spirit beings that possess phenomena and energy we feel closely connected with. A totem doesn’t have to be an animal, but Native Americans believe that each person is connected with nine different animals, which are thought to act as guides throughout our lifetime.
Identifying a totem animal comes naturally to some people. They find themselves drawn to a particular animal or an animal repeatedly appears in their life. For others, finding their totem animal may require more work and an open mind.
Have you ever felt the pull of a specific animal? Perhaps an Elephant on TV with whom you felt a special bond or a sense of empathy?
I met with an Elephant when I was in Nepal on a jungle adventure. I was encouraged to climb upon its back and sit on its body with support. This Elephant carried people through the trees and shrubs. I felt so sad as its tail was made available for me to put my foot upon its body. Why did I do it? I climbed with tears in my eyes, full of reverence and humbleness. I felt its suffering as well as its loyalty and service. I also felt the thrill of its animal nature when a Rhino came out of the bushes. The Elephant knew exactly what to do: it stood its ground, and I never felt so safe and protected.
Since this time, Elephants have been very important to me. I began to ask serious questions about my relationship with animals as well as my fellow human companions. For me, the nature of the Elephant is linked to Ganesh, a deity from the Hindu pantheon. My honour of Ganesh has imbued me with the energy to overcome many obstacles I have had in my life. The Elephant’s nature is also the quality of loyalty, protecting its flock and remaining with a fellow dying Elephant until its spirit has gone. I found this attribute helped give me strength as well as the devotion to stay by the side of people who are coming to the end of their life. I never left my mother’s side until I knew she was no longer with me.
In one of my internal journeys, I met a Deer standing at the entrance to a cave that I was about to enter. As I stood and chatted to the Deer, it told me about its nature of gentleness, playfulness and sensitivity. It told me that it knew when to flee and when to fight. On reflection, I realised that this Deer was sharing with me its qualities to help me navigate the forest of my life. After my encounter with the Deer, I valued my tendency to be vigilant and wary in some circumstances in a way that I hadn’t before. I used to see this tendency as a weakness, but through the Deer I now understood it to be an actual strength. I realised that it was important to trust my natural instincts in order to make the best move in a situation while avoiding, if possible, damaging consequences. I also had an urge to be more like the Deer and spend some time in the woods just as this animal does: paying close attention to the sights, sounds, and especially the smells.
You and the totem animal choose each other in part because the personality characteristics possessed by this animal match yours. You may be aware of the attributes you have in common or they may be hidden or obscured from your consciousness. They may exist only in your shadows, not yet available to serve you with their capacity to enrich your life. These traits may have been suppressed, but as you develop a relationship with your Totem animal, its qualities and repertoire will become part of you and your self-expression. Your own magnificence will begin to manifest.
We do not have to believe that these images and totems are beings of great intelligence, but there are archetypal powers that reside behind and oversee all manifestations in Nature. These archetypes have their own qualities and characteristics which are reflected through the behaviours and activities of animals and other expressions of Nature. When we pay attention to and acknowledge a nature totem, we are honouring the essence that lies beneath it. As we open up and attune to that essence, we can then use it to understand our own life circumstances more clearly. The characteristics and activities of these totems will reveal much about our own innate powers and abilities. By studying the totem and then learning to merge with it, we are able to call upon its archetypal energy whenever needed.
We can use animal imagery and other nature totem images as a way to learn about ourselves in the invisible world. In my workshops, we do this by accessing receptive attention through relaxation, supported by drumming (insert hyperlink to sacred drumming blog post). This induces a moderate trance-like yet alert state. I will then take you on an internal journey, using Guided Imagery (insert hyperlink to Guided Imagery blog post), where you are invited to meet a totem animal.
In Mask work, it is possible to further connect with and embody the nature of the animal you are working with. For example, you could engage with the Deer spirit through creating a visual form of a Deer as an embellished Mask based on your own face. The energy can be further embodied through movements, as in Chi Gong, which offers us a Deer form. This can then clear the body of stuck emotional energy whilst generating feelings of invigoration and of belonging to something greater than ourselves.
When you meet an animal ally in your inner work, you might want to investigate the traditional sacred and symbolic meanings such a creature has had to other people, from different cultures and at other times in history. This allows you to go deeper in your discovery of yourself in relation to this being and may show you useful and meaningful things about how you life your life.
Going into Nature to Find your Totem Animal
In my workshops, I will also invite you to go out in nature on a woodland or water trail, on a self-discovery quest supported by the Medicine Wheel. You will practice mindfully seeing what creatures or animals present themselves. A butterfly that you may not have really noticed but brushed away in insignificance, caught up in your mind and the business of life, has the potential to develop a new significance for you. This creature could keep you company on your walk while reminding you of the joy and abundance available to you. By truly seeing the butterfly, you could find yourself seeing your life as if for the first time – with fresh, invigorated eyes and body.
Your totem animal has come to you for a reason, just as your dreams fill your sleep with their own signals welling up from the unconscious. p 65 Faces of Soul.
Your relationship with your totem animal is one of reciprocity: you have both have things to give each other. A spider may have inspired you to develop your skill as a weaver; what gifts do you have to offer the Spider?
Connecting with Totem animals is a path to becoming conscious of the specific forces of the invisible realm that manifest in our own lives – that which we might call “spiritual”. The animals and their energies are all found within you. In a sense, you are the microcosm; all the energies within the universe live within you. When we know ourselves and the treasures within us, we become open to the treasures of the earth. So come, my friends, to Mother Earth, who will teach you how to learn and to grow, freeing you from your own limitations. Begin your quest for the grail of life, the search for your true essence, and discover how best to manifest that essence in your life. To find out more about my workshops, click here.