Native American Totem Animals & Their Meanings

Native Americans and Buffalo.

Native Americans and Buffalo.

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

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

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

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 they have touched or spent time with this animal, but they are more open to learning its lessons.

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

Totem carving in Alaska

Totem carving in Alaska

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 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 cards and letters with the same animal pictured over and over, unexplainable dreams of a particular animal, watching television and seeing the same animal featured repeatedly, or having the animal show up.
  • What are you most interested in seeing when you go to the zoo, a park, a wildlife area, or a forest?
  • Are there any animals that you find to be extremely frightening or intriguing?
  • Is there a particular animal that you frequently see 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 specific 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, TotemsRemember that you cannot choose your totem spirit; instead, 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 involves paying attention to both your past and 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, an 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, has 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.

Thunderbird Totem Pole

Thunderbird Totem Pole

Alligator

Maternal, revenge-oriented, quickness, aggression, stealth, efficiency, basic survival instincts.

Ant

Group-minded, determined, patient, active, purposeful, unity, self-sacrifice, and industrious.

Anteater

Lethargy, curiosity, nosiness, ability to smell trouble, rooting for solutions, finding the lost.

Antelope

Active, agile, jumpy, keen eyesight, survival, willing to sacrifice, mental clarity, intuitive, protective.

Armadillo

Safety, grounded, sensitivity to attack, firm 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.

Countless Indian words have become a part of the English language. Just a few of these include barbecue, cannibal, caribou, chipmunk, chocolate, cougar, hammock, hurricane, mahogany, moose, opossum, potato, skunk, squash, toboggan, and woodchuck. – From our Native American Facts & Trivia

Bear

Industrious, instinctive, healing, power, sovereignty, guardian of the world, watcher, courage, willpower, 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.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download

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, and provision.

Butterfly

Metamorphosis, transformation, balance, grace, ability to accept change, lightness, soul, vulnerability.

Camel

Survival, endurance, obedience, nobility, positivity, 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, responsibility, foresight, sensing danger, and 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, independence, intelligence, vigilance, and focus.

Crocodile

Ensuring your emotions are displayed accurately/appropriately.

An estimated 18-20 million Native Americans lived in the United States when Europeans first arrived. – from our Native American Facts & Trivia

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 selling adventure.

Dog

Noble, faithful, loyal, teaching, protection, guidance, obedience, sensory perception.

Dolphin

Kind, salvation, wisdom, happiness, playfulness, prudent, capable of deep emotion, and happy.

Dove

Cross-world communication, spirit messenger, peace, gentleness, love.

Dragon

Longevity, richness, prosperity, infinity, wisdom, power, fiery, mythic.

Dragonfly

Flighty, carefree, strong imagination, higher aspirations, lightness, joy, and transformation.

Duck

Water energy, helper of seers, affectionate, community-oriented, can clearly see/deal with emotions.

Eagle

Divine spirit, sacrifice, connection to creator, intelligence, renewal, courage, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, freedom, and risk-taker.

Elephant

Strength, power, affection, loyalty, royalty, wisdom, reliability, sense of history, and pride.

Elk

Strength, agility, pride, majestic, independence, purification, nobility, and sensuality.

Falcon

New beginnings, adventure, passion, leadership, rising above, guardianship, superiority, prophecy.

Fish

Graceful, slyness, open-minded, quick to change one’s mind, fertility, good luck, happiness.

Flamingo

Heart healing, psychic, people person, flirtatious, colorful, open, power of illusion.

Fox

Cunning, agility, quick-witted, diplomacy, wildness, feminine magic of camouflage, shape-shifting, and invisibility.

Frog

Water, cleansing, rebirth, sensitivity, medicine, hidden beauty, peace, adaptability, metamorphosis.

The United States has thousands of pictographs and petroglyphs, with the greatest concentration in the American Southwest. The site that has the most is the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico. At the monument, archaeologists have estimated there may be over 25,000 petroglyph images along the 17 miles of escarpment. – From our Native American Symbols, Pictographs & Petroglyphs

Gazelle

Awareness, speed, grace, eagerness, lightness, overcoming vulnerability, alertness.

Giraffe

Intelligence, intuition, attaining the unreachable, seeing the future, elegance, cleverness, and beauty.

Goat

Surefootedness, stubbornness, independence, diligence, in the moment, aloofness, virility, sturdiness.

Goose

Self-demanding, reliable, prudent, rigid, vigilance, parenthood, productive, teamwork, fellowship.

Gorilla

Family-oriented, intelligent, strong, environmental protector, keeps peace through aggression.

Grasshopper

Good luck, abundance, forward, progressive, virtuous, forward-thinking, and creative.

Grouse

Personal power, enlightenment.

Hawk

Messenger, intuition, victory, healing, nobility, recollection, cleansing, visionary power, and guardianship.

Heron/Egret

Aggressive, self-determined, self-reliant, multi-tasking, balanced, calm, present, and independent.

Hippopotamus

Power, creation, imagination, healing, birth, mother fury, family protection, and emotional depth.

Horse

Freedom, stamina, mobility, the land, travel, power, freedom, grace, nobility.

Hummingbird

Messenger, timelessness, healing, warrior, energy, vitality, infinity, affection, playfulness.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download

Jaguar

Chaos, shape-shifter, aggressiveness, power, confidence, manifestation, breath.

Kangaroo

Forward, balance, creative, stamina, leaping away from danger, nurturing, generous.

Lion

Family, strength, energy, courage, guardian, protector, ferocity, and authority.

Lizard

Conservation, vision, self-protection, hidden defenses, shrewdness, variation.

Llama

Comforting to others, secure, responsible, strong, adaptable, hard work, curiosity.

Lynx

Keeper of secrets, guardian, listener, guide, aware, intuitive, unconventional.

Plains Tribes by George Catlin

Plains Tribes by George Catlin

More than 50% of state names are based on Native American words. Twenty-seven state names have Indian meanings, including Utah, named for the Ute tribe; Kentucky, which means planted field in the Iroquois language; Kansas, named for the Kanza (Kaw) tribe; and dozens more. – from our Native American Facts & Trivia

Meerkat

Community, precise vision, good boundaries, lively, courageous, intuition, heart energy.

Mole

Sensitivity, guidance, searching, extended senses, underworld, hidden treasure, digger.

Mongoose

Good boundaries, good defense, courage, cleansing, heart-forward, rebellious, impulsive, authentic.

Monkey

Ability to change the environment, health, success, light and dark, communication, swiftness, and energy.

Moose

Headstrong, longevity, steadfastness, wisdom, self-esteem, primal feminine energy.

Mouse

Innocence, scrutiny, order, organizer, eye for details, grounded, super-aware, temerity.

Octopus

Intelligence, camouflage, nocturnal.

Opossum

Smart, clever, sensible, grounded, group-minded, proper use of deception, strategic, surprising.

Ostrich

Grounded, practical, avoidant, spiritual truth, understands denial, truth, and justice.

Otter

Playful, friendly, dynamic, joyful, helpful, sharing, love of young, sensibility without suspicion.

Owl

Wisdom, deception, intuition, insight, messenger, mystery, freedom, secrets, stealth, vision.

Ox

Sacrifice, chastity, faith, humility, self-denial, enduring, strong, magical.

Panther

Protection, hidden emotions, introspection, caution, careful decisions, multi-dimensional, dark, and light.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download

Parrot

Communication, beauty, the guide for wisdom, mockery, language, prophecy, verbosity, and promise.

Peacock

Immortality, dignity, self-confidence, self-esteem, knowledge, refinement, beauty, sexuality, and pride.

Pelican

Resilient, unselfish, rising above, friendliness, responsible, safety, camaraderie, bounty.

Penguin

Self-discipline, order, purpose, community-minded, grace, self-confidence, spirituality.

Porcupine

Innocence, companionship, trust, curiosity, imagination, good-natured, non-interference.

Prairie Dog

Swiftness, industrious, constructive, preparedness, common goals, retreat, family, digger.

Puma

Companion on journeys to other worlds, grace, silent power

Native Americans often served as guides in the exploration of America. Many of their trails became emigrant roads, later followed by the railroads. – From our Native American Facts & Trivia

Quail

Group work, team play, creator of harmony and group tolerance, protectiveness (especially toward children)

Rabbit

Fertility, artistic, in motion, hyper-vigilant, joyful, lives by own wits, steps through fear.

Raccoon

Curiosity, disguise, explorer, secret, night vision, cleanliness, dexterity, seeker.

Ram

Stoic, sensitive, persevering, curious, imaginative, new beginnings, change, life force.

Rat

Fertility, stealth, scavenging, intelligence, enjoys luxury, intelligence, wealth, success, drive.

Raven

Magical, introspective, self-realized, courageous, transformational, messenger, psychic, divination.

Rhinoceros

Wisdom, solitary, insightful, solid, good judgment, paradox, stamina, freedom, longevity.

Roadrunner

Mental agility, speed, opportunism, multi-tasking, energy, busy, accomplishment.

Rooster

Persistence, honesty, strength, flamboyant, upward reaching, eagerness, cocky, watchful.

Salmon

Proud, intense, confident, wisdom, inspiration, can swim upstream, rebirth, determined, spiritual desire.

Scorpion

Transforming, strong, inspiring, chaotic, passionate, altered perception, death and rebirth, seduction.

Seagull

Versatility, loud, easy-going nature, creativity, laziness, resourceful, opportunistic, freedom.

Seahorse

Confidence and grace

Seal

Love, longing, dilemma, active imagination, creativity, protection during change, dreaming, and good luck.

Shark

Prowess, perpetual motion, hunter, survival, warning signs, workaholic, savior, guardian, superiority.

Skunk

Reputation, presence, and strength, demands respect, sensuality, steady, pacifism, and taking your time.

Snail

Protective, aware, solitary, tender nature, androgyny, healing, sensitivity, time, and cycles.

Snake

Impulsive, primal energy, shrewdness, rebirth, transformation, initiation, and wisdom.

Spider

Balance, wisdom, creativity, communication, networker, cyclical, crafty, fate, protection.

Squirrel

Planner, gatherer, preparedness, awareness, sociable, playful, energy, prudence, resourceful.

Stag

Lord of the forest, masculine power of regeneration, signs.

Swan

Grace, balance, innocence, soul, love, beauty, elegance, transformation, and dreams.

There are approximately 296 spoken (or formerly spoken) indigenous languages north of Mexico. Hundreds of others have entirely ceased to exist. – From our Native American Facts & Trivia

Tiger

Strength, courage, power, energy, devotion, tact, royal, illuminated, unpredictable.

Toad

Inner strength, luck, self-examination.

Turkey

Generosity, life-giver, sharer, abundance, blessings, pride, virility, sacrifice.

Turtle

Nurturer, shy, protecting, patient, strong, innocent, endurance, longevity.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download

Unicorn

Purity, innocence, dreaming, personal power, gentle, spiritual vision, other realms, faith, healing.

Weasel

Strength, energy, ingenuity, stealth, wild, ferocious, aggressive, commanding.

Whale

Wisdom, provider, intelligence, kindness, deeper awareness, nurturing, navigation, and communication.

Wolf

Loyalty, perseverance, success, intuition, spirit, appetite for freedom, can be a loner.

Woodpecker

Sensitive, protective, devotion, prophecy, progress, determination, balance, and communication.

Zebra

Clarity, motion, individuality, balance, illusion, instinct, free, wild, communal, playful, social.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, with expanded meanings and additions by Kevin Kaiser, updated December 2022.

Native American Totem Pole, 1895

Native American Totem Pole, 1895

Also See:

Healing Crystals and Stones

Indian Proverbs & Wisdom

Legends, Myths & Tales of Native Americans

Medicine Bags or Bundles

Native American Symbols, Pictographs & Petroglyphs

Sources:

Hodge, Frederick Webb; Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico; Smithsonian Institution; 1910
Manataka American Indian Council
Mystic Familiar
Shaman Links