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Native American Totems & Their Meanings

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Totem poles at Alert Bay, Washington, 1914A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Native American tradition provides that each individual is connected with nine different animals that will accompany each person through life, acting as guides. Different animal guides come in and out of our lives depending on the direction that we are headed and the tasks that need to be completed along our journey.

 

Native beliefs further explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Though people may identify with different animal guides throughout their lifetimes, it is this one totem animal that acts as the main guardian spirit.

 

With this one animal a connection is shared, either through interest in the animal, characteristics, dreams, or other interaction.

 

This Animal Guide offers power and wisdom to the individual when they "communicate” with it, conveying their respect and trust. This does not necessarily mean that you actually pet or spend time with this animal, more that you are open to learning its lessons.

 

For some, knowing what is their totem animal is almost an innate process. It’s as if they’ve always known, inexplicably drawn to the animal or having a special feeling for the animal’s energy. For others, they wonder how to tell what their animal totem is.

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re wondering what your animal totem is:

  • Have you ever felt drawn to one animal or another without being able to explain why? This could be animal, including birds and insects.

  • Does a certain kind of animal consistently appear in your life? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical appearance, it could be represented in other ways such as receiving card and letters with the same animal pictured over and over, unexplainable dreams of a particular animal, watching television and seeing the same animal featured time and time again, or, actually having the animal show up.

  • When you go to the zoo, a park, wildlife area, or forest, what are you most interested in seeing?

  • Are there any animals that you find to be extremely frightening or intriguing?

  • Is there a particular animal that you see frequently when you’re out in nature?

  • Have you ever been bitten or attacked by an animal?

  • Have you ever had a recurring dream about a certain animal, or a dream from childhood that you have never been able to forget?

  • Are you drawn to figurines or paintings of a specific animal?

The totem itself is a symbol that represents this animal. This could be any number of items - a crest, a totem pole, an emblem, a small figurine or anything else that depicts your animal guide.

 

Note:  Native American totems did not include all of the animals listed below, as many of these creatures did not exist in North America; or, in some cases, not at all. However; the concept of "totems," by whatever name they were called, have been known throughout the world since the earliest days of Greek Mythology. Though the unicorn and dragon are generally accepted as centuries old mythical creatures of Europeans, pictures of these fabled animals have been found in Native American tapestries and pictographs.

 

Animal Characteristics & Meaning

 

 
Alligator Maternal, revenge oriented, quickness, aggression, and basic survival instincts.
Ant Group minded, determination, patient, active, and industrious
Anteater Lethargy, curiosity, nosiness.
Antelope Active, agile, jumpiness, and willing to sacrifice
Armadillo Safety oriented, grounded, and has boundaries
Badger Courage, aggressive, healer, having problems relating to others, and energy conduit
Bat Rebirth, longevity, secrecy, initiation, good listener, and long life
Bear Industrious, instinctive, healing, power, sovereignty, guardian of the world, watcher, courage, will power, self-preservation, introspection, and great strength.
Beaver Determined, strong-willed, builder, overseer, and protector
Bee Organized, industrial, productive, wise, community, celebration, fertility, defensiveness, obsessive nature, and enjoys life
Boar/Pig A very powerful totem - prosperity, spiritual strength, organized, self-reliant, fearless.
Buffalo Sacredness, life, great strength, abundance, gratitude.
Bull Insight into the past, fertility, rushing into things without proper preparation.
Butterfly Metamorphosis, transformation, balnace, grace, ability to accept change
Camel Survival, positive, accomplishments
Caribou Traveler, mobility, preference to be nomadic, adaptability to adversity
Cat Guardianship, detachment, sensuality, mystery, magic, and independence
Cheetah Swiftness, insight, focus
Cougar Leadership, loyalty, courage, taking responsibility, foresight
Cow Swift, insightful, and focused
Coyote Trickster, intelligence, stealth, wisdom and folley, guile and innocence
Cobra Swift and decisive
Crab Good luck, protection and success
Crane Solitude, justice, longevity, independent, intelligent, and vigilant
Crocodile Ensuring your emotions are displayed accurately/appropriately
Crow Justice, shape shifting, change, creativity, spiritual strength, energy, community sharing, and balance
Deer Compassion, peace, intellectual, gentle, caring, kind, subtlety, gracefulness, femininity, gentleness, innocence, and seller of adventure
Dog Noble, faithful, loyal, teaching, protection, and guidance
 
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