Native American Totem Animals & Their Meanings

A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Some Native American tribe’s tradition provides that each person is connected with nine different animals that will accompany him or her  through life, acting as guides.

Different animal guides, also called spirit guides and/or power animals, 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.

These tribe’s 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 he or she has actually touched or spent time with this animal, more that, they 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 any type of living creature, 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?

If you still need more help ask the Universe for a dream or a vision to see if anything comes up. Also ask the animal to show itself to you and pay attention to what you begin to see from all sources — television, books, billboards — it doesn’t have to be the actual animal. Does one animal begin to appear frequently?

Native American Symbols, TotemsOne thing to remember is that you cannot choose your totem spirit, rather it chooses or has already chosen you. The Spirit chooses you and they decide to whom they will reveal themselves. Much of the process of identifying your spirit animal is paying attention to both your past and your present. It is a process of developing your inner knowledge and spiritual understanding.

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, and engraved or painted stone, 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 (such as the unicorn.) 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. It is also worth noting that not all Native American tribes held these beliefs.

Animal Symbol Meaning
Alligator Maternal, revenge oriented, quickness, aggression, stealth, efficiency, basic survival instincts.
Ant Group minded, determination, patient, active, purposeful, unity, self sacrifice and industrious.
Anteater Lethargy, curiosity, nosiness, ability to smell out trouble, rooting around for solutions, finding the lost.
Antelope Active, agile, jumpiness, keen eyesight, survival, willing to sacrifice, mental clarity, intuitive, protective.
Armadillo Safety, grounded, sensitivity to attack, strong boundaries, trusting, reclusive, neutral, peaceful.
Badger Courage, aggressive, healer, problems relating to others, energy conduit, determined, focused, confident.
Bat Rebirth, longevity, secrecy, initiation, good listener, long life, illusion, journeying, inner depth.
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, dreamer, protector, builder, motion, subconscious.
Bee Organized, industrial, productive, wise, community, celebration, fertility, sweetness, defensiveness, obsessive nature, and enjoys life.
Boar/Pig A very powerful totem – prosperity, spiritual strength, organized, balanced complacency and activity, fearless.
Buffalo Sacredness, life, great strength, abundance, gratitude, consistency, blessings, stability.
Bull Insight into the past, fertility, raw expression, rushing into things, confidence, strength, provision.
Butterfly Metamorphosis, transformation, balance, grace, ability to accept change, lightness, soul, vulnerability.
Camel Survival, endurance, obedience, nobility, positive, accomplishment, adaptive, temperance, humility.
Caribou Traveler, mobility, preference to be nomadic, adaptability to adversity, sensitivity, guidance, surety.
Cat Guardianship, detachment, sensuality, mystery, magic, independence, astute, watchful.
Cheetah Swiftness, insight, focus, brotherhood, self-esteem, acceleration, elusiveness.
Cougar Leadership, loyalty, courage, taking responsibility, foresight, sensing danger, awareness.
Cow Love of home, community, contentment, joy, easy going, patience, grounded, fertility.
Coyote Trickster, intelligence, stealth, wisdom and folly, guile, innocence, skill.
Cobra Swift and decisive, power of life and death, transformation, energy, connected to eternity.
Crab Good luck, moves sideways, savvy, unorthodox, relaxed, cycles.
Crane Solitude, justice, longevity, independent, intelligent, vigilant, focus.
Crocodile Ensuring your emotions are displayed accurately/appropriately.
Crow Magical, shape shifting, change, creativity, spiritual strength, inelegancy, energy, higher perspective.
Deer Compassion, peace, intellectual, gentle, caring, kind, subtlety, gracefulness, femininity, gentleness, innocence, and seller of adventure.
Dog Noble, faithful, loyal, teaching, protection, guidance, obedience, sensory perception.

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