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Thread: Animal Totems, Familiars, Power Animals,What are they, is there a difference?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Wandering the wilds of Canada

    Animal Totems, Familiars, Power Animals,What are they, is there a difference?

    Animal Totems, Familiars, Power Animals, Spirit Guides and more…
    What are they, is there a difference?

    There can be a lot of confusion about what the above words mean, and what the difference between them may be. I’ve found that a there can also be a lot of debate over this. I have broken it down according to my own studies and opinion, anyone is welcome to disagree or add to this explanation.
    Amimal guides, Totems and the like are and are not “traditionally” part of pagan or Witchcraft Traditions. I am not trying to be confusing here, some witches work with them and some don't. Personally I feel that those who do not are truly missing out on a wonderful experience. Most commonly they are deeply ingrained in the history of Native Americans, Shamans and other tribal organizations and traditions, but developing a close relationship with such energy is also of benefit to any witch.
    There is a lot of debate as to whether ancient Europeans had Animal Guides. But that is for another article.

    This word is believed to come from an Olde English or European context. This may be a memory of what the Celts, Druids, and peoples of Europe and Great Britain, once called animal spirit guides. Over the centuries, is has come more to mean a actual animal, usually the family pet, who acts as a helper and guide with magical works. This usage was made popular during the witch trails in Europe and their colonies.
    Generally when this word is used, that is what is meant, a real animal that lives in the Physical World. Sometimes, this word is used to describe a spiritual animal that is not a being in the Physical realm. I find the double usage to be confusing, and prefer using it only to mean the pet or critter that lives with you and may join you in your Circle at home.
    The biggest misconception is that your familiar must be a cat; in fact any animal of any species can be a familiar. Often, the form your familiar chooses to take may be a message in itself, and may be completely unexpected. A familiar may wear the form of a family pet, but they should not be treated that simply. They are special, helper spirits that must be respected and honoured.
    Familiars can fill many different roles in your life, including that of teacher, friend, healer or assistant. Familiars often become involved in your spiritual practise, joining you in the Circle, standing guard while you meditate, alerting you to negative energies or harmful spirits.
    You may develop a strong bond with your familiar often much closer than with “regular” pets. I can't really go into too much detail on how a familiar might become part of your life, or how it may assist you with your spiritual growth. Each person’s relationship with his or her familiar is special, unique and individual.
    Sometimes you need to search out your familiar, but often they will find you. You cannot summon a familiar but you can invite one. Meditation and prayer are two methods that may help you locate your familiar. They may arrive in your life when you call, or just when you are in need of them. The flip side to that is that they can also disappear from your life if you no longer need their help or guidance. I would say that most familiars stay with a person for a good many years, typically the life span of their animal hosts. But don't be surprised if they move on unexpectedly.

    Totem Animal
    We each come into this world accompanied by a Totem, a significant indicator of our personal power, and who we are. A Totem will walk with us and guide us in our current incarnation; and stay with us throughout our life.
    The term Totem has been borrowed and slightly adapted from the Native Americans by New Agers, witches, modern shamans and the like.
    Native American, shamanistic, and ancient European paganism beliefs are filled with animal symbology. These symbols are referred to as "totem animals" or "power animals." You'll often hear the two referred to synonymously, but those that follow traditional Native beliefs explain that a Totem animal is one that is with you for life gaining the Totem often at birth or come at some point in your life and forge a lifelong commitment. A Power animal is a spirit in animal form that comes through with a specific lesson for you, and then leaves once it’s work is done.
    Totem animals are connected with shamanic teachings and the Underworld. They tend to be viewed more formally than familiars. They are often addressed as "Wolf" or "Bear Sprit" with physical wolves and bears seen as manifestations of the singular wolf or bear spirit. They may be given names by their people, they may teach their person their chosen name, or they may simply stick to a title.
    Exactly how many Totems you may have in your lifetime seems to vary depending upon the tradition.
    These animal beings may be any type of animal: of the Earth, of the Sea, of the Air, extinct in this realm, seemingly "mythological" etc, though they generally are not insects or domesticated animals. Though a Totem animal can have a distinct gender, age and personality, it is representative of the entire genus or species. For example, if your animal Totem happens to be Bear, the spiritual power and guidance comes not only from that one specific bear, but also from the entire genus or species of Bear.
    Something one must keep in mind is that there is no hierarchy of power animals. No particular animal is more power-full or more beneficial than another.
    Totem animals are only helpful and never bring harm, no matter how fiercely they may present themselves, they are here as guides and guardians. Though your Totem is available to help you in times of crisis, illness and danger, they can also offer guidance and support in your day-to-day life. Totem animals often awaken our creativity as well as the ability to perceive the beauty and magic that surrounds us.
    Shamans may call upon their Totem animal(s) for many reasons: in the diagnosis of an illness, to assist the shaman in spiritual journeys through other realms of reality, to bring power to a ceremony or to provide needed information and teaching. Witches will often also call on their Totems to aide them in ritual and magickal workings.
    There are many different methods of finding out who your Totem(s) is/are. Meditation and keeping an open eye and mind are surprisingly effective. Calling upon your Totem animal can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. However, the most important ingredient is your intent and focus. You can call out with your voice or quietly in your heart. Whatever you do, be sincere and not frivolous in your request.
    In building a relationship with your Totem animal, it is also beneficial and important to often honor your animal in some way. Once again, this can be as simple or elaborate as you want. In general, gifting the Totem with your attention is a way to honor and respect it. The simple act of silently greeting your Totem in the morning as you wake and, for a few moments, opening yourself to being receptive to any information your Totem may have for you can be a transformative experience.
    Giving thanks to the Totems for any assistance it may have given you, drawing or creating images of the Totem as well as physically exercising your Totem by inviting it into your body as you hike or swim are also ways to honor your animal Totem. In this way, the Totem animal has the pleasure of experiencing the material world. It is important that you Totem feel welcome and appreciated. Shamans often honor their animal Totems by singing of the animal and\or inviting the animal into their body and dancing the animal. This is not mere imitation, but transformation.

    Power Animal
    A Power animal is a spirit that appears in animal form and comes to aid or guide you through a specific task our portion of your spiritual journey. They may appear at separate times throughout your life or perhaps alternating in appearances, all to teach us lessons we need to learn. Once their task is complete, they will leave you.
    Power animals are sought in trance, ritual and during a Shamanic Journey into another Realm. A Power animal may choose to come to you of it’s own initiative, or it may be invited by you.
    A Power animal is not an external entity that can somehow take possession of you. It is a spirit, usually of the Underworld, who is there are a teacher, guardian and guide. They will usually have less power than a Totem and have less influence on you and your life. Do not underestimate them however.
    A Power animal relies heavily on symbology and metaphor so pay careful attention to the form it takes and any clues it may offer you.

    Animal Ally or Animal Guide
    Any of the above.

    Spirit Guide
    Spirit guide is an even more general term than animal guide. It can be used to encompass totem spirits, familiars, animal guides and any non-physical creature that serves as a protector and guide.
    Spirit guides are entities who have chosen to aid others on the path to spiritual enlightenment. Many spirit guides have had incarnations on the physical plane, as well as other realms. They, like you, exist multidimensionally.
    A spirit guide can take any form it chooses, and they are known to shapeshift as well. Spirit guides travel interdimensionally as they have no physical form.
    Often times they speak to you in dream state, meditation, altered states of consciousness, through the synchronistic things that occur in your life, through, art, music, dance, or acting.
    If they really want to make a point they will orchestrate “coincidences” in your life in such a way that will cause you to pay attention, eventually.

    In Wicca, guardians known as Watchtowers are called. These guardians are held hostage in each of the four corners or directions of the circle: East, South, West, and North. They are set there to guard and protect the circle. The origin of the Watchtowers lies in Cabalistic magick, and thus demonstrates the roots of Wicca in the OTO. This calling of the Watchtowers usually takes place during what is known in Wicca as "Calling the Quarters."
    Traditional Witchcraft does not utilize the calling of Watchtowers; it does however, call Guardians. These Guardians are often the spirits with whom a person feels comfortable with and has developed some form of a relationship with. Possible guardians might be one of the ancestors, a "spirit guide," or other spiritual entity with which the person is familiar.
    Some traditions call guardians, whereas others do not. Guardians are often called to protect the sacred area. As many traditions do not have specific boundaries for their sacred area, the guardians can roam the area freely and protect the area from unwanted influences. In general, they are not necessary, but still a good idea.
    Guardians can be spirits of the land or Ancestors that the Witch has communicated with or worked with in the past, and whom they know wish to assist and participate in their work. Others will call on spirit guides to act as Guardians. Not all Traditional Witches use Guardians, but those that do choose who they will call on very carefully.
    Many people that work in systems other than Wicca who do not have things such as the Watchtowers, view the calling of the Watchtowers to be on par with holding the entities hostage for the ritual because of the way that they are often summoned of "commanded" to be part of the circle and not asked or communicated with previously.
    In ritual work with the Traditional Witch, there is often no set boundary for the work area, so the spirits and Guardians that are called on for ritual are allowed to roam freely around the person rather than reside in one specific spot.

    Household Guardians
    The household guardian is a spirit sent to protect the home and it's occupants. A guardian will watch over the assigned house for as long as it stands. When people move out, the guardian most often does not follow them to their new home but stays with the house and begins to watch over the new family that has moved in.
    Household guardians are thought of as spirits, ghosts, fairies, and even in some cultures as gods. They are thought to live in evergreen trees in the yard, under the porch, in cupboards or under appliances. However, the favourite spot for the household guardian to reside is reportedly under the stove. This is believed as there is always a stash of missing items hidden there thought to be collected by the guardian and also because it is a dark, warm, and a secluded part of the home.
    Household guardians are many and varied even within a single tradition or culture.
    They appear to dislike loud, violent people and detest the lazy. It is said that they bring bad luck to the residence of the house who are violent and that cause pain and trouble to others. They are also known to pinch or scratch the lazy individuals in hopes of getting them motivated to get up and get something done. If you ever see a bruise or a scratch on yourself and you have no idea where it came from, chances are it is your house guardian trying to tell you to get some task done that you have been neglecting. They are also said to help keep the home tidy, the houseplants healthy, and the children and pets safe and happy.
    It is reported that the guardian will alert the occupants of the home to danger by vocalizing, banging, or getting their attention in some other way. She/he will also protect your children and gently watch over them while they sleep. It is said however that if the children have neglectful or lazy parents, the guardian will tickle the feet of the children as to wake them up at night to create a hard night for their parents.
    Sometimes, objects and plants and such will take one the role of a household guardian, or perhaps to put it better, as household guardian will choose to reside within a household item, such as the tree out front.
    Offerings of food and small gifts should be given regularly to any household guardians.

    Animal Magic
    Animal magick is the use of an animal for its symbolism and energies. Much like using a certain color candle for a spell, one may place a picture or carving of an owl upon the altar during a spell asking for wisdom.

    ~ Juniper

    Sources: Michael Harner’s “The Way of the Shaman”,,, Author Kenneth Meadows,, Pine Siskin, “Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit” by Tom Cowan
    Last edited by Juniper138; February 10th, 2008 at 02:31 PM.

  2. #2
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    beautiful post.

  3. #3
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    Not here

    Excellent post. I think it should be set as a sticky.
    -Fire's Shadow
    Formerly known as Fire Sage

    "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fire Sage

    Excellent post. I think it should be set as a sticky.
    i agree

  5. #5
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    Jul 2005
    Defently a great post, it has a lot of cool things in it .

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    near Tacoma, WA

  7. #7
    Mama J's Avatar
     is offline I'm a little laid back and key wasted!
    Join Date
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    Minnesota, over the river and through the woods
    Nice post, I've just begun reading, Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. We shall see if its good, I've heard that it is. Thanks again for the post.

    "I could kick this bad world's ass, if I could just land on my feet!"

  8. #8
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    Dec 2006
    Ottawa, On
    That's great information! Thank you!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    In a Forest, by the Sea
    Very well done. "The Way of the Shaman" does have a lot of information valuable to those who seek it's path.

    As I consider myself to be very eclectic in my magicakal workings, I primarily consider myself a witch, as I always have most of my life, but have and do practice Shamanism, to a degree, and have had my toems appear to me, at different times, sometimes in physial form, which is quite rare, and a very moving experience. This is of course, after I have already identified with my Totem.

    Naturally, the Owl, namely, the Great Horned Owl, is my primary Totem, power animal guide, etc.
    Also considering myself a Therian, the Owl is my animal spirit, in which I take form during vision quests and Astral Travel.

    I have had some people tell me that they have called for me, or reached out for me mentally, and an owl will appear. I myself have no recollection of this, but this could be for many reasons.

    My other totems include Bear, Fox, and Lion. Others have yet to show themselves.

    As for familiars, I had a siamese, male, named Sebastian. He was quite special, in that people always noted he didn't seem to act like an "ordinary" cat, much less a Siamese. He was not afraid of anyone, even dogs,(ironically, dogs were often afraid of HIM) but was not approachable at all to anyone but myself. He was never hostile, just a polite, "no thank you" gesture to anyone who called him, or tried to approach him.

    He came to me as a half grown kitten, when I asked the Lady for a "Familiar", animal companion, preferably of the opposite sex.

    A week later, I opened the door one morning to get the mail, and there he was. He just sat there and looked at me for a moment, then walked right in, like he owned the place. I immediatly not only knew it was him, for the name "Sebastian" popped into my head as soon as I saw him, but also fell in love with him on sight.

    He never missed a single spell or ritual, would come at the call of his name from the start, and although he was quite affectionate, often liked to lounge in his "condo" I bought for him, which consisted of tier'd layers of flats, branched out like a tree, with some areas private for entry, at the bottom, and middle, made entirely of carpet. I even let him pick it himself.
    He would always be at the top, looking down at everything, and as soon as he would see me start to prepare for a spell or ritual, immediatly, he would jump down, and be right by my side. As I would cast the Circle, he would predictably as always, go to the Altar in the center, and lie up against the front, and observe.

    The last photo I have of Sebastian (I called him 'Bastian for short) was when he was dying, and I wanted one last picture of him. He was old by then, and peacefully died soon after.

    I have yet to replace him since...


    This thread has now been Stickied.
    Last edited by ~Owl~; January 5th, 2008 at 10:01 PM.

  10. #10
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    Jul 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by Mama J View Post
    Nice post, I've just begun reading, Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. We shall see if its good, I've heard that it is. Thanks again for the post.
    I love that book and highly recommend it. Ted Andrews is one of my favorite authors.

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