I’m often asked by people what’s the difference between a totem and a spirit guide. The only difference is that an animal totem was always an animal while a spirit guide was once a living human being. Animal totems are also called power animals, spirit animals, spirit totems, totem spirits, and power totems. All of those terms mean the same thing.
Each of us is affiliated with a particular animal totem, and most likely each of you has more than one. Your animal totem chooses you, you do not choose it. Now, you may have a natural love or affinity for that animal, but you can’t just wake up one day and decide that the Horse is going to be your animal totem. They choose you just as your spirit guides do. An excellent case in point is my daughter.
When Ariel was 5 she dreamt about a giant talking jaguar that asked her to climb in its mouth & promised not to hurt her. Being a trusting child she did so. The jaguar ate her, but she said she traveled through the jaguar & she saw stars & rainbows inside the jaguar, & came out of its rectum covered in stars. The jaguar then said to her he was her power animal & would always keep her safe & be her guide & when she was older she could be a great healer or teacher if she wanted to be.
I was stunned by this because with my academic degrees in the study of the Classic Maya I knew that Mayan shamans all have the jaguar as their main totem. They are chosen when they dream they’re eaten by a jaguar and come out the other end. Many have reported in the dream they come out covered in either stars or rainbows. Ariel had no idea, I never told her about this since she was so little, so her dream floored me for weeks.
Then a few months later we’re driving to a friend’s house & she screams for me to stop the car. It was right after Christmas. Sitting on top of a pile of garbage bags that had holiday wrapping paper in them was a perfect very large stuffed jaguar toy with the red ribbon still around its neck! Ariel was SCREAMING from the back seat that was hers, that her jaguar promised to come to her as a stuffed toy. I got out to check it out & it was so clean & even still smelled brand new. I took it, sprayed it down with Lysol to be safe & ever since the jaguar lays at the foot of her bed, ever watchful.
In Ariel’s case the jaguar definitely chose her. Prior to that dream she never had any interest in jaguars or any other large cats. Our animal totems make themselves known to us in dreams. They can also instill in us a great interest or love of them so that we become consciously aware of their energy in our lives. Here is my story that serves as an example of this.
Ever since I can remember I have loved sea turtles. I’ve always found them to be so cute, so precious. Sea turtles have very old souls. I was blessed in 2011 to swim with a sea turtle while snorkeling in Maui, Hawaii. That was something so very special that every time I think of it it brings tears to my eyes. I was clinging to my husband since I cannot swim. Suddenly, I felt a pair of eyes on me. Fearing the worst (a shark) I slowly turned to see a very inquisitive looking sea turtle eyeballing me! I pulled on my husband to get him to stop swimming in the opposite direction, but he didn’t pay any attention so I risked all and let him go so I could float along with the sea turtle. We floated not 3 feet apart and I could feel the sea turtle’s eyes look deep into my soul. I was crying inside my snorkeling mask (which made a mess!). We floated along for what seemed an hour, but it was in reality probably about 3 – 4 minutes, then the turtle turned and swam off. That is one of the most special, most cherished experiences of my entire life.
My nickname all through school was “turtle.” I don’t know how it started. Perhaps I told some friends I loved sea turtles, I really don’t know. But I grew up with that energy being reinforced around me daily as someone would often refer to me as “turtle,” which I loved because to me that meant they thought I was cute!
Another animal I’ve always adored is the Emperor Penguin. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon in the Chicago area (I had taken him back home to Waukegan to meet my parents!!) we went to the Shedd Aquarium where Stuart bought me a stuffed Emperor Penguin toy from the gift shop there. I named him Horatio. Horatio had his home on top of a 6 foot high bookcase in our bedroom where he was the tallest of all my cherished stuffed animals from childhood (including a vintage stuffed E. T., the Extraterrestrial). Ten years later at yet another aquarium, this one in Corpus Christi, Texas, Stuart bought me a stuffed sea turtle toy that I adored from the second I saw it. I placed it on top of the bookcase next to Horatio and named my sea turtle, Antiquity.
The odd thing is that every once in a while I will wake up to find Antiquity laying on her back on the floor while it very much looks like Horatio has slightly shifted his position over night. I scold him every time and tell him to stop being mean to Antiquity, that I love them both, but secretly, Antiquity is my favorite, but I’ve never let on to poor Horatio who is obviously jealous. LOL
A year or so ago a woman on her Facebook page was offering free animal totem readings. So I asked her what mine were & she immediately identified the sea turtle. After discussing the meaning of the sea turtle in her comment to me she then added that she saw a little penguin who kept peeking out at her from over my right shoulder. She told me that Penguin was jealous of all the attention that Sea Turtle was getting and that I needed to divide my affections more evenly between them. She had no idea of my love for either animal nor did she know about my stuffed animals and their strange antics. I took her advice & moved Horatio to our bed, told him he was extra special and left him there a few weeks before placing him back up on the bookcase along side Antiquity. Ever since then the sea turtle toy had never fallen back on the floor. Bizarre, I know!
If you have a great interest or love of a specific animal for no good reason that you can fathom, then that is your special animal totem. In order to strengthen its energy in your life you can do several things.
Purchase figurines or stuffed toy versions of that animal
Collect artwork that depicts that animal & display it in various places in your home
Read books about that animal to learn more about its habits
If you’d like an active connection with your animal totem you can try this simple little ritual. You will need the following items:
white candle (this can be a votive, a taper, but something small that will burn out in one day)
a holder in the appropriate size for your candle
incense in whatever scent pleases you
a picture, figurine, or stuffed toy of your animal totem