I had a request from a student to write about totem animals and shamanic practices. Quite frankly, I’m not sure what “shamanic practices” means with people right now because I’m hearing the term used by more and more people. A variety of different individuals are calling themselves shamanic healers these days, and I think it’s part of this deeper desire to reclaim our tribal connection to each other and to the earth that has been lost in Western Society. That said, you are welcome to offer your own interpretation of what “shamanism” is down in the comments section, and I’ll return to that topic when I’ve had a chance to do more of my own research.

Totem Animals and Finding Meaning in Nature

I do have plenty to say about animals. I love animals. I’ve been drawn to animals all my life. I’ve always had a way of connecting with animals or finding them when I wanted to. My mom learned early on that if I decided to find a turtle at the pond that she’d just have to accept that I would. I have no idea how I did this then, but I’m sure it has to do with a deeper connection to everything that pretty much all children are born with. In waking up, we re-ignite those connections and combine the wisdom of adulthood with the play and joy of childhood. It’s a powerful alchemy to become a spiritual adult.

When I was fourteen years old, my mom gave me the medicine cards, which were created by David Carson. You probably won’t get too many shameless plugs on this blog, but I have nothing but good things to say about the medicine cards, which is also why I’ve linked to their Web site. I describe them as a lighter version of Tarot with fuzzy animals. Loosely based on some form or synthesis of Native American mythology around animals, each animal embodies a different trait or characteristic. Drawn and placed into different spreads, you can see how you’re moving in the world and what areas internally that you need to grow. I’ve always liked the medicine cards because they move people to look at themselves and do not necessarily act as auguries for the future.

Superstition and the Desire to Find Signs

The tricky thing in all of this is the desire to see something. The more that you desire to see a certain result or get a certain message, the more you’re going to make the message you’re receiving unclear. You may distort it or turn it into an absolute lie. In the medicine cards, squirrel represents a gathering of energy in many regards. I live in an area over-run by squirrels. If I interpreted that as a message, I’d be hoarding stuff on a daily basis. So to me, this is where my own inner knowing is, once again, essential. With inner knowing or intuition, there’s a resonance to something that has a deeper message for me. If I don’t feel that, then a squirrel is just a squirrel. I think this can go beyond finding guidance in nature and with animals to numerology and the alignment of planets. If a reading doesn’t have a resonance for you–a deeper sense of connection and truth–then it’s just someone’s interpretation of the moment. Let it go. Don’t hold on to it.

Usually where we all get in trouble is when fears steps in. That’s what takes these subtle messages and signs in nature, numbers, planets, and your Aunt Rosie’s cookie dough and turns them into superstition. Superstition is always about fear and almost never about what’s happening in the moment. You hear things like if such and such happens, that’s a sign of the devil. Well, is that what it feels like to you in the moment? Spend a lot of time whenever you feel fear come into the situation before turning an outside phenomenon into an absolute fact.

Finding Your Totem Animal

In the medicine card spreads, you get nine totem animals for different aspects of your life. I think other traditions may only do one. This is something that I suggest you go to because you’re drawn to it. A lot of people who connect very deeply to nature will really enjoy this path of discovery, but I always caution you to use it as a reflection back to you. In some respects, the places that draw us most are meant to be mirrors to who we already are. Do you like the reflection? Spend time with it either way. This is what you’re sending out into the world.

Signs and Portents on the Spiritual Path

This is an amazing time. So much is shifting that there is a lot of uncertainty. I think astrologists and numerologists will have their work cut out for them. Usually the question that most people have is the same: Will I be all right? It’s one of the major ones that you get to when you boil down all the other questions like:

  • Will I find true love?
  • Will this job work out?
  • Will I recover from cancer?

The last one is rather dramatic, but on the ultimate level, we all will be all right. I had a student share some inspiration from a dream. In the dream, he was told that there have been over 345 trillion species on this planet and that they have all been taken care of. So if you find your totem animal or not, just know that you are being taken care of. Trust in that, and you’ll find your life a little bit more restful and beautiful each day.


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.


  1. i think if we want to, we can all see 'signs' that aren't there. as with everything, common sense needs to be included in the interpretation. nice post

  2. Absolutely. Thanks for your comment Shadow. It is so important to develop our inner sense of knowing that is free from our lens and filter that we put on things. Otherwise, we really do see things as we want to see them. The cynic sees signs of destruction. The idealist sees signs perfection.

  3. I, too, am very drawn to animals and their symbolism. (I chose the dragonfly photo for my blog on purpose!) Thanks for an intriguing post.

  4. There is lot that is called shamanism these days, and the types of shamans you meet vary widely. Fancy feathers and ritual objects do not a shaman make. The most powerful shaman I've met looks like a regular guy, and he encourages anyone on a healing path to remain grounded in their regular life. He taught that "spirituality" is not a 24-hour a day thing, and one does not need to acquire things or look a certain way to be a conduit for healing. The point is–don't forget to laugh with your friends, enjoy life, and not take yourself to seriously.

    One also does NOT need to ingest any substances to have shamanic experiences. While that may indeed serve a purpose in ceremony with a highly trusted guide (emphasis on highly trusted), they are by no means necessary. I have no judgement on the use of substances, just know that they are not a necessary part of shamanism.

    OH, and per my shamanic training, you get more than one totem animal, and these animals may very well change as the energies that you need to balance and to grow shift as you shift. RIght now, I'm at 3- peacock, snake, red-winged blackbird.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Danielle. What kind of shamanic training have you received? I'd love to hear more. You're welcome to contact me through my contact form too. Have a great day!

  6. I enjoyed this article deeply. I am a shamanic practitioner and I work with different power animals. What I have experienced with the practice is a deeper death of me the apparent separate person. The more you bring ego to the process, the less effective. Also these yes or no questions are things we tend to help clients steer away from and instead seek to be see what needs healing, what you are being taught? where is the attachment? etc.

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