Animal Totems

A coyote in Yosemite National Park, California...
A coyote in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. Suomi: Kojootti Yosemiten kansallispuistossa Kaliforniassa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I have a very strong belief that animal totems not only exist but help teach us and guide us as we go through life. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the country or maybe it’s because of my Cherokee heritage. It doesn’t really matter how I came to believe these things. I know that I do and I know that animals do teach me quite a bit. When I was young, I would spend vast amounts of time in the woods alone. I would sit quietly and still and watch what the animals were doing. I would learn from them by watching their movements, behaviors and patterns. I would watch them play and fight. I had some contact with animals that no one else has that I know personally. For example, when I was around 10 years old, I came face to face with a mountain lion. I had an instinctual feeling that she was guarding babies. She was crouched in ready to spring mode. We locked eyes and I felt a curiosity from her. She did not spring on and maul me, obviously. Then when I was 11 years old, I was bitten on the leg by a copperhead snake. I wasn’t watching where I was going and the snake bit my leg. Momma rushed me to the hospital after sucking the poison out herself. You can’t even see the scar any more. When I was in my 20s and on a sport dive, I came face to face with a tiger shark. I’m not sure which one of us was more afraid. We both went in opposite directions. Those are just a few examples of the experiences I’ve had with animals. I have always felt a kinship with the animal totems in my world. Two mornings ago, I was opening the curtains on the back windows of my bedroom and standing about 5 feet from the house and moving closer was a very large coyote. His nose was in the air and he was smelling the feral cats that live outside of my house. It was dawn and he was in full hunt mode. I threw open the window and yelled, “Go Coyote….GO!”. I scared him and he stopped dead and stared at me. I yelled at him again to go and he ran almost to the wood line behind the house. I yelled one more time and he disappeared into the woods. He was very big. I was very shaken. I do not like predators hunting the cats. I also do not like predators of that size being that close to my house. I know there are coyotes close to the house most of the time. I can hear them calling to each other through the woods. Knowing they are out there and seeing them 5 feet from the house are two completely different things. After I had some time to process seeing that coyote that close, I started to think about what coyotes as animal totems mean to me. I was thinking how that applies to my life now and what wisdom I can glean from that encounter. The lessons that they teach us are as follows:

  • Understanding that all things are sacred–yet nothing is sacred
  • Teaching that only when all masks have fallen will we connect with the Source
  • Intelligence
  • Singing humans into being
  • Childhood trust in truth
  • Teaching us how to rear our young
  • Brings rain
  • Ability to laugh at one’s own mistakes
  • Placing the North Star
  • Shape-shifting
  • Teaching balance between risk and safety
  • Illumination
  • Stealth

I am still processing what the main lesson was for me. I have an idea. I may share when I know for sure. Do you see the same animal around you all the time? Do you have encounters with animals that you normally would not encounter? Have you considered that you may be coming into contact with animal totems to teach you?

About the Author

My name is Elizabeth Glass. I enjoy sharing my life experiences, my spiritual experiences and just writing in general. I have been writing…


  1. Very interesting article. There is certainly a lot to be learned from our animal friends indeed. It would he amazing to live so close to raw nature. Just a little heads up on the term, “Totem,” it’s a term often mistaken for “animal spirit.” I actually made exactly the same mistake myself at one point. To quote Wikipedia. “A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe.” A “spirit animal” or “power animal,” is a spirit guide and protector. You may feel the presence of spirit animals in dreams, trance (what some shamanic traditions refer to as the middle world) or the meditative state, or other uncanny highly reoccuring symbolic synchronicities in waking reality. There may be some overlap, because certain spirit animals can appear consistently to guide and protect family lineages, but they may not necessarily be recognized as a totem proper. If you feel an affinity with Coyotes and you want to reflect on it’s ” totemic”aspect, perhaps it could be considered as an ecological localization of a more longstanding family spiritual connection with canines in general. Worth checking your family’s coats of arms for that one. Or of course you might connect with it simply as a personal spirit guide. Please don’t be shy to consult me for reference on such things. I’m your local neighborhood Shaman after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a feeing when posting this that you’d have something to say. I also thought the idea of the totem would be discussed by someone. Seems there are different views about the meaning.

      Apart from the scholarly or categorical differences, I’m wondering if there really is that much difference in practice. As you indicate, a guardian would also guide at times. It all comes down to service—i.e. souls up there helping souls down here.

      However, differences and specialties could exist. But these might be subject to change as the afterlife soul too must evolve.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I read the article. Thank you for pointing it out. I guess we can make various kinds of anthropological distinctions, but they are bound to be generalizations, unless we refer to a particular tradition or traditions. Groups and individuals may have very specific and unique ways of relating to their spirit animals or totems. So I think any discussion about totems should mention this fact. From personal experience I can say that the experience of working with a spirit animal is not always what it is commonly percieved to be in terms of “New Age Thinking.” Stay tuned, I have a great post on my experience with a spirit animal coming soon.


      • And of course, you’re welcome. Many thanks for the lively and open-minded conjecture. I’m honored to be able to participate. I hope I wasn’t out of line in offering advice to one of your posters.


  2. Not at all. I welcome the debate. Should mention that I never took a single anthro course in my life. But I did talk with a prof. who taught anthro and also shamanism. So I have some idea thru her.

    When I was taking about specialties, I meant beings in the afterlife or otherworld. But yes, of course different cultures would have different approaches, encounters and interpretations.

    Sometimes I get the feeing that the air of superiority that so many attribute to churches can also be discerned in some non-Christian religions and spiritualities. The old…”We know best, we’re the big spiritual ones, and you just don’t understand.” I’ve encountered this unsavoury sentiment in individuals adhering to many different religious and spiritual groups.


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