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, power animals, or spirit 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.
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?
Remember 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.
Maternal, revenge-oriented, quickness, aggression, stealth, efficiency, basic survival instincts.
Group-minded, determined, patient, active, purposeful, unity, self-sacrifice, and industrious.
Lethargy, curiosity, nosiness, ability to smell trouble, rooting for solutions, finding the lost.
Active, agile, jumpy, keen eyesight, survival, willing to sacrifice, mental clarity, intuitive, protective.
Safety, grounded, sensitivity to attack, firm boundaries, trusting, reclusive, neutral, peaceful.
Courage, aggressive, healer, problems relating to others, energy conduit, determined, focused, confident.
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
Industrious, instinctive, healing, power, sovereignty, guardian of the world, watcher, courage, willpower, self-preservation, introspection, and great strength.
Determined, strong-willed, builder, overseer, dreamer, protector, builder, motion, subconscious.
Organized, industrial, productive, wise, community, celebration, fertility, sweetness, defensiveness, obsessive nature, and enjoys life.
A very powerful totem – prosperity, spiritual strength, organized, balanced complacency and activity, fearless.
Sacredness, life, great strength, abundance, gratitude, consistency, blessings, stability.
Insight into the past, fertility, raw expression, rushing into things, confidence, strength, and provision.
Metamorphosis, transformation, balance, grace, ability to accept change, lightness, soul, vulnerability.
Survival, endurance, obedience, nobility, positivity, accomplishment, adaptive, temperance, humility.
Traveler, mobility, preference to be nomadic, adaptability to adversity, sensitivity, guidance, surety.
Guardianship, detachment, sensuality, mystery, magic, independence, astute, watchful.
Swiftness, insight, focus, brotherhood, self-esteem, acceleration, elusiveness.
Leadership, loyalty, courage, responsibility, foresight, sensing danger, and awareness.
Love of home, community, contentment, joy, easy-going, patience, grounded, fertility.
Trickster, intelligence, stealth, wisdom and folly, guile, innocence, skill.
Swift and decisive, power of life and death, transformation, energy, connected to eternity.
Good luck, moves sideways, savvy, unorthodox, relaxed, cycles.
Solitude, justice, longevity, independence, intelligence, vigilance, and focus.
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
Magical, shape shifting, change, creativity, spiritual strength, inelegancy, energy, higher perspective.
Compassion, peace, intellectual, gentle, caring, kind, subtlety, gracefulness, femininity, gentleness, innocence, and selling adventure.
Noble, faithful, loyal, teaching, protection, guidance, obedience, sensory perception.
Kind, salvation, wisdom, happiness, playfulness, prudent, capable of deep emotion, and happy.
Cross-world communication, spirit messenger, peace, gentleness, love.
Longevity, richness, prosperity, infinity, wisdom, power, fiery, mythic.
Flighty, carefree, strong imagination, higher aspirations, lightness, joy, and transformation.
Water energy, helper of seers, affectionate, community-oriented, can clearly see/deal with emotions.
Divine spirit, sacrifice, connection to creator, intelligence, renewal, courage, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, freedom, and risk-taker.
Strength, power, affection, loyalty, royalty, wisdom, reliability, sense of history, and pride.
Strength, agility, pride, majestic, independence, purification, nobility, and sensuality.
New beginnings, adventure, passion, leadership, rising above, guardianship, superiority, prophecy.
Graceful, slyness, open-minded, quick to change one’s mind, fertility, good luck, happiness.
Heart healing, psychic, people person, flirtatious, colorful, open, power of illusion.
Cunning, agility, quick-witted, diplomacy, wildness, feminine magic of camouflage, shape-shifting, and invisibility.
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
Awareness, speed, grace, eagerness, lightness, overcoming vulnerability, alertness.
Intelligence, intuition, attaining the unreachable, seeing the future, elegance, cleverness, and beauty.
Surefootedness, stubbornness, independence, diligence, in the moment, aloofness, virility, sturdiness.
Self-demanding, reliable, prudent, rigid, vigilance, parenthood, productive, teamwork, fellowship.
Family-oriented, intelligent, strong, environmental protector, keeps peace through aggression.
Good luck, abundance, forward, progressive, virtuous, forward-thinking, and creative.
Personal power, enlightenment.
Messenger, intuition, victory, healing, nobility, recollection, cleansing, visionary power, and guardianship.
Aggressive, self-determined, self-reliant, multi-tasking, balanced, calm, present, and independent.
Power, creation, imagination, healing, birth, mother fury, family protection, and emotional depth.
Freedom, stamina, mobility, the land, travel, power, freedom, grace, nobility.
Messenger, timelessness, healing, warrior, energy, vitality, infinity, affection, playfulness.
Chaos, shape-shifter, aggressiveness, power, confidence, manifestation, breath.
Forward, balance, creative, stamina, leaping away from danger, nurturing, generous.
Family, strength, energy, courage, guardian, protector, ferocity, and authority.
Conservation, vision, self-protection, hidden defenses, shrewdness, variation.
Comforting to others, secure, responsible, strong, adaptable, hard work, curiosity.
Keeper of secrets, guardian, listener, guide, aware, intuitive, unconventional.
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
Community, precise vision, good boundaries, lively, courageous, intuition, heart energy.
Sensitivity, guidance, searching, extended senses, underworld, hidden treasure, digger.
Good boundaries, good defense, courage, cleansing, heart-forward, rebellious, impulsive, authentic.
Ability to change the environment, health, success, light and dark, communication, swiftness, and energy.
Headstrong, longevity, steadfastness, wisdom, self-esteem, primal feminine energy.
Innocence, scrutiny, order, organizer, eye for details, grounded, super-aware, temerity.
Intelligence, camouflage, nocturnal.
Smart, clever, sensible, grounded, group-minded, proper use of deception, strategic, surprising.
Grounded, practical, avoidant, spiritual truth, understands denial, truth, and justice.
Playful, friendly, dynamic, joyful, helpful, sharing, love of young, sensibility without suspicion.
Wisdom, deception, intuition, insight, messenger, mystery, freedom, secrets, stealth, vision.
Sacrifice, chastity, faith, humility, self-denial, enduring, strong, magical.
Protection, hidden emotions, introspection, caution, careful decisions, multi-dimensional, dark, and light.
Communication, beauty, the guide for wisdom, mockery, language, prophecy, verbosity, and promise.
Immortality, dignity, self-confidence, self-esteem, knowledge, refinement, beauty, sexuality, and pride.
Resilient, unselfish, rising above, friendliness, responsible, safety, camaraderie, bounty.
Self-discipline, order, purpose, community-minded, grace, self-confidence, spirituality.
Innocence, companionship, trust, curiosity, imagination, good-natured, non-interference.
Swiftness, industrious, constructive, preparedness, common goals, retreat, family, digger.
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
Group work, team play, creator of harmony and group tolerance, protectiveness (especially toward children)
Fertility, artistic, in motion, hyper-vigilant, joyful, lives by own wits, steps through fear.
Curiosity, disguise, explorer, secret, night vision, cleanliness, dexterity, seeker.
Stoic, sensitive, persevering, curious, imaginative, new beginnings, change, life force.
Fertility, stealth, scavenging, intelligence, enjoys luxury, intelligence, wealth, success, drive.
Magical, introspective, self-realized, courageous, transformational, messenger, psychic, divination.
Wisdom, solitary, insightful, solid, good judgment, paradox, stamina, freedom, longevity.
Mental agility, speed, opportunism, multi-tasking, energy, busy, accomplishment.
Persistence, honesty, strength, flamboyant, upward reaching, eagerness, cocky, watchful.
Proud, intense, confident, wisdom, inspiration, can swim upstream, rebirth, determined, spiritual desire.
Transforming, strong, inspiring, chaotic, passionate, altered perception, death and rebirth, seduction.
Versatility, loud, easy-going nature, creativity, laziness, resourceful, opportunistic, freedom.
Confidence and grace
Love, longing, dilemma, active imagination, creativity, protection during change, dreaming, and good luck.
Prowess, perpetual motion, hunter, survival, warning signs, workaholic, savior, guardian, superiority.
Reputation, presence, and strength, demands respect, sensuality, steady, pacifism, and taking your time.
Protective, aware, solitary, tender nature, androgyny, healing, sensitivity, time, and cycles.
Impulsive, primal energy, shrewdness, rebirth, transformation, initiation, and wisdom.
Balance, wisdom, creativity, communication, networker, cyclical, crafty, fate, protection.
Planner, gatherer, preparedness, awareness, sociable, playful, energy, prudence, resourceful.
Lord of the forest, masculine power of regeneration, signs.
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
Strength, courage, power, energy, devotion, tact, royal, illuminated, unpredictable.
Inner strength, luck, self-examination.
Generosity, life-giver, sharer, abundance, blessings, pride, virility, sacrifice.
Nurturer, shy, protecting, patient, strong, innocent, endurance, longevity.
Purity, innocence, dreaming, personal power, gentle, spiritual vision, other realms, faith, healing.
Strength, energy, ingenuity, stealth, wild, ferocious, aggressive, commanding.
Wisdom, provider, intelligence, kindness, deeper awareness, nurturing, navigation, and communication.
Loyalty, perseverance, success, intuition, spirit, appetite for freedom, can be a loner.
Sensitive, protective, devotion, prophecy, progress, determination, balance, and communication.
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.
Legends, Myths & Tales of Native Americans
Native American Symbols, Pictographs & Petroglyphs
Hodge, Frederick Webb; Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico; Smithsonian Institution; 1910
Manataka American Indian Council