Taken from “How to Meet and Work with Spirit Guides” by Ted Andrews
There is a growing involvement in shamanism. The shamans and priests of ancient societies were the keepers of the sacred knowledge. They were tied to the rhythms and forces of nature. They were able to walk the threads that link the visible and invisible worlds.
Part of the shamanic tradition involves our reconnecting to the energies of the earth and all life upon it. “Once every people in the world believed that the trees were divine and could take a human or grotesque shape and dance among the shadows; and that deer and ravens and foxes and wolves and ears and clouds and pools, almost all things under the sun and moon, were not less divine and changeable.” (Stephen Larsen, The Shaman’s Doorway, New York, Harper & Row, 1976)
A totem is any natural object, being or animal with whose phenomena and energy you feel closely associated during your life. Although we will focus more upon spirit guides working through animal totems, they also work through the energies of objects. Some will reflect energies operating for only short times, and some are with us from birth to death and beyond.
We can use the animal imagery and other totem images as a way to learn about ourselves and the invisible world. We do not have to believe that these images and totems are beings of great intelligence, but there is an archetypal power that resides behind and oversees these creatures. These archetypes have their own qualities and characteristics which are reflected through the behaviours and activities of specific animals.
When we honour the totem animal we are honouring the essence that lies behind it. We are opening and attuning to that essence. We then share its power or its medicine in our life. The animal is a symbol of a specific force of the invisible realm which manifests within the physical world. By studying the animal or totem, and then merging with it, we become able to call its energy forth whenever needed. This brings us those beings of the spirit realm which also work with that energy.
There was a time when humanity recognised itself as part of nature and nature as part of it. Dreaming and waking were inseparable realities; the natural and the supernatural merged and blended. People used the images of nature to express this unity and to re-instil a transpersonal kind of experience. This is seen in the wearing of skins and feathers as is common in many American Indian and Aboriginal societies.
Adopting the guise of animals – wearing skins or masks – symbolised a reawakening and endowing oneself with certain energies. Nature totems are symbols of fertility and life. Each species has its own power to remind us what we can manifest within our own life. The animal becomes a spirit guide. It helps us to bridge the natural world to the supernatural. It awakens the realities of both.
Animals have had much strong symbology associated with them. They have represented the emotional life of humanity, reflecting qualities that must be overcome, controlled and / or re-expressed. They are also symbols of powers – powers of the often invisible realms that we could learn to manifest within the visible.
The Masked Sorcerer
A prevalent symbol associated with Shamanism, its image is taken from a prehistoric cave painting. Early man, surrounded by mysterious forces, responded to them through imitation. Man attempted to bring the divine into accord with the will of humanity. Priests used totems and images to assist in in coming face-to-face with the mystery. Through dance, costume, etc, the priest or priestess would take complete identity with the deity and its powers. This is the symbol of the prophet, medicine person and the manifestation of the powers of nature. Images such as this invoke a presence which helps one to transcend the physical. Wearing the skins of the animal was a means of appeasing its spirit and honouring its power.
Birds were often symbols of the soul. Their ability to fly reflects the ability within us to rise to new awareness. It reflects the ability to bridge the physical world with the heavens. As totems, they each have their own peculiar characteristics, but they all can be used to align us with spirit guides who stimulate inspiration , hope and ideas.
Aquatic life can also be a totem. Water is a symbol of the astral plane experience and the creative element of life. Various fish and other forms of aquatic life symbolise the guidance that comes from our intuitive or feminine side. Those guides who work through these images will help us to awaken that aspect.
Insects are a part of nature and can also be spirit totems. Michael Harner warns against their use, but they have a strong symbology associated with them. From the bee of fertility in Egyptian myths to the Mantis of the African bushmen, and the many tales of the Spider Woman who created the universe, they are as much a part of working with spirit totems as any animal.
By studying and reading about the animals, birds, fish and insects, you can learn much about the qualities and characteristics of the guide that is working with you through that image. You will also learn much about which qualities this guide will help you to unfold. Keep in mind that each species has its own powers. An ant may not seem as glamourous as a bear totem, but it is industrious and it has a strength that far exceeds its size, a strength that, proportionately, the bear does not have.
If you talk to the animals
they will talk with you
and you will know each other
If you do not talk to them,
you will not know them,
And what you do not know
you will fear.
What one fears
- Chief Dan George
Meeting your Spirit Totems
The shaman works to reconnect conscious human life with nature and spirit through the totem. The image of the animal helps us transcend our normal, waking consciousness so that we can more easily attune to other realms and beings. This begins with realising that all inner vision and imagery has validity on some level.
What gets most people into trouble is the interpretation of the images. Reading, studying and learning about these images will facilitate relating them to ourselves. We don’t have to accept the totem images without question. We can demand that our spirit guide energies be expressed to us in an image that we can relate to. If you are uncomfortable with an animal totem from your spirit guide after having put it through a verification process, simply send it on its way.
At the same time, the animal totems that you receive should not be haphazardly discarded simply because it is not as glamorous or as powerful as your ego wanted. Only study and exploration of that animal will reveal its significance to you. Searching out that significance is a way of honouring the totem. This helps build the bridge between your physical world and the spirit realm within it.
The meditation that follows is designed to assist you in discovering your spirit totem. It will begin the process of opening the spirit realm of nature as it relates to your life.
- Being by making sure you will be undisturbed. Take the phone off the hook etc. Light any incense or use a fragrance that may help you in your meditation.
- Perform your relaxation exercise. Follow this with the Mystic Marriage Exercise. Then simply visualise the scenes described below. If you wish, you may record them so that you can imagine and visualise along with the tape. Otherwise, read this several times, and familiarise yourself with it.
As you allow yourself to relax, pull your energies within yourself. You are going to go deep within yourself to discover the totem that lives within. This totem is a reflection of the spiritual energies that are working outside of you to help you in your life.
Imagine yourself standing in the midst of a wide field. The air is still and there is a calmness around you. It is dusk, that powerful time between day and night. The sun is still visible, although setting, and the moon is also visible in the sky. It is the time when day and night mingle, the time of the intersection of light and dark, physical and spirit.
Before you is a tall oak tree. Its bark is gnarled and twisted and its roots extend far into the heart of the earth itself. Its branches block the view of the sky as you stand beneath it. You are unable to see its uppermost branches.
There is a small opening at its base, just large enough to squeeze through if you bend over. With a last look over your shoulder toward the setting sun, you step into the inner darkness of the tree.
There is a smell of moss and moist wood. As you squeeze through the narrow opening you find that it widens as you move further in. Soon you are able to stand erect, and you breathe a little easier. You pause, catching our breath and summoning your courage to move further inside.
It is then that you hear the sound.
At firs it is faint – hardly discernible. You hold perfectly still to insure that the sound is not your own movement. The sound is soft, but as you move forward, feeling your way in the darkness of the tree, it grows louder. It is the sound of a distant drum. In the darkness of the inner tree, the drum’s sound is hollow and primal. For a moment you imagine it as the heartbeat of the tree itself.
The beat is slow and regular. Its hollow tone touches the core of you. It coaxes you through the dark and you go deeper within the heart of the tree itself. It is hypnotic. You know it is sounding forth what you have awaited a long time. You are not sure what it will be. You have never been sure, but you know you will recognise it when faced with it.
You continue forward, feeling your way somehow knowing it is better to go forward than to return. You begin to notice that it is growing lighter. At first you think it is simply your eyes adjusting to the darkness. Then ahead of you, you see a torch burning which illuminates the path you are on. The path is narrow. Its sides are steep and ridged with the inner veins and arteries of the tree. You touch them. Surprisingly, they feel warm. You understand. Blood runs warmly through all living things. It is comforting.
You approach the torch and find it at the top of a steep descending path. This path is illuminated by sporadically placed torches. You hesitate momentarily, and then begin your descent. You place your feet carefully, for the path is covered in spots slick with moss.
The illumination grows brighter with each step down the spiral path leading you into the inner heart of the planet. You feel as if you are following the roots of the tree to the core of the earth. You know that one some level you are being led to a primal point of life and energy within yourself.
The drumbeat has grown to a steady volume. It has become a part of your own rhythms and you have become a part of its. As you continue to wind downward another sound begins to touch you. It entices you even more deeply into the heart of the earth. It is the sound of running water – a stream or a waterfall – you are not sure which.
It is then that you see the end of your tunnel. Ahead is a large, cave-like opening. Beyond the opening you can see sunlight and the greens of nature. You can also see a river of crystalline water running through what seems to be the heart of the meadow. You step through the opening, and the drumming stops.
The sunshine warms and brightens you. It is as if you have stepped out of the womb of life. Wildflowers of every colour and fragrance fill your senses with their beauty. The grasses are emerald green. At the edge of the meadow is a forest of rich dark green – the colour of primeval life at its purest.
You move into the meadow. The warmth of the sun fills you with a fire that heals and soothes, chasing away any remaining fears. You will your lungs with the air that is sweet and fresh. It feels so good to just breathe.
You move to the edge of the river and watch as it flows over rocks, creating eddies and spirals of myriad shapes. The sun glints off its surface with rainbow hues. You look down the river and see that it leads to a distant ocean. All waters are here. You bend down and gently cup your hand into the river. You bring its cool sweet elixir to your mouth, quenching your thirst.
Next to the river is a large stone in the shape of a chair. Warmed by the sun, you settle into it. It fits your form perfectly. From here you can enjoy all of the elements of the meadow – the forests, the grasses, the distant ocean and the sky above. You are filled with a sense of peace. Here you can rediscover the power that is yours to claim in life.
As you look about you catch your breath. As if in response to your thoughts there is a movement. It may come from the forest, sky, distant ocean or it may be a combination.
You sit still watching as this totem moves closer to you. Its eyes seek you out and hold your gaze. Never have you seen anything so wonderful – so unique. Such life forms had always seemed so wild and out of touch, but there is no fear here. There is only recognition and wonder.
As if in response to this thought, the animal makes a sound, movement or gesture indicating its own unique power and strength. Then it disappears.
You stand up, looking about. It had happened so quickly. Had it all been your imagination? You scan the entire area, searching. Nothing is seen.
Had you done or though something to offend it? You stand confused, unsure. It had been so beautiful, so noble, such a unique expression of life. It truly deserved to be honoured and respected.
Again, as if in response to your own thoughts, a trumpeting rings through the meadow. You turn towards the mouth of the cave. There is the darkness within is your totem. Its image freezes briefly, its eyes holding your once more. Then it fades from view.
You smile and laugh, running toward the opening. You understand. As you give it honour and respect, its energies come alive for you and within you, serving as a guide between worlds. Its energies are yours to claim as your own, but they can only be claimed through honour, love and respect.
At the mouth of the cave lays a conch shell. A part of you knows – and long ignored – that this is a symbol of calling forth new energy. It is a symbol of the womb of life, and the trumpeting upon the conch shell is a reminder that life can be called forth on all realms.
You pick up the conch shell, your gift and reminder of the realms that touch you and live within you. You offer a silent prayer of gratitude and step back into the cave, leaving the meadow behind you.
It is now well lit and the path is wide and clear. In the distance you see the vague image of your newfound friend leading the way. Soon you see the light that leads you out of the tree itself.
As you step from the tree you see your totem retreating back within it’s depths. Now you understand that as you claim your own power and learn to work in all realms, the paths in all walks of life become clearer and more easily managed.
You cradle the conch shell in your arms and breathe deeply. The field and the large oak tree begin to face, and you find yourself drawn back to the present in peace and in balance.
Honouring your Spirit Totem
Part of the process of working with our totems involves honouring them. Hanging pictures, drawing pictures, reading and learning as much about their characteristics and behaviours are just some of the ways of doing so. The more we honour them – the more significance we give them in our lives – the most powerful and effective they become.
The totem discovered in the previous meditation serves as an excellent bridge to the spirit realm. It will give you greater power and strength in working with those more elusive and ethereal realms.
Do not be surprised if mythical creatures arise as totems. It is not uncommon. They often reflect spirit guides who are working to help us transcend normal states of consciousness.
As you discover your totems you will find that they come to you in dreams and meditations. You will encounter them in many ways, and these serve to confirm your experience. You will come across pictures, postcards, curios in which a totem is depicted. You may find yourself discovering television programs exploring its habitats and behaviours with greater frequency. Books, myths and depictions of it will cross your path. You do not have to indulge in all of these, but by acknowledging them and taking advantage of them, you honour the spirit energies working in your life through that totem.
- Learn as much about your spirit totem as possible. Read about it. Learn its basic qualities, habits and behaviours. Research myths and tales associated with it. All of these will help you in understanding how best to use its energies in working with the spirit realm.
- Find pictures and artwork of your totem. Make a collage of them encircling a picture of yourself.
- Meditate upon the animal. Visualise it before you, speaking to you telepathically. Let it tell you how it can help in different areas of your life. Visualise it merging into you. Perform meditation where you see yourself as this totem.
- Draw and sketch pictures of it. Artistic endeavours stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain. This helps us in our intuitive perceptions of the entire spirit realm.
- Buy figurines of your totem. They do not have to be large or expensive.
- Buy small token, images and such of your totem. Present them as gifts to family and friends. As you give the gift you are honouring the universality of spirit and its ability to help everyone. You do not have to tell everyone why you are doing it. Nor do you have to explain its esoteric significance.
- Give an anonymous donation to a wildlife fund or a specific organisation associated with your totem animal. As you promote and protect the life of your totem, the spirit behind it will work to promote and protect yours. The anonymity ensures that the honouring is for the sake of honouring rather than for recognition.
Do not boast of what your totem does for you and others. Disbelief on the part of others, expressed or not, can hinder and restrict your connection to this totem spirit. There is strength in silence. Speaking of your relationship with your totem can dissipate its energies before it gets a chance to work some real magic for you.
There is nothing wrong with letting others know that you simply like or are fascinated by such animals. If anyone asks, simply tell them you admire its energy and qualities. A totem is personal. Yes, individuals may have the same generic kind of animal, but the manner in which it works for you will be unique and different from the way it works for someone else. It is neither better nor worse, just different.
We must learn to honour our relationships and allow them to unfold with respect. As you grow and unfold in your relationship with spirit, the way in which it works for you may also change. Be creative in this relationship and in your honouring of it. Give thanks to whatever divine source you worship for assisting you through this spirit totem.